Monthly Archives: June 2011

You know you’re ESL when…

I love my job.  Seriously, most days it doesn’t even feel like work.  My students have also commented that sometimes they forget I’m getting paid, because we just have so much fun together.

Sometimes, when we get in a silly mood, they share some of their funniest stories with me.  I imagine that some days must feel to them like a situational comedy: everything is one big misunderstanding.  But these misunderstandings stem from cultural and linguistic differences, rather than he said/she said, like on Friends.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to a little joke line I like to call “You know you’re ESL when.”

  1. You know you’re ESL when you think a Blackberry is a kind of fruit.
  2. You know you’re ESL when you think cross-country skiing involves a trip to the United States.
  3. You know you’re ESL when someone tells you they like yogurt and you picture them meditating.
  4. You know you’re ESL when inviting someone to go to the beach causes offense.
  5. You know you’re ESL when, at your convenience store job, a customer asks for More cigarettes and you start piling boxes in front of them.
  6. You know you’re ESL when someone tells you you have a nice smile and you wonder if you even wore perfume that day.
  7. You know you’re ESL when someone tells you to open Windows and you walk towards the wall.
  8. You know you’re ESL when you think Lady Gaga is the president of some country.

All inspired by true stories!  Enjoy, share, and feel free to add your own in the comments section.



Filed under funny, student stories

Time Flies, So Why Can’t I?

Here I am, sitting in Coffee Lodge during the last full week of school, procrastinating (naturally) and attempting to mark writing assessments. It seems like just last month I started my job, but it’s already been 5 months since my last assessment-marking marathon. I can hardly believe that this time next week I’ll have said goodbye to my students and handed out the report cards, and all I’ll have left to do is write my June report and clean out my desk!

I’ve learned so much this year, and I’ve grown to love my students even more. I’m so proud of the work they do. In fact, we’ve even started a class blog as a sort of memorabilia, and as a way for me to show off how awesome they all are. We’re going to enter it into a province-wide contest, but the real motivator for everyone is to have something they’ve written in their second language published for others to read. Most have kept their real (or Canadian) names, while others are posting under pseudonyms, and we’ve even found some creative ways of posting class pictures without divulging certain identities. We even have a fan: a creative writing teacher and author from Australia, who has thrilled my students with questions and encouragement under their posts. I encourage you to check it out, and comment, too!

As of July 1, I am free and clear of my current teaching obligations, sad though I may be to leave. What comes next? Well, Brazil is the plan, as you know. However I am STILL waiting for a package with my visa application documents to arrive from Brazil! This is probably the most frustrating waiting period of my life: I need the documents to apply for the trainee visa, and I need the trainee visa to get further instructions from the internship organization and to book my flight.

Meanwhile, Canada Post is on strike. I informed IICA of this a few days before the strike began, asking them to send out a new package via courier, and was assured this would be done. A week and a half later, I received another email asking if I’d received the package yet – nope. Emailed them back, reminding them they should have sent out two packages already. Received a reply basically implying the second package never went out, and they’d send a new one the next business day (this was Friday, so it wouldn’t go out until Monday), and it would take 7 business days to arrive. Well, that was 8 business days ago and counting, and still no package! So I’ve lost an entire month in visa processing time and potential for airfare advance purchase sales.

I was so excited to finish school and then take off for my awesome Brazilian vacation, but now I have no idea when I’ll leave! And I have to admit, I’m beginning to doubt this IICA thing is even going to happen. It’s scary, because I really don’t know what I will do if it falls through. I’ve saved up money for a short (1-2 month) vacation, and although I haven’t officially quit my job, I turned down summer school. Also it would be really embarrassing to tell EVERYONE that I’m only going on vacation now, not moving there. And I probably couldn’t handle living with my parents for another year, although it’s generally been good, since my sister and I are currently sharing a room.

Basically this is the first year ever that I’m not particularly excited for school to end and summer to begin. And it should have been the most exciting time. It’s such a shame! It just proves the whole “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” line true once again.

