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MP Omar Alghabra shares newcomer experience at Sheridan College

July 11, 2016

The Mississauga News | They say cultural immersion is an effective way to learn a language.

Watching TV and movies can also help one learn by osmosis.

That’s what Omar Alghabra did. When the Mississauga Centre MP arrived in Canada from the Middle East 27 years ago, it was the sitcom Three’s Company and children’s show Sesame Street that assisted him with English.

Though he completed high school back home, he decided to attend Grades 12 and 13 here to further his language comprehension.

Alghabra was 19 when he arrived by himself. He had to find his own way, a position many newcomers find themselves in.

He shared a bit about his path with students from the Sheridan College’s Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) program last Thursday at the Hazel McCallion campus in Mississauga.

Alghabra told attendees that after high school he went on to study mechanical engineering at Ryerson University. At that time, his father could no longer send him money and he was unable to secure financial aid. So Alghabra considered dropping out to work full-time.

But then an opportunity presented itself: the donut shop where he worked was hiring full-time nights.

“I’m so grateful that I did that, but it was an incredible schedule,” he said, noting that he would sleep two hours before school and two hours before work to manage both.

“On top of that, I also worked on weekends.”

Alghabra also spoke about his vehicle in those days, a rusty Chevette that leaked when it rained, causing water to pool on the floor.

The problem was fixed when the guy who sold him the car punched two holes in the floor with a screwdriver and a hammer to drain the water.

“These are the things that I went through as a newcomer with limited income, limited means, he said. “(I) always needed to be innovative, always needed to find creative ways to make ends meet, to learn my way around.”

Having never studied politics formally, Alghabra said his foundation on the subject was formed while working nights and getting to know the regulars at the donut shop.

“That was the opportunity when I got to know Canadians,” he said, noticing that everybody shared “the same frustrations and the same aspirations.”

The experience also taught him to be more secure about his own cultural identity.

Following his presentation, Alghabra told The News that those learning a new language mustn’t concern themselves with how they might sound.

“There’s always a level of hesitancy by the individual; they don’t want to look dumb,” he said. “It’s challenging to break that barrier and say, ‘I don’t mind looking silly.'”

Sheridan offers language and employability training for newcomers and refugees at all three of its campuses. The programs see about 1,000 individuals a year, 30 per cent of whom are refugees.

The college receives about $3 million a year from the federal government to run the programs.

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