A home of their own: 3 immigrants share their stories

Three immigrants in Moncton share their stories of the challenges and successes they've experienced in New Brunswick since arriving in Canada.

Summit in Moncton provides opportunity to discuss challenges and paths to success

Susy Campos moved to Canada from Nicaragua when she was 12. She shared her experiences this week as 400 business and community leaders from across New Brunswick attended the Atlantic Immigration Summit in Moncton. (Karin LeBlanc/CBC )

The middle school years can be fraught with emotions.

Imagine being 12 years old in that world, immersed in a language you don't understand.

That was Susy Campos, when she moved with her mother from Nicaragua to Hamilton, Ont.

"I spoke zero English when I came," Campos said. "I didn't even know what 'Hi' meant." 

She wasn't typically shy, but in that situation, she said, it was difficult to approach people.

Being the only one in the school who spoke Spanish didn't help.

But it was a blessing in disguise.

"That really pushed me to learn English quickly."

Campos shared her story this week as 400 business and community leaders from across New Brunswick attended the Atlantic Immigration Summit in Moncton.

Susan Chalmers-Gauvin, co-founder and CEO of the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada talks about The Atlantic Immigration Summit this week in Moncton. 9:33

'Reach outside' 

Campos moved to Moncton 18 years ago with her husband.

They eventually separated.

As an independent consultant, Campos could have left Moncton and moved anywhere in Canada to work, but by then the city felt like home.

She credits her involvement with non-profit groups and being active in the community for helping her establish those roots quickly. Campos is now running as a Liberal in the next provincial election.

And that's the advice she would give to current and future immigrants. 

"It's great to see communities of their own helping them, but don't stop there," she said. "Don't just be part of that particular community.

"In order for you to be part of the Moncton community, you to need to reach outside of your particular community. They're helpful because they can point to resources within the community, but they need to extend themselves."

Susy Campos immigrated to Canada from Nicaragua when she was 12 years old. 9:34

'Be positive, be proactive' 

Grace Gao came to Moncton from China last year through the New Brunswick Provincial Nominee Program. (Karin LeBlanc/CBC )

Grace Gao remembers feeling isolated when she arrived in Moncton from China in March 2017 as part of the provincial nomination program. 

"When I first came here, I knew nobody. I didn't know any Chinese people, or Canadian people. And I had language barriers, and that is the most difficult part, I think"

But Gao quickly came to love the city, the clean air and the friendliness.

"People are very nice. They would say hello to me when I was walking."

She connected with the local Chinese community and made friends through her church, and the Multicultural Association of New Brunswick helped with things like getting a driver's licence and social insurance number.

Referrals more helpful

Gao now works at Grant Thornton, after months of sending out resumés and going to interviews.

A referral finally landed her a job, and she thinks that might be a better way for newcomers to find work.

That's one bit of advice she would share.

"I think anyone coming to a new environment, they will face lots of difficulties and they have to overcome the fears from their heart," Gao said.

"Be positive, be proactive, be optimistic, to face all those difficulties and enjoy every day."

Grace Gao moved from China to Moncton just over a year ago without knowing a single person here. 4:08

A warm welcome in the cold

Gelena Devedjinejad was an obstetrician in Turkmenistan before she moved to Moncton. Now she works for the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada. (Karin LeBlanc/CBC )

Gelena Devedjinejad remembers the weather when she arrived in Moncton from Turkmenistan with her family in 2007.

"We came in February. There was a  lot of snow."

The reception from the community was much warmer.

"I was glad to see all the nice, friendly people around. It was something unusual for me." she said. "Everybody tried to help. You don't know people around. You do not expect anything from them so you are surprised when they do something for you. [It's kind of] shocking. What?? Why??"

Devedjinejad said her family received a lot of help from the multicultural association. People from the organization met them at the airport, found accommodations, bought groceries, helped her children get settled in school and set up language training.

She said her children flourished in school. 

But the language barrier was the biggest challenge for her. 

"I studied hard for the first five years to learn English."

Getting a job was even tougher. Devedjinejad said she was shocked to find out her credentials as a gynecologist and obstetrician were not valid here and years of study not transferable.

She considered options close to her field: paramedic or medical office administrator.

Paramedic was quickly eliminated when she found out she didn't meet the language requirements.
So Devedjinejad enrolled in an office administration course and earned a diploma, with honours.

She got some temporary work but a full-time job remained elusive. 

"I was looking, looking, send my resumés all around, but no positive answers, like, nothing."

'Trying, trying, trying' 

Gelena Devedjinejad came to Moncton as a refugee from Turkmenistan in 2007. 9:39

Devedjinejad volunteered more than 250 hours at the Moncton Hospital, hoping to be hired "as a medical professional."

"I was trying, trying, trying, all kinds of doors were closed for me, so I gave up."

She is now working for the Atlantic Ballet Theatre Company of Canada, as a seamstress and bus driver. She also teaches crafts and is preparing to be a designer for the company.

Devedjinejad's credentials as a doctor weren't transferable to New Brunswick. She works as a seamstress and bus driver for a ballet company. (Karin LeBlanc/CBC )

Devedjinejad would like to see an improved and accelerated process for recognizing the credentials of professionals like her.

This is especially important in New Brunswick, which is trying to attract and retain more immigrants, she said.

"The process of going through credential recognition is not easy and takes a very long time," she said. "It's a very challenging process."

She would also like to see employers change their approach in hiring immigrants.

"In my country, we didn't have the process of resumés," she said. 

Resumés of limited use

She suggested finding out more about the people looking for a job. 

"There are a lot of  multi-tasking, knowledgeable people around. If they just look at their resumés, it's very general, they don't see deep enough."

Despite the challenges, Devedjinejad has no intention of leaving Moncton.

Two of her children have completed their studies and are working here. The third is off to medical school in Halifax.

As for her, she seems content working at the ballet company.

"I am happy to be using those skills," she said, smiling.

"I love what I do right now."