My Thick Accent

Navigating Identities and Celebrating Diversity: The First-Generation Immigrant Journey of a UK-born Vietnamese | Ft. Karen Nguyen Ep. 044

August 31, 2023 Gurasis Singh Season 1 Episode 44
My Thick Accent
Navigating Identities and Celebrating Diversity: The First-Generation Immigrant Journey of a UK-born Vietnamese | Ft. Karen Nguyen Ep. 044
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wonder how it feels to be a first-generation immigrant?

Join us, as we sit down with Karen, a UK-born woman of Vietnamese descent, who takes us along on her journey of carving a unique identity amidst cultural diversity. Get ready to be swept away by her candid narrative; starting from her parent's voyage from Hong Kong to the UK, her own immigration to Canada, the piquant blend of languages she navigated, and the immense impact of Vietnamese communities on her life.

Make no mistake, Karen's story isn't just about immigration, it's a testament to the power of open-mindedness, resilience, and most importantly, kindness. Her storytelling will not only fascinate you with glimpses into her family dynamics, how they celebrate their cultural heritage, but will also offer you a front-row seat to her personal growth through cross-cultural friendships. You'll hear about her struggles with language learning, her experiences in the nuanced school system of Montreal, and how she's managed to balance her heritage and a newfound sense of belonging.

But that's not all. With Karen, we go beyond the surface, talking about the pressures of family expectations on career choices, and how she found a path that brought her peace. You'll see how her experiences have enriched her personality and instilled in her a sense of belonging. Our conversation with Karen culminates with an ode to open-mindedness, the importance of embracing diversity, and the beauty of forming connections with people from diverse backgrounds.
So come, join us, celebrate diversity, and leave with a newfound appreciation for the first-generation immigrant journey.

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Gurasis:

Hi, this is Gurasis Singh and you're listening to My Thick Accent Podcast.

Gurasis:

So on this podcast, we have invited all kinds of people belonging to various cultures and roles and domains, each with their unique stories that have left us inspired and intrigued.

Gurasis:

Today, however, we are about to embark on a journey into the perspective that holds a world of its own the first generation immigrant experience. In a tapestry woven with dreams, challenges and the courage to forge a new path, our guest today brings us a story that reflects the vibrant hues of a first generation immigrant's life, stepping across borders, cultures and languages. Her narrative sheds light on the unique blend of heritage and hope that defines the journey of those who venture to call a new land home. We'll uncover the intricate layers of her background, the echoes of her roots and the aspirations that led her family to a new horizon. Join us as we explore the trials and triumphs of carving and identity amidst the tapestry of diversity. Through her lens, we learn about the nuances of navigating language, tradition and the balance between heritage and newfound belonging, as she shares the vibrant mosaic that defines her path as a first generation immigrant. Please welcome Karen.

Karen:

Hello Gurasis, Thank you for having me. What an introduction. I am impressed. Thank you for having me. My name is Karen and I am super happy to be here to talk with you and discuss on everything "First generation immigration.

Gurasis:

Awesome. Welcome to the podcast, Karen. I must tell my listeners that she's not the classic Karen. I've had the opportunity to know her, you know, I think from past many months now. We have had various conversations and it's always been a pleasure talking to you. So welcome to the podcast.

Karen:

Thank you, I'm very excited to be here.

Gurasis:

Okay, so so I asked Karen, some of my guests, this question that what is this one habit they adopted that has changed their life, or something that has become their second nature?

Karen:

Oh, wow, this really good question. What have I adopted? I think just being kind. Maybe that's a weird answer, but for some people it might be a bit harder for them to be kind. But being kind is free, it doesn't cost anything, and putting anger and hatred has so much, takes up so much of your energy than being kind, in my opinion, and so naturally, just being kind and thoughtful towards others has become second nature to me.

Gurasis:

Yeah, I like the answer. Actually, I don't find it weird at all. I think that's the most important thing. Sometimes people forget to acquire, I would say, and they sometimes just forget that everybody comes from, you know, with different experiences and different challenges might they be going through. The least you can do is be kind to them, I would say.

Karen:

Yes, I definitely agree. Being kind is like. I think it's the pinnacle for all relationships, all connections in life, in order to create more meaning to each other's life.

Gurasis:

Yeah, love that answer. Okay. So, karen, let's just start from the start. You were born in the UK to immigrant parents who moved from Vietnam. Tell us a little bit about your time in London, if you have any recollection or any stories that your parents have shared with you of why and when they moved to UK.

Karen:

Yeah, of course. So I was born in UK. I lived there for six years. My parents they weren't there. They immigrated to UK from Hong Kong actually. So they're originally Vietnamese, they're from Vietnam, but then they went to Hong Kong. They met in Hong Kong and from Hong Kong they signed up to immigrate in these high developing countries, including. They had the choice to go to Canada, us or the UK, and in this case they chose UK, okay, and they established their end of the 80s and then my older brother was born and then I was born thereafter and we stayed there for until I was six, so until 2001. And from there I moved to Canada and I've been in Canada ever since. So in the UK actually, I think it's like my, it was my most happiest times that I ever. I think because naturally, as you go older you become more self-aware and then you encounter more problems and as you go older you get more responsibility, so life becomes more complicated.

