MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Category: ESL

New Home, New Life, New Style – How to Approach Your New Life

There are times in life when  we are left baffled by events, actions or people. To make some sense out of these, our brain tries to match them with something in the past. People are more often left confused when they first meet individuals from outside of their community  (cultural, professional, geographical, etc.) or when they take themselves out of their comfort zone. Deciding to live abroad for example, provides an endless number of opportunities to feel just like this. The first week after I arrived in Vancouver, I felt confused and unsure of what to expect and also of what was expected from me.

It is a challenging and conflicting time for a newcomer: on one hand, the wish to start your new life and become independent is getting stronger every day but the normal reluctance in front of a foreign society and its yet unknown rules and regulations forces you to stick close to your community, the people you know and trust by association to your former life.  There was a certain protocol in my community: neighbours of the same nationality, friends and acquaintances would visit and give the advice they considered necessary to help you start making sense of the new land. Imagine every evening having anywhere between two to seven people coming over with drinks and a heart full of good intentions. Once the wine started flowing, the advice would begin on where to find certain foods, on how to find a good job or where to find a nice a park to relax. The problem was always towards the end when we were forced to take sides on who had the better choice. But this is a different story!  Although contradictory and most of the times subjective, one piece of advice seemed to be consistent: as a newcomer you have to renounce your former life,  give up everything you know and start from scratch. Change had happened, now you have to manage the transition from the  former life to the new, unknown future laying ahead.

In his book Transitions, William Bridges deals exactly with this: change and transition as two different concepts. Change is sudden and situational while the transition process is psychological and happens over time. All transitions, he says, are composed of an ending, a neutral zone and a new beginning. The problem I had experienced and I am sure most of you will agree is that it is easier said than done. Theoretically we all know that as a newcomer we need to let go of our old life in order to move on into the neutral zone of the transition. In a time when you have lost your trusted network of friends and relatives, and when even the way you see yourself  is changing, letting go or ending the connection with “life as you knew it” is the most difficult. “[…] ending is making us fearful. They break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves [..]” says Bridges. How can one overcome this fear?

I think that the most important thing is to reach out of your community. Get out of your community and ask the help of professionals. Most of the people within your community are  extremely nice and willing to share their settlement experience. But their opinions are biased and emotional based on their subjective, unique experiences. By reaching out to a newcomer settlement service you will be able to polish your language skills, learn reliable information about Canada and the specific area you live in, and most important of all, gain confidence and start understanding the Canadian way.

Experience and have fun with something new every day. Except for few basic things, nothing will ever be the same. From the way you used to drive back home to the way the bed sheet is designed, from the way people interact on the streets to the way people address each other, everything needs to be re-wired. Such a process of replacing habits and common knowledge with new habits and concepts can be overwhelming. In the classic action-reaction model, our minds will go into that resistance mode and will fight back as hard as possible to change. Trick your mind!  Be open and instead of criticizing or comparing with what you used to know start having fun with change. Begin with small steps: what about a new way of setting the table?  Find a new park or a new place to discover at the end of the week! Try to use the very Canadian “eh” at the end of a sentence and join into the smiles that will follow, eh? It is not necessarily about what you do but about the attitude that in time will change, and you will become more accepting of the new ways.

Develop a new habit: asking for help! Well, what do you do when you are lost in the middle of a new city and have no idea how to go back to your hotel? Ask for help! When you are new to Canada, or any other country, city, place, there will be more times when you have no clue how to do things or where to find things. From not being able to find the right word when you need it the most to not knowing how to change the colour at the pedestrian crossing, life in a new country will provide a huge number of opportunities to get upset and lost. Ask for help! Instead of wasting time trying to solve something or to find certain information by yourself, develop this very healthy habit of asking for help!

Stop talking and start listening more! We all have been there. There are times when we get frustrated in the process of settling. Maybe because we are lacking the understanding of how things are done and why things are done in a certain way. Or just because we got hit with a not so rare moment of nostalgia and instead of breaking down and crying, we go on the offensive and start explaining how things are done much better in the old country. Sometimes we remember similar situations that happened back in the old life and we feel compelled to tell the story out loud! Well, not only that it makes us sound very pretentious but for most Canadians is boring as there are usually cultural references and jokes specific to our mother language that are difficult to translate. When nostalgia hits, I have learnt to bite my tongue and start asking questions! Showing interest in the way things are done, in people I meet or  places I visit, not only engages them but also provides a very good way of learning new and interesting things about the Canadian way that otherwise would take time and effort to discover.

