Y Blog | My First Seven Days in Canada

My name is Anna Morneault and I’m a Language Instructor at YMCA Newcomer Connections. Not so long ago, I was a newcomer myself, when I came to Canada from Jerusalem with my 10-year-old son. Since my arrival, I have found my calling: helping others who have undertaken the journey of immigration in transitioning to life and culture in their new homes through the Y.

Click the toggles below to read my first-person, day-by-day account of the beginning of my life here in Canada.

When My Journey to Canada Began

When we first landed in Toronto, we were held by customs. We rushed through the terminal train while pieces of the unfamiliar cold white wonder caressed my cheek. I felt as though I was on a roller coaster, both physically and emotionally, as I was running and pushing the luggage cart that held just a few of the most valuable items from my homeland. At the very top laid peacefully the most precious thing I have: my sleeping 10-year-old son.

I said to myself “let our new life begin”, and then realized we missed our connection flight to Saint John. I found myself sleeping on the bench that night since all of the hotels were booked, due to the storm. As I laid between my son, I heard someone snoring loudly and I fell asleep thinking “What an adventure!” and it hadn’t even started yet.

We Finally Arrived in Saint John

As my plane landed, I stepped outside and I had snow up to my knees. I said to my son “I’ve never seen so much snow!” I unloaded our things in the car and the reality of the situation finally hit me. I was trying to squeeze over thirty years of my life into a rental car. I quickly found out that two of our suitcases barely fit. “It is indeed a bumpy start but I’m determined: nothing will break me,” I thought.

I left the other half of my luggage at the airport thinking that I would have nothing to come back to. It was my first pleasant surprise of many to come. “Lucky me!” I said. Little did I know that this was just an example of Maritime honesty. Here, no one would steal my suitcases.

A Morning in the “Howard Johnson”

Author’s Note: While it’s now known as the Best Value Inn, I went with Howard Johnson as proof that I’m a Saint Johner already — because we’re always calling places by what they used to be!

I was barely awake, still jet-lagged. I dragged myself out of bed to have breakfast and then it happened. I heard a familiar yet foreign language. Yes, it was Arabic. The whole lounge was full of Canadians accompanying Arab families. I was so intrigued that I lost my appetite for the buffet that stood before me. I approached a friendly-looking lady and this is when my soon-to-be epiphany moment happened. She explained, “Saint John just received the big first Syrian response.”

Call it fate, destiny, or coincidence: Me, straight from Jerusalem, Israel, landing here in this particular hotel, at this particular time, and place. I knew it had to have happened for a reason. I had never been in close contact with Muslims, other than in a hostile army situation, like the ones I had seen in my home country.

I immediately told myself no matter how hard this journey would be it was all worth it. This is where I want my son’s future to be, in a place where there’s no ancient conflict or sustained war. A place where people of every ethnicity, religion, nationality, and culture can eat breakfast. Where freedom and safety are present.

I approached the table beside me and asked the Canadian lady which organization she was from and how lucky the families were to have such close and caring assistance. She told me she was part of the “Welcome Team” from “Newcomer Connections” at the YMCA of Greater Saint John. I knew then and there where I wanted to work.

It became my goal. I kept thinking how fortunate I was. I have the language and education as well as some knowledge of the western culture. I knew I had an advantage that I could use to help others in a similar situation. As someone going through the immigration process, I was aware of the challenges that I was facing and came to terms with the fact that it would not be easy. Yet, knowing I could give guidance and make the transition easier for others made me realize my true calling.

Receiving My SIN and Visiting the Work Room  

I was determined to “Canadianize” my resume and send it off to the Y. I sat there for hours using the Internet and computer, since my belongings, including my own laptop, were sailing the ocean in a cart. When I moved from Israel, I was only able to bring a few suitcases with me. That meant that the rest of my things had to make the journey by sea.

I was browsing online job banks, like Indeed, working on documents until my son became hungry. The nice lady at the workroom recommended Tops, a pizza place in Uptown Saint John. 

I heard back from the Y!

I was shocked to hear back so soon after all the things I heard about timing in the Maritimes. A sense of excitement and thrill took over. That being said, I was also nervous. What should I wear? I only had one suitcase with comfortable pants and sweaters. However, these were not Canadian winterized clothes.

I stayed up until 3:00 A.M. to go over all the acronyms that I saw on the website while looking for that job description: LINC, PBLA, CLB, and the list goes on.

The Day of My Job Interview

I made my way to the Y and sat in the big conference room, wearing jeans on a Wednesday. Little did I know, this was not typical interview wear. Luckily, they were black.

I sat there nervously, reassuring myself and thinking it would probably last fifteen minutes with one person. In reality, it was over an hour with three. At the end of it, Shawna, the Newcomer Language Supervisor at the time, asked me to get a Criminal Record Check and start work right away. “Oh! My God,” I thought.

The Day I Started Teaching Literacy at Lorne School for the Y

The class had 12 Syrian students with no English skills whatsoever. I wasn’t sure if I should tell them where I’m from. The voices in my head kept saying “will they listen to me if they knew” and “will they respect me? Maybe they will even hate me.” I decided to keep it a secret until they would get to know me.

Now, I realize that none of it mattered since we are all here for the same purpose: Having a better life for ourselves, our families and living in a safe inclusive society. My fear of telling them where I’m from disappeared as we got to know each other.

The Present Day

As the years went by, so did the levels of LINC (Language Instructions for Newcomers to Canada) classes I taught.

I went from A-B-C-D-E and am currently teaching a regular LINC 4. I had the privilege and satisfaction of seeing some of my students being promoted and becoming more confident, comfortable, and proficient with the English language and culture. I am truly blessed to be able to earn a living out of making the settlement transition easier, one student at a time.

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