Saskatchewan·Point of View

As an immigrant, I know how it feels to be 'lonely and isolated' in my new country

"The beauty of Canada is the richness of diversity seen in its cultures, colours, religions, languages, customs, traditions and international work experience."

What could be done differently for immigrants?

Selma Kiwirra says her early days in Regina were difficult. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

CBC Saskatchewan is hosting a town hall on immigration. CBC Asks: Immigration - Are we doing it right? 

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Moving to Canada brought me to the fourth continent I have lived on so far.

My moves from one continent to the next were mainly in search of a decent quality of life, proper education for my children, a peaceful place to live and a community where I can feel accepted and give back through volunteer work.

When I first came to Canada, I felt very lonely and isolated. It wasn't a language barrier so much as a social aspect. I missed the human level of interaction: familiar faces, greeting people, familiar products in stores, using actual money when buying rather than cards, etc.

My isolation got worse when I began my Master's at the University of Regina. Colleagues kept to themselves. Classes were very different from where I come. Expressing my opinion was encouraged. In order to survive I began observing others and asking instructors for directions.

'Finding a job was my toughest challenge'

When I began working with refugees, I felt their isolation and fear. The majority hardly understood the language. Some arrived alone. I could feel their anxiety.

At first, all of Regina looked the same to me except downtown. I believe in taking buses to get to know a new place. Believe me when I say that every time I took a bus the houses, stores and streets when I passed by looked like an endless repetition, duplication. It was even worse in winter. I gradually began to make sense of the city by listening to people talking about the different parts of town.

Finding a job was my toughest challenge. Canadians doing graduate studies already have jobs. A master's degree helps them get a promotion.

 I was told if I did a degree in Canada it would be a big asset when looking for a job. I applied and applied with no response. 

I began to volunteer to get more involved in the community and make myself known. After months I was one of the few among my colleagues who managed to get a job. I work at the Regina Open Door Society as an ESL school counsellor. My contract ends in April. Wish me luck.

'Human aspects should be addressed urgently'

What could be done differently for immigrants? Coping mechanisms should be addressed initially as part of the orientation sessions planned for newcomers. I began smiling at the people I meet every day on my way to work and greeting them. This small gesture made a big impact on me and those people. I felt happier. I felt connected.

Over time those people became more comfortable with me. In time they smiled and greeted me too. I extended those gestures to those I meet every day in the bus and those waiting at the bus stop.

Over time Selma Kiwirra became more comfortable with her new city and now says it feels like home. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

I began making small talk, then bigger conversations. Over time we got to know more about each other. After a while it made a big impact to the quality of my life in Canada. I was more positive going to work and meeting familiar faces.

I feel human aspects should be addressed urgently. We need to figure out how to address domestic issues with a sensitivity to cultural backgrounds. We need to spread awareness among newcomers with low language proficiency in how to access various services in case they need it.

The beauty of Canada is the richness of diversity seen in its cultures, colours, religions, languages, customs, traditions and international work experience. Being different, dressing different and having a different skin color is the norm.

For the first time in my life, I feel at home.

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Selma Kiwirra lives and works in Regina at the Open Door Society. She is originally from Sudan and Switzerland.