I’ll be honest, when I first stepped foot on Ontario ground, I was too enamored with trying to find my luggage on the conveyor belt to properly take in the rest of the interior of the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
When I finally had my luggage secured and double-checked the red ribbon and name tag attached to the handle to make sure I didn’t accidentally take someone else’s luggage (as we all do at airports), the only thing that registered in my head was big.
Declared as the ninth busiest airport in North America with over 42 million passengers accommodated daily, it was common for newcomers such as myself to gape in awe of the airport’s sheer size.
However, I came to realize later on that the mere size of an airport would only be one of the thousands of surprises in store for me after migrating to Canada’s most populous and second-largest province, Ontario.
Growing up in Bacolod, the capital city of Negros Occidental (the upper part of the Negros sock), every part of me was curated by pure Pinoy and Negrosanon people and cultures.
I often dream of munching on some inasal from my grandfather’s restaurant in the middle of class when my stomach grumbles, or wishing I could climb the coconut tree in front of my old house when my mom and her siblings would tell me stories of their adventures in that same tree when they were my age.
My love for the arts could be sourced back to my family, like my grandparents singing me traditional folksongs and telling me stories of legends and folklore passed on to them from their grandparents, and my aunts and uncles showing me movies and playing me music and reading me books they loved as I grew up (many of which my mother would have disapproved of had she known).
Learning different languages seems to come easily for me because I was fortunate enough to grow up multi-lingual.
My strict study habits came from the constant discipline I received from my old schools and my mother who monitored me 25/8. One could only imagine how crazy it would be to be thrown into a completely different environment from the one you spend at least a good 14 of 18 years of your life living on repeat. And I lived to tell the tale.
Speaking from the perspective of a high school graduate, many things surprised and confused me about the school systems of Ontario high schools — more specifically, my high school.
I attended a Catholic high school, the one closest to my current residence, which is in this city named Pickering. For one, I was forced to skip grade 11 and move straight to grade 12, simply because I would have been born a year older than my peers had I stayed back.
Also, I was required to take a province-wide English proficiency examination as well as take a class for it should I fail the examination and be rendered unable to graduate high school, but still had to write another professional-grade English proficiency test in order to be accepted into any post-secondary institutions and offered future jobs because English was not my first language.
In terms of the actual school system, the school year was divided into two semesters with a fixed number of classes per semester.
However, because students’ schedules were shuffled based on the schedules of their teachers, students rarely had the exact same classrooms, schedules, classmates, and teachers every semester.
As for the school environment, it was absolutely chaotic, to say the least. Students are definitely given a lot more liberty and control over their own lives and develop independence at such an early age, and it’s reflected in their attitude towards school and their peers.
Younger batches often treat their upperclassmen like their little siblings and treat teachers as their subordinates. However, I believe that also stems from the fact that Canada is definitely more lenient in terms of using the age hierarchy as a basis for respect in their social norms.
Unless someone is old enough to be their parents’ age, everyone is just on a first-name with everyone else — even with their teachers and friends’ parents.
The first time I met my best friend’s parents, I learned that her mother was Filipino and even spent most of her youth in the Philippines, and her father was of Caribbean descent and, to put it straight, white.
Imagine how awkward it is when I address her mother as ‘tita (aunt)’ but use her father’s first name when speaking to or about him.
It becomes easier and one gets used to the informalities after a couple of months, but the subconscious, deep-rooted sense of respect for everyone older than me that was instilled in me by my family still makes me feel uncomfortable whenever I address someone older than me by their first name.
From the perspective of an employed tax-payer, the cost of living can often result to all forms of pain when viewing one’s bills at the end of every month. However, it’s worth paying taxes when you see them reflected onto the state of your community.
It’s worth it when you drive around on well-paved roads and see covered potholes and well-constructed speed bumps and know that you don’t have to worry about going broke the moment you step foot inside a hospital (bless free health care!).
I know that I have so much to learn about being a full-fledged adult, more so in a country that I am new to, but working part-time definitely helps ease me into a more professional and adult lifestyle.
I am now conscious of all the money that comes in and goes out my wallet and debit card, and shopping sprees have momentarily ceased to exist until after university.
A tip for working in fast food or customer service: If you smile big enough and keep happy thoughts in your head, your shifts will go by faster.
As a Filipino immigrant, I have learned to be grateful for all I have in life. I live on the other side of the country from the rest of my immediate family, and my heart aches often when I see siblings laughing together at the mall, or parents and children holding each other’s hands during the Lord’s Prayer at mass, or when child and parent bicker over what to buy for lunch at work.
However, constantly missing my family makes me appreciate them and care for them more, albeit from a distance.
Having a job adds to the list of things I can talk about with my mom into the wee hours of the morning, and taking a university program focused on caring for children will hopefully help me learn how better to help my parents care for my younger siblings.
I am grateful for all the opportunities I now have access to and for all the benefits that came with living outside of my home country that will help better my future, as well as my family’s.
With great sacrifices come great blessings, and trading my old home for what I believe will lead me to a better future is not an opportunity that frequently presents itself to just anyone. I am thankful to even have the chance to give myself and my family a better future, as not many can say the same, especially those in poverty.
This experience continues to open my eyes to the reality of living and I still learn something new every day.
As I embark on the two newest changes in my life- entering university and turning 18- I know I will be bound to experiencing so many new things.
There will be times I stumble, and I’ll either fall on my butt, or pretend that nothing happened.
Either way, I will end up standing tall with my chin held high, ready to take on whatever this new country is going to throw at me and always remembering that change isn’t always bad.