On Sunday, Abdurrahman Elajmi, along with about six other people from China, Japan, Korea and Kuwait were participating in a program called Community, Culture and Conversation. The program aims to help international newcomers learn English and integrate into the community.
Elajmi was practicing English, square dancing and trying to sing along with the popular folk song, “Farewell to Nova Scotia.”
Seven months ago, 25-year-old Elajmi spoke only Arabic and knew no one else in Halifax. Originally from Libya, he came to Canada to study and make a better future for himself.
“I can’t explain my feelings. It’s so hard, so hard.” said Elajmi, remembering the day he first arrived in Canada.
He didn’t know where to buy food, what clothes to wear or anything about Canadian customs.
“We’re trying to provide that safe space for people, a space of belonging,” said Tatjana Samardzic, the program co-ordinator and regional immigrant services library assistant with Halifax Libraries.
The program is organized by Halifax Public Libraries in partnership with Saint Mary’s University.
The meetings, led by Saint Mary’s University masters of education students, follow an informal discussion-based format aimed at helping participants improve their English.
Meetings take place every Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with the most recent meeting marking Week 6 of the eight-week program.
The Sunday Community, Culture and Conversation meeting explored the history of traditional Nova Scotian music and the music scene in Halifax. Educators suggested local music venues and events to participants and there was a live musical demonstration during the meeting.
Other sessions have focused on garbage and recycling, the Nova Scotian medical system, shopping for food, places to eat and recreational activities.
“I feel excited when I learn. I like it,” said Elajmi.
“We’ve attracted not huge numbers of people, but I think the people that have been coming, some have been returning and coming regularly. So, to me, that’s a measure of success,” said Samardzic. “People find it valuable, they benefit from it. It’s useful to them.”
The Community, Culture and Conversation program is geared toward international students, but other programs are offered through the library for adults as well. They include conversation groups, citizenship classes, tax return assistance and English language classes, to name a few.
Detailed information regarding these programs can be found on the Halifax Public Libraries website or in the “Welcome Newcomers” section of the library magazine called Guide. All programs are free and most don’t require registration.
Heather MacKenzie, Diversity and Accessibility Manager with Halifax Public Libraries, said discussion-based groups seem to work well, and that there are plans for new groups based on this model to start later in 2015.
Halifax has a large international population. At Dalhousie University alone, 14 per cent of the 18,500 students are international students. That’s about 2,600 people.
Elajmi studied at the East Coast School of Languages for six months, to improve his English skills.
He hopes to earn a master’s degree in microbiology and become a laboratory doctor specializing in creating drugs to combat diseases like Ebola and malaria.
“I know it’s a big dream, but I can do it,” he said.
Right now, he’s happy every time he adds an English-speaking contact into his phone.