Karen:

As a child. I feel like that's when you remember the best times of your life because you're not worrying about anything as children. So I actually remember where I lived. I remember the studying of my house that I was living in. I remember this convenient store that we would go to and my dad at the time he spoke good English. Now he doesn't because he hasn't been using English as much in his community or at his work, but at the time I think he spoke decent English and he was compensating with strangers. There was a lot of immigrants around that time as well. So I think both of my parents were comfortable being out there in society compared to now, and so I remember going to the convenience store and then the owner there. He, like I, was only like four years old at the time.

Karen:

I think, but he picked me up and I don't know this man, but he picked me up as if I was his child and just talking to me. I remember that so clearly. And then I remember going to the grocery store and going through the ice cream aisle and that scent of going into the freezer section. I remember so clearly that every time I go to the freezer section or every time I smell that I get that scent from the freezer section.

Karen:

It literally reminds me of that grocery store in UK back then, so I honestly do have fond memories when I did live in England and I cherish them really, really a lot, and I do plan on going back eventually and visiting where I used to live and just create some sort of memory or have something back in England for myself once I get older. But, yeah, I do plan on wanting to stay there for maybe a month, just to revisit London as a grown adult.

Gurasis:

So I'm very, very interesting Were there any certain families or friends that you were visiting all the time?

Karen:

Yeah, so basically my parents chose the UK because at the time my dad's brothers were living there and then my mother's sister was living there, so my aunt and my uncles. So we would visit them here and there, but it was so far of a drive, probably like 45 minutes of a drive, so we visit them probably, I'd say, every two months or so, but I don't really have fond memories of creating a relationship with them. I just remember, like showing up to their place and you know, getting to know my cousins and eating there. But I don't remember in details what happened.

Gurasis:

Okay, and do you have any recollection of the earlier education, your school or?

Karen:

anything? Yeah, I actually do so. When I, we lived in a neighborhood where the elementary school was probably two blocks away and every single morning my mom or my dad either, or they, would walk me and my older brother to school, and every single morning and I think I was, I was I left when I was six, so I guess I was in that elementary school for like a year and a half, two years before- I came to Canada.

Karen:

So we would go like they would walk us to school, we would line up and then I don't recall like what happened in class because I was so young, but I do recall making like friends and like a best friend there. I remember her name. It's just I don't remember her last name. I even which is funny, which is so funny but I try to look up her last name, I think a month ago on Facebook. I couldn't, I can't recall to this day but her, her first name. I remember it so well. But she was my best friend at the time. We were super close and I remember me being part of a play for like Christmas and I remember like every morning we would have breakfast, we would go into this mini building next to the elementary school.

Karen:

We would all have breakfast all together and then go to the main classroom. That is the extent of what I remember from elementary days.

Gurasis:

then Wow, still a lot of details. You remember that's amazing.

Karen:

Yeah, I know, I know. Okay, yeah, it was a good time.

Gurasis:

Of course I'm sure it is. So tell us what influenced the family or what influenced the decision of the family to move to Canada.

Karen:

So the reason why we moved to Canada is because my mom also has another brother, so my other uncle, who lives here. She has two brothers actually here in Canada, in Montreal at the time, and they were well established, her older brother, so my uncle. He was the most established out of my mother's family so he in a way kind of convinced her and supported her to come here and so she decided to. Even though we had my aunt over there in the UK which is my mom's sister, I think my mom felt more compelled to come to Canada. So my dad naturally was open to it as well. So that's why we came to Canada afterwards in 2001.

Gurasis:

And do you remember your first day, or does your parents have any stories that they shared with you of the first day or the initial days that you landed?

Karen:

Yeah, well, the first time I landed was it was just me and my mom, and then my dad and my brother would come later, but it was me and my mom first and I remember literally I was entering the airport in Canada, montreal's airport, and then obviously there's a lot of people, like you know, welcoming their relatives, right. I think we had like 20 people welcoming just me and my mom. I was so shy. Yeah, I had literally 20 people all my cousins, all my aunts and uncles, everybody was there and I was. It was just they were welcoming just me and my mom and I guess it was an exciting time right To like have a relative who wants to come and live with them, live in the same country. So we were there were 20 people, just like, welcoming us.

Karen:

And I remember walking, my mom was holding the cart with the baggage, like just pushing it, and I was behind her and half my face was shown because I was shy. I was so shy, there was so many people, I was so overwhelmed and the first thing, the first thing that happened when I literally was introduced to them, was my uncle, my mom's oldest brother. He picked me up and he was so happy to see me. He picked me up and I was scared, right. I don't know who he was. It was my first time seeing him. I was scared, but I knew my mom was there, so obviously, like I knew it was safe, even though I didn't know who he was.

Karen:

He picked me up and then everybody like circled around me and just wanted to like touch me and hug me and just acknowledge me. And then I think from then that day on I don't remember like what happened. I know we went like to eat. I remember my uncle, the first, I think, few months I was there. He brought me, he drove me to Tim Hortons.

Karen:

He told me that, Karen, you have to try this. This is the staple of Canada. I'm like what is it? He's like it's Tim Hortons. I'm like, okay, so we, literally it was a field trip going to Tim Hortons. And you know what Tim Hortons? You see it almost every corner, right? Every corner, yeah, yeah, so he brought, he drove, just me and my brother to Tim Hortons and that was like for him an introduction to the Canadian culture.

Gurasis:

Of course.

Karen:

Yeah, so I remember vividly that trip.

Gurasis:

Wow, 20 people welcoming you on the airport. That's incredible, I think we guys, when come here, I remember me that I saw my cousins like they came to visit me from Toronto to Montreal, like I think 10 days after I landed, and I was super happy to see just those two people. I can't even imagine how you would be feeling with 20 people welcoming you at the airport and then you said that they all were coming and hugging and kissing you and meeting you, right? Do you think you still have that trauma with you that, oh my God, who are these people? So people are right there with you?

