What international students taught me about being Canadian

Pride and belonging… O Canadaimagemeet…geet…deep…Zheng…Zhang… Du…I knew I was in trouble when I looked at the class list.  I was familiar with Singh…I’d met a Tran, knew a Ma…but the list of almost 100 international names — more precisely, the pronunciation of those names- uncovered a formidable human terror:  the fear of embarrassment.

I apologized to the class as I warned them I’d do my best, yet feared I would horribly mispronounce their names. I asked for their patience and assistance.  “Help me,” I pleaded.  “Help me learn to say your names properly.”  Then, I wrote my own name, my full name on the black board. (Oh, ancient school days!)

Lorraine.  Nadine.  Maria.  De Lisle.

Lorraine was my mother’s name and she gave it to me.  I don’t use that name, and if you call me that, I’ll think you’re asking for my late mother.

Nadine.  The name I use.

Maria.  As in Mary, mother of Jesus.  In my French Roman Catholic parents’ day, all girls were named after Mary. The boys, Joseph.

De Lisle or Delisle…from a great quantities of variations…meaning, of the islands.

Say it for us.

Lor- raine. Na deen.  Ma ree a.  De Le isle – well in English phonetics, at least.

I practiced each of their names…roll the r… say every letter.  So many variations…Singh – “King”…for males…Kaur, prounounced “core” “Princess” for the females. Harpreet can be male or female- Singh or Kaur – often added as a middle name- provides that info. My son tells me I try to pronounce these international names with a French accent.  I admit I am struggling with the sounds and spelling.  My students, who seem to be comfortable with a Canadian accent, tell me they can’t understand Chris Anderson, curator of TED who speaks with a soft British accent.  Ah, the evolution of our language and our language sounds:  Chris Anderson was born in Pakistan, and spent his early years in India and  Pakistan before attending boarding school in Bath and graduating in Oxford.

We all have a lot to learn from one another . That’s part of what Canada is.

From a group of Punjabi women, I learn “Kida”- how are you…vadiya- good….thanwad-thank you.  And, I learn much more from the Hindu, Sikh, Brazilian, Colombian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and  Vietnamese students who have come to Canada in search of something better for themselves and their families.

We talk about the experience of coming to Canada.  I listen to their stories:  I thought I was going to die (arriving in Winnipeg in January 2017 when we were at -30 with the most snow fall in decades) plans for a new life, capsizing in Lake Winnipeg.  I talk about the expanse of Canada; the diversity in Winnipeg and ask my son to come and talk about places to go; things to see – from a younger person’s perspective.  I remember what I love about Canada; what I love about being Canadian;  what I love about being at the centre- the very centre- of North America.

On a  late June night, I am driving home from the university.  It’s almost July 1, and I’ve decked out my red (orange burst, actually) Honda SI with Canadian flags.  I’ve been given the thumbs up from a few strangers.  I like it.

As the car and I idle at a red light, I see a young East Indian man in a turban walking across the big clover leaf intersection in front of me. He is carrying a basketball.  “Made in Canada” I think, and I remember that two of my international students have a particular fondness for the sport.  I look again, and I smile at him. He looks back, crosses in front of me, smiles back and calls:  “Happy Canada Day!”  I give my biggest return smile and a thumbs up.  When the light changes, I give my best Vtec acceleration. The flags whip in the wind. O Canada.


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