By: Mona Mashhadi Rajabi in Tehran, Iran
Communication is more than understanding the words.
I was always aware of language barriers when I decided to move to Canada. But I didn’t know that this would go beyond an understanding of words and sentences.
It took me a few months to get to this point, after a few odd experiences along the way. I will explain two of them for you.
Animation film that opened my eyes
I was a student in Ottawa and some of my courses were project-based. There were four students in each group for the econometrics project. The deadline for the project was approaching, but we were stuck. The central problem in the project could not be solved, and the more we tried, the less progress we seemed to make.
One day, as we were reading related articles and brainstorming, Gen, a Canadian-born student on my team, said: “We should call Thing 1 and Thing 2 to solve this problem.” Her reference did not make sense to me, but everyone else burst into laughter.
I showed no reaction. I didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t know how to respond. Fortunately, no one realized that I didn’t get the point and we quickly got back to work. But the experience stayed in my mind.
A few months later, while I was watching “The cat in the hat” animation film with my daughter, I discovered the origins of Gen’s reference. She was talking about two creatures in the cartoon that could solve unsolvable problems, the creatures that could help the “Cat” reach his goal.
It was a fulfilling moment for me. But I also realized that this sort of thing could happen again.
For a moment I felt like an alien. The society that I chose to live in had so many unknown features rooted in its culture. I could face many obstacles because of that. I knew that I could meet people who might not understand my situation or may misunderstand my responses. I was missing out on a few things.
But it was my decision to move to Canada for my studies and it was in my interest to learn the culture and become a full part of the society around me. So, I had to work harder and not get disappointed.
Lack of self-confidence to react in an emotional situation
Melody, my daughter, was a happy, four-year old girl who started her junior kindergarten in Canada.
Sara was one of Melody’s classmates. I knew her mother, Kate. We were living in the same neighborhood and we used to chat while we were waiting for the school bus. Kate was a photographer and was so nice to me.
At the school’s New Year celebration day, Melody’s class came on the stage and started singing a song. Melody was loud and clear, she pronounced every word correctly and performed well with other children.
Kate was standing beside me. She said: “Melody’s improvement in speaking English is impressive” and added that “Sara is so shy and never sings with the other children.”
She was worried about her daughter and I understood her concerns as a mother, but I didn't feel confident enough to respond spontaneously.
She looked at me in anticipation and I finally put two words together.
“Wow, really?” I said. It was the worst reaction that I could have made.
At that moment another mother joined our conversation and said: “I am sure she will get better. Some children are shy at first, but they will become more social after a few years.”
This was a better response. A kind of response that every mother expected and I had shown thousands of times before moving to Canada.
After that day, I saw Kate many times and she did not mention my poor reaction to her concern. I explained my deficiencies in communication to her and I was surprised when I learned that it was not a new experience for Kate. She used to work with new immigrants and had faced strange situations before.
She was the one who told me that the main barrier for an immigrant was not language but it was the communication skill.
She added: “Communication is the skill that can be gained by living with people, talking with them and becoming friends with them. The kind of skill that can be gained over time.”
After that day, she started talking about Canada’s culture, parenting and lifestyle. She tried to help me improve my skills and become an active person in conversations. She used to inform me about every cultural event in the city and playhouses in the neighbourhood.
Becoming friends with Kate was an impressive experience for me. This experience taught me to accept other people, to understand their situation and not to judge them based on one poor reaction. It taught me that in a developed society, every person matters and every person feels responsible for others. This responsibility was one of the keys to success.
I remember Kate always telling me, “It is does not matter what you had, the important thing is what you gain. And the vital ingredient for success in this process is your willpower, hard work and ability not to give up or get disappointed.”
And I chose to go on this way hoping that leads me to success.
Although challenges of miscommunication did not end, I was more relaxed because I was not the only person facing communication challenges in Canada. I knew that there were many people in society who understood me, nonetheless.
This was the time that, I felt like home.
This piece is the second part of a mini-series within New Canadian Media’s Mentorship Program. The writer was mentored by Alireza Ahmadian.
Coming up next: Why I Am Still Considering Immigrating to Canada
Mona Mashhadi Rajabi holds a Master’s degree in economics. As a business journalist living in Tehran, she has written for publications such as Donyay-e-eghtesad, Tejarat-e-farda, Jahan-e-sanat and Ireconomy.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit