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The student becomes the teacher

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The cliché that hard work pays off certainly rings true in every country and culture but for newcomers to Canada the journey to build a new life takes more than a cliché. One such journey started in Eastern Europe and ended in Richmond, BC.

Olga Kanapelka, from Belarus, came to Canada one and a half years ago with no illusions opportunities would fall onto her lap. However, she did bring with her a strong sense of determination to build a new life. With the assistance of ISSofBC, she succeeded and now teaches English to other newcomers who are working through their own journeys to a new life in Canada.

In January 2012, Olga was introduced to ISSofBC through a friend. She quickly became a client of Skills Connect in Vancouver. This program helps new immigrants explore the Canadian labour market and offers one-to-one consultations with a career counsellor. “Last but not least, I started building my network with Skills Connect and met some good friends—a big deal for a new immigrant,” Olga says.

The following month Olga joined the ISSofBC Volunteer Program and a few months after the first information session she started volunteering in ISSofBC’s ELSA classes.“I see it as a very important stage in terms of learning about the ELSA program and gaining Canadian work experience,” she explains.

With the goal of one day teaching English as a Second Language in Canada, Olga chose to work towards a TESOL Diploma.“I knew the ISSofBC Language College had a good reputation and the program was recognized by TESL Canada. The program also allowed me to study in the evenings, as I had to keep my day job at the time. So beginning in April, and continuing for the next three months, I hurried to class after work, four evenings a week,” Olga recalls.

In August, after graduating from ISSofBC Olga took the IELTS exam, an English proficiency test, and applied for and received the TESL Canada Professional Certification. However, even armed with certifications, Olga struggled to find a teaching position until she had an informational interview at ISSofBC in Richmond.“I had applied for ISSofBC job postings quite a few times, before I got a chance of an informational interview with the manager of the ELSA program in Richmond. It went well and I left the office with some good advice and strategies in my head. Later that week I was invited for a job interview,” she says.

The rest is history. Olga now teaches the ELSA program in Richmond. Her students are mostly new Chinese immigrants in a level 2 English class.“ISSofBC is certainly a place which attracts great people. My co-workers are very supportive and friendly and always ready to share ideas or recommend a good textbook. There is still a lot to learn, but that is what I love about teaching,” Olga explains.

She credits her success to her determination but says there are many more elements to her story including the support of her family, friends and the people she met who believed in her and gave her a chance to succeed in her new life and career in Canada.


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