Olha & Irina - Komsomolsk, Ukraine

Where are you from?

Komsomol’sk, Ukraine.

What made you decide to move?

Irina: I decided to move because I wanted to see North America.

Olga: My mom moved away when I was five and I was left to live with my father. As all teenagers do, I was arguing with my dad and after one of the arguments decided that I wanted to go live with my mom in Canada. Initially I thought I would only come for a few months to learn english, but see I am still here.



Was it a difficult decision? What was the most difficult part about leaving?

Irina: The decision was easy, because I didn’t realize what was waiting for me here. An notthing was difficult about moving, I thought it would be fun. I realized all the difficulties when I landed. First of all, it was cold and the second biggest challenge was to find a job and a place to stay.

Olga: Obviously it was very hard to be in a foreign environment without your friends and not know the language. I went to a school in Toronto where there were only 5 caucassian kids, so that was very new to me.

What was it like when you first arrived?

Irina: Everything was a surprise, I thought it would be so much easier. Looking for a job, a place to stay and the freezing weather.

Olga: At the very beginning there was just a natural cultural shock, to be exposed to black people, Indian people, Chinese people, Asian people, just such a variety of ethnicities, that you have never been exposed to before. Second was the language barrier. I was only 16 years old and coming to another country and not being able to speak a word in english, turns you into this little fool where you have to learn everything from the very beginning, but you’re not a kid anymore. That was difficult to adjust to, but you have to let yourself know that it is okay to be at that level and that you will grow.

On top of that we haven’t been close with my mom, since she moved away when I was only five so building that connection wasn’t easy.



What have been your biggest challenges?

Irina: Probably looking for a job and getting hired. Learning how to present yourself. The system is very different here. I am not used to being examined (In Ukraine you get a job through connections).

Olga: The first three years of my life here were the hardest. It is natural for people to want to be interesting to people, but in high school I faced a lot of bullying because of my foreign background. The girls found my accent and my looks funny, boys were harassing me verbally as well. But I didn’t know that I could stand up for myself or report them. But that experience truly built my character and made me stronger.

I used to drink and smoke back at home and that was a part of my life, but here I had to study hard and do my best, so this reckless behaviour was left in the past.



What is the thing you are proudest of so far and why?

Irina: I am proud of my standing in this country. The fact that I have a job and I make my own living. I can support and survive by myself.

And also the fact that I gave a chance to my two daughters to find their way here, which they did. They got education here, jobs. And they seem pretty happy here.

Olga: Probably the fact that I work for the government now, If you told me nine years ago that I would be where I am, I wouldn’t believe that. But obviously, now it seems like I can go even further.



What are some of the things about home that bring you the feeling of nostalgia?

Irina: Pictures of my family. My close and extended family. I have those pictures all over my apartment. These thoughts and memories of my family is what reminds me of home.

Olga: I still keep physical letters that we were exchanging between my friends who were left at home. I keep the cards for my birthdays, signed by my classmates back in Ukraine. These sentimental things are very dear to me. Also, whenever I am out in the nature, on the bank of the river and there are willow trees, it mentally brings me back home.

Are there any traditions/ rituals you still maintain? (holidays, foods, habits)

Irina: Yes, we celebrate Christmas and Easter, these are the two main holidays for us. Which we always are looking for and prepare our traditional food like cabbage rolls, fried fish and vegetable salads.

Olga: Whenever I am homesick, my to-go meal is buckwheat with chicken patties and a side of sliced cucumbers with salt. Such a simple dish, but it’s so dear to me.



What do you wish more people knew about immigrants?

Irina: I wish people who are established here should be at least nice and provide moral support, if possible, to people in need. One piece of advice for immigrants.

Olga: I think that most people in Canada are 3d or 4th generation immigrants. They just forget about where their relatives come from and what they had to go through. We have this in common and this experience should unite us.

Olha has inspired the creation of the Summer Camp Air candle.

The smell from the careless and happy times of her childhood. Pine forest meets lavender fields with a pinch of summer ambiance and lots of warm memories.

As a child Olga used to go to Crimea with her father where they gathered lavender flowers and pine branches to then go home and make them into aromatic sachets that will remind them of the great times in Crimea throughout the cold and dark winter.