Posted by Karla Ojeda, 15-16 Youth Exchange Student

Karla Ojeda was a Youth Exchange student from Venezuela to Cornwall Sunrise. After she returned home, the troubles in her country began. The Cornwall Sunrise club raised funds and arranged for her to return to Cornwall where she has been studying for the last two years at St. Lawrence College. She wrote to some of us about her experiences.

It is interesting how hard it is sometimes to put your thoughts and emotions into words.
A few weeks ago, I finished my program. There are mixed feelings, lots of questions but mainly so much to thank. I look back now, and ask, where did the last two years go? They went by in the blink of an eye and now I am a Social Service Worker.
I remembered when we started this process over two years ago. I will not lie, I was terrified, determined but scared. I was sad for leaving so many things behind, my country, my family, the university program I love -even when I think or talk about this I still cry- and friends. It was a totally different feeling from when I left to come to my exchange; then, I knew when I was going to return. This time, I had a ticket to leave but none to come back. I was scared, doubting about if I was going to be able to succeed in a college-level academic setting with my English, but slowly I demonstrated myself that I was capable to do it.
Readjusting… I was so traumatized from what Venezuela is living right now. I call it trauma because I used to have flashbacks and even remorse of how lucky I was to be back in Canada. During my last two years, I researched a lot about immigrants and even my last semester I wrote a paper on the physical, psychological, and emotional impact that immigrant have when they come from conflict nations. My research was eye-opening, and it certainly helped me understand what happened to me. Interestingly, in a round table in my class, we were discussing this topic and my professor asked about ‘survivor guilt’, which is basically feeling guilty about being alive and perhaps, better off than any other person who also experienced what you went through. And this is something that I have had to deal with since day one. There were countless times that I felt so undeserving of the opportunity I was given, particularly because I did not think I was any especial compare to others, also because I knew that so many people I loved were not able to live, eat or even think about what I now could. But I did know that I had to do my best since it was given to me.
These times were challenging, I am an extremely social person, and having no friends or being unable to make friends was very hard. I reenergize by sharing with people, and now I had to find different ways and coping mechanisms. One of them, with no doubt, was fill myself with things to do, keep myself busy all the time, with work, with school, with different things that helped by distracting my mind of thinking about things that I didn’t want to worry. I’ve even got to experience some anxiety episodes, that I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE HAD before (nothing to worry about though, by visiting the church and crying for an hour everything was better after). Sincerely, I was very sceptical concerning mental health before I came, this is a topic not spoken in Venezuela until very recently. However, my studies and even my own experience have challenged myself to change my belief in this theme.
I have learned so much in these two years, in so many ways and I am extremely thankful for that. I see all my friends and people I know who also fled Venezuela and how few of them (maybe a handful of people) are studying. Their lives are so different and certainly more promising than those who are not. This process has taught me that immigration is more than leaving your home, sometimes is even leaving yourself behind too and start over again. In January, while talking to one of my good friends who currently lives in Spain, he made me realize something. It was tough, and hard to digest. Perhaps it was something that I knew in the back of my head, but I just did not want to accept it. I had been given an opportunity that is one in a million and I had to make the best of it. Meaning, that my hopes of returning to Venezuela – to live- were very naïve. They were naïve for several reasons, but mainly because while being here and think about what my future would hold if everything changes or not are unclear. My friend made me realized that I was not living here nor there. That hit me hard. And, I know that I was not the only one with these thoughts, because even he had them. For two weeks, I experience great sadness. However, everything passed, and it was time to build something based on what I have and what is more realistic, which is a life in Canada… Please do not get me wrong, I love Canada and I am so grateful that this country can give me much but much more of what my country could ever give me. Nevertheless, it is hard to leave behind those feelings and thoughts from your heart and mind.
I am strong, determined, and resilient, and what great virtues to have in me, but there are weaknesses too. My family is everything for me. They are so proud of me and my accomplishments but it so hard to not be with them. To miss weddings, birthdays, the birth of new family members, the loss of others and being so far and having no one to rely on when hard times come. “Cry in silence, wipe your tears off and move on”- I tell myself. But my goal and determination for sure keeps me focus on my goals – which are many -. I believe none of you knew all these things, and honestly, I barely share them. If I do, it is because I can’t hold them any longer. – Not a good thing to do, but I am still growing within myself and learning about myself.
I wanted to share this with you, not because I want you to know my hardships these last two years but to THANK ALL OF YOU. Thank you to each one of you made this journey easier and more comforting. Thank you for caring for me as a daughter. Thank you for your support. Thank you for believing in me and my capacities and abilities. Thank you for giving me a home away from home. Thank you for giving a Canadian Family. Thank you for being so special to me. Thank you for showing real and selfless generosity. Thank you for making every Wednesday morning a day to look forward to. Thank you for sharing my successes with me. Thank you for giving the greatest and most valuable gift that a Human being can be given, Education.
Now, I applied for Post-Graduation Work Permit, which is an open permit to work in Canada. Due to the length of my program, this will be possibly given to me for 3 years. This is a path to eventually become a permanent resident. For now, I am waiting for biometrics centres to open to provide them.
On another note, and the MOST EXCITING ONE... I have accepted a job offer of a position in Nunavik, Northern Quebec as an Assistant Director of Youth Protection (DYP is basically the CAS of Quebec). This position is specifically working with foster placement and families as well as court family measures. I will be placed in Kuujjuaq for my first few months and then, I will be sent to Kangirsuk. My goal is to go, learn as much as I can and save to go to university in a couple of years! I am excited about what is coming next, also EXTREMELY nervous. My departure date is July 13th!
(Please if you have any advice about living in the north, share them with me).
Thank you again and I hope I made you proud.