“Canada is Like the Land of Milk and Honey”: International Students’ Experiences in the GTA

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“Canada is Like the Land of Milk and Honey”: International Students’ Experiences in the GTA

Written by Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede

Canada is like the land of milk and honey” – Tunde.

“Migration can be exciting sometimes because it is a change of scenery but for me it was an escape route” – Tunde.

Tunde came to Canada in the Fall of September 2011. He came with his mother who was there to help him settle down properly and adjust into his new environment since he did not have any close family that lived in Toronto at that time. Himself and his mum were prepared for the harsh winter because his agent had warned them about the cold and how it snowed a lot in Canada. On hearing about snow, he recollected on how jumpy he was on the long flight because he was excited to see mountains of snow and make a snowman just like in cartoons. After his mum spent a couple of weeks helping him settle down in the international private boarding school he was attending at that time called The Great Lakes College of Toronto, his mother travelled back to Nigeria.

Interviewer: How did you feel when your mother left you to go back to Nigeria? Where you sad?

Tunde: Sad? I was ecstatic when my mum travelled back to Nigeria because I was finally free from being caged up and followed around…ugh, at least with her out of the way, the real fun could begin

 Tunde said this as he looked at me with a wide grin on his face while sipping out of his booster juice cup.

Most of the international students I interviewed came to Canada not just for the obvious reasons (that is to further their education) but most importantly, they saw it as a way to escape their low-standard of living back home and to experience freedom from their over protective parents. They also saw it as an opportunity to boost their own social status and that of their family’s back in their home countries.

Through interviewing seven international students from Nigeria (four women and three men, age 20-24), I inquire about which factors influenced their decision to come to Canada, their initial thoughts about Canada before they came, as well as how those expectations have changed and their current views about Canada.

Some of the interviewees are in the process of completing their undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto Mississauga, while others have completed their undergraduate studies and are in the process of looking for a good salary paying job. Majority of the students I interviewed mentioned that they had never heard about Canada. However, they were mostly familiar with England, the U.S and the Caribbeans (specifically for med school). For all of the students, the decision to migrate to Canada was to attend the University of Toronto specifically and eventually get their Permanent Residence Status (PR) as well as their citizenship.

Why the University of Toronto specifically? “Because it was one of the most recognized, prestigious universities back home in Nigeria” Tunde answered. Tunde a 24-year-old man migrated to Canada in 2012 to attend the University of Toronto but first he had to go to college to re-do grade 12 even though he had already completed high school back in Nigeria. He was advised by the agent that helped him with his application, integration into the Canadian school system would be way easier if he had some form of background experience of how the school system and curriculum worked in Canada. Tunde came from an upper class family, he was the second child and only son out of three children in his family. His father is a politician while his mum works as a realtor. Before he came to Canada, he lived in Abuja Nigeria, which is the capital city. He lived in a high-class all Black residential neighborhood where he was surrounded with mostly rich Nigerian people so he never saw race as an issue until he got to Canada.

Tunde was spoiled while growing up as the only son of both parents amongst two female children. His parents took pride in him because he was smart and because he was their only male heir whom they believed was going to inherit his father’s businesses when he  became of age. Thus, he always got whatever he wanted. He was put in the best school in  the country. He also had maids that attended to his domestic needs and he never lacked anything. Basically, he had the kind of lifestyle most Nigerian kids dreamed of having. However, he did not have one thing: freedom. He was not allowed to go out with friends — he was only allowed to invite them over to his home but never allowed to visit them because his parents were scared of him getting kidnapped due to the poor economic situation at that time in Nigeria. He attended boarding school so it was easier to put a tab on him and when he was on holidays, he was not allowed to go to parties or to places of leisure without an escort for fear of kidnappers.

When he was in high school, a couple of agents representing different international private colleges in Canada came to advertise their colleges in his school and he said that that was the first time he ever considered Canada to further his education. These agents told the students about the benefits of attending Canadian colleges and how they could eventually become citizens after spending a minimum of 4 years doing their undergraduate studies. Thus, when Tunde went home for holidays, he told his parents about it and they bought the idea and then hired an agent to help them with the application process.

One of the reasons he came to Canada aside from completing his education was to escape being constantly surveilled by his parents. He said, “unlike the U.K where it is easier for my parents to spring a surprise visit on me because it is just a six-hour flight from Nigeria, my parents cannot just spontaneously fly down to Canada because it is a 15hour flight from home, it is too far for them, so I am free.”