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About Foreign Credentials in Canada

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Every year our Canadian government aims to attract a high number of immigrants to help grow Canada’s economy. For 2015, according to CIC News, the target was set somewhere between 260,000 to 285,000 new residents. Among these, more than 65% of the total number are expected to be economic immigrants, looking for better working and living conditions. Canada has a very specific way of deciding who will be accepted based mainly on 3 factors: language proficiency, education and work experience. There is no surprise then, that over 69% of the new residents hold a post secondary credential: Bachelor Degrees , post secondary certificates and even Masters or PhD’s and between five to ten+ years of work experience. British Columbia is the province with the highest percentage of Bachelor Degrees among new residents. Among those an overwhelming 31% are underemployed, as per Stats Canada, as the immigrants with Bachelor Degrees are the segment of population that struggle the most either with unemployment or in under qualified jobs.

Before January 2015, the applications were processed on a first come, first served base while now, courtesy of the newly launched Express Entry system, the approval process will be faster for those with good and very good language skills, higher education and of course some work experience. It is good to see that the government recognizes that Canada needs good immigration policies to maintain and grow its economy. It is refreshing to see that more than ever the government is trying to find and recruit talented and very talented professionals in a timelier fashion. What I don’t see is any money or effort put in helping them get established and employed in jobs for which they are qualified and certified. Little has changed in the last 15 years since I experienced all these fun times, heartbreaks and joys of establishing myself in a new country. The way I see it, all the money and effort the government is putting in creating all these sustainable immigration policies will be only as effective in accessing the maximum out of the new incoming talent as the immigrant settlement policies in place at the time. In other words, unless the government starts looking seriously into ways of removing some of the barriers, especially the credentials barrier, all the tax payers money and effort put into recruiting talent will have only a minimum return, if ever.

Canada already has a pool of intelligent and highly trained professionals that are wasting their knowledge and experience in jobs that do nothing to use their skills and talent. The old joke that the best place to have a heart attack is in a cab as most of the cab drivers are doctors is still a reality. While attending an information session at SFU, I happened to start a conversation with a very nice lady. It turned out she had two master degrees from a university in Delhi, had been in Canada for 7 years and was still working in a restaurant. The mighty Internet is also full of such stories; we all know at least a person who has lived through or is experiencing the transition or have friends that threaten to leave this country and go back to their native land every time you ask an innocent “How are you?” It is one of those realities that have become so common and it’s been around for so long that the only reaction you ever have is a quick rolling of the eyes and a swift change of subject! We have become immune to it and to the heartache it usually brings.

My story is just another immigrant story. I came to Canada in 1999 and followed blindly the unwritten script of the well-educated immigrant who after struggling to understand why his/her education is not recognized, sadly realized that without re-qualifying would have no access to her profession. A few blows to a small budget and a family that came apart moved the timeline for going back to school further and further away and made my frustrations with jobs that under-utilized my skills grow exponentially. In the meantime, the adorable five year old that got off the plane at YVR in that cold June of 1999 had grown into this smart handsome young man that was ready for University. It was his time to shine and I happily experienced the Canadian student life through him. For me, it’s been 15 years of dreaming that I will be teaching again one day. I am still in love with the profession I once practiced successfully but I have to resentfully let it go and move on. Why? Well, it’s complicated but let me try explaining.

