Sept. 27, 2014 found me on a plane, my heart palpitating with fear. The unknown was what terrified me most. In my backpack I had a sleeping mask, a pen, my diary and very precious memories. “This journey will unsettle me forever. I am not ready,” I wrote. I was on my way from Egypt to Canada. I had no idea what was awaiting me, and I felt that uncertainty as a challenge. I wondered about my need to continue my education, to find communities in which I could get involved, and most importantly, to meet new friends. Since I have a very social temperament that’s what worried me the most. I had certainly heard about the kindness of Canadians and their warm welcome to immigrants, but I also wondered how much they let them integrate into their society.
A week later, school began. The counsellor showed me to the classroom and whispering to me, encouraged me to speak with everyone. I immediately noticed an interesting phenomenon: all the groups sitting together were divided by nationality. Even if I could not distinguish the Chinese from the Koreans, I could still judge that no group had a Mediterranean air. Not feeling at ease, I sat apart, alone. It seemed absurd that this diversity of people did not mix. In fact, without making the least effort, I could count a dozen languages spoken around me. I had to summon all my courage and towards the lunch break I introduced myself to one of the groups. Even though I felt like a fish out of water, I tried to converse, but the language barrier prevented me from expressing myself freely. Later, when I did not understand something, I chose to use the technique of smile and nod, which my new friend soon knew how to decipher.
I did my best to become friends with my peers, and I succeeded. I was fascinated by the idea of multiculturalism and the beauty of this diversity all around me. In every difference I observed, I saw a lesson to learn. However, I was limited by some obstacles other than language. Ways of thinking differ, values that are dear to us are not all the same and our paths diverge.
My world was turned upside down when I finally met some “Egyptians!” For our first Christmas, my family decided to go to the Coptic Church in Vancouver (Coptic: Christian of ancient Egypt). I immediately felt that I was at home. The young people welcomed me with lively smiles. So I became similar to those I criticized before. It is comforting to understand each other from the first meeting, to share the same tastes in music and to love the same cuisine. And at a deeper level, my Canadian-Egyptian friends share with me what interests me most in life: my faith and my principles. I do not support either the separation of cultures or their assimilation. In my opinion, a balance must be struck between maintaining one’s roots and being open to others. That is a very Canadian way of life.