By Lejia Feng
Rebeca was 13 when she arrived in Calgary with her family from Argentina in 1998, and on her first day navigating the unfamiliar halls of St. Jean Brebeuf School, she felt like a fish out of water.
Luckily for her, fate intervened when the teacher in her homeroom sought a volunteer to guide the new student through those first days.
Kathleen, known for her friendly nature, offered to be Rebeca's companion. They did not yet know this simple act of kindness would blossom into a lifelong bond that would become a source of strength and support as they grew up together.
For Rebeca, the initial transition to a new country was challenging. She missed her tight-knit group of friends back home, and struggled to adapt to a foreign environment where she knew no one who spoke her language.
Kathleen's warmth and guidance provided solace in those early days. She helped Rebeca navigate cultural differences and provided a comforting presence during the initial weeks.
"Having those relationships right off the bat really helps you overcome the loneliness, the isolation and make the experience a lot more positive,” Rebeca said.
“It didn't take my sadness away from missing home, but it did make it more bearable and easier to get through the first few months, at least."
‘Like a blink, 25 years has passed’
As their connection deepened, Rebeca says she picked up English more quickly and easily from her friend.
Her perspective on Canada was also profoundly altered by the support she received during those crucial early days of immigration.
Their friendship grew stronger over the years, becoming a pillar of support during various milestones—high school graduation, university, weddings, and the birth of children.
It endured even when life took them to different corners of the world. Kathleen ventured to Australia for work while Rebeca continued her journey in Canada, working in immigrant services to help newcomers settle and find connections.
As Kathleen described, “Like a blink, 25 years has passed.”
Reflecting on the past, both Rebeca and Kathleen acknowledged how their friendship shaped their perspectives on immigration and settlement.
For Kathleen, supporting Rebeca and witnessing her journey as an immigrant gave her a deeper understanding of the importance of kindness and support in welcoming those who are new to the country.
"Having firsthand experience gives me perspective to be more empathetic, putting yourselves in someone else's shoes and seeing through their eyes,” she said.
“It also gives you the opportunity to be more grateful.”
Embrace opportunities, venture out of your comfort zone
Kathleen’s compassionate nature extends to her work as well. She meets many newcomers at work, where she still extends a helping hand without hesitation—just like she did 25 years ago.
Meanwhile, Rebeca pursued a career in the field of settlement services after graduation.
“I think for me, choosing this career resonates with my experience, what my parents went through, what I went through,” Rebeca said.
She has been working at Immigrant Services Calgary for 14 years. In her role as an outreach manager, Rebeca helps newcomers find a sense of belonging in their new home. She facilitates programs that encourage them to build relationships and connect them with their communities.
She believes that fostering connections early can significantly impact a newcomer’s settlement experience, just as Kathleen's companionship had done for her.
For newcomers seeking to build meaningful relationships and friendships, Rebeca and Kathleen offered valuable advice: embrace opportunities to meet new people, venture out of your comfort zone, and participate in community activities or volunteering.
As Rebeca and Kathleen approach 25 years of friendship, their story represents the transformative impact friends can have on the lives of newcomers, making their journey into a new land a little brighter, warmer, and filled with hope.
About the Author
Lejia Feng moved to Canada from China in 2020. She currently works as a Digital Marketing Specialist at Immigrant Services Calgary. In her spare time, you can find her strolling through city parks, walking her dog and cherishing the simple joys of nature.
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