  1. Money. After adding all the costs associated with a full 12-month program and several other mandatory courses required by SFU and the Ministry of Education, the total bill comes close to $30,000. If I were an optimistic I would definitely say not a big deal! Heck, if I were my husband, would definitely say: honey, we can handle. Unfortunately, I am me and any price higher than $10,000 gives me vertigo and nausea.
  2. Prospects for future. I could invest the $30,000 into my future thinking I will recover the costs within a couple of years of full time employment. The reality is different. According to an article published in Oct 2014 in The Tyee, “there are roughly 3,300 certified teachers for 900 teaching jobs in the province every year. That’s about three teachers for every job” with the biggest oversupply in teachers specialized in arts, humanities, and English.
  3. Time. I am not in my twenties anymore. I feel that time is running faster than I can grasp it and I have to take that into consideration. I need 3 years to complete all the courses I am asked to in order to be admitted into SFU, meet the BC Teacher Regulation Board and then complete the full 12 month long PD Program. Next, the first step in getting a full time job as a teacher is to apply for a TOC position (teacher on call) with the district. There are no guarantees that you will be accepted as a TOC and there are no guarantees that you will be on that list for a year or two only. I don’t have time to play around anymore and I have a family and responsibilities here. At the end of the program, if I am not hired in a district of my choice, I cannot pack up my family and relocate in a smaller remote community just to follow my dream.

Resentfully I will let go of my dream and continue on a different path. I feel discriminated against though. Had my degree been recognized faster, easier and less expensive, I would have taken all these chances to be licensed as a teacher here. I wonder whether in a multicultural country such as Canada, these barriers are kept and reinforced as a way of imposing a hierarchy of power as oppose to a hierarchy of competency. There is nothing more degrading for an immigrant that has worked hard for their degrees to be told that here their credentials mean nothing without their skills and knowledge being tested. Different cultures perceive education in different ways but what I have noticed to be the same is the higher social and economic status that comes with a well-earned degree in most of the non-Western countries. Once you trivialize and take away that status, it damages not only the ego but it immediately places the immigrant into a different social class. The real issue from the immigrant’s point of view is that he/she is devalued based on their background, based on a document and the native country issuing that document, not based on their real skills, knowledge and education.

A Statistics Canada (2004) census study provides a conspectus of the characteristics and experiences of recent immigrants residing in Canada’s metropolitan areas in terms of the settlement patterns and the labour market experiences and earnings. The research shows that virtually all immigrants coming to Canada in the 1990s — about 1.8 million — have settled in one of Canada’s 27 census metropolitan areas. These immigrants also have higher levels of educational attainment than people born in Canada. Yet, in virtually every urban region, a far higher proportion of recent immigrants were employed in jobs with lower skill requirements than the Canadian-born. In addition, recent immigrants were less likely to be employed in occupations typically requiring a university degree. In fact, recent immigrants with a university degree were much more likely than their Canadian-born counterparts to be working in occupations that typically require no formal education. Finally, in most urban centres, recent immigrants were at least twice as likely as Canadian-born workers to earn less than $20,000 a year. They were also much less likely to have high earnings, that is, more than $100,000 a year. This reinforces the findings of previous labour force studies showing that recent immigrants were much more likely to work for low wages, were less likely to be high-wage earners and had higher unemployment rates. The result is a drain on social programs and public transportation in the country’s largest cities (Statistics Canada, August 2004). (Foster, Lorne. 2006. “Foreign Credentials in Canada’s Multicultural Society.” In Merle Jacobs and Stephen E. Bosanac (Eds.). The Professionalization of Work. Toronto: de Sitter Publications. Chapter 10. P287)

In a way, I feel that the same wasteful tendencies of the modern society are in full display when looking at the talent existent in Canada. There is a large pool of untapped talent that lays dormant because of the credentials barrier while Canada continues to recruit young, educated individuals whose skills are mostly going to be discarded in the same old pool just because they were born and educated in the wrong part of the world. Maybe it is time to start thinking about a government run body that will facilitate this transition and will look into removing the credentials barrier by working as a bridge between the new immigrant and the employer and remind all professional associations their mandate should be that of “facilitator” not “barrier” and their attitude should change from “tolerance” to “acceptance”.

