Silvia Beschin, an immigrant whose native language is Italian, is uniquely suited to help newcomer clients learn English. Born and raised in Italy by a Canadian mom, Silvia has had a lifelong fascination with language, and English in particular. After moving to Canada to study linguistics, Silvia admits that her transition was tough. “None of my goals for my first year in Canada were fulfilled,” she says.
Silvia found she didn’t enjoy studying linguistics but felt conflicted about leaving the program. “In that moment leaving linguistics felt like the wrong choice. But now I can say to always trust your gut and what you feel—it will bring you somewhere right.” Following her instinct brought Silvia to a CERTESL program, then to GGP as an English class volunteer.
Finding community at GGP
“Volunteering helped me,” Silvia said, “I think I was in a bit of cultural shock. As much as I wanted to come here, some things were truly difficult; maybe the weather, the different type of life, not having family around. At GGP, people were from all over the world, so that made me feel like I wasn’t the only one who traveled and had to find another job and rebuild my identity.”
Silvia volunteered at GGP for more than a year, and at the same time, Saskatoon prepared for an influx of Syrian refugees. GGP was hiring someone to register and assist new clients in the office. Having completed her practicum at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Silvia was set on landing a teaching role. However, she took the office job.
That was a good choice, Silvia says, since the role helped her understand issues that newcomers have to cope with, different types of immigration statuses, and much more. “I got useful insights into the registration process and programs, and how GGP works,” she says.
Growing alongside the organization
An immigrant herself, Silvia was able to use her experience with processes like applying for citizenship and sponsorship to assist other newcomers. With many refugees arriving, Silvia also had a front row seat to GGP’s expansion as more programs and classes were added, and one location became two.
After a few months, Silvia transferred to teaching English and continues to teach Stage 5-6 classes today. She appreciates that her job allows her to be creative and connect with students. Since Levels 5-6 are higher intermediate, communication is easier. “Students can get my jokes,” she smiles.
Silvia has continued to see GGP grow, and through the changes, “Things can feel spread out sometimes but the staff still give me the feeling that GGP is my little family,” she says. “That has never changed, and for me that’s important.”
Fostering connections in the classroom and beyond
When asked about her favourite memories, Silvia shares about a class she taught in the evenings that had a lot of newcomer women. “Really the best moments are when you can go beyond the class. The class was building relationships, even going out in the evenings,” she says.
When Silvia became pregnant, the class organized a baby shower. “They showed me so much affection. Before my maternity leave, I cried the whole last class, I was so sad to leave them. I knew that the class would change by the time I came back.”
The class did change as students moved in and out, but those relationships still continue. “We have a WhatsApp group and people are still close and meet for supper. I think having friends that are in the same situation when they move to another country is very important.”
Continuing to build relationships with and between students has been challenging during COVID, Silvia acknowledges. “Students don’t interact as much over Zoom. It’s hard to create a relationship for real. But I always say this situation is temporary, so take what you want from the classes and someday it will go back.”
Gaining new perspective
Reflecting on her own settlement journey, Silvia credits teaching with shifting the way she saw her own immigrant journey. Learning about the journeys of clients, particularly those who didn’t choose to come to Canada but were forced to escape “is like a mirror that shows you something different about yourself.”
Silvia explains that, “For years, I didn’t want to stay in Saskatoon but now I don’t want to leave. The people who move here bring something different to this place. They changed the way I saw my choice to come here and helped me to accept it, and to rebuild my identity in Canada.”