The college “Greatlakes” was not what he had envisioned while coming to Canada. He had thought that it would be prestigious, fancy, and filled with White kids walking around in their uniforms, wearing glasses and carrying school bags just like the Harry Potter movies. But to his surprise, it was absolutely nothing like that. Firstly, the building of the school and classrooms were not as fancy, the gates of the school were rusty and it looked like someone had broken in from underneath the gate because it was bent and there was a hole. It was definitely not something he was used to given the fact that he came from a wealthy background and had received nothing but the best while growing up. He also mentioned that more than half of the population in the school were West African kids predominantly Nigerian Kids which made him feel at home, like he was back in boarding school in Nigeria only that he was in a different country. However, unlike the Nigerian boarding school he attended where boys’ dormitories were separated from the girls’ dormitories, at Greatlakes, it was a coed style of living whereby boys and girls slept in the same building, and for him that marked the beginning of his freedom. He also spoke about how there was no curfew in the dormitories so the students could go out and come back at any time they liked. Therefore, not having his parents there allowed him to experience his freedom to the maximum because he could go out to parties and experience the city in the daytime and enjoy the night life with his new friends and not get followed around by an escort or by one of his parents.

Consequently, he added that race to him was never a problem because back home race was never an issue since everyone was black. “I only hear it on TV in the news”, he said. Essentially, he had never experienced it until he came to Canada and started hearing about it all the time. He said, “on our arrival to Canada, I noticed that my mum and I got strange looks from different people at the airport”. Tunde was shocked at how multicultural Toronto was; every time he saw Black person, he felt more at home.

As we sat at the school in the Davis building cafeteria eating pizza and drinking booster juice admiring how multicultural UTM is, he asked me an interesting question that I myself had never thought about. He asked … “why is it that rich people here don’t have an entourage to escort and protect them?”. I was intrigued by this question because I had never thought about it before but I could understand his amazement. He was used to that kind of treatment growing up, coming from a wealthy family, being the only son and “male heir” to inherit his father’s wealth.


He was born into that kind of life style; he was privileged. Hence, it surprised him to see people from richer families than his not having an entourage. After much thought, we realized that it was because of the topnotch security that Canadians enjoyed which was much more enhanced and well organised than how it is back home. To Tunde, having an entourage was not just for protection against kidnappers but it was a sign of being wealthy.


Tunde is currently a graduate student from the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus with a Bsc degree in Computer Science. Although he is still on the job hunt, he plans on working in Toronto. When I asked him if he was happy he came to Canada given that he had to adjust his lifestyle to be able to integrate better into the society, he said this, “I am glad I came to Canada because I have learned how to be responsible and do things on my own plus Canada is full of so many opportunities that you just have to take advantage of, Canada is like the land of milk and honey”. From this statement, I could tell that he was happy with how far he had come from being that spoiled boy to a grown responsible man. Canada helped mold him into a well-rounded individual. Tunde intends on staying back in Canada to work for a year and then start his Master’s program in the University of Waterloo.


ada's home

Unlike Tunde who came from a very wealthy family, Ada a 21-year-old girl and third child out of four female children came from a lower middle class family. Her father works as a professor in one of the universities in Nigeria while her mother works as an event planner. They live in the outskirts of Enugu, Nigeria, because according to Ada, houses there are cheaper to rent. She also had never heard about Canada; she was only used to hearing about schooling in the U.K and the U.S but never Canada. One day, to her surprise, her father came home with the idea of writing a scholarship exam which she eventually did and passed. One evening, she asked her dad why he wanted her to go to Canada and he said, “because you are my brightest, smartest child amongst your sisters and I want you to use this as an opportunity to do better for yourself”.

Ada had an entirely different experience in comparison to Tunde because the college (Columbian International College abbreviated as CIC) she attended was more sophisticated than the college Tunde attended. Ada came on her own because her parents did not have enough money to buy a plane ticket for herself and another person to accompany her. Although, she had dressed up warmly in expectation of the cold, her clothing was not warm enough. She said, “I remember my teeth shattering as I waiting in line for my taxi… when I saw the snow I was like yes! Finally! I have seen the famous snow physically…I was so excited that I was experiencing snow”. In CIC the racial demography was a mixture of different races such as Africans, Asians, Italians and many more. Most of the kids came from upper middle class families. According to Ada, she felt intimidated and pressured by the social class status of the other kids in the school.

Interviewer: how was your relationship with your peers?

Ada: it was a pretentious relationship to be honest, because I found myself constantly trying to fit in and do things that I would not do if I were back home with my family… I lied to them that I had travelled to the US before, I even started trying to speak with the Canadian accent which was really embarrassing because people could still hear my thick Nigerian accent underneath phony pretence.

Ada created an alternate identity for herself when she came to Canada. She lied about her father’s occupation saying that he was a doctor and lied that her family had lots of maids who did most of the domestic work. Essentially, she was not the daughter of a professor who came for a poorer neighborhood and was on scholarship, rather she was the pampered daughter of a rich doctor who went to the best schools in Nigeria. The class intimidation amongst her peers pressured her to claim to be someone that she was not; there was the pressure to blend in, after all they were her new family at that time.