 

Picture courtesy of johannes.jannson/norden.org

 

 

 

50 Shades of Friendship

funny-friend-vs-best-friendI was bored the other day and to amuse myself I googled friendship and friends. I got approximately  312,000,000 results varying from friendship bracelets to speeches to organizations, definitions, messages, articles, quotes and so much more. It must be a very popular subject and one that does not need specialists to help you define or understand the notions, you might think.  I spent about one hour reading and browsing through the articles and comparing their insightful theories with my own believes, values and experiences. I learnt, yet again, that one’s culture and basic, elementary education shape their future values and beliefs. I can see you rolling your eyes, thinking: “Of course they do, no breakthrough theory here!”. Reality is yelling otherwise: too often we forget that people come from different backgrounds and their values are not always aligned with ours and what we hold the highest might not even make their list of must have’s.

My favourite quote on friendship is Steven J. Daniels: “A good friend will help you move, but a true friend will help you move a body.” It defines in very simple words how much I value friendship. No, I have not killed anybody yet but hey, I am hopefully only half way through my life! I need to cover all my basis. Joke aside, I grew up divinizing the friendship Athos, Portos and Aramis shared in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. Later on, after reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Darcy and Bingley were an odd couple first I could not understand, but then I fell in love with their relationship. Bingley is just a nice guy that likes everything and everybody, easy going and docile, always listening and following Darcy’s advice. On the other hand, Darcy is a rich landowner who doesn’t understand why he should be nice with people that are neither as rich, nor as educated and sophisticated as he is. And yet, Bingley is his most devoted friend, constantly putting up with his negative attitude and rude behaviour.

I read somewhere that real life friendships are not that easy to  find as most of them are either short lived and easily breakable or they take place only in your head. History, on the other hand, provides us with examples of real, quirky, long lasting friendships. Take the friendship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway for example. Their love for writing and literature brought them together but their friendship went far beyond this, although not the conventional or the overly loving type. When Hemingway sent Fitzgerald a draft of A Farewell to Arms, Fitzgerald sent it back with 10 pages of edits, to which Hemingway wrote back: “Kiss my ass.” When Fitzgerald confessed that Zelda, his wife, complained about the size of his penis, Hemingway took him to the washroom to analyze it and reassured his friend that everything was normally developed.

Al their lives, my parents had just a couple of friends and a lot of acquaintances. This was due partly to the fact that we were very close to our large family that provided enough drama to keep us busy, and enough support in time of need.  They were left with little to no time or emotional support to give to friends. Things were also simpler and categories very well defined: there were acquaintances, friends and close friends. The difference between friends and close friends was the amount of trust involved in the relationship. If you needed to move, for examples, you would call your friends to help you. If you needed to cry and expose your vulnerable naked soul you would call your close friend. It was easy, without confusions and everybody knew which category they belonged to. The status of close friend was not something that could be bargained, bought or negotiated. Being friends with somebody would not give you the status of close friend by default. This was something that was earned through trials and challenges along the years. But what a rewarding feeling knowing not wondering whether somebody has your back!

Moving from the old continent to North America, among so many other differences I’ve had to accustom myself with, the redefining of the notion of friendship proves to be one of the most challenging. I don’t like too many people to begin with. I don’t believe in the networking idea promoted and so highly talked about by the North Americans. I view it as an expression of the narcissistic side of a society infatuated with high school behaviour where the absolute dream is to be the most popular kid.

The main difference might come from the fact that I come from a “saver” society and live now in a “consumer” society. Back home we tend to keep few quality things/people for a longer time while on the new continent, the Dollar Store philosophy guides all our decisions: everything and everybody comes in cheap and is replaceable.  To me, all relationships here are governed by cordiality: the dialogue is informal and friendly and usually goes around the area of interest that brought the group together without going deeper or wider than just that. The term “friend” is used quite loosely to name  golf friends, riding friends, work friends, shopping friends, travel friends and so on… each and every compartment of our lives here comes with a set of “friends” but the connection is superficial and with no expectations of durability or depth. Once the golf season ends, the friendship goes into the hibernation until spring.

It makes sense if you put it in the context of life in North America: mobile and transient. People move at a drop of a hat for a better position, more money, a better opportunity, a better lifestyle therefor they are reluctant to invest more in human relationships. Friends tend to fulfil the need of pure socializing as for the times in need when sickness strikes or divorce, depression or just blue moods settle in, we turn to professional services who make good money for providing the “friend in need” support. I understand the logics behind it, but will it be enough for me?

