Ukrainian at the Library
This week, I sat down with fellow librarian Olena, who moved to Canada from Ukraine. She happily agreed to share her immigration story and offer advice to newcomers.
Olena was born in Kherson, a city in Southern Ukraine. She moved to Canada in 2003 with her husband and six-year-old son. When she first moved to Canada, her home library branch was Mimico Centennial in Etobicoke. Today, Olena works as a librarian at Toronto Public Library’s Albert Campbell Branch.
What was it like moving to Canada?
Olena: Of course there was a lot of excitement. Also relief, because it is a many-years process to get in. So lots of interviews, document scans, screenings and checkups before you get the visa.
Did you know? Richview branch has a medium-sized Ukrainian collection, with 730 books, 42 movies and videos and 213 music CDs that you can borrow and take home.
Was it scary, moving to a new country?
Olena: No. Not at all. I had big hopes. No fears or concerns. The feeling was great and hasn't changed.
Are you happy in Canada?
Olena: Oh, yes!
Did you know? Runnymede has a medium-sized Ukrainian collection, with 934 books, 29 movies and videos and 111 music CDs that you can borrow and take home.
Did the library play a role when you moved to Canada?
Olena: I loved the library when I came to Canada. Now, of course, the library is my life. It plays a big role because it’s my profession.
Did you know? Toronto Reference Library has a large Ukrainian collection, with 1,294 books that you can borrow and take home, and an additional 2,482 books that you can use in the library.
What’s your favorite thing about the library’s Ukrainian collection?
Olena: That we have Ukrainian folk songs for children and adults at the library. Ukraine is famous for the literature, yes, but Ukraine is also famous for its singers’ talent and its songs.
Did you know? Toronto Public Library has free Ukrainian eMusic that you can listen to online with your library card.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to someone who’s new to Canada?
Olena: The shortest road to success in Canada is language, language, language, which you have to learn, learn, learn.
Unfortunately, even those who come to Canada with seemingly good English still need time to make their English fluent and Canadian. Very often people with strong English language skills learn from books, which is very often not the same thing as how people speak. I was an English teacher back home. I had a strong command of English — reading, writing, speaking, grammar. When I came to Canada, I knew British English. Words like “tram”. It’s such a small difference, but there are so many local variations. It takes years.
If you’re like me and come to Canada with English learned elsewhere, it’s the skeleton, but you need time to grow flesh on your bones. Worse yet is when you come to Canada without that skeleton.
But you have the library, library, library. It provides a variety of means to learn the language. You’ll always find a book you’ll enjoy. You’ll always find someone to talk to at the library: conversation circles and librarians.
Did you know? The library can help you learn English, with ESL classes, conversation circles, study guides, books, videos, CDs and online tools.
How did you learn English?
Olena: I’d find movies that have been translated and available in both languages. I’d also read books in my native language and then retell them to someone in English. Mostly it was my imaginary English-speaking friend.
Did you know? Toronto Public Library has a wide variety of books, music and movies in Ukrainian?
Do you have any advice on finding work in Canada?
Olena: Finding work is the hardest. I sympathize. My advice? Patience. Persistence. Education.
Forget all your previous experiences and accomplishments. The faster you can accept that you need to start over, that all your past accomplishments were in a different country and that no one knows about them, the better.
At the end of the journey, it’s very rewarding.
Did you know? The library has a lot of information to help you find a job in Canada.
Do you have any advice on making friends in Canada?
Olena: Seriously, there isn’t much time to make friends. You come here in your 30s or 40s, you have two suitcases, your family and nothing else. First you have to master the language, then go back to university, and only then go back into the professional field. Canada gives means and opportunities, but everything takes time. If you find people along the way, while you are moving ahead in covering these gaps, that’s where you make friends.
If you have any questions or comments for Olena, or would like to ask about the library's Ukrainian collections, please post in the comment section below.