The immigration story of Jo Kostin (Jewish Immigrant)

Category: 
Culture : 
Language: 
English
Creative Commons: 
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Accession Number: 
S2017.45.1
Story Text: 

Jo Kostin, a Welcome Home to Canada participant in the Education Department, has been sitting down with other Welcome Home to Canada participants to listen to their stories and provide them with an opportunity to share these stories with us. This time Jo wrote about herself! Thanks again to Jo for all these wonderful narratives. The Welcome Home to Canada (WHTC) program presented by TD Bank Group is a six month employability program for new immigrants to Canada.

A Journey Towards Home

Ever since I first realized that my name was ‘Yonit’, I hated it. This could not have been my name; it had to be a mistake. I would get offended when people called me Yonit, but looking for a name that would feel comfortable turned out to be quite a difficult task. How do you define, label yourself? Finally, I decided that no definition is the right way to go. Translating just the first letters ‘Yo’ to English, I found ‘Jo’ which has no meaning. It could be anybody, a boy, a girl, no immediate association that comes to mind when hearing it. That suited me just fine and so I changed my name in spite of the fierce objections from my parents.
The English language was my first true passion. I taught it to myself starting from the first grade, never revealing to my family that I was hard at work