When Jappreet Sekhon was seventeen, she signed up to become a paramedic in Canada.
Growing up near Chandigarh, India, Jappreet’s only exposure to paramedics working in the field was limited to North American movies.
“We don’t have paramedics back home,” Jappreet says. “The ambulance will come take you to the hospital, but no EMS.”
When Jappreet’s friend told her about a joint EMS program between a college in India and a private college in Canada, she welcomed the opportunity. She was excited to join an interesting field, she says.
She and eight other students finished the three-month portion in India and moved to Winnipeg in 2011 to complete the nine-month part.
Shortly after arriving in Winnipeg, Jappreet and her classmates discovered the two colleges did not have a cooperative relationship, and the program was cancelled. They were stranded.
When international students finish school, they are eligible for a post-grad work permit that lets them work in the country. Since they technically did not finish school, their status was put in limbo. “We were worried we’d have to go back, because the college didn’t accommodate,” Jappreet says.
When someone told the students about Jorge Fernandez, a man that could help them at the Immigrant Centre, they met him with low expectations. “We were all very negative at that time,” Jappreet says. “Nobody thought that this place [could] be that great of a help.”
Jorge, now Executive Director at the Immigrant Centre, helped them through the lengthy and complicated process of becoming permanent residents. He told them what they needed in order to stay in the country, guided them through the applications, and reviewed their forms. All nine students were approved.
“We just couldn’t believe this place could do this much,” Jappreet says. “It was just amazing. I can’t explain.”
Having lost her interest in becoming a paramedic after the trouble with the college, Jappreet decided to look into doing something else.
“I felt that [Immigrant Centre] has given me so much,” Jappreet says. “I wanted to volunteer. I wanted to help them.”
She volunteered at Immigrant Centre for three years and applied for positions whenever they opened. She has been working at the front desk since March, helping newcomers as much as she can, she says. “You feel like this is the perfect place where you want to be.”
Living in Canada was a great change of scenery after growing up in India, Jappreet says. “Being a woman, I just love it here. I think I have more rights. I have more freedom…if I was back home, I would’ve been married and had kids by now,” she says. “I think I became a better person by being here.”
Jappreet has visited India twice since moving to Winnipeg, and both times reinforced her love for Canada, she says. Living in Canada throughout her late teens and early twenties changed her mindset completely, she says. “I feel like this is my home. This is where I want to stay… This country has given me so much.”
Story written by: Trent Burton