I came to Canada as an immigrant from Bosnia – a war-torn country – which, to this day, is difficult to return to when I want to visit family. Not only do I remember things no child should, but physical remnants remain at every corner of the country itself. My family was one of those that escaped with a random truck driver in hopes of getting out and not being denied entry into Croatia, which was safe.
After our escape, we moved to Sweden as they were welcoming refugees from various countries. I went to school there, learning how to speak Swedish and making new friends. I felt comfortable there because I was with children who were just like me – children who survived a war. Even though we never spoke of our experiences, we knew we all had a rather sad connection that helped us survive, emotionally.
We moved to Canada 22 years ago because a lot of our family was already here and we hadn’t received permanent residence status in Sweden.
As a child and a young adult, I struggled a lot with the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Eventually, the enjoyment of helping others led me to enter teacher’s college.
In the final year of my master’s degree in teacher’s college, I took part in practice teaching placements at two elementary schools. I was exhausted after each day of observing, planning, recording information, and marking; I thought I’d give up because I don’t remember ever being as tired in my life as going through that experience. Instead, I realized how rewarding it felt to help students achieve something difficult and feel confident at the end. Not only that, but I felt accepted and appreciated, and that was my motivation.
After not being able to obtain a job in primary/junior education due to a low demand for teachers, I decided to pursue my TESOL Ontario certification. I wouldn’t just be doing what I loved, but I would also be helping those students who were just like me – struggling because of a language barrier and feeling anxious. I hated feeling that way as a newcomer to Canada because it caused me to disconnect from the world around me; I focused on not looking and feeling silly speaking a new language. All my attention was on how I sounded, looked, and behaved in front of my Canadian classmates. So, although I didn’t fail any classes, I did very poorly, which resulted in even more negative thoughts and poor academic performance. It was a vicious cycle, year after year.
I knew that my friends had always accepted me; I was just having a hard time “fitting in” because I thought that I had to be one thing and not the other. I had to be Canadian, only, and not a foreigner.
After years of resisting to simply accept who I was and feeling like I didn’t belong because my culture was different, I didn’t want anything to stand in my way of being academically successful, especially my perception of myself. That was the biggest battle!
Once I obtained a position teaching in an English for Academic Preparation program, I started to see myself in others and, automatically, I knew how to help. I see the things that my students are going through and, instinctively, know how to assist them in redirecting the negative perceptions of themselves in relation to their learning of English. They, too, sometimes lack confidence in themselves because they don’t think they are “good enough” to be great English speakers, which, as a result, causes them to turn to their mother tongue to communicate with one another.
After almost ten years of teaching them, there is not one day that goes by where I don’t feel grateful to my students for allowing me not only to teach them the curriculum but also to help them realize that everything will be okay as long as they work on focusing on what is ahead and loving themselves for who they are!