Karen:

No, no Cause. The thing is our family is so big From that moment on we would have like monthly gatherings, so I would see them so frequently that it became second nature to me to know who they were. And our family is pretty like extensive, like you know. You know your cousins. You get your cousins spouses, their kids and everything. So it's very, very big and you see them on a monthly basis at that time. So I was very comfortable with them.

Gurasis:

Soon after, so, speaking of that culture and everything, of course, like the culture in the UK and Canada, people might think it's similar, but obviously it's very different, right, but tell us, like some of the aspects of, like your new cultural experience that you found most surprising or different from your own, or even from the UK.

Karen:

I mean, of course, I was like pretty young when I left the UK so I wasn't self aware enough to like make a distinction of what the kind of culture it was. But looking back, I think people in Montreal are a lot more welcoming to different nationalities. In the area that I was living in the UK it was more like mainly I don't know if this is politically correct to say, but it was a lot of brown people, pakistani, of course it's correct.

Gurasis:

You're all brown.

Karen:

So yeah, a lot of brown people, a lot of Asian in that community and there wasn't any other race that I would see that where I was living in the UK.

Gurasis:

Okay.

Karen:

I mean, of course there's like Caucasian right, but it was predominantly Indian, brown, pakistani people and then a mix of Asian. But mostly like I was, mostly I was mostly introduced to like brown people. So coming here in Canada, like I saw more different cultures, different cultures, like we see African American culture, we see more Caucasians, we see friend the language top of that. So I think in terms of culture it's more spread, it's more diversified in.

Karen:

Montreal than in UK. I mean I might be wrong If I go back to UK. It might be the kind of the similar culture and of course the language with the accent. I mean this accent is different but because I kind of knew English then for me it wasn't hard to understand English here. It was just my accent that changed, because as children you kind of pick up on a lot of different things.

Gurasis:

Absolutely.

Karen:

And so I naturally lost my British accent, but, and so I have this more Canadian accent living here.

Gurasis:

Can you still do that British accent though? Yeah, I can still do it. So earlier, when you were talking about your life in the UK, I just picked on this one point I want to circle back again on. You said that your father used to use English a lot back then, but it doesn't use it enough now. Tell us what did you mean by that?

Karen:

So back then we didn't have not, to my knowledge, there wasn't a big community of Vietnamese people that my parents were integrated in or they were part of. They didn't know who to reach out or how to reach to these Vietnamese community, or they weren't in need of it at the time, but I think they were in the mindset of exploring and being more adventurous and very in a state of, not in a state, but they were more in a place where they were uncomfortable so they had to like get out there to find solutions to resolve issues. So there were more, I would say, outgoing. Now, moving here, where we have a lot more, even though we did have family back in the UK, more family and more support in Montreal, in Canada, montreal. So because of that, they already these support systems.

Karen:

So basically, my relatives, they already have these Vietnamese communities built and so they integrated my parents into it and naturally my parents felt more comfortable with these communities and started to hang out around these communities that spoke just Vietnamese and so naturally they found jobs through these people and so they didn't feel the need to venture out on their own, because they're no longer on their own as much compared to the UK. So being integrated in these communities allowed them to feel more comfortable in the skin and probably reminded them of their home country and for that reason I think they got used to it. And my dad didn't feel the need to use the English language as much because he already found a job through these relatives, and these relatives they speak in that, in Vietnamese at their job. So he didn't feel the need to use English. So naturally, when you don't use a language or you don't use anything in general, you kind of lose that skill set over time.

Gurasis:

That's really fascinating for me to know, because I think all this time I've heard stories where people have integrated into the society and they just because Punjabi is widely spoken here and there. Just what I thought. But this is very fascinating to know that even Vietnamese is also spoken and there is jobs and work in the same language as well.

Karen:

Yes, yes, there is, and I think it's a good thing. That's why it's good to always be part of communities, because you learn a lot and you get networking. But it also puts you kind of in a box when you feel comfortable.

Gurasis:

Oh yeah.

Karen:

So I think it's always a balance. I find so in the case of my parents. They got used to it and they didn't feel the need to use English and then, as I grew older me and my brother as their kids we would be their main translator for things if they did need help.

Gurasis:

Yeah, and you also said that your mother was also more comfortable to go out back then in Yooka and integrate in the society. Do you would say like this is one of those reasons that she doesn't go out too much now?

Karen:

Yeah, but she is better because if she was better, she's better than us. She didn't know, she was, I guess, wanted to be adventurous and she would walk us to school, she would talk to these parents here and there and she apparently knew English super well. She learned it back in Hong Kong and she used it a lot more in the UK and I guess there was no Vietnamese communities that was created for her at the time, so she didn't. She had to use the other language that she knows, which was English. So same kind of concept as my dad, and so when she came to Montreal Canada again, we have these communities she became more comfortable with them and didn't feel the need to use English.

Gurasis:

And what about the kids? Was it like an intentional effort to instill the Vietnamese language or you just picked it up in the house?

Karen:

So my parents wanted me to go to Vietnamese school, meaning we went to this language school once a week and it started from grade one to grade, I think, seven or eight, and in my case, me and my brother we went to that school for up until grade six, and so it was a weekly thing and I was excelling in that school.