Some time ago I read Hedrick Smith’s book The Russians. A journalist who spent time in Russia in the early 70’s, and wrote this beautiful book that provides so much insight into the culture and mindset of the Russians behind the Iron Curtain. Some or most of what he wrote applies to all of us that have grown up and formed our characters during those times. I will leave you with this paragraph about how we define friendship. I could not have written as accurate and beautiful as he did:

“Their [the Russians] social circles are usually narrower than those of Westerners, especially Americans, who put that much stock on popularity, but relationships between Russians are usually more intense, more demanding, more enduring, and often more rewarding.

I knew a couple sent off to Cuba for  two-year assignment, and another family put up their teenage son in an already crowded two-room apartment. When Bela Akhmadulina, the poet, married the third time, she and her husband were broke and their friends bought them an entire apartment full of furniture. Let a dissident intellectual get in trouble and real friends will loyally take the terrible political risk of going to his rescue…

They commit themselves to only a few, but cherish those. Within the trusted circle there is an intensity in relationships that Westerners find both exhilarating and exhausting. When they finally open up, Russians are looking for a soul brother, not  mere conversational partner. […] Russians want a total commitment from a friend.”

My best friend and the bravest man of all is my husband. He has been firmly by my side, never put off by my temper tantrums, by my deepest fears and depressions, by the storms that I continuously create and the never ending curve balls I throw his way in my struggle to keep my core values and my Romanian heart while carving my place into the Canadian world. The easiest way would be to drop the Romanian heart and dive deep into the Canadian culture but this would not be me and I am so grateful for him never asking from me to do just that.

 

Being Straightforward: Flaw or Quality?

tumblr_n0n1o3uNSm1rwn2euo1_400Growing up on one continent and living my mature life on a different continent has been challenging at times. The best way to describe it would be: being trained to run a marathon but competing in a triathlon now. As a marathon runner, your focus is on building your strength, your endurance because you want to be able to run for a longer period of time effortlessly. As a triathlon athlete, you need to swim, ride a bicycle and run fast. Your training has to be now divided among the three segments, with a focus on speed, not necessarily endurance. Sure, you can build on the skills and fitness level acquired as a marathon runner to become a very good triathlon athlete but the transition needs time and a shift in focus that is not happening over the night.

A few years ago, I attended a training session as I started volunteering for ISS of BC as a Settlement Mentor. In the group there were a few born Canadians, a couple of new Canadians like myself and about 4 new Immigrants that were working with ISS to improve their communication skills and to gain that mandatory Canadian experience without which their resumes were worthless. During those 4 hours I found myself quite a few times bursting out with laughter at the shocked faces of the born Canadians every time one of these new people would express an opinion or pass a judgement. It was quick, witty, refreshingly sincere and horrifyingly (for some of us) direct. I had a good time as I clearly understood where they were coming from, their tongue in the cheek remarks at times and their direct approach. There was no time wasted dancing around issues, there was no political correctness in anything they said only their truth and their perception of the reality. I found it comforting and refreshing to hear somebody’s sincere opinions after  years of trying to solve puzzles and understand what exactly was the truth hidden behind so many smiles and standard phraseology.

One of the biggest differences between North Americans and Europeans, especially Eastern and North Europeans is the degree of straightforwardness we allow in our relations. Eastern Europeans don’t believe in playing games or in beating around bushes which make things easier and less rigid. There is no script that we need to follow when trying to connect one with the other in any kind of relationship: friendship, love interest, business or just casual dating. In North America relationships are much more defined. They need to follow a script and  they rarely go deeper than two inches  from the surface. At least this is my perception of reality. Friendship or love is as deep as the depth of your knowledge and involvement in each other’s lives. When you follow a guided script with no comment areas or subjects, when you are allowed in only one compartment of one’s life, how well do you really know that somebody?

My tongue is blistered most of the times because instead of just blurting out what I really think, I am biting it.  To the every day Canadian I may sound rude and too blunt, but the Eastern European will appreciate and value my sincerity and honesty.  I am yet to learn to shut up if your new hair style sucks or what you have just done is kind of stupid and immature. I have learned not to talk about money or religion partly because I have never thought they really mattered but I am still judging people based on the number and quality of books they have been reading, their views on education and politics. Yes, politics! I don’t really care what party you vote for as long as you pick one! No voice or opinion on politics means that you are one of the many that likes the state of status- quo.

