Our Landing Story
Exactly 10 years ago in 2007, my family and I immigrated to Canada and landed in Calgary, Alberta – in the middle of freezing February. Talk about the weather shock!
My family had a hard time settling into Calgary. They weren't used to the snow, the negative infinity temperatures and the empty streets after 5 p.m. We spent our days mostly indoors. The winter didn’t allow for much to do, we either caught the C-train to get to the public library or to go to Eaton Center (shopping mall).
After a lot of back and forth, indecisiveness about Calgary, and a road trip to Vancouver in April (when cherry blossoms are everywhere) my family decided that they wanted to start a new life in Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver was beautiful, had beaches, mountains, moderate weather, and most important of it all – it had over 10 Persian restaurants where my parents could seek refuge in whenever they felt homesick. My dad, being a stereotypical Iranian man, had clearly expressed how he couldn’t live in a place with no “chello kabab.” So we did, we moved to Vancouver and our little two-bedroom apartment in North Vancouver became my home to my new Canadian life.
My entire life, I had gone to a segregated all-girls school. The last time I was in a class with boys was in grade four, and my parents tried their best to shelter me from boys and their raging hormones to the best of their abilities. But going to high school in Canada was a whole other ballgame. Going to school meant sitting in a co-ed class, next to boys, and their freshly sprouted testosterone. My conservative dad was going to have a heart-attack.
He immediately told my mother to look for an all-girls school, where I could ease into my newly liberal environment without getting pregnant—because that’s the only thing that happens at co-ed schools—classrooms are replaced with cubicles dedicated to teenage insemination.
Send Her to (Christian) School
We did some research and found out that the only all-girls institutions around our town were Catholic schools. So on our third day in Vancouver, I phoned the school and asked if I could enroll. The lady over the line asked me if I was Catholic, to which I responded negatively. She then asked me if any of my parents were baptized, I didn’t even know what baptism meant at the time, so I quickly said no and found out that there was no way I could join the school as a non-Catholic. This was the greatest news my ears could hear. If Catholic school didn't want me, it meant that my parents had no choice but to send me to a public school—a school with no uniform and a school with the greatest evil of all, boys!
To my newly-landed immigrant parents, public school meant exposing your innocent teenage daughter to all the evils you spent years sheltering her from. This was a complete rewind and destruction to all their years of parenting. My poor dad, who only had an understanding of a Western public school system through Hollywood movies, thought I would stop coming home and spend my days and nights smoking weed, if not doing lines of cocaine, at house parties. He shrivelled in fear.
After asking around for some of the better high schools around the North Shore, I ended up going to a smaller high-school in West Vancouver. A friend of mine that I knew prior to our move to Canada had recently graduated from there and spoke highly of the school.
Since my dad was so frightened for me, I too started being frightened for myself and chose to take the safe and recommended route and enroll at Rockridge Secondary School.
My parents trusted my friend so they honoured my decision.
Every morning, I commuted for an hour and took two busses from Lower Lonsdale to Caulfied to get to this prestigious public school in this prestigious area. I thought I was free now, the rows and rows of personal lockers, the big shiny floored basketball court, the cafeteria with all the cool kids —I was studying in a Hollywood high school movie, it was unreal.
When You're New and You Suck
The Hollywood dream quickly died down as I faced with the day-to-day difficulties of being new. From stupid little mistakes to absolute embarrassments.
The admin lady at the front desk had given me a lock with a code to use for my locker. I was extremely excited that I could put my personal items in my locker and not haul my things from class to class – this was a blessing to a student that was used to carry kilos of textbooks every day to and from school or else my teachers would make me stand outside of the classroom in the heat if I had forgotten to bring my book one day.
The lock code read 8.23.38. However, this kind admin lady probably didn’t know I was an extremely fresh off the boat kid and that I had never seen a combination lock in my life. The only time I had seen such a lock was in a cartoon called Aristocats where the mouse struggles to open the lock on a wooden chest (I found the clip below).
I thought it should be easy, I have the code anyway.
I locked my locker with the lock by pressing down on it, and said I would open it before I caught the bus to go home. The last bell rang at 3 p.m. and the kids ran to get their things from their respective lockers. I too rushed to my locker and turned it to 8,23,38..but it wouldn’t open. I did it again, and again, but no luck. My brain was frying as I saw other kids open their combination locks effortlessly. The students were in a hurry and I was too shy to ask for help, they would think I was such an idiot. I kept my pride and kept trying. It was 3:30 pm and I was still at my locker. I realized the city bus that would take me to Park Royal had left and I had no idea when the next bus would come. I was still trying to get my bag from inside the locker, and couldn’t leave without my transit pass and school papers. Around 4 p.m., a teacher walks by me and sees me in a panic, he asks me what’s wrong and I tell him I can’t open my locker. He takes my lock, turns it three times to reset it, stops on 8, then turns counter clockwise, passes 0 and stops on 23, and goes straight to 38. NO ONE HAD TOLD ME THE MAGIC TRICKS I HAD TO PLAY TO OPEN THIS GODDAMN LOCK. He opened my locker, I took my stuff and politely thanked him without explaining why this lock was foreign to me. I was so hungry, tired, and frustrated. I just wanted to go home. I sat in the bus stop for one hour before the next bus showed up, I felt so alone and stupid that day.
Little things that seem so normal and natural to me now were a whirlwind of mistakes and misunderstandings back then. For example, P.E class – I show up to the school gym and my teacher tells me I can’t join the class because I don’t have “gym strip” – wtf is gym strip and why do I have to strip to play volleyball? I thought there’s no way he means “stripping” – he’s talking about something sports-related. Maybe I need stripes? You know track-suits that have stripes on the sides on them, it’s a special “strip” or “striped” uniform. I think I stared at him for 5 minutes before he told me that I needed “athletic wear and athletic shoes.”
HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE
These blunders were quite alright compared to what I was about to face socially. The mean place that is high school, throw in a new immigrant kid with no sense of style and no friends and you’ll have yourself a teenage breakdown.
I remember being in homeroom and the teacher was taking attendance. She called out very typical Western names like Sarah Smith, John McGuire, Jessica Porter etc. She then called out a guy that had a slight Middle Eastern ring to . She asked for “Adam Rahmani”** – my head turned like a satellite struggling for signal and looked for him in the room. There he was, big eyes, dark hair and very dark eyebrows. A Middle Eastern Canadian in my class, surely he could be my friend, surely he could understand me, surely he could teach me how to integrate, ahh I had found my saviour.
As soon as the bell rang and we dispersed to get to our first class. I ran behind Adam and tapped him on the shoulder. He was wearing a snapback hat and carrying his bagpack on one shoulder in a very cool-boy kind of way. I smile in excitement saying: “Hi…you’re Adam right?” Adam was much shorter than I, so he kind of looked up completely puzzled by this giant girl towering over him. “Yeahhhh…???” “My name is Mina and I’m new here..I just moved to Canada” He looks at me in confusion mixed with disgust, says “cool…” and walks away.
Part two of this post will be uploaded shortly...
** Name changed to protect person's privacy
Mina is a multimedia journalist currently based in London, U.K.
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