Karen:

I don't know why, but I really put in effort to make sure I get 100% in those written tests or verbal tests, and I was excelling in that, in that in Vietnamese school, and from there I'm thankful that I did learn it. But you will actually see a lot of not kids, a lot of adults my age, around my age, who are Vietnamese. A portion of them don't know Vietnamese as well because they either never went to school or parents didn't really speak that language too much to them at the time. But my parents, because I went to Vietnamese school, I can read, write and understand Vietnamese fluently. So, yeah, that's how I learned Vietnamese. And then my parents just speak to me in Vietnamese, right, they don't speak English or French. So that's how I also get to upkeep this language.

Gurasis:

It's so great that these immigrant does make that effort to instill that language and, for example, in your case, they asked you to go to the school and learn the language. This is really nice just to keep the language intact and still present within the family, and I'm sure you will sort of do the same thing to your next generations as well, because I do speak to a few immigrants and I think everybody I've spoken to so far on the podcast Everybody, literally everybody has made that effort to instill their respective languages in their children and that is, I think, definitely the thing to do.

Karen:

Yes, I totally agree. I would totally do it when one day I have kids, but my younger brother. So I have a younger brother and he my parents didn't instill it in him to go to Vietnamese school, so he didn't go to Vietnamese school. So he doesn't know the language as well as I did at his age, okay, but he does learn it through my parents, who speak to him in Vietnamese, but he's not as fluent or as oh, he can't write or he can't read Vietnamese. So it really depends on the parenting style and what the parents want from the kids over time.

Gurasis:

So let's just talk a little bit about the cultural celebrations and traditions that were their parents making that effort to celebrate all occasions, all festivals Like. In our case, I think we celebrate, for example, the Diwali, which is like a major festival, indian festival we have, and many other religious, small, small occasions. We also celebrate your family, also growing up in your family for many years. What are they doing that as well?

Karen:

Yeah, so we were celebrating, like we would have monthly gatherings just to like hang out and chill, but there were like main events that would happen, so like Chinese New Year's, for example, even though it's called.

Karen:

Chinese but I'm Vietnamese. But we celebrate Chinese New Year. That would be like the biggest event of the year and we would celebrate it within our family. I think those are like. I think that's one of the main holidays that we celebrate. I can't recall anything else that's major. But we do celebrate like birthdays and like, I guess, christmas. You know those regular holidays, canadian holidays, we do celebrate them, but not it doesn't. We don't put as much importance as to like Chinese New Year's, for example.

Gurasis:

Okay, and is there like a particular tradition or maybe even like a festival, apart from you know, the Chinese New Year that you have preserved with yourself, that you have like adopted that or something that is like close to you, for example, anything, maybe like a traditional attire, maybe like a certain cuisine or certain food, anything that you really find really close to you From my culture?

Karen:

Yeah, I mean, I guess the food like I cook Vietnamese food and I know how to cook it, and the fact that I'm able to I know the language and I understand it I can like look up recipes and understand what they're saying and find more ancient, sick, like harder recipes to make. So I think that's one thing that I kind of picked up and will always keep within me to, because the thing is, when we have these monthly gatherings, all the women would be in the kitchen and just cook together and it'd be that way their way of socializing and make connections.

Gurasis:

And it would be the authentic Vietnamese food.

Karen:

Yeah, yeah, authentic Vietnamese food, and they would just literally chit chat while cooking and their way of celebrating the culture on a monthly basis, and so I feel like food is what brings people together in any setting. So I find knowing Vietnamese food and knowing how it's cooked and what's required will be something that I will always keep in my culture and bring forward to my kids.

Gurasis:

Have you ever visited back in Vietnam?

Karen:

Yes, I have, and the last time was in 2004. So a while.

Gurasis:

Wow, that's a long time ago.

Karen:

Yeah, that's a long long time ago. But, yeah, I do love it when I go back, but I like to go back in a big family setting, so, like the entire family.

Karen:

And it's been harder to make that happen in the past few years. So for that reason I haven't gone back and I don't want to go back like with me and friends. You know. I want to go back with my entire family and celebrate and be together and reignite that culture, that Vietnamese culture, and understand the family background more, but together as a family, rather than going by myself and discover on my own.

Gurasis:

Yeah, you were mentioning that. You know your mom's siblings. You said your aunt was in the UK, your uncles are in Montreal. So do you have any family left back in Vietnam or everybody is just living abroad in there?

Karen:

No, we do have. I think we have one or two of my uncles and aunts actually no more than that. Sorry, I just have so many that I can't keep up. Like, on my dad's side there's six siblings and then my mom's side there's they're also six siblings. So I have cousins still in Vietnam, I have cousins in Canada, I have cousins in the UK. So we still have family in the UK, Canada and Vietnam.

Gurasis:

Okay, is there something, karen you, something that people don't know about Vietnam or the Vietnamese culture, that you would like to share with us?

Karen:

I mean I think we all know this, but Vietnamese people in the, in the cost, in the way that I was brought up, we are very, very hardworking. I mean I know everybody is to an extent, but we don't give up and so we are very, very hardworking and we always make sure that we are aligned from a family point of view. So we are very family oriented, community, very community oriented I don't know that's a word, but we're very focused on that and hardworking at whatever we put our energy into.

Gurasis:

And it's also like a collectivistic society, right.

Karen:

Yes, yes, in the way that I was brought up. Yes.