Most probably that if you are a Canadian reading my rant, you will value “strategy” and “political correctness” over the Eastern European bluntness or their  inconsiderate way of dealing with people. The Eastern Europeans view strategy and political correctness as insincerity and hypocrisy. In North America as well as in Eastern Europe being direct can and usually does create anger, frustration and hurt feelings which, in turn, prompt people to take action and change. The loss of frustration and anger or even hurt feelings that political correctness is promoting, creates a passiveness, an acceptance of the things as they are that to me equals with regress, an undesirable acceptance of the default as a personal choice. What do you think? Is straightforwardness a flaw or a quality?

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Playing Catch…

 

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It was within my first month in Canada when I had to take the bus. I was used to public transit and although it was not my favourite means of transportation, I was happy to let the bus driver navigate the very new environment and deliver me safely to wherever I needed to be. A bus ride should be the same: you go to the bus stop, buy a ticket, get on the bus, get off the bus, end of the story. And yet, to say that I was completely cool and composed is an overstatement. On one hand, it is not in my DNA to be composed and so much more at that moment in time, when even stepping outside of the building was a daunting task. On the other hand, getting on a bus anywhere in my new country, meant to be locked and in possible close contact with Canadians, who , at that time in my head were all either murderers with a common desire to kill me and abandon my remains in the ocean, or they were all super intelligent neuroscientists with above the normal human intelligence. Either options scared the crap out of me.

Almost every immigrant has had at least one psychotic episode. In the article When Immigration is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family Clinician, RoseMarie Perez Foster Ph D notes: “The migration process is unquestionably linked to major adjustment stressors. The impact of these stressors on mental health are variable and complex. As has been described in excellent reviews of the literature in these areas  […] anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and higher prevalence of serious psychiatric disorders have all been associated with multiple immigrant populations both in and outside of the United States.” I was lucky I developed only some anxiety linked to PTSD but I know of cases that required more than just a paper bag and developing coping skills.

As I was approaching the bus stop, trying to play both scenarios in my head, control the panic that was growing exponentially with every step closer to the sign, I was also trying to come up with reasons why I should just turn, go back home and try another day when one of my friends with a few more years of Canadian experience could accompany me. Unfortunately, before I could solve my dilemma, I was almost falling on the steps of the bus: who knew the bloody buses in Canada accommodate people with disabilities and old age by lowering those steps? Finally in, I offered my ticket to the bus driver but he kept pointing to an odd machine. All I could do was to stare back at him, trying to buy time. Slightly frustrated, he took my ticket, slided it in the machine to be time stamped and handed it back. That is when I found out that a transit ticket, regardless of where it was bought, will be valid for two hours on any public transit service. I moved then quickly towards the back of the bus, trying to find a seat with nobody behind me – just in case a murderer would want to sit there. By the time I sat down, my heart was pounding, my palms were sweaty and I felt like I was ready to burst into tears any second. But I was also patting myself on the back for being so brave and getting on a bus.

The happy feeling did not last long as soon enough I realized the bus did not stop where I needed to get off. Which proved my theory that the driver was one of those murderers out to get me! With a newly found courage and defiance, I swiftly moved towards the front of the bus to confront him. In an English with a heavy accent I yelled at the poor bus driver asking why he did not stop and demanding to turn the bus and take me to MY stop. It is safe to assume it was not his first encounter with people like me. Calmly, he pointed to a big sign on the side of the bus that read: Pull the cord if you need to get off the bus. In 1999 Google was only a new born and the sources of information were usually fellow immigrants with a few more years of living in Canada. With a clear focus on what bus I should take and where I should get off, all my friends forgot to mention that in Canada, buses don’t stop at each bus stop regardless if they have people waiting or not, or if there are people getting off or not. Travellers are responsible for letting the driver know where they need to get off. I felt embarrassed, I felt stupid, I felt I suddenly regressed about 20 years.