As we sat at her kitchen counter eating one of her favorite dishes she had just prepared, she asked me “did you ever think that there were homeless beggars in Canada? I never expected to see homeless people here you know”. Before Ada came to Canada, she had imagined it as a place for beauty and glamour, filled with rich White people so it was impossible to see a poor homeless person begging for arms at the roadside “I actually thought that I would see actors and actresses everywhere like how it is in the movies.” Essentially, she believed that everyone was rich and even if there was a lower class, the class gap between the lower and upper class will not be much. Hence, her statement did not really surprise me because I remember the first time I saw a homeless person sleeping by the roadside in Dundas and Hurontario, I was shocked because that was my first time seeing a homeless person by the roadside in Canada. I mean, I knew that there were poor people living in shelters and social government housing but I had never seen them on the roadside. So I could definitely understand her fascination.

Another interesting thing Ada was not expecting when she came to Canada was the constant electricity, “I did not believe that it was possible for there to be constant electricity and no sound of generators at least from time to time… it’s like people don’t even have generators here,” she said. Ada came from a place where people use generator to generate electricity in their homes so she was not used to this silence. “we never had constant light, the only time my dad left the generator on all day was on Christmas day… my dad always rationed the diesel because it was expensive.”  She said only rich people could afford to have more than one generator and leave them running for the entire day in order to have constant power. Hence, coming to Canada to experience constant electricity and not hearing the noise coming from people’s generators came as a pleasant surprise to her.

Ada is in her final year of at the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus doing a double major in Economics and Political Science and a minor in Sociology. Her final thoughts about Canada during the interview reflected similar points Tunde made about having a lot of opportunities and government benefits in Canada to become successful or at least create a positive impact on people around you. She also made this statement “I would rather be poor in Canada than be poor in Nigeria because I know that at least I have health issuance, there are food banks, OSAP, grants and so on”. After graduation, she also intends to stay back in Canada and work until she gets her Permanent Residence.

Aside from factors like race, multiculturalism, freedom, snow, homeless people, electricity and opportunities which were already mentioned in both Tunde and Ada’s stories, other international students I interviewed mentioned a few additional factors that they were not expecting when they came to Canada. The fact that geographically, Canada is so large that there are different time Zones in the different provinces in the same country was one of them. Another factor was the topnotch security and essential services such as the ambulance, paramedics, police, firefighters and so on. When I asked them about their initial thoughts on Canada, they did not think much about Canada; they only thought of the idea of schooling in Canada. However, they were sort of prepared for the cold because their agent had warned them about how cold it could get here. Finally, a lot of them were pleased with their decision to come to Canada and are planning to continue to live here and not return back to their home countries for a while.

Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede studies Criminology and Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is part of the Peel Poverty Action Group in Mississauga and she enjoys learning about different ethnic cultures.







The House That Was Not a Home: From Poland to Canada



The House That Was Not a Home: From Poland to Canada

Written by Malgosia Wenderski

Victoria, a 54 year old Polish woman, had blonde hair with white highlights and black roots. She lived in the suburban neighbourhood Bramalea, a subdivision within Brampton. The area was convenient and peaceful. Amongst the brown houses of Rose Court on spacious green lots were many trees and vehicles for the family. A five minute walk North led to a mall. A walk east led to a catholic elementary school where all her children attended. Beside it was a church that she prayed in every Sunday.



Parallel to her house, a vibrant stream of water snaked through the park, hidden at parts by trees. Walks through were accompanied by sounds of trickling water, wisping trees, and chirps of birds and squirrels. The paved path stretched through, parallel to the narrow creek, surrounded by tall thick trees that contrastingly blended with the sky, shielding walkers from rays of light and rain. To Victoria, however, the area was simply convenient.


“How did you decide where to settle?”

Victoria shrugged and shook her head simultaneously, “It was an investment we wanted to make, because we were renting in Toronto and we wanted a house for our family.” The neighbourhood had to be convenient both for the parents and for the kids. “The house we bought… It was never about what I wanted. I didn’t think about my own comfort and what I wanted. I thought about the kids.” Being close to a school and shopping centre, her children would be able to walk their independently when their older. Grocery shopping would also be close to home.

With her husband, they moved to their first house in Brampton near Chinguacousy park. “It was a really nice neighbourhood. The neighbours were very friendly. They liked to talk, and they were open. And it was very cozy, and warm inside the house. Plants were all over the home. Because the house was made of metal, we spent a lot of money on heating. So we had to move again to save money, and this was the home we picked.” Victoria pointed to the wooden table in front of her with a lowered head for a few seconds. Her frown returned, and the skin around her eyes slightly drooped. Despite being economical and finding the perfect house for her family, it was not perfect for her.

