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How Did I Get Here in My Life?

Time 0:03:23


I thought Canada was the most boring place in the world when I was growing up. It was so very white and English speaking then. But I had family members who worked in countries I thought were exotic and they told me stories of their adventures. When I graduated from university, I couldn’t decide what to do next. But I knew, I wanted to be where the action was.

I got a job teaching English as a foreign language in Japan and for six months, I lived in Tokyo and studied Japanese. In high school, I studied Latin, French, German and Spanish. Even though I had high marks, I thought that I failed at learning languages because I couldn’t actually speak to anyone. But in Japan, I discovered that I loved learning language. I heard the language all around me and was completely involved in Japanese life, so I learned quickly to get along in more and more complicated situations.

Then, for three years in Kobe I taught English to adults. At first I was terrified. I had a few short lessons in teaching English as a foreign language, but I really had no idea what to do. The Japanese classroom style was so formal that I was sure that the students weren’t learning real English. But, when the students included me in their clubs, that’s when learning happened for all of us. We’d get together to practice English informally almost every day- eating, cooking, going to the beach, taking hikes and going to the theatre. One night, we started talking about an election coming up. We talked endlessly about what was going on, how we felt about it, and how North America and Japan were the same or different.

When I moved back to Canada in 1968, culture shock was difficult for me: I had changed and so had Toronto. Immigrants were pouring into Canada so I took a job teaching ESL in a new government program. We all learned about each other along with struggling with English grammar.

Many students were fairly well educated and from urban backgrounds, but I also met people with little or no formal education and little experience with cities. My students would take turns introducing me to their favourite restaurants, then just tiny holes in the wall, that served the food of their countries. I explored ethnic neighbourhoods, and discovered the kinds of barriers my students were facing, including discrimination in employment and services.

Because I loved this work so much, I helped to start of a new organization, TESL Ontario, to support the teaching of ESL, and advocate for fair treatment for immigrants. I knew I had found my new life. I’ve stayed involved in immigrant support work ever since.

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