Gurasis:

Brought up. Yeah, yeah, Okay, Awesome. So let's just talk a little bit about the. You know the family dynamics and the. So the experience I have had, you know, speaking to Indians, more specifically the Punjabi first generation immigrants, I get to hear this a lot, that our parents are still stuck in the air, the left India, the left Punjab and they had not outgrown that certain ideologies. Tell us if you have had any certain experiences growing up.

Karen:

I can tell you a recent one, okay, I think in my experience. So my parents, they got married at like 20, super young, and then they got kids early 20s, no-transcript.

Karen:

At this age that I'm at, I should be married. According to them, according to their culture, I should have kids by now, you know. So I think their mentality is oh, why aren't you married at this age? What happened? What's wrong with you? But I don't take offense to it. I get it because that's how they were brought up, like everybody around their age got married at the same time. So for them to see this more Westernized, more modern way of living is different. They ask me here and there, but I don't pay attention to it because it is my path, it is my journey, it is my way of living and I'm content with the decisions I make. But for sure it's in the back of their head Like they're probably worried why I'm not married. But I will know in due time it will happen.

Gurasis:

So I'm not worried about that.

Gurasis:

Yeah, I think that's pretty common. Again, one of the conversations I have with many people around my age are very rich, and I think all those South Asian communities also, and then you are sharing our example as well. This is a common conversation. I think times are gone when you are supposed to get married at like 20 and have children by 23 and then another child by 25 and then just wait for retirement. Those days are gone, I think also because we millennials especially Karen got exposed to so much. Our parents can't even fathom the fact there's something called internet. Back then, probably, and especially in my parents, I would say I'm the youngest in the family and my sisters actually I have two sisters and they got married at the age of like early 20 sometime and they always do question me as well and I'm like come on, gone are those days. It's not the norm anymore and it will happen when it's due. You can't force these things to happen anymore. So I can totally, totally relate with you.

Karen:

Yeah, can I ask you something? Sure, do you ever get pressured over time? Do you still feel pressured from these questions or you're indifferent?

Gurasis:

Well, I don't think so I'm indifferent. I think I do get pressurized as well, because these are common questions, right? I think all my friends also kind of are asked these questions and it's hard to sometimes, you know, explain the parents as well that what is something which is holding me back and it's not. It's, you know, like I think we have had discussions earlier as well I think it's it's not the time right now. We have things to do, we have things to figure out, and it will happen at its due time. You can't force these things to happen just because everybody's doing it. You don't have to do it, it's okay. It will happen whenever it's supposed to. There's a right time for everything. So, yeah, I think I do have that banter with my parents at times, but at the same time, I think I'll I'll acknowledge their understanding because they do understand me and they do understand that, okay, fine, we, we know that it will happen its own time and we can't ask the same question a hundred times, you know. So I think they are also evolving, but I think I've said it multiple times on the podcast that they are the product of their own time and they just try to do what they were taught or they have seen whole life, and it's very difficult to change their ideologies in which they have grown up. So, yeah, that's how I would answer that.

Gurasis:

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Gurasis:

Now let's get back to the episode. So let's just talk about. You know your education, obviously, and a little bit about the career path, and you were telling me that when you came here, you had to go to a friend's school, even though your parents were anglophone. Actually, I did a little bit of research and also, like, spoke to somebody and they told me that if you are anglophone, you are allowed to go to an English school. So I'm not sure what was the norm back then when you came that you, either one of your parents were anglophone, but you still had to go to the friend's school. So tell us about that time. And you're also telling me that you also feel the very first grade. Tell us about that time.

Karen:

Yeah, so the reason why I had to go learn French is because I don't. My parents did not go to an English speaking school. They didn't go to school. So they because it didn't for you to go to an English school here in Montreal at the time, your parents either you have to either be born in Canada or your parents have to go to have had to go to an English speaking school in order for you to go in order to you to enter an English school.

Karen:

So, I was neither. I was straight up an immigrant into Canada, so I was. I had to be put into a French school and actually for the first month I did go to an English school and we did try it. But the thing is, I guess my parents weren't too knowledgeable about the rules, but I did go to English elementary school and I was there for a month and a half and they kicked me out. Yeah, I mean, they didn't literally kick me out, they literally they just packed up my stuff and they said buy to me. I didn't know what that meant and I told my parents, like I said they gave me all my school stuff. But why did they do that? Like why did the school do that? Yeah Well, because they're not allowed to like host immigrants who don't, who didn't have parents who went to English school. It was like against the law to have kids. It was against the law. Like I think my parents just put me into an English school without knowing the rules and regulations at the time and then, as I got enrolled in the first month, that's when we all realized that I was not doing the not legal student being in the English school. So they kicked me out. Nicely, they kicked me out nicely, and then I went into French elementary school and I had to restart.

Karen:

I did first grade and second grade in Aikari. Aikari would in French, in English, would be like a welcoming class where they would host students who don't know, who have trouble knowing knowing or learning French, or had more difficulties to learn the new language. So I was put in Aikari, the first and second grade, first grade I. The thing is when you, when you're in Aikari first grade, if you pass then you go into regular second grade. But because in a way I wasn't good enough, I kind of failed, in that sense, first grade and then I went to Aikari, second grade, and then when I finished the Aikari second grade I was put into regular second grade. So I didn't even go up to third grade, regular I went to. I basically failed my second grade essentially. So failing that I don't think it really made an impact to me at the time because I guess as a child you don't, you just you know, you just try to pass and go on to the next level.

