PEI·I Live Here Now

Meet Mandeep Kaur: She'd never gone outside alone until she came to P.E.I. at age 18

When Mandeep Kaur, then 18, arrived on P.E.I. from India a year-and-a-half ago, not only was it the first time she had travelled abroad, it was the first time she had gone anywhere alone outside her home. Now she's a vegetarian working at McDonald's and a teetotaler who studies mixology.

She came to P.E.I. from India with a lot to learn, but clear goals

Mandeep Kaur chose to come to P.E.I. to study and start a business. She is one of eight immigrants from around the world featured in the CBC P.E.I. series I Live Here Now. 3:27

CBC P.E.I. brings you eight stories of immigrants from around the world who have chosen to live on Prince Edward Island. Some have come to learn. Some to work. Others for safety. The series, I Live Here Now, reveals why people left their old lives, what they're doing now on P.E.I., and their dreams for the future.

When Mandeep Kaur arrived on P.E.I. from India a year-and-a-half ago at the age of 18, not only was it the first time she had travelled abroad, it was the first time she had gone anywhere alone outside her home.

With the exception of school, when she travelled on a bus with other students, she was always with family.

To the store, to the park, to the temple. Anywhere.

"In my country I never went outside without my parents," she said. "When I came here, it was the first time to me to go outside by myself and I was a little bit nervous about that."

Her life was so sheltered she had never seen anyone eat meat or drink alcohol until the man beside her on the plane from Delhi to Hong Kong washed what might have been chicken or lamb down with a beer. Whatever it was, the smell gave her a headache.

"It was a very bad experience."

Barb McKenna, Mandeep Kaur's 'Canadian mother,' says she has no doubt Kaur will succeed in life. (Laura Meader/CBC)

It wasn't the only thing on her mind. Just 10 days earlier, she was wed in an arranged marriage in her home state of Punjab. Her husband, Amritpal Jaidka, stayed behind in India. The honeymoon would have to wait.

Kaur boarded that plane in September 2018 with a clear plan: study, become a permanent resident, run a business franchise and bring her family to Canada.

She has kept that focus ever since she showed up tired and jet-lagged three days later, at 2 a.m., on her landlord's doorstep in Charlottetown.

"She's going to succeed, I have no doubt about it," said Barb McKenna, who shares her home with Kaur and three other young women from India.

"This is a girl who will get what she wants because she has that much strength of character."

So far, so good.

Mandeep Kaur's journey from India to P.E.I.

Kaur is studying international hospitality management at Holland College. A devout Sikh, she does not drink alcohol, yet she studies wine pairing and mixology as part of the curriculum. (She studies the look and smell, but leaves the tasting to others.)

She is a vegetarian, but meat no longer makes her queasy. On weekends, she works part-time serving Big Macs at McDonald's. She wants to open her own franchise.

Kaur, a vegetarian, works part time at McDonald's in Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

She had never seen the ocean or felt snow. Now she loves collecting seashells and, like most other students on P.E.I., looks forward to "storm days."

In many ways she is like any other teenager on P.E.I. She makes TikTok videos with her roommates, but set to Punjabi music rather than Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.

But she is also a wife and she misses her husband. She usually speaks with him twice a day — in the morning when it's nighttime in India, and at night when it's morning in India.

"When I'm on the bus my friends laugh, 'You're always on the phone.' But it's my time I want to spend with him," she said.

"He's telling me stories about his days and I tell him what I did and what's coming on in my life."

One day I was in a conversation with a lady and she asked me if arranged marriage is successful and I questioned her, 'Do you think marriages are that successful in Canada?'— Mandeep Kaur

Kaur said some people she meets on P.E.I. are curious about her arranged marriage, a tradition in India. Jaidka is the son of a friend of her father. She and Jaidka were not forced into the marriage, she said, and either could have said no.

They were engaged for about a year, and though they were together as husband and wife for just 10 days before moving to Canada, and for three weeks when she went back to India last summer, she considers herself happily married.

Kaur is a devout Sikh who prays every day. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"One day I was in a conversation with a lady and she asked me if arranged marriage is successful and I questioned her, 'Do you think marriages are that successful in Canada?' And she answered me, 'No.'"

When Kaur went back to India last summer, she and Jaidka​​​​​​ went to Dubai for a honeymoon before saying goodbye to each other again. Someday they'll start a family, but not anytime soon.

"I am like now all about my career, no plans about children," she said.

Kaur hopes Jaidka, who studied veterinary sciences and works in his family's grocery business in India, will get a work visa and join her on P.E.I.

Kaur and her husband, Amritpal Jaidka, in Kaur's hometown of Mallah, India. They were wed in an arranged marriage 10 days before Kaur moved to P.E.I. (Jagdish Jaidka)

In the meantime, she is staying focused on her goals while enjoying life with her new family. And while she refers to McKenna as her "Canadian mother," McKenna said Kaur, who will turn 20 in March, has been just as much an inspiration to her.

"Here's a girl who's never left her home, her village, and she's travelled three days across the world and living with a stranger in a strange country. I would never have been able to do that."

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      About the Author

      Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.


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