It sounds funny now and quite silly. A nice story I tell to break the ice when meeting new people or just another story. In time I got over the embarrassment, I got over the fear of transit, I learnt that Canadians are  mostly decent people and unlikely to kill me with or without cause. One feeling I cannot shake off though is the feeling I am constantly playing catch up. Once you stepped into the new world, as a mature immigrant, everything you once knew changes: the landscape, the climate, the people and their way of thinking, the customs, the language, the time. Unlike the new borns, you are not a white slate ready for all these to mark you and determine the person you will become. You now, have to constantly translate and remodel all the concepts that once were second nature to you.  At first it is only normal not to want to replace anything because you are not ready to let go of any little thing that still reminds you of home. It is and will be for a while the only normal that you can understand, refer to and hold onto tight when nothing makes sense and you feel that life is spinning out of control. On the other hand you need to keep on translating and trying to grasp new concepts, to understand new customs and people and build new connections. But all this constant tribulation between the two lives requires time and time is what you don’t have. Time is what you are trying to catch up to as a whole lot of history happened before you ever set foot in this country and all these happenings have wired the people around in a different way. If I ever want to call Canada home, I have to keep on asking questions and asking for clarifications and making sure I am catching up.

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I have days when I am tired feeling awkward and insecure when I don’t really understand words, people, actions, modus operandi, or just simple tasks that are second nature to everybody around. I get tired of explaining one life through the other life. It would be so much simpler if I could shed one life just as you do with an old sweater. Take it off, put it aside and pick it up on a need basis. But human mind does not work like that. My past or my other life will always pop up hindering my efforts of ever catching up with this present life.

They say being different is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I think I can deal with being different but I struggle with always having to catch up.

Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

I was listening to the radio the other day and one of the very young DJ’s was having real issues understanding the meaning of the saying: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  Of course, the first impulse thought was “Are you kidding me? Everybody knows what this means!” Extremely confident I went upstairs, to my 19 year old son and said with a sarcastic smirk:”you know what “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth means, right?” I was half way out the door, as I expected a quick “sure mom, what the hell?” when I froze hearing his answer: “I have never heard anything more ridiculous in my life! Why would anybody check a horse’s mouth?”

Let me explain: I have high expectations from my son. He loves history and politics, and his favourite channels have been Discovery and History ever since he was a kid. So yes, I do expect him to know the answer to such a simple question. First I blamed the school: “What are they teaching you there?” Why do I pay a ton of money to these universities if our kids don’t know the simplest things! Then, I blamed myself and his grandparents for not teaching him the real values in life. But then I stopped and gave it a second thought.

The explanation that was offered on air, was a paraphrase of the saying, that sounded something like this: Don’t check a BMW that is given to you as a gift. At first I was appalled. Since when we measure happiness and gratitude by referencing a BMW? What happened to the simple things in life? But then, again, I stopped and thought a bit more.
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Speech or Toast?

Earlier in the week I read a blog about a Maid of Honour’s duties and of course, one of these would be giving a speech. All through the article, the author interchanged “speech” with “toast” without even blinking. It reminded me of several functions and events where I had the same issue: people don’t realize that these words have different meanings and different roles during an event.

What does the dictionary say? Speech: a formal address or discourse delivered to an audience. Toast can be used as follows: “propose a toast”: ask a group of people at a social occasion to drink to the health and happiness of a specified person or “drink to”: celebrate or wish for the good fortune of someone or something by raising one’s glass and drinking a small amount….

A bit cumbersome, right? Not really. The main difference between the 2 words is that the speech is usually a longer, more elaborate discourse that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes or more while the toast is a short phrase at the end of the speech, raising the glass and taking a sip. A toast should look like this:

 

And the speech:

 

Well, don’t beat yourselves too hard if you didn’t know the difference! President Obama learned it the hard way this year when visiting with the Queen. As the Protocol dictates, President Obama proposed a toast to honour the Queen. Everybody was standing, he toasted the Queen, which prompted the orchestra to start playing God Save the Queen, but instead of taking the hint and stopping right there, Mr Obama thought the Oscar Ceremony followed him to Britain and continued to talk… over the National Anthem… Thankfully the Queen graciously overlooked the incident.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNRXGRFJdDY

 

 

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