Semi-detached with two stories, the grey cobble stone driveway held a car shared by their family of five. The interior was freshly painted in the summer. The kitchen was off-white. The hall to the basement and wall by their side door was gold. The living room and upstairs hall was sunset yellow with mahogany accents of frames, candle holders, and cabinets housing crystals, china and glasses. Victoria stared off in the distance at a vocal point to my left, “I don’t like it”. She lifted up her hands that exposed her palms, “it’s not my dream home.”

“In all the places you lived in. Which did you love the most?” I asked.

With a large smile, and raised eyebrows, Victoria’s long hands swished around as she spoke, “my house in Poland is the place I liked the most.” Growing up in Podczerwone, Zakopane Poland, Victoria lived there till the age of 16. Although I could not find a picture of Victoria’s house, the log houses below are very similar to her home.

log houses

Constructed with no nails, there were six bedrooms among the two stories. The top floor had four bedrooms only used in the summer. The winter blew through the wooden walls, coating them in frost and making it too cold for them to bear, especially without a furnace. On the ground floor was a living room, kitchen, a single bathroom, and two more bedrooms that her family used during the winter. Each year, women would use rags, soap and water to hand wash the outside of the house. “All my childhood memories were there. We were not rich, but we had everything we needed, and it wasn’t much. We were grateful for what we had. I had [my own] room. I loved the wooden walls, and my drapes were yellow with lots of flowers. The best part was the view of the mountains through the window. It was breathtaking.”

Podczerwone was a small village, so everyone knew each other. The market place was in Zakopane, and villagers had to drive to get there. As a part of education, we had to volunteer for businesses, so I went there often for volunteering. I worked at a bakery and a few retail stores.”

Zakopanezakopane 2zakopane 3

Victoria’s smile slowly dissipated. Her brown eyes lowered to the sight of my glass, and let out a long exhale.

“Is the tea okay?” She asked.

“Yes Pani (Mrs) Victoria. So, then your parents decided to move to Canada. How did they decide that?”

“My parents did not agree. My mother loved Canada. Her relatives paid for everything, gave her everything, so she didn’t have to worry about money. She had a amazing experience. My father wanted to stay in Poland. He has visited Canada alone, and my mother after him. His experience was not as good as hers. But me, I really didn’t want to go,” her arms spread wide with her hands flat, “but I had no choice.”

Her parents sacrificed their home in Podczerwone to the promises of Canada, Roncesvalles.

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“What did you think of your new home in Toronto?”

Victoria looked off to the distance behind me and inhaled. Returning to look into my eyes, she expressed “I did not like it at first. On the plane when I looked down, Canada looked like a beehive. When I saw the neighborhoods in Roncesvalles, all homes looked the same. Three attached to one. If I didn’t know what my house number was, I wouldn’t know which was my house. Nothing was unique. And my house was spooky.” Her reddish brown bricked home growing up in Roncesvalles had painted over windows, creaky floors, and a dreary aura. “We learned months after moving in that the owner hanged himself in the basement.”

roncesvalles 2

“When you look back, from the moment you moved to Toronto, what changes have you noticed?”

Victoria disliked the alienation of suburbia. Despite having privacy, people did not want to interact, “I only know a handful of neighbours. We only greet each other, and that’s it. No one wants to get to know each other, and be friends with one another.” She also noticed this in youth as well, and reminisced about her adolescence, “when I was younger, I would go out with friends to cafes that were just for young people. We’d go and socialize, de-stress by dancing, or talking over coffee. No old folks were there. There are no cafes like this. Kids stay inside their homes, on their phones or iPads. This is no good.”

Victoria’s adventure since Roncesvalles was marriage, her first rented home on Bloor and Christie with their first child, then to two different Brampton homes. She worked multiple jobs, in before she started a business of her own, to afford housing and it’s expenses. With the business, came income that allowed her to renovate her home over the years on Rose court. This included new cabinetry and granite for her kitchen, a new railing for the stairs, a deck for the backyard, new wooden fences, a small cabin for her husband’s tools, appliances, windows, doors, insulation, stucco, etc. However, it still was not a space she could identify as a home.

Through Victoria’s story, we see that housing is not just a shelter. It’s not just four walls and a roof where we eat, sleep, and dwell in. It’s more complex than that. It represents a flood of different experiences. It is a place of memories and emotions that can bring a smile to our faces, and/or a drop in our hearts. It can be a dwelling that has everything they wanted in life, as she experienced in the past. A home can be a sacrifice of one’s preferences and dreams, where people settled for the happiness of others, becoming a house that is not a home.