So I’ll just keep going forward with my short-term arrangements until I know what’s up. Right now these include Sunday and Wednesday soccer, running when I feel like, visiting friends and family in Toronto, and maybe picking up the yoga again. I can get 8 hours of sleep and try to eat better (thus improving my chances of a respectable appearance in the dreaded Brazilian bikini), and research places I want to visit on a shortened itinerary. I can study Portuguese, which I haven’t even glanced at in weeks! Alright, there are lots of things to do to keep myself busy, even if they don’t include hang-gliding over the bay of Rio de Janeiro onto Copacabana beach. And I guess you can look forward to hearing a bit more from me here, as I won’t have any excuse not to post more regularly. J


Filed under Brazil, Canada, IICA internship, insecurities, looking back, looking forward

The Great Canadian Mirage

Everyone knows about the “American Dream”: the idea that anybody can start with nothing and become a Somebody in their lifetime. I don’t live in America, and after reading Death of a Salesman in grade 10, I don’t put much stock in that concept. Here in Canada, we’re much more realistic. Nobody comes to Canada with the hopes of becoming rich and famous; no, not even native-born Canadians aspire so far (and if they do, they do it in America). So why do so many immigrants come here?

In a word: security. Canada is the land of the social safety net, free health care, and free speech for all. We have low crime rates, high literacy, and we’re nice to everybody. And with all those social programs, there must be more jobs than people in a country where the average family has only 1.1 kids (Statistics Canada, 2007). When fleeing persecution, what refugee wouldn’t be praying for their Canadian temporary residency papers?

Look a little closer, however, and you’ll find that this Northern oasis is more than a little blurry around the edges. Earlier this week, during a conversation activity, I asked my students whether they thought Canada should let in more or fewer immigrants than at present. To my fascination, they were unanimous in their desire for a lower immigration rate. Their reasons were simple: higher numbers of applicants means a bigger backlog when it comes to processing paperwork.

Although they had made it this far, life as a Canadian immigrant turned out to be decidedly different from the picture painted by the Canadian government prior to arrival. You spend three years toeing the line, providing endless documentation, trying to adapt, and never leaving the country lest your waiting period be extended. You realize that your foreign credentials, which were good enough to score you the points you needed to arrive in Canada, aren’t enough to restart your profession here, so you take a low-paying job or live on welfare while you upgrade your skills. You struggle, maybe for years, to understand your new language and culture and are confronted with your social awareness deficit daily.

One student, a Russian immigrant with an engineering degree, approached me after class. “Why does the Canadian government admit immigrants from white collar professions, like doctors, engineers, and professors, when there are no jobs for them? All the jobs are in the trades, they require unskilled labour; why not admit people who are prepared to take these jobs, and not professionals who will have to take a major reduction in pay just for work?”

Good question, Alex. If I knew the answer to that one, I would have run for office by now.

Clearly, he is right that the Canadian immigration system needs a massive overhaul. The points system seems appropriate in theory; it helps immigration officials identify candidates with strong skills and educational backgrounds who will contribute to and not leech from the country’s economic fibre. But realistically, we don’t need those people. Why? We need only revisit those same attractive qualities mentioned above: with a high literacy rate, great health records, and a high average household income, Canadians don’t want or need to take low-paying jobs. (In fact, they aren’t even willing to settle for the rates they get in Canada and are jumping ship to the US – but that’s another post.) White-collar jobs are scarce, and getting scarcer; meanwhile, the market for unskilled jobs is getting flooded with jacked-up resumes from thousands of overqualified applicants. Where, in this equation, does the Conservative government intend to place the “average of 14 percent more immigrants per year” it’s letting in?

It certainly won’t be training all those new recruits, nor will they all get the settlement support they need. As I’ve mentioned before, Canadian Citizenship and Immigration announced just before Christmas 2010 that funding to settlement programming would be cut by 5%, or $70 million dollars, over the course of 2011-2012 (OCASI News Release). My program, Language Instructors for Newcomers to Canada, saw a decrease of 10% this year and will see another 5% next year. Sadly, most programs will become a watered-down version of their former selves, and many have already disappeared altogether.

I’d never thought I’d be an advocate for reducing immigration rates in Canada; I’ve always been of the opinion that we should share the wealth. But it can’t be denied that, while there are many opportunities we can provide by virtue of our high standards for rights, education, and social security, we are doing our immigrants a great injustice by promising more than we can provide. Not all immigrants have access to language programs. Not all immigrants will get jobs that are equal to or better than ones they previously held. And not all immigrants will be welcomed into their community with culture-sensitive programming and support. So, for a country that believes in equal or equalizing opportunity, maybe we would do better to pace our hospitality in order to keep our high standards of quality, and not quantity. Only then will the mirage solidify into the welcoming refuge that Canada has the potential to be.

