With Kazakhstan in her rearview mirror, Meiramgul (Mira) Nurgaliyeva embarks on a new professional journey in Canada. Recently graduated from Royal Roads University in Victoria BC, Mira strikes a balance between busy family life and seeking meaningful employment, the latter a challenge for many newcomers during Covid times. Interview by Kareece Whittle-Brown.
Kazakhstan to Canada! Do you remember when you and your family first arrived here?
Certainly, I remember it very well: it was August 15, 2018. It was an over-thirty-six hour flight from Kazakhstan through Russia and the U.S. There was some anxiety and apprehension but mostly overwhelming excitement. We were all so excited! When I was a young woman, I always had a desire to come to Canada.
You had been to Canada before. Did this time feel different?
I had visited Alberta in 2009. I remember that it was extremely cold and the landscape reminded me a lot of my home country. The first emotion I experienced when I returned with my family was excitement because I thought finally we made it.
You left Kazakhstan—with four children!
I wanted to come to Canada to solidify my experience with specialized knowledge by earning a Master of Arts degree. I wanted new experiences. I wanted to explore new horizons, so I decided to study overseas. I applied to a Master of Arts Program at Royal Roads University in Victoria, and when it was approved I submitted the application for myself and my entire family.
What is your first language? What other languages do you speak?
My native language is Kazakh—it is a Turkic language. I am also fluent in Russian and English.
What is your educational and professional background?
My educational background is as an English Language teacher. I started as a trilingual translator, translating from Kazakh to Russian, then to English, for the oil and gas industry. During my career, I have worked as a public relations coordinator, serving in this role for over fifteen years. This was a very successful role for me that I enjoyed very much.
Can you describe your hometown in Kazakhstan?
Kazakhstan is located mainly in Central Asia and partly in Eastern Europe. It is the largest landlocked and ninth largest country in the world. My hometown where I studied, worked, and lived with my family is called Atyrau, and it is considered to be located both in Asia and Europe, as it is divided by the Ural (Zhayik) River.
What do you miss most about your home country?
Now that I think of it, I am quite accustomed to living the lifestyle of a nomad. Since my childhood, I have been used to moving here and there—first with my parents and my family, and then when I went to study overseas at my University. I then got married and moved away from my family and into another family. I also had my work assignment in the United Kingdom from 2013 to 2015, and now have relocated to Canada! Simply put, this has become a part of who I am. I am not the type of person to miss stuff, but I do sometimes long for the moments that I used to enjoy back in my home country: talking to my friends, relatives, colleagues, and socializing face-to-face.
How do you stay connected to people “back home” and to your own culture?
My culture is very important to me, and I do try to hold on to some of my cultural traditions and customs. However, we use technology to stay connected to our families and friends. Through digital media, we are able to maintain contact in a real way back home. I also keep special little treats from my home country that I indulge in sometimes, to savour bit by bit, if I happen to feel homesick. For my children it’s different because they quickly adapt and they don’t seem to get homesick as much.
What has been hard for you here? What challenges have you faced, and how have you been supported?
The hardest thing when I started studying was reading all those academic texts in English, though I thought I knew English very well! Then there was also the challenge of balancing my study requirements with family matters and obligations. As a newcomer, I was amazed that there were so many avenues that offered support—not-for-profits and different organizations that provided assistance. I am sure that as newcomers, we all bring a set of expectations with us on how we expect things to be. We carry some beliefs and values, but we also gain different ones while we are here. I always remind myself that Canada did not come to me; I chose to come to Canada for growth. That means that I have to keep my eyes and heart open, and even if I have challenges, I will work through them.
What advice would you give to someone about to immigrate to Canada?
Research before you leave your home country. Do proper research and learn about all aspects of the country, not only about the current experiences of immigrants, or the job market, but even the history of the Indigenous cultures that form a major part of Canadian history. The most important thing is that you must be ready for many changes to occur in you and possibly your family members.
You celebrated your youngest daughter’s walking ceremony here in Canada. What was the significance of that?
It is a tradition in our culture to celebrate the important stages of our life. Taking the first steps is one of them. It is called the ceremony of “Tusau Kesu” or cutting the rope. The meaning of this ceremony is to celebrate the first signs of a child’s independent steps into a bigger life ahead. And we want to make sure that a positive, strong, and respected person cuts the rope. Even the way the rope is tied around the baby’s shins is symbolic, as it is tied in the symbol of infinity.
There are many other traditional customs from my home country that I intend to uphold and pass down to my children. For example, the celebration of New Year’s Eve. On December 31st, everyone prepares to meet the new year as happy as possible. Everyone dresses in their finest outfits, gifts are placed under the tree, and the door to our home is open to allow anyone to stop by for a visit. There is also the International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8th each year. On this day it is a celebration for any woman, of any age, or any social status, to show appreciation for being a woman. There is also “Nauryz,” the Spring Equinox celebration which can be traced back to Islam.
Do your children see Canada as their home?
Maybe you should ask my children about it, but I dare to say that as a family we do feel like Canada is our home. I have four children, ages fifteen, thirteen, eleven, and two, and they all love living in Canada. We miss seeing and visiting our dearest relatives and friends back in Kazakhstan; however, Canada is our home today.