Malgosia Wenderski studies psychology and sociology at the University at Toronto. She is the founder and host of the Collegiate Talkshow, and passionate about social psychology, inequality, and mental health.



Witnessing Transformation: Personal and Demographic Change in Brampton

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Witnessing Transformation: Personal and Demographic Change in Brampton 

Written by Won Ki Lee

I conducted an interview with Fatima, a middle-aged mother of three that lives in Brampton. She is well-educated and completed degrees in both India and Canada and she currently works as an elementary school teacher, teaching core French to her students. She and her family belong to the middle-class.

When I first approached her about taking part in the interview, she was eager to participate because I had been talking to her about my own experiences studying abroad and she found something in common between herself and my story. During our interview, she always had a smile on her face and was very kind and straightforward while answering the questions I asked. At first, she seemed quite reserved when replying to the questions. However, as the interview progressed, she sounded much more confident in answering the questions and opened up much more about her life in Brampton over the years.

Fatima was born and raised in India and lived there until she got married in 1987. After she got married, she and her husband first moved to Saudi Arabia. They spent about 2 years there and she became pregnant with her first child. She stated that she went back to India to give birth so that she could have her mother by her side. A few months later, she moved to Canada. She said “after the birth of my first child, my husband and I decided that we wanted to immigrate to Canada, so we could provide more opportunities for our family.” They first settled in a small Québécois village in 1990, where she became pregnant with her second child. After a few months of living in Québec, Fatima and her husband decided to move to Brampton.  Fatima explained “after living in Québec for a few months, I still had a hard time communicating with others [because I did not speak French] and I was intimidated to go outside.” Soon after, they decided to move to Brampton, as her sister-in-law’s family lived there. Fatima said that she and her husband briefly lived in her sister-in-laws house until they could find an apartment.

Fatima and her husband rented their first apartment unit in Brampton in 1993. At the time, the apartment was enough for her family of four. They had a small kitchen, one bathroom, and two bedrooms, but they were able to manage. Her neighbours were friendly, but they all had similar financial statuses. Like her own family, most of her neighbours were young families who were just starting to build their financial stability.

Lee apartment

She and her husband kept saving money so that they could one day buy a house. “When I became pregnant with my third child, my husband and I decided that it was time for us to look into buying a house because we needed more space for our growing family,” she stated. They settled on a house in a quiet neighbourhood that had much more space, and most importantly, three bathrooms and three bedrooms. This allowed enough room for Fatima’s parents to immigrate and live with her in Brampton. According to Fatima, she and her husband chose this neighbourhood because it was “close to school and it was in a quite area with friendly neighbours.”

Lee house

After 16 years of living in the same house, they decided it was time to move into a house with more rooms. At this point, their financial status was higher and they were more middle-class, meaning they could afford to move into a more spacious house. Although there was some resistance from her children at first, they were able to compromise by finding a bigger house in a neighbourhood close to their first house. The new house Fatima and her family bought was very different from their first house. Firstly, their new house was located on a court that was very close to an open soccer field. The inside layout of their house also differed. This new house originally had four bedrooms and three bathrooms. However, Fatima and her husband decided to renovate the basement to include an additional two bedrooms and one bathroom.

After living in Brampton for about 20 years, Fatima noticed a lot of changes in both the city and its population. When she first came to live here, there were many less buildings in Brampton and many more open fields. However over time, Fatima noticed how more and more apartments, houses, stores, restaurants, and other buildings have been emerging. “My husband and I always joke about how there aren’t many green spaces anymore. Before, it was so spacious in Brampton that we saw deer walking around all the time,” she stated.

As for the population, Fatima explained how there has been a noticeably large increase in the Indian population that lives in Brampton. One thing she appreciates about this growth is that it made it much easier to find the ethnic spices and ingredients she uses in her cooking. She even joked about how Brampton had such a big Indian population now that even Freshco is catering to the population growth by opening a store called Chalo! Freshco, which sells many Indian products and caters to the growing Indian population in Brampton. Through this interview, I could learn just how much the ethnic demographics have changed the landscape in Brampton over a span of 20 years.

Won Ki Lee is an international student who flew over from South Korea and who is a passionate social science student at UTM.


The Constant Nature of Change: From Nigeria to Canada

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The Constant Nature of Change: From Nigeria to Canada

Written by Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede

When he started discussing about his first neighborhood in Jane and Sheppard, Wes looked away from me and looked out the window of his room. He seemed like he did not want to remember but was compelled to because of the interview questions. Though his voice was calm, I sensed that that period of his life was depressing for him.