Karen:

But, looking back, I think it was a good thing. I mean, I'm grateful for whatever happened to get me to where I am now, but I just recall making a lot of friends in that welcome in that Aikari class and then being feeling more comfortable than, say, like in a regular class, because we all had the same struggles in a way.

Karen:

And so we had these obstacles that we had to get together and try to surpass them together. And even though we don't speak the same language there was like multiple different nationalities in that classroom Even though we don't know the same language our aim, our goal was the same, which is to get better in French. So I think in a sense I felt more belonged. I felt belonged in that setting, in that Aikari class. But afterwards, you know, I felt more comfortable knowing French. But that was the time that I felt the most belonged and most comfortable at that age.

Gurasis:

Okay, Do you? Are you friends with anybody still from that class?

Karen:

Actually I am friends with one person, Okay, but I don't think she recalls that we went to that same class. No, no, did I ever brought it up? But we're friends but we don't see each other that often, maybe once every three years, Okay.

Gurasis:

But after that, when you got into your third grade, you were also telling me that you were not comfortable speaking to your classmates. Tell us about that, why.

Karen:

So I think in elementary school it wasn't made aware to me that I was uncomfortable with French.

Karen:

It was only in high school that it was made aware to me that I felt uncomfortable speaking French. So in elementary I was like just doing my course, I was not doing well in French classes but I still, you know, put in effort and stuff and thankfully pass and went into high school. And then going into high school, that's when you meet different people, different classes. You meet like I don't know 400 students right In the same grade as you in high school, from different like class, from different like ethnicity and different Different interests. You meet like so many students.

Karen:

And so over time I kind of became uncomfortable speaking French because I had an accent Meaning I had an accent and I also had to find my words a lot in French compared to English. So going to high school I was comfortable in English but I was uncomfortable speaking French. And so, being uncomfortable speaking French, I didn't reach out to, I wasn't socializing with students as much. I was more in my corner by choice and I felt comfortable being in my corner. And sometimes my classmates would think that I just don't like them because I'm not talking to them but little do they know is because I feel shy and embarrassed of my accent, of having to find my words Can't be as smooth as other people comparing myself to how they speak French. I was not. I didn't have the highest self confidence to speak French and for that reason I retreated in high school a lot.

Gurasis:

Back then they thought you were Karen, way before the concept of Karen came in. Yeah, yeah, literally.

Karen:

And, honestly, when I look back then, friends that I made in high school, the closest ones are the ones that were very either understood English well or conversated with me in English here and there, or accepted me speaking English here and there over time. Like, sometimes I would speak in English or some words would come out in English and some of the students in high school would kind of not be accepting of it, or they would just find it weird that I would or they wouldn't understand what I'm saying, so I would need to change my language in order for them to understand. So, yeah, most of my friends from high school are those that either really I communicated in English most of the time, or they understood my language barrier, or they made me feel comfortable that it is okay to have a French accent.

Gurasis:

And you also mentioned earlier that that a K class you know where you were learning French was the only time you felt belonged than ever. Tell us like why would you say that? That I think you are living in Montreal from 20 years. I believe more than 20 years actually, but you still think you felt belonged then and not now. Why would you say that?

Karen:

Well, not that I don't feel belonged now, but I think the most time that that was a time where I felt vividly like there was no problems in the world. I felt the most at peace at that age. So when that was first grade, second grade, first second grade so I was probably like early teens yeah, no, actually, no, that was actually maybe like under 10, under 10.

Karen:

Yeah, under 10, essentially under 10. But because, again, I wasn't self-aware enough. I didn't have these issues growing up as an adult. So the only issue I had was going to school, making sure I was fed and making friends, and all those requirements for me at the age was fulfilled. So I felt belonged in that sense, and that's not to say, oh, I don't feel belonged now, but for sure I didn't have whatever responsibilities and roles and issues that I encountered today at that age. So I do feel belonged now, but not as strongly as I was then because of the self-awareness that I have acquired over time.

Gurasis:

Okay, so what is something you think is sort of missing, or like a missing piece, which will make you feel more belonged? Or maybe do you think there are certain practice that you have to follow, then that will make you feel more belonged.

Karen:

There is. No, I don't think there'll be anything that will make me feel more belonged. I think in the past I think five years or so I've become more self-aware and I heard this saying that this was like five years ago, but I heard it and it kind of resonates. It still resonates to me to this day and the saying is you belong wherever you go. So I kind of kept that mentality and so wherever in an uncomfortable situation or networking events, for example, where you have to be outspoken and get yourself out there.

Karen:

I still I tell myself I belong, even though I know I don't. I know it's hard to integrate, but I tell myself I belong wherever I go, meaning I am comfortable with my skin and with the skills that I have, and the way that. I am as a person, I can make myself know that.

Gurasis:

I belong.

Karen:

Kind of brainwash myself that I belong and I feel comfortable doing that. How does that make sense? Absolutely.

Gurasis:

I think that's very true. I like what you said, that this is all in your mind. We feel that we don't belong in certain situations or, for example, getting hired at an agency and you feel like, oh, am I like a diversity hire, for example, but it's not you actually belong. They really have to in a dialogue with yourself that it's you who is stopping you from really feeling accepted and it's you who's going to help you to feel more belong. It's all in your mind, exactly All in your mind.

Karen:

You have to let go of that fear that again, me not being comfortable speaking French. So when I was in high school I have a friend, a classmate actually. He said at the end of our year when we were graduating. He said, karen, you never really liked me. I'm like what are you talking about? He's like because you never speak, you never talk to me. I'm like, no, we talk but we don't have conversations. And then I thought deep back into it. I'm like well, I don't make conversations with him because he I don't feel comfortable speaking French. And so, knowing that I didn't feel the need to explain it to him why he felt like I didn't like him, because I already knew I was comfortable in my skin in that moment that me not speaking French is how I feel, like I could belong in that environment.

