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Getting To Know The YMCA

April 2011

Amine BelkaloulHe likes movies, sports and the gym, but in particular, Amine Belkaloul says he enjoys skating. “If you’re going to live here, I believe it’s important to know how to skate.” His interest is inspired by Canada’s reputation for producing star athletes and players who perform well on ice.

Before coming to Canada, Amine did not know anything about the YMCA. “Just in the song by the Village People,” he jokes. But he soon found out about settlement support and the YMCA Newcomer Information Centre on the YMCA’s website.

He met with one of the YMCA’s bilingual information and referral specialists. “I got so much help and information in French.” The Newcomer Information Centre (NIC) is a fi rst-stop centre that welcomes thousands of newcomers every year. It provides settlement information on documents, education, employment, language and credential assessment, health, housing, communities, recreation and more. The centre also delivers settlement information sessions for newcomers and for organizations that serve immigrants. The NIC is particularly known for sessions introducing newcomers to Canadian culture and society — topics Amine greatly benefi tted from.

Amine came to Canada in the summer of 2008 from Algeria. His university professor fi rst introduced him to the idea of immigrating and gave him information about the automotive industry and the job opportunities in both Southern Ontario and Quebec. Amine chose “La Belle Province” and settled in Quebec City, where he continued his studies in mechanical engineering. There was no language barrier there, but at school he had to adjust to studying independently. He notes, “It was different than in my country, where we study more in groups.” There were also more tests and homework than he was used to.

Amine came to Toronto to learn English. “The fi rst day here I couldn’t speak to people. It was very hard.” But months of English classes helped, as did joining the NIC’s Let’s Talk About It! — a social group for immigrants aged 19-30. He got to develop his English skills, take part in Canadian culture workshops, and explore the city with the group. He’s made several friends that he’s still in touch with.

When thinking of the YMCA now, what comes to mind for Amine? “The Village People,” he jokes, adding “Just kidding!” He goes on to say that thanks to all the people he’s met and the connections he’s made since becoming a member, the word he’d use to describe the YMCA is “network.” He adds that he hopes to volunteer for the Y soon.

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