Wes is a 6-foot tall, dark-skinned, slim 27-year-old man. He is a nurse, a part-time rapper/songwriter/producer and photographer. He had moved nine times since he came from Nigeria as a pre-teen boy. He had lived in different houses/apartments in Brampton, Manitoba, Hamilton, Barrie and Mississauga. He told me that at first he used to enjoy the idea of moving because of the excitement of changing location, having a new room and the concept of living in a new house, but after a while moving started to become a taxing experience for him. He was excited when he and his family moved from Nigeria to Canada. He had thought that since they were living in a four-bedroom apartment back in Nigerian with two maids, a laundryman, a part-time chef and a two security guards, his lifestyle here would be similar to how it was back home in Nigeria. However, to his disappointment, life here was not as flamboyant.

Wes migrated from Nigeria to Canada in 1991 when he was 10. He came with his mum, dad and younger brother. They all lived with his dad’s younger brother on Jane street in Toronto. After squatting for a period of six months with their uncle, Wes’s dad decided to get an apartment on Jane street and Sheppard avenue. The apparent was small with two bedrooms, one tiny washroom and an open-concept kitchen. He said he never knew his neighbors because the area was not safe and his parents had warned him and his younger brother not to talk to anybody that the father did not know.

Although the neighborhood was labelled as a crime ridden area, he and his family never encountered any troubles. There was a grocery store situated across the street from his house and all the houses on the block looked similar in terms of structuring and décor. He also pointed out that there was only one entrance into his block where a lot of people hung around especially in the evenings and so it got noisy sometimes. He said that there were predominantly Brown, Black and “Beige” lower class people who lived there. He did not remember seeing a White person.

He currently stays in one of the Absolute condominiums located in downtown Mississauga. When he started to tell me about this new place, his eyes were focused on me and he was more talkative, beaming with excitement. He says that his current apartment has been his most favourite place to live because his friends are close by, Toronto is not far off and it is easy to get to work as well as to the mall from his place. He further added that he had always wanted to live in downtown Mississauga. His best memories of being a young adult enjoying life, going to parties, hanging out with friends and networking all resonate in Mississauga – particularly in his new neighborhood which is full of racial and socio-economic diversity. However, he stated that he still intends to move to Toronto at the end of summer and get closer to the Toronto lifestyle were everything and everyone is always on the move.

vanessa absolute 5

When asked what home meant to him, he said “Home to me is not really a physical place; living in all these different places has shown me that the environment you live in would always change but as long as you have a personal sense of home and security, you’ll be fine.” He further added that his father told him that change was a constant thing. I could sense a feeling of displacement which he eventually admitted to at the end of the interview. He said that moving around made him feel impaired which in some way had an impact on his identity in the sense that nothing he did or engaged in was ever permanent. The longest time he had ever lived in an apartment/house was for four years. Hence he could not establish himself somewhere because change for him is constant.

Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede studies Criminology and Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is part of the Peel Poverty Action Group in Mississauga and she enjoys learning about different ethnic cultures.

Experiencing Downward Mobility: From Bangladesh, To Holland, to Canada


Experiencing Downward Mobility: From Bangladesh, To Holland, to Canada

Written by Nerissa Harrypersad

I met Shawn a cold Sunday night. As always, he was well-dressed and well-groomed, wearing a slim-fit pair of jeans with a wool business casual grey sweater. His facial hair was shortly trimmed suiting his slim face, and his hair style consisted of medium fade with his hair longer at the top of his head. He is twenty-four years old and identifies as South Asian from Bangladesh.

Although Shawn is only twenty-four years old, he has moved quite a few times. He was born in Bangladesh and left the country at the age of five. He then moved to Holland, where he spent most of his childhood. Later, he moved to Ontario, Canada where he has remained in Mississauga ever since. His father has always been the deciding factor on the family moving; Shawn, along with his mother and sister, would simply follow what he decided.

Shawn and his family first moved to Ontario, Canada in 2008. They have lived in Mississauga since then, in two different places. Shawn described the first place he lived in as a townhouse next to retirement home, down the street from where he lives now. He currently lives in the Erin Mills area. Interestingly, he describes his old house as located at “the dark side of Sauga.” As part of his description, he states that he lived next to a drug dealer.

Shawn’s parents rented this townhouse for one year, before deciding to move. His father decided it was time to move because he was tired of paying rent each month. Shawn stated that buying a house was a goal and aspiration for his family. His father made the decision to stay in the Erin Mills area because “everything is there [and] it’s like Beverly Hills but in Sauga.” The desire of ownership was a driving factor for this Shawn’s family to move, where location and convenience each played a significant role in deciding to remain in the same area. In 2009, the family purchased a semi-detached house. Shawn gladly reveals “when I moved I knew we kinda made it.” Purchasing their new home and having a sense of ownership meant that they had fulfilled their aspirations.


