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My Canadian Culture Shock!

By Diana Alandete

When I arrived to Canada, I was hit by a cultural shock and I entered into a state of depression.  I was scared and very fearful of seeing everything so completely different.

Something that I did when I arrived here in Canada was to completely isolate myself.  I did not want to get out of the apartment because I was very scared.  I did not know my surroundings, I did not understand the language, and therefore I was unable to communicate in English.  I had no friends and no family members here.

After one full year of living in Canada, things began to change for the better.  I moved to a different house, in a different city in the suburbs of Toronto, and coincidentally, there was a Colombian family living right in front of my house.  She had the same nationality as me, spoke the same language (Spanish).  She realized how fearful and scared of going outside I was, and she told me that I should start attending to English school.  She convinced me and gave me courage, and she even accompanied me to register in an ESL program (English as a Second Language).  She showed me around the area and taught me how to take a bus to go to school.  She also cooked several delicious Colombian dishes and invited me frequently to have dinner with her family.

Although I came to Canada with some English and French knowledge that I learned at the university in Colombia, the truth was that I did not understand a single word when I arrived here.  This frustrated me and made me feel sad and depressed, because I was unable to communicate.   I tried to watch lots of TV in English inside the house, and one year later, I realized that I was starting to understand the language a little bit better.  I then decided to study English and I later obtained my Canadian high school diploma, and after that I went to Sheridan College here in Ontario.  I completed my French Proficiency Certificate Program at the College, and was motivated to continue studying and then completed the Spanish Interpreter Certificate Program, as well as the Community Translator Training Program.

I am a very well established Spanish Interpreter, working for a government agency for the last 10 years.  I feel very satisfied with my professional life in Canada, and I can say that I feel very proud of my accomplishments.  I am no longer fearful, and I am a confident woman, who is very happy to become a successful Canadian citizen.

I enjoy helping other people in the community to communicate, and give voice to those who want to speak, and whom cannot communicate because of language barriers and limitations.  I feel so honored and privileged to have the opportunity to help people of my own Spanish speaking community, and help them in the settlement process as new immigrants adapting and adjusting to the country.  As a result they are able to gain access to services and community resources, facilitating their integration into the community.  I have walked in their shoes and I certainly understand each one of them.

Another big adjustment that I suffered when I arrived to Canada, was the Canadian winter.  I came from a warm country where winter and snow do not exist, and I was mesmerized to see the snow falling.  What a magical and amazing feeling!  I soon discovered that my feet and hands were frozen from the extreme cold, if I did not wear the appropriate outfit.  I had to prepare myself with very warm thermic boots, thick jackets, double pants, double socks, hat and gloves, and several layers of clothes on top to keep warm.  I also realized that the driving conditions in the winter months with snow and ice were very dangerous.  I had a car accident in winter because my car did not stop when I pressed the brakes on an icy street, and my car continued skidding and dancing and finally stopped by a big sign, which I totally bent and broke.   I right away decided to change the tires of my car to special winter tires, which I find to be much safer.  I have to travel long distances to other cities for work related purposes, and I feel so much safer now.  It was definitely beneficial to change the all season tires for appropriate winter ones, as it made a huge difference in my driving.  I feel more in control now in regards to the driving, as winter tires grab the road much better under temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius, because they are heavier, softer and more flexible.

Although there are plenty of outdoor winter activities that Canadians enjoy; skiing, snowboarding, and hockey, I prefer not to practice any of them.  I am scared of getting broken bones from a bad falling in the ice, although I do like walking in the snow, which I enjoy doing, but cautiously and with the appropriate foot wear.  I like being outdoors in nature, as Canada has spectacular places to visit during the summer months, where I can hike and walk on trails, canoe, stay in cottages, and view many gorgeous lakes.

A few years later, I married a Canadian-born husband, who is very passionate and obsessed about “Hockey.”  I had to eat Hockey for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  He talks about his favorite team when he is awake and in his sleep as well.  He occupied the big TV in the living room just to watch the games, and I was so bored!  I actually found this sport to be too strong and aggressive for my taste.  My cat Mica liked to watch the hockey games with my husband, as she jumped in front of the TV and many times wanted to win trying to catch the puck!  She was very funny!  I did try to understand a bit this sport, and even attended to some live hockey games which I actually enjoyed (just a little bit).  See my Cat Mica obsessed with Hockey!  Mica is born in Canada!  No wonder!  https://youtu.be/AlcWvzMC_5U

Regarding his loud rock bands and metallic music, I was never able to adapt, because that kind of music used to alter my nerves and gave me stress.

In regards to food, I take my sweet time to prepare delicious bean dishes from scratch, accompanied with a spicy guacamole avocado mix, fried plantains, arepas, corn wrap-ups (envueltos), and some other mouth-watering Colombian typical dishes as sancochos, ajiacos and empanadas.  I served this succulent foods on the table for my husband and I to enjoy together, and guess what, when my husband saw such delicious display of dishes served, he just used to say, what in the world is that?  And so many times he just turned back and went out to McDonalds to buy a hamburger with French fries, coke, or buy a pepperoni pizza for his dinner instead.  Oh well, no comments!  He never ate my Colombian food, but that did not discourage me from continuing preparing and enjoying my delicious and favorite dishes for myself and for some of my Latin friends.

I got stuffed with so much hockey and after 8 years of eating the same, I decided that it was enough for me, and moved out to live on my own almost 3 years ago.  My spouse continues being one of my best friends.  I feel very content that I am the Queen of my own castle!  I am free to make my own choices and take my own decisions the way I like.  I have a big screen TV and watch all the decoration, nature and cottage life programs that I want, and I cancelled all the sport channels!  I am able to listen to opera and classical music concerts which I love!  My cat Mica said that she is not missing the hockey games on TV any longer, because she enjoys playing with a string or with my long hair, and we have lots of fun together!

I feel empowered, a confident woman, very fulfilled and content that I am in charge of my life.  I am enough and I am perfect just the way I am!

I also joined a fantastic non-profit organization named Toastmasters International https://www.toastmasters.org/.  They train individuals in communication, leadership skills and public speaking techniques.  I joined their group meetings on a weekly basis for several years, and learned to communicate more confidently and increased my social network.

After having lived in Canada for several years, I now can understand why I shut down at the beginning, isolating myself and entering into a deep state of depression.  I recommend that you do Not do this, because it is harder and takes longer to adjust to the new Canadian culture.

The best thing we can do to help ourselves to adapt to Canada as a new immigrant, is to get connected with other people, by joining various support groups and going to school to learn the English language.  There is plenty of support nowadays and so many community resources and services to assist you, and most of them provide interpretation and translation services to help to integrate in the community faster.

I would recommend Not to stay inside the house hibernating as I did.  Go outside and enjoy the crispy cold weather, get some fresh air and sunlight, and go for a nice short walk, dance, play an instrument and sing with lots of passion your favorite songs https://youtu.be/zDl_N1raDkA, and smile, because all of these things will helps us to feel happier, and we will be able to see life in a more positive way.  I would highly suggest to meet and talk to lots of new people, attend events and celebrations, and never underestimate the support of a good friend.

I was able to get out of my cocoon because of a caring female friend from Colombia, who was already established here in Canada, and thanks to her kindness, understanding, and compassion, she opened my eyes and mind, and showed me the right and easier path to follow for a successful integration to the Canadian culture.