Tu Nguyen

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Tu Nguyen turned her struggles of settling into Canada, into a career. She describes how hard it was for her at first in Canada, and how she now helps new immigrants.


Canada chose me. I came to Canada under my father's sponsorship. He was one among thousands of Vietnamese boat people who escaped the communist government in the 1980s.

I still remember the first day arriving at the Calgary airport. A cold and snowy November night. The snow and quietness did not look and feel as poetic and beautiful as I had imagined when I was in Vietnam. I almost burst into tears when a custom's officer asked me some questions. I had no idea what he was saying. Then I looked at some English signs around, and couldn't figure out what they meant. Only that moment I bitterly realized that my life would never be the same any more. An established journalist and writer for 10 years in Vietnam, now I became nobody in Canada.

All the jobs I did in the first few years were labor jobs. Nanny, office cleaner, factory worker, you name it. I remember often sobbing in the quiet nights, wondering if it was a terrible mistake leaving my country, and if I would be able to survive in the new land.

Yes, I've been through all the challenges and confusions of a newcomer, trying to make a success in a strange culture so vastly different from my own. I consider myself to be very fortunate to be involved with the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth for the past 10 years. This work is very challenging but rewarding. It has given me the opportunity to meet with hundreds of new young immigrant students who came from all corners of the globe. Many of them came to Canada with little English and few life skills, and are at risk of dropping out of school. Also they experience a great deal of racism in school, from name calling to racist actions and negative comments on their culture. Through our various after-school programs, we are able to keep them away from gang or drug-related activities, and help them further their education in Canada. It just blows me away every time learning about how I could make an impact in the life of immigrant youth who need to have someone walk with them when they are at a difficult point in their lives.

I have been in Canada for 12 years now. I cannot tell when I started feeling that this country became my new home. There have been times I was waking up in the middle of the night with an inexplicably melancholy feeling. I seemed to hear the waves washing up on the shore back in my homeland. My past has often come back to haunt me. The childhood in a small poor village with the dream of having a Barbie doll that can open and close her eyes, and the many nights spent in the bomb shelters dream sleeping in the sounds of bombs and canon, and the feeling of the earth shaking...

I still miss writing, and hope one day to be able to write about the life of new immigrants in Canada.