Moreover, an interesting discussion approached during the topic of socio-economic status and they type of people who live in Shawn’s current neighbourhood. When asked to describe the people who live in his neighbourhood, Shawn immediately said “mostly like middle to upper class. A mix of Brown and Arabs. Also Pakistanis.” He related his description first to class, and then to ethnicity. When asked if they are similar or different in terms of their socio-economic status, Shawn said they are the same for the most part, being middle class. His answer to whether this has always been the case is intriguing.

Shawn describes that his socio-economic status had moved downhill after moving to Ontario, Canada. Due to immigration, his father had difficulty finding employment after their move to Canada. His credentials and education completed in Bangladesh and Holland were not recognized here. Shawn revealed that his father was not provided with assistance for education or training due to his age. As Shawn said: “we were well-off and we are not as well-off here.” His father was financially secure in Holland, but had to deal with insecurities after struggling with employment in Canada. Also, his father experienced downward social mobility, due to his education not being recognized in Canada.

Despite the struggles Shawn and his family experienced as immigrants, Shawn stated that he would not change anything about the area he lives in now and would not want to live anywhere else. The story of Shawn’s family, especially the experiences of his father, illustrates the inequalities that immigrants experience once settling within Canada.

Nerissa Harrypersad is currently a senior student at the University of Toronto- Mississauga, completing a Specialist in Sociology and a Major in Criminology. Raised by Trinidadian parents and coming from a rich Trinidadian culture, she is particularly intrigued by other cultures, while consistently learning something new about her own culture every day. She loves the study of culture and what it means to come from a particular ethnic background.

Grounded by Scarborough, Privileged by Vaughan: Learning to Adapt

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Grounded by Scarborough, Privileged by Vaughan: Learning to Adapt

Written by Meenusha Satkunanathan

Behind a bearded visage stands a five-foot, 10-inch man who has lived his entire life in the Greater Toronto Area. Brad is a 28-year-old Sri Lankan-born Canadian. His darker complexion gives away his ethnic background at a first glance. At the same time, his tone, language, and style of speaking show that he is no different from the typical Torontonian.

Growing up, Brad has been someone who I have always looked up to. I admired his independence, courage, and compassion. Yet, his understanding of the world and life was completely different from mine and we shared very little in common. Although he and I come from two different provinces in the same country, it is almost as if we come from two very opposite worlds: there was always something that I had never understood about him. There was a part of him that was unknown and it baffled my mind. I had always thought that there was something deeper to him than I could see.

Brad spent his entire childhood in Scarborough where he was born and raised. Though Scarborough was filled with violence and disorder, he developed a sense of community and belonging amongst the diverse groups of individuals who lived in his neighbourhood. Scarborough was everything that he knew: it was where he made friends and created childhood memories to last him a lifetime. However, at the age of twelve, things took a drastic turn in Brad’s life. His parents decided to move to the suburbs where he and his siblings could continue growing in a safe neighbourhood –Vaughan.

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Living in Vaughan was different for Brad. The appearance of the neighbourhood itself was different. The trees were so young and the houses were very similar. Even though there was a sense of community in Vaughan, it was not the same sense of community that he had experienced in Scarborough. In Scarborough, the community was created through the interactions that people had with one another. It was built of the everyday people that lived there. In Vaughan, the sense of community existed physically. It was the “cookie cutter” houses and the physical location that created a community.

Much to my dismay, it was after his move to Vaughan that he began to support his family: Brad began delivering newspapers from the age of twelve. Like many immigrant families, he and his family worked hard to maintain the new life that they had adopted. When I had asked about the work that he did to support his family, he answered it so naturally as if it was something that every twelve-year-old child would do –“It was tough in the beginning because you are spending more money. A house costs more money, but both my parents worked. We made ends meet and I worked small part time jobs like I used to do the newspaper. I did the newspapers for a long time actually to make extra cash.” To me, this depicted his selflessness. Scarborough may have shaped him, but it was from his move to Vaughan that he developed the sense of responsibility and independence that he has today.

This was not the only change that Brad went through from his move. He went from having many friends to not knowing anyone in this new neighbourhood. Of course, this caused him to miss his previous neighbourhood as any twelve-year-old would – “I wanted to move back because all of my friends were gone.” However, Brad was not completely alone. His extended family had also moved to a house in Vaughan.

The fact that he is a family-oriented man is surely no news to me, but how he became one was something that I had never bothered to give much thought to before. Based on the way he described his transition from Scarborough to Vaughan, it seems that because he did not know anyone or have any friends in his new neighbourhood, he had built strong relationships with his cousins and family members. This can be part of the reason why he is so family-oriented today.