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Filed under Canada, cheesy metaphors, immigration, student stories

It Takes a Village

I haven’t written anything in a while because things have been a little crazy around here. After months of packing, moving, settling into a rental, then packing and moving again, my family has finally moved into the house my parents and grandma had built. Right now, there are five of us living here (parents and grandma, my youngest sister and me) plus two small dogs (Cooper is ours, Sadie is my grandma’s). Of course, we all know each other well, and most of us have lived with some or all of the others at some point, but it’s the first time we’ve all been under one roof; we’re all waiting for the dust to settle to see what it’s really like.

A little history on my family: we moved into the house on Camelot when I was just five, and lived there for almost nineteen years. In that time, my sisters and I graduated from elementary and then high school, we hosted eighteen Christmas brunches, and witnessed the entire lifespan of our first dog, Charlie. My grandma moved into her house, just a five minute walk away, after my grandpa died. She’s been there for about fifteen years, and has managed quite well for herself. However, a few years ago she began a fight with cancer. She beat it, but the treatment has left her weakened and with a permanent kidney disease that requires her to have dialysis three times a week. She’s getting older, and it became evident that things wouldn’t be able to continue on the same way indefinitely.

Once my parents conceived of the idea of living with my grandma, it was a no-brainer that that was what must be done. Rather than forcing an awkward, stifling living arrangement, they decided to build a house to suit everyone’s needs and maintain their independence. Thus, we now reside in a three-bedroom, three bath bungalow, with a finished basement that includes a separate kitchen, dining, and living room for my parents’ use. I would post pictures, but it’s still too cluttered with boxes and homeless furniture for that.

It must be said that, despite four able-bodied individuals and one stubborn one, plus months between moving dates, there is no way we could have made it through this major overhaul by ourselves. The first time we had to move, from my childhood home to a two-month rental house up the street, we had the help of three of my dad’s brothers, my mom’s best friend, some other friends of my dad, and a couple of neighbours. Everyone pitched in to tow boxes and furniture into the U-Haul and then into the basement storage. We managed to pull off that move in less than 24 hours, including celebratory pizza and beers, and my uncles made the three hour drive back home in daylight.

The second move was even more impressive, in a way, as it involved moving my grandma from her house one day, then moving us from the rental the next. Did I mention that the moving date was during the week, and my sister and I both had to work? Well, once again friends and family stepped up to the plate. I can’t tell you how impressed I was to finally make it to the house on the day of my grandma’s move, to find two old (and I mean that in both senses) friends of my grandma’s had been slaving away in 30+ degree heat, putting things together, cleaning, and making themselves generally useful. Never mind that one is still recovering from her own rigorous cancer battle – she and my grandma were quite the sight, all wiry and breakable, determinedly sifting through boxes.

On the second day, I woke up at 5:30 am to finish packing up my room before heading to work. It was another scorcher when I left work at about 4, and I reluctantly drove toward the new house and what I knew would be another long day of hauling and scrubbing. But my trepidation was put to shame when I arrived to see Foti, a long-time neighbour of the Camelot house, sweating through his shirt as he and my dad unloaded heavy boxes of my books into our new garage. An hour later we were joined again by my mom’s friend Ginny, who had spent the entire day at work but still dedicated her evening to vacuuming and packing up the last of our belongings from the rental and moving them in her own car to the new place. Finally, at 11:30 pm, my mom, dad, Foti, Ginny, and I locked up the rental once and for all and, swatting away the June bugs and mosquitos, made the final trip to the new place. I collapsed into my mattress a few minutes later, although I could hear my parents still moving around upstairs. I don’t know how they did it; especially considering that my mom drove my grandma to the hospital for dialysis at 6 am. On top of it all, it was my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, and I don’t think either of them took the time to give it a second thought.

When I began this post, I knew I wanted to talk about the idea of community: the concept of people working together towards a common goal. I think though, that it’s necessary to point out that although the goal – moving us – was shared, it only benefited a few of the people involved. Why did so many people take the time and energy and patience to help us move? I still can’t really fathom why, but I am so grateful that they did. It was pure, selfless, untempered goodwill on the parts of Ginny, Foti, Ken and Caroline, my uncles, and the many others who lent a hand. It’s such a simple concept, and one that we’ve been taught our whole lives, in kindergarten and Girl Guides, on soccer teams, and even in university orientation; but being on the receiving end, I feel wholly unworthy of such kindness. I wonder if I am as selfless, as willing to overlook what’s in it for me. But this is community: the understanding that, when someone needs to get something done, you step in and help them do it; and when you need help, they will be there in turn. I love my independence, but sometimes I need to be reminded that I’m not just one individual, and that, if I want community, I have a responsibility to give, as well as to take.

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Filed under cheesy metaphors, community, friends