Tag Archives: internationally trained professionals

On Boxes & Belonging

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a very long time I’ve been trying to decipher this quote by the wise Ms. Maya Angelou. 

 

Can you be in no place and every place? Looking back, I remember my first place fondly where I first belonged.

I was born in Canada in a small prairie town in Saskatchewan which from above appear as big blocks of green and pale yellow – the colours of canola and wheat.

My first home was this Hostess potato chip box. Quite ingenious of my Mom so that she could keep her eye on me as she and Dad worked in my Grandpa’s café.

Home was a small room in a boarding house near the café for a short while. I remain grateful that my parents were able to squeeze in a crib as I didn’t fancy sleeping in that chip box. But I should have known then what was in store for me several years later.

We then moved to what we all called “the BIG house” because it had to fit us all in: Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Uncle, Auntie, four Cousins, and Grandma and Grandpa!

After awhile each of our families moved into our own homes. And after graduating from college, my parents decided it was time for me to see the world. In other words, “You’re on your own now.” So I left where I belonged and closed the door to find a new one to open as my own.

Since then I’ve had many homes. I’m extremely fortunate to have lived and worked in, not to mention travelled to places, near and far, some exotic and exciting, some not so, some twice –

Here’s a list: apartments in Regina, Saskatoon, gated 3 bedroom row house in Lusaka, Zambia, a farm in Kemptville or I remember “UnKemptville”, more apartments in Ottawa, basement apartment in Vancouver, a gated palatial new 5 bedroom home in  Ujung Pandang, Indonesia, one room loft in Calgary, top floor of a heritage house minutes away from Lake Ontario in Oakville, and Toronto where I once lived inside my factory for 4 years when I had my food business. That one had plenty of boxes the same size as the Hostess chip-like box.

So many homes, so many places to belong, so much packing and unpacking….lots of boxes! Will I always be a newcomer … even in my own country?

Learning to belong is not easy and I’m sure you have your own stories. I believe this has something to do with what is known as “reverse culture shock”.

Lusaka, Zambia

Upon returning from working in Zambia for two years, I remember the feeling of shock and awe in a supermarket, trying to decide which toilet paper to buy – the choices seemed infinite – tough choices indeed. We only had this mossy dark green stuff in Lusaka.  Is this where I belong?

Ujung Pandang, Indonesia

Upon returning from working in Indonesia for three years, I remember the feeling of frustration, trying to find the right word in English after speaking Bahasa Indonesia for  three years. I would literally inverse the word order like coffee table to table coffee, bookstore to store book as we do in Bahasa. Is this where do I belong?

I also remember being equally frustrated if not more, in a business meeting in Jakarta, trying to find the right word in Bahasa but all I had were sentences starting with “Saya” which means “I” and sounding like a naughty kid in Kindergarten. “I am, I want, I need, I have…. Saya syndrome!

Ms Maya Angelou, what do you mean belonging no place, belonging every place, no place at all?

Finally I arrived at  my AHA moment:

Toronto, Canada

It was in June this year when I was attending as an instructor a convocation ceremony for adult learners. I  had recognized one of our Program Directors and went over to greet her. Alongside her was her guest and I extended my hand to introduce myself but she spoke first.

Her guest said, “No Ho Ma.”

I replied, “No Ho Ma, I’m Jean Chow. And I’m an instructor here.”

At this point, the Program Director jumps in and said, “Jean, we’re so lucky to have Nancy here today to help us celebrate. She’s the CEO of  a big law firm in Chicago.” Hmmm…I thought in that cloud that hovers above our heads, I’m thinking, “Nancy? Her name is Nancy?”all the while making small talk.

Still thinking in the cloud, “Of course, it is. But she said “No Ho Ma”. Oh my God. She was saying “how are you” in Cantonese to me but I can’t speak Cantonese!  I totally missed her kind attempt to connect with me.

Not only that, she probably thought I was asking her “how are you?” too when I repeated it back to her when I was actually repeating it so I could remember her name. It hadn’t occurred to me how I looked to Nancy. She assumed I spoke Cantonese.

So Ms. Maya Angelou, I think I got it!  No matter where I live and work, I truly do not belong to any place but I belong every place because I will always be “new”, always a “newcomer”, and always be arriving, adapting, and belonging.

As two distinguished members of the Order of Canada would say:

“Very few of us share the same past but most of us will share the same future.” – Rita Deverell, Citizenship Judge

“As life long learners, we are learning to be, learning to become, learning to belong.” – Dr. Bruce Kidd, Former Olympian Runner 

Remember: there’s no place like “home” because home is where the heart is.

Small Business, Big Dreams

Her first flight took her 13,400 kilometres away from her home in Chennai ten months after her wedding day. Selvi Thambimuthu landed at Lester B. Pearson International Airport, Toronto on December 4, 2004.

Three Generations

“I felt really happy to see my new husband and new country but also a little bit sad leaving my family back in Chennai. I was also very curious about snow,” she recalls.

Now thirteen+ years later, Selvi and Siva, her husband, and their three handsome sons Pragadheesh (12), Harshan (10), and Vadhanan (8), are busy getting ready to open their second restaurant franchise next week in Toronto – “Starving Artist”!

Stars Align – A Love Story

A match made by both our parents and confirmed by 4 different astrologists, Selvi and Siva were married within eighteen days of meeting one another in person for the first time in 2004. They came to know one another long distance by phone and her first thought was “he looks just like his photograph”. Strong faith in family and even stronger faith in dreams bridged the distance then and now.

Living the Dream

“Work for your dreams. It will happen whatever you dream. It will come true. You need to believe.” she repeats to her sons. “I want my sons to have their own dreams and I will support them as my parents always supported me. Education is important, first and foremost!”

She remembers how her parents set her up for success, always reading, exploring, and fuelling her curiosity about the world. At age 12, her father gave her a black radio and brought the world inside their home each night at dinnertime.

Her earliest memory of Toronto was “Everyone on the subway was reading!” She used to buy “packages of books” for her sons and read Dr. Seuss’ favourites including “Cat in the Hat” twenty to thirty times a day.

Entrepreneurship & Education in Progress

It’s not clear if “Green Eggs and Ham” set the tone as Selvi and Siva bought their first waffle restaurant franchise in 2016 and opened “Starving Artist” in Midtown Toronto. It was also the year Selvi started (and now graduated!) George Brown College’s Office Administration – Health Services two-year diploma program. And 2016 was the year Selvi’s Mom came from Chennai to help them realize their dreams.

The entrepreneurial spirit thrives in their family. Her father once owned a machine shop in Chennai. And as all entrepreneurs know, you do what it takes to make things work so they live above their restaurant which makes a whole lot of logistical sense.

Soccer Dreams

Listening to Pragadheesh talk about his passion, soccer, with his eyes shining brightly, he is like most young first generation Canadians. They are strivers, strong-willed with extraordinary grit and determination.

When his father suggested they should book their tickets for the World Cup 2026 (Canada, U.S. and Mexico will be hosting), Pragadheesh reassured his father, “Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll be playing so I’ll have tickets for everyone.”

The Next Big Dream

And what’s next you might wonder from the lady who once pushed a stroller dubbed “The Rocket” by her co-workers to get her son to school on time?

Selvi now dreams about how she will furnish their next house, a much bigger house as their home as she remembers fondly her childhood home in Chennai, 10’ x 50’, where her dreams began. And now 13,400 kms away, I have no doubt this dream will also come true. Small business, big dreams!