The relatively superior details that Brad shared about Scarborough reveal that it has certainly left a strong impact on him. I was able to see that he had a deep sense of attachment to Scarborough through the change in his tone when he spoke of Scarborough in comparison to Vaughan: he appeared to be more passionate about Scarborough. The way he speaks of the neighbourhood and the manner through which he identifies with it leads me to believe that he sees Scarborough as the place from which he originates – “But what parts of me are from Vaughan, I would say I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Unlike myself, Brad has always been someone who is well grounded. This is especially apparent in the way he speaks, gestures, dresses and presents himself.  He has never been someone to judge another person or feel a sense of superiority to those who may not be as privileged as he is. Perhaps this is because Scarborough is the place that grounds him. I think that because he grew up alongside many hardworking people and saw his family earn their way out, he does not feel entitled to the more privileged lifestyle he lived during the latter years of his life –  “A lot of people I grew up with in Scarborough went through hard times and experienced a lot of violence and hard times.”

I believe that because he was able to experience these two distinct ways of living through his neighbourhood change, he has become someone who is better approachable for people from all kinds of backgrounds like myself. Maybe the reason why he and I are so dissimilar is because the environments from which we come from and the experiences that we have had are so different. I can be certain that at age twelve, thinking about supporting my family was the last thing on my mind. I was right: there is certainly more depth to him than what I had known.

Meenusha Satkunanathan was born and raised in Montreal, QC. She is a third year student at the University of Toronto Mississauga completing a double major in Criminology and Sociology.

Yearning for a Home of Her Own: A Pashtun Woman’s Migration Story


Yearning for a Home of Her Own: A Pashtun Woman’s Migration Story

Written by Mahek Basar

Shahista is Pakistani, Muslim woman in her early 50s. She moved to Canada about 11 years ago, with her husband and their two children.  She works part-time as a seamstress, in addition to being a full-time housewife. Thus, she has a very busy lifestyle, but she still agreed to let me interview her. She is a Pashtun woman, and Pashtuns are a warrior race from Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. They are known for their fair skin, tall stature and heavy builds. However, Shahista, while fair-skinned with green eyes, is quite petite. She was dressed in traditional Pakistani clothes of salwar kamiz: loose pants and a long shirt.

We conducted the interview in Shahista’s home. She lives in a three-bedroom apartment that overlooks one of the busiest streets in Mississauga: Hurontario St. We conducted the interview in her living room, where we were alone and away from distractions. Her living room was decorated with family portraits, graduation photos of her children, and frames with Quranic verses. There was a red Janamaz (prayer rug) in the corner of the living room. Throughout the interview, she felt nostalgic of her childhood home. She really missed living in a large house, with a beautiful garden, surrounded by her siblings and parents. In fact, when describing her childhood home, her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She liked her current apartment but it was obvious she still yearned for a home of her own. This was especially evident when she discussed her neighbours, who were “so fortunate” to have bought their own homes. She told me that while it wasn’t impossible for her family to own a house financially, her husband’s health discouraged them from taking such a big risk. Since the family was dependent on his income alone, if that source of money suddenly depleted, they would find themselves in a lot of trouble with mortgage payments.

Shahista felt a little envious of her neighbour, Bhabi (sister-in-law). Bhabi was an uneducated woman, but “Allah was kind to her,” and her sons were obedient and hard-working, unlike Shahista’s son. Bhabi’s sons graciously accepted their arranged marriages to cousins in Pakistan, and both boys worked full-time jobs earning six figures. Shahista felt that her son was more intelligent than Bhabi’s sons, but he was rebellious. He refused to marry any girl Shahista chose, and refused to find work despite having an accounting degree from University of Toronto. That’s why Shahista’s family could not afford a house, while Bhabi was enjoying the comfort of living with her son and grandchildren.

Mostly, Shahista blamed herself for her situation. If she had never brought her son to Canada, he may never have gotten so out-of-control. Here, she couldn’t scold him, because he was an adult and entitled to his way of life. Had they stayed in Pakistan, Shahista’s husband might have built her a bungalow next to her sisters’ homes. Or even in Canada, if she had retained a little control over her son, or not given in to his every wish, he may have grown up more responsible. In that case, he would be working now, and they could buy a house, with the promise of a second source of income. In her youth, she had always imagined she would be a home-owner by this stage in her life. She was, after all, married to an engineer, which was the second most prestigious occupation in Pakistan after a doctor. However, Canadian employers did not accept her husband’s credentials, so he resorted to becoming a taxi driver. This suddenly lowered her family’s socioeconomic status from middle-class to working-class. Thus, now belonging to a lower status in society, her family was unable to afford homeownership.

Mahek Basar is undergraduate student at University of Toronto, majoring in sociology and molecular biology. She would like to study and practice medicine through a sociological lens by providing health care to underprivileged populations.

She is the founder of EOFP-Educate Orphaned Females of Pakistan, a non-for-profit, charitable organization which seeks to provide underprivileged, orphaned girls in the rural areas of Pakistan with school supplies.