October 12th, 2017 is a day that Yiwen will remember for the rest of her life. On that day, she got on a plane all by herself and travelled twelve hours to meet her family in Canada. She landed in a different country for the first time ever. Looking back at those first moments in Toronto, she says “I did not realize how different my life was going to be”.
A week after her arrival, she and her dad walked into her new high school: Central Technical School. She remembers being very nervous as neither of them could communicate in English well enough. Her father had asked a friend to translate for them, but she was busy and couldn’t come to school with them. However, she gave them a number to call and ask for help. The number was for one of CultureLink’s staff members, from the Settlement Workers in School team.
“She [the settlement worker] helped me register for school, select the courses and showed me the entire school. She also took me to the NOW club and invited me to a field trip the next day”. With a little help from us, Yiwen was all set to start classes. But it was on the field trip that she discovered that being new wasn’t all so bad. “Before this trip, I would have never imagined being able to make friends with a person from a totally different country and culture”, she explains, amazed at her own accomplishments. Not long after that, and to her own surprise, she was sharing her life stories in English, and speaking confidently too.
Almost three years have passed since the day it all began, and every now and then she thinks back and wonders what would have happened had she not come across CultureLink. How different her high school experience would have been. “Although I would probably still graduate successfully, have good grades and go to a good university as I planned, my experience would have never been the same. I would have missed all the fun I had with NOW Club during these years. I would not have met so many friendly people who support each other like families. I would even not have the opportunities to be able to present myself to others”.
For youth starting life in Canada, one of the greatest challenges is the language. Having trouble communicating poses a threat to their self-confidence. Yiwen remembers “I always thought that I was not good enough, and therefore was scared of standing up and talking about my ideas”. Programs such as NOW give them the opportunity to participate in a lot of lectures and meetings where they can improve their English. “During those sessions, I noticed the confidence in the eyes of previous peer leaders. I told myself, those are the people that I want to be”. She decided she would apply to be a peer leader the next year. She did, and she was selected.
“I could have never imagined that I would be able to use my strength to help others adapt to new studying environments as the old peer leaders did with me when I first came.” NOW is all of that and more. “Through these events, I even met some of my best friends and built life-long friendships with them”.
The best help you can receive as a newcomer is someone who understands what you are going through and who can inspire you to overcome all your fears, for he or she is proof that it can be done. “I really appreciate the help that I received from this club and from the teachers. These high school memories will be embedded in me forever”.