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Stories of Settlement:

How I Adapted To My New Country

by Diana Alandete

When I first arrived in Canada, in order to adapt to my new country, I needed to make some changes and adjustments with respect to my behavior, and activities that I was used to.  I tried to keep a balance, maintaining some of my old country traditions, while incorporating new experiences from my new country, Canada.  I kept an open mind and positive attitude in order to integrate and learn the Canadian way.

Celebrations in Colombia are very frequent and special.  The people from Latin America are always in a celebratory mode, with lots of music, dancing in the streets, and even some intersections get closed down in the neighborhood where they live, in order to dance, talk, enjoy and party.  In Canada, people do somethings that are very similar, such as skating on the ice!  I went at the end of December, 2018 to the Toronto City Hall (Nathan Phillips Square), and saw lots of people skating on the ice.  They all looked so happy and having so much fun skating.  It was a cold day, below zero degrees Celsius, but it looked like they did not feel the cold at all.  I even got super motivated to start learning to skate as they made it look so easy!  I do not know how to skate, I never did it before, but I am planning to take some lessons.  I was delighted to see this one of a kind celebrated attraction in Toronto!

One of the obvious differences that I found here in Canada was driving on the road.  Here, people actually obey the signs and red lights.  In Colombia most people do not follow the rules of the road.  I realized that in Canada, people actually make a full stop when the Traffic light turns red, and at the Stop signs as well.  I tried to drive here in Canada the same way that it is usually done in Colombia, trying to speed up and cross the Red light quickly, while checking that no pedestrians or cars were coming.  I thought that there was no one checking on me, but that was not the case, because I received three different red light tickets with pictures of my car crossing the red lights with a big picture of my plate’s number. I could not believe this!  The first ticket that I received was for the amount of $185 dollars, second one was for $325 dollars and the third one again for $325 dollars.  I learned the hard way paying penalties, and I certainly obey and follow all the Canadian traffic road rules now.

In Canada, there are very strict rules about driving on the road, and all drivers need to respect the speed limits, you cannot drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and it is also mandatory to use seat belts.

There are very serious penalties as well for distracted drivers.  As of January 1st 2019, the penalties for distracted drivers in Ontario will increase to $1,000 dollars, more than double the amount charged in 2018, with a three days suspension of the driver’s license, plus three demerit points for first offence.  There are tougher penalties for repeated distracted driving convictions.  That would really make a hole in my pocket!   I better concentrate on my driving without any distractions with no texting, no checking messages, no emailing, or talking on the cellular, avoid touching the GPS to look for directions, and no applying make-up or checking in the mirror my beautiful face.  We are not allowed to use any hand held devices.  See the link below for more information.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/distracted-driving-texting-ontario-penalties-1.4939223

I want to mention that even though most people in Colombia drive recklessly, they are very skilled at avoiding accidents.  The last time I visited my old country, and other Latin American countries for holidays, I had to use Taxi services, and when I saw the way they were driving, I got scared and I decided to avoid looking.   I am already used to driving in Canada following the rules and I feel safe on the roads.  I enjoy very much driving in Canada!  It is a pleasure!

In Colombia, we greet others with a warm hug and one kiss on the cheek, including people that we met for the first time.  In Canada a handshake is good enough.

Our family and friends frequently knock at my door unannounced to visit and bring food with them.  I had trouble with this when I was married to my Canadian husband.  He disliked it, and did not agree that my family or friends show up without informing that they were coming.

The doors in Colombia are always open for neighbors, friends and family.  We have celebrations all the time without any reason in particular, just for the fun of being together every single week, and we either just call each other, or we just show up at the door to have a coffee together.  I remember that I used to tell my Canadian husband, that my brother, sister, or mother were preparing dinner or barbeques at their places and they call to invite us, and my spouse preferred not to go anywhere without a previous invitation.

I am very lucky and fortunate that I live in a building where at least fifty percent of my neighbors are of Latin American origin.  My neighbors and friends in my building knock at my door, and I knock on theirs anytime without any notification to have a small coffee “un Tintico” together.  We just visit each other and bring something to eat to each other’s place, and we enjoy very lengthy conversations.  We usually meet every week in each other’s apartments.  I have lots of fun in the building where I live, and everybody answers me back in the elevators with a very friendly smile. We talk all the time and we hug and laugh together.  My friends are very gracious and funny and make me laugh a lot.   It is just like being in Colombia!

Something that I really love in Canada is the Multiculturalism.  There are different cultures from all over the world in one place, all sharing together, working together, helping and collaborating to each other’s successes.

I love to learn and experience other cultures from around the world, including their customs, traditions, cultural diversity, values, and different types of foods.  For example, I enjoy Indian food very much and I love going to Indian restaurants, as I find that all of their foods are exquisite!

I love to learn from other cultures and I want to integrate and share with them, because I think it is very educational and rewarding.  We all enrich our lives and grow as human beings in a more compassionate way, when we share together our experiences, customs, traditions and values, living in harmony, regardless of our different beliefs, social status, ethnic background or age.  We are all treated with respect and acceptance and we are all equal.

In my old country, unfortunately, it is difficult to get a job over 35 years old, however I do feel accepted and always welcome here in Canada, and I never experienced any issues with obtaining a job.  I have had plenty of excellent job offers, and I am in my fifties!  I even had to turn job offers down, because I am very satisfied with the job that I am currently doing.

I feel safe and comfortable here in Canada.  I am able to go out for a walk or take a trip alone or stay in a hotel alone, and visit other towns and cities.  My job requires constant travelling to other locations, and I feel a sense of safety everywhere I go.

I feel that we are all treated equal, and human rights are respected here in Canada.  I am accepted by society and I feel very welcome by everyone.  In Canada, I was able to study and became a successful professional, and I am able to contribute back to the community through my work.  I feel a strong sense of belonging here in Canada, very attached to the community, and I have formed new friends from different backgrounds, and a strong social network.

I currently belong to several community organizations where people from all different backgrounds have a common goal.  An example is being a member of Toastmasters, where we learn to communicate confidently and efficiently, and acquire social and leadership skills to apply to our jobs and our lives. We all have the same commonalities in regards to learning, education, safety, and a sense of belonging.

I have learned not to focus on our differences, but allow myself to open my mind, understand and listen with sensitivity, empathy and compassion, and try to focus instead on our commonalities and similarities that we all share, in order to live in a respectful, safe and peaceful environment.

I am sincerely grateful to Canada for opening its doors to me and my family to live here. Thank you Canada from the bottom of our hearts.