Newcomer Story: Mariya Ostapchuk

Lady smiling leaning on a statueCongratulations to our November Language Contest winner, Mariya Ostapchuk!

Despite being one of English Online’s (EO) newest learners, Mariya rose to the challenge and quickly became part of our Circle of Champions. So far, she has won four times in November (including the month-end raffle) and once in December.

This is a testament to her openness to learning. Asked why she joins the contest, she said “For me, it’s interesting. I look for the quiz every week and answer the questions. Maybe my answer is not correct, but for me, it’s a new experience. I like it. I try every moment because for me, language is a problem.”

From Ukraine to Toronto then Winnipeg

Mariya was all smiles when she came on screen for our Skype chat. Sitting beside her is a young girl, her granddaughter, who also seemed excited about the interview. Mariya tells me that she had just moved to a new apartment after the holidays and that she is happy that her granddaughter chose to spend time with her on her school break. They looked so happy in each other’s company that I felt like I was intruding on their bonding time!

Mariya moved to Canada precisely because of this – to spend more time with family and watch her granddaughters grow up. “I wanted to see my granddaughters play. I also want them to learn about our culture. In my culture, family live together and try to help together, communicate, and celebrate all the occasions,” Mariya said.

Prior to moving to Canada, Mariya was living alone in Ukraine. At 16 years old, her son moved to Winnipeg to study and eventually got married and started a family here. In 2017, Mariya moved to Canada and lived in Toronto for five years. Once or twice a year, she would travel to Winnipeg to visit her son. This is how she eventually grew to love Manitoba. Mariya says, “this atmosphere is so nice for me. Home or apartment is cheap. Too many beautiful museums, many parks, big rivers, and fishing. There’s also Borealis, and in all seasons we can find some recreation with family and friends. Just this week, Blaine (EO instructor) was talking about Canadian culture and Inuit art in Manitoba. For me, this is so beautiful.”

With her son’s urging Mariya finally moved to Winnipeg in April, 2022.

“I like that in Manitoba, people come from many different cultures but we try to understand each other. If you don’t speak well in bank, in shopping, in clinic, everyone tries to understand you and help. If you have a problem, you can go to another person and tell them ‘can you help me, I don’t understand this situation’ and they help you. Canada is just so nice. It may be perfect!”

“Canada is perfect”

Another reason for loving Manitoba is that she can now study English for free. Mariya had always wanted to take lessons since language was her main settlement challenge. “When I was in Toronto, I could only communicate to people who were speaking Russian or Ukrainian. I couldn’t study English there for free because I didn’t have a PR Card. I can take a teacher but for me, it’s very expensive. So in my free time, I study alone. I watch shows and programs, I read newspapers and books. For example, if I go to a bank, I read text and I study before I can go and communicate with the banker,” Mariya said.

Upon arriving in Manitoba, she immediately took an English Assessment at WELARC in downtown Winnipeg. There, she was given a list of English classes she could take and she chose English Online. “I think it’s nice here (at EO). It’s so nice because we can study online. Thanks also to the volunteers who study with us. It’s a big job,” she said. Mariya is referring to volunteers who assist EO instructors in online classes as well as those who tutor learners one-on-one through the e-Volunteer program.

The online learning environment is ideal for Mariya especially now that she is healing from back surgery. She attends all the weekly online classes while recuperating. “I always study because for me I want to have a job, a want to have friends, and I want to communicate normally. I need more practice because I never studied English before coming to Canada,” she explains.

“I like that in Manitoba, people come from many different cultures but we try to understand each other. If you don’t speak well in bank, in shopping, in clinic, everyone tries to understand you and help. If you have a problem, you can go to another person and tell them ‘can you help me, I don’t understand this situation’ and they help you. Canada is just so nice. It may be perfect!” Mariya said.

Future plans and loving life

“I want to continue studying English. I want to communicate normally with no problems. I want to find a good job (prior to coming to Canada, Mariya worked in the financial sector. She worked for a major Ukrainian bank for 25 years). I had an operation on my back, so now I have time (to study). But maybe in spring, I will find a job. I also want to find time to volunteer because many volunteers give their time to me, I also want to give my time to other people,” Mariya said.

For now, she is enjoying exploring Manitoba and being a good ambassador of the province to her friends back home. “I encourage them to come to Manitoba because you have many chances here. You can find work, friendly people, and diverse culture. You can visit many festivals, enjoy foreign food, and go to great farmers markets. It’s so beautiful,” she said.

She continues, “I went to a place where I saw money from different countries (the Royal Canadian Mint), there were … (she pauses and speaks in Ukrainian to her granddaughter, and the granddaughter says, ‘magnets’)… beautiful magnets from countries all over the world. It was a beautiful building with a lot of flags!” she said.

Sensing that I smiled when her granddaughter helped her with her English, Mariya adds with a hint of pride, “Yes, she is my teacher! I teach her Ukrainian and she teaches me English!”

With her positive attitude, help from her EO classes, and the support of her wonderful family, Mariya is well on her way to reaching her language, career and life goals.