At first, Nastaran Ghadirian's voice is hesitant and shy. Having immigrated to Canada from Iran in June 2005, she spoke little English and was unemployed. However, a year and a half ago, Ghadirian came upon an advertisement for Culture Link, a not-for-profit organization that helps new immigrants settle in Toronto.
You don't feel as alone, Ghadirian says of the organization, which helped her meet other newcomers. I had problems speaking English and (Culture Link) helped a lot; it made me more comfortable.
Ghadirian signed up for the English Conversation Circle where volunteers teach conversational English to new immigrants.
After becoming more comfortable with her English, Ghadirian learned about the organization's Host Program, which matches a Canadian-born mentor to a group of five immigrants.
In December 2005, she met Rose Danesewich, a retired woman who used to work at the ministry of citizenship and culture.
[Newcomers] talk to me and open up worlds for me. We can travel right here in Toronto just by getting to know these people, says Danesewich.
The two of them, along with other mentees in Danesewich's group, would visit cultural sites such as the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum, or people-gaze on Queen Street West.
Rose knows a lot about culture, what is going on in the city. She helped me a lot to become familiar with life here, says Ghadirian.
Danesewich says she has been volunteering for years, so becoming a mentor at Culture Link was natural for her. I felt I should give something back, she says. I was an anthropologist, I travel a lot, I'm into cultural things, so it was an extension of that.
After learning more about the city, Ghadirian used her new knowledge to find a job.
Canada is notoriously tough on immigrants who are looking to break into the job market, and it was no easier for Ghadirian, who was an architect in Iran. For me it was difficult, especially when you don't have a friend who can recommend you, she says. People here are afraid to hire someone who they don't know and who has an unfamiliar background.
However, after doing a co-op in October 2006, she applied at Adamson Associates Architects and got a job as an architect.
Danesewich says it is important for immigrants to get jobs because they have a lot to offer. It is so important that their experience of Canada be positive because we need them, she says. They cannot continue to drive taxis for God's sake.