In the fall if 2000, we “landed”. That’s the term used when Immigrants first arrive at the Canadian Border. In Canada, once you “land” you become a Permanent Resident and are on track to becoming a Citizen as long as you fulfil the requirements.
I honestly don’t recall the details of our landing, I am told we first arrived in Montreal, Quebec, before making our way to Markham, Ontario. Like I say, I don’t remember any of this at all.
I do remember the drive from Toronto Pearson Airport. I remember thinking that the roads were so clean, so wide, and so free. There was barely any traffic! Compared to Lagos, this was a big change. Things are different now… Toronto has basically exploded with an influx of people from all over the world within the past couple of decades, and Toronto traffic now is on its way to becoming a contender on the world scene.
After this, my next earliest memory is that of Ms. Castriota.
Ms. Castriota was one of the Guidance Counsellors at the school that eventually became the High School I attended, my brother and two sisters attended, as well as three of my cousins who lived just about a 5 minute walk from us. Their family had landed earlier that year.
Before I was accepted at the school, I went through some tests with Ms. Castriota and an interview. After that it was decided that I would be placed in Grade 12 at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy. I remember her saying that normally, because of my year of birth, I should be placed in Grade 11, but apparently I had done well enough to be put in the grade above.
I’ll be honest and say that up until then, I had never struggled academically, BUT I think it is safe to say that I struggled, as in STRUGGLED, in the Canadian High School system for the two years I was in it.
I struggled to fit in… I was a Nigerian with a British accent who said things like “rucksack” instead of backpack, “trainers” instead of running shoes and whole list of other things. I didn’t fit in with the Black kids who loved soca music and reggaeton. I didn’t fit in with the Filipinos, who pretty much stuck together. Or the Ginos/Ginas, who came to school with a face beat and drove Mustangs. Somehow I ended up making friends with self-proclaimed “misfits” who liked goth culture, played in the school band, listened to heavy metal, experimented with ouji boards and a whole host of other things that were so far removed from my world. These were the people who were my friends for most of the two years at FMM and made the experience more tolerable than it otherwise would have been.
Needless to say it was a very difficult time for me, socially and academically. I was putting in twice as much work to scale through subjects I excelled at in Nigeria and in England . It is my opinion that the Canadian education system is (or was 20 years ago) one of the toughest in comparison to other parts of the world. I would stay awake until 3am completing assignments while using MSN messenger, HiFive and occasionally AOL to keep me awake. All while trying desperately to fit in.
In the OAC year (Grade 13 which has since been eliminated) I ran for Student Council and I won. I was really into rapping and freestyling at the time. LOL! (For those interested, my rap name was Nubian Renegade… my husband teases me about this until this day. I am the FURTHEST thing from a Renegade). I used my rhyming “skills” to win my class over and it felt really, really good.
I almost didn’t run for student elections though. But my parents convinced me to. “The worst that can happen is you lose, and that won’t be the end of the world”. Very wise words, and I am really glad I took their advice.
By the time High School was over, I had made such an effort to fit in that I was rolling my R’s more and using words that all the other teenagers were using. I had no trace of an accent that wasn’t Canadian, except when I was around my family and other Nigerian family friends.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have fought harder to maintain my originality and not try so hard to fit in. For a young person this is easier said than done, but it is definitely on the list of things I would tell my 16-year-old self, if I had the chance. It is also what I will be telling my daugther as she grows, and her sibling(s) to come, God-willing.
“ Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”– Oscar Wilde