Gurasis:

Talk us a little bit about your career choice Also, because I have this question that you know we South Asians are asked to follow, like a certain career path growing up, oh, you have to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer, etc. Was there like a similar conversation in your families that you have to follow a certain path?

Karen:

Yeah, for sure For me, we. They wanted us to be like a lawyer doctor engineer not less engineer at the time, but yeah, very high, like high paying jobs or high rewarding jobs to society. But so what I did over time is that when I was entering college so CJEP, which is after high school, they you have to choose if you want to go into like science or business, and I chose science for the first semester and I got into science in CJEP and the first semester.

Karen:

I hated it and it was a battle between what I wanted and what my parents wanted.

Karen:

And again, I chose business, and I felt so much more at peace making that decision, and I knew that, no matter how mad they would be or they or unsupported they would be, I knew that that was the best route for me. So they weren't mad at me for choosing that, though, but you know they want the best for you at the end of the day, and their best, their knowledge of what is best for you, is having the highest paying job or the best, the most rewarding job, which, in this case, would be doctor or lawyer or some sort, but not in business right.

Karen:

In terms of career, I knew from CJEP that I would be in business and I would stay in business and they've never kind of questioned me from that point forward because I think my decision making was so secure in myself. I showed that I was so secure in that decision that that made them feel comfortable and not question if my decision was wrong or right.

Gurasis:

Yeah, and you also worked at a bank for some time, right?

Karen:

Yeah, yeah. So I worked at a bank for four years part time and then sometime full time in the summer. But I worked in finance and I really liked it as a part time job. But over time I knew because I wasn't studying business finance, I was studying business marketing. So I knew finance was just a good to have on my resume and it was a good knowledge. But I knew it wasn't my department, it would be mostly marketing.

Gurasis:

And that's why you transitioned into advertising.

Karen:

Yes. So I knew I always loved business, but I'm also creative as well as an individual. So I wanted to mix business and creative. And what does that entail? So under business there's finance, accounting, btm, so business technology management, and then supply chain, and then you have marketing Under business. What is the most suited for me? I chose marketing right off the bat and I stuck with it, and I knew I wanted to work at an agency start as my first career. So for that reason I entered the agency life and I'm doing pharmaceutical advertising.

Gurasis:

Okay, kaden. So I just want to talk very briefly before we get into the final segment, about the cross-cultural friendships. You have grown up here. You have met people from all cultures from around the world Canada that's the best thing about Canada. Tell me how this cross-cultural friendships has contributed to you. Maybe again I want to use the word it has contributed to your sense of belonging, or how it has helped you just in your personal growth.

Karen:

So these calls across cultural friendships have allowed me to be more comfortable with French actually. So these friends that I've met, they speak either just English or just French or both, and sometimes they would speak both language in one sentence and so naturally I, to kind of connect with them, I would do the same. So over time it made me comfortable to switch from English to French in like a few seconds. And getting to know their culture and their way of living is similar to me because I would say most of my friends are either Asian or their different race. I kind of got to know different cultures and understand that we kind of relate to each other from an immigrant perspective and that made me feel comfortable in my skin to be around them and also be more open-minded when they have issues in their culture, in their tradition and how they overcome it and how they portray it to their family and friends.

Karen:

I learned from that and I get to basically acknowledge what their issues are and then give my advice from my perspective and create a relationship stronger, make bonds out of it and I think, in that sense, being open-minded, they allow me to be open-minded. Eventually, these cost cultural friendships that I have and being open-minded, I think it's the best way to integrate into society.

Gurasis:

Yeah.

Karen:

Because if you're closed-minded then you'll just reject everything that does not align to your values, and I think you have to be open-minded to know that there are so many different things out there to discover, and there will always be things to discover as long as you are open-hearted and open-minded to it.

Gurasis:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I totally agree with you. I think the reason today, you and me somebody who has the roots of Vietnam and somebody who is from India is now sitting together and talking today is only and only because we are open-minded and we took that step to really integrate into different cultures and know about each other. And I think that's the best thing about Canada as well, where you can find people from all around the world and it's fascinating to know about their cultures. And also it's the most amazing thing to know that there are so many similarities between different cultures. And I think I have connected with so many people only and only on the basis of the conversations what? How parents talk to us, or some conversations about the food, or, like in my case, I love my Indian spices, so it's about Indian spices, is there? All this has really connected me with the people from all around the world, and I can't be more thankful to Canada for such an enriching experience.

Karen:

Yeah, yeah, and I love that that you said that, because same I feel so grateful that I was able to meet you and these friends and have built this relationship, and that has allowed me to become so inviting as a person and feel more belonging and allow people to feel that they belong, no matter where they are. Yeah, absolutely yeah, we love Canada. We do.

Gurasis:

Okay, keryan. So now we're in the final segment of the podcast. I call it Beneath the Accent. I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. You can answer them in one word or a sentence, or however you feel like. The idea is just to know more about you, so ready.

Karen:

Yes.

Gurasis:

So what's the best piece of advice someone ever gave you?

Karen:

I think it's not a piece of advice that's from somebody. I think it's a collective of thoughts that were given to me and I kind of put it together Is to have boundaries, be kind, be open-minded, communicate and always listen to your heart. I mean, some people would say it's not always good to listen to your heart at all times, but at the end of the day, I guess, listen to your gut feeling. There is no right or wrong when you do that. I guess, like I've never actually really got a piece of advice from somebody. I would say it's more from like listening, from like different podcasts and from your observations.

Karen:

Yeah, observations that I kind of collected these common advice.

Gurasis:

Yeah, okay, you said something about you know follow your heart. That that also something I see on the podcast all the time that I encourage you to follow your heart, but also us on Instagram. The handle is my take accent, so all the listeners do follow us on Instagram as well.

Karen:

Yes, follow, follow, follow, follow.

Gurasis:

Oh, thank you. Okay, is there any worst advice, karen, that someone ever gave you?

Karen:

I don't think there's any worse advice. I think any advice is good, depending on how you take it. But I would say, from listening to these advices that I've gotten, I could say that I think one of my friends did say at some point, like don't always listen to, don't always take all opinions to heart. It's not. It's not personal, it's business.

Gurasis:

Yeah, yeah.

Karen:

And I took that to heart because I take a lot of things personally, but over time I kept saying that to myself and so I don't take. So the saying is it's not personal, it's business.

Gurasis:

Business.

Karen:

So no, take taking that advice in. I think it's good, because then you become neutral to everything that's being said to you. You take it in but you don't take it personally and you know that it's coming from their best of interest in that time that they gave it to you with information that they have. So, whatever they say, don't take it personal, not saying it's all business, but don't take it personally.

Gurasis:

essentially, yeah, yeah, perfect, I like that. Is there something you recently bought and you're now regret?

Karen:

Okay, Probably a shirt that I bought. I bought a shirt for like this summer and it's pink because you know how the movie Barbie came out right.

Gurasis:

Yeah.

Karen:

So somehow I was just so into pink and I never wear pink. I'm a very like, neutral kind of person, like I wear a lot of black and white, neutral colors. So this shirt I bought. I never worn it. I guess that's one thing I regret, but like it's even then, it's not even a regret. It's like it's something I don't use to its fullest potential.

Gurasis:

Okay. So what's the most expensive thing? You own Probably my MacBook. So what's the most expensive thing? You would like to buy A new phone for now, okay. So what's next on your bucket list, kieran.

Karen:

Getting a promotion.

Gurasis:

Okay, good luck with that, thank you. So who's your go-to person when you feel stuck?

Karen:

I have this friend that I go to when I feel stuck and she listens to me when I have problems and she tries to decipher the issue by asking me deep questions.

Gurasis:

Okay, are there any movies that you like to watch over and over?

Karen:

again. There is one, but I don't even even then I don't watch it often. It's Toy Story, toy Story. You know, toy Story? Yeah, yeah, toy Story, toy Story. 1, 2, 3, 4.

Gurasis:

Okay.

Karen:

Yeah, the Disney movie. That's one thing that I would watch again, if you could have one superpower.

Gurasis:

what would it be To be invisible? For some reason? I was expecting this to come from you, oh, really.

Karen:

Yeah, how come.

Gurasis:

Maybe it's the introvertness of yours that kind of gave me a hint that it's coming, it's coming.

Karen:

Yes, you thought right.

Gurasis:

So, Karen, if you had to create this one law that everybody has to follow, what would it be?

Karen:

I think it would be accept people for who they are and give them grace, give them patience, give yourself patience and know that at the end of the day, as long as we are on the same page and we are together as a community, everything will turn out okay. Not sure that could be a law, love that Mic drop.

Gurasis:

I would say I love that, Thank you. So describe Canada in one word or a sentence.

Karen:

Canada is welcoming.

Gurasis:

So finally, Karen, if you could leave me with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Karen:

I would say probably it was repeated throughout this recording.

Gurasis:

Sure.

Karen:

But have boundaries. Listen to your gut. Never give up on yourself. Give yourself patience and grace and time to be the best version of yourself.

Gurasis:

Okay, love that. So, finally, how would you describe your experience of being on this podcast?

Karen:

I loved it. I mean, you know we already speak as friends at work, as colleagues as well, but this was very exciting and I am super honored to have like even get here, to get to this point with you and, honestly, I am so proud of even though we've only known each other for so little like I'm so proud of what you've accomplished and have done and the way like how outgoing you are and the way you integrate conversations with people and how you get people together just by doing this podcast, and I think it's brave and I think it's admirable and I'm super grateful to have met you.

Gurasis:

Likewise, Karen, Super grateful to you, know come across you in this Canadian journey of mine. So thank you. Thank you so much, Karen, for being on the podcast, all your kind words and adding value to my listeners. Thank you.

Karen:

Thank you so much.

Gurasis:

Hey listener, Thank you for making it to the end. I highly highly appreciate you listening to the podcast. Subscribe to the podcast if you haven't as yet, and please share with your friends or anybody you think would like it.

Karen:

And like.

Gurasis:

I always say we encourage you to follow your heart, but also ask. On Instagram, handle is . You can also leave us a review or write to us at Hello@mythickaccent. com. So stay tuned and let's continue knowing each other beneath the accent.

Exploring the First Generation Immigrant Experience
New Cultural Experience in Canada
Impact of Vietnamese Communities on Language
Celebrating Cultural Traditions and Family Dynamics
Adapting to Language and Going To French School
Finding A Sense Of Belonging
Open-Mindedness and Cross-Cultural Connections
Podcast Guest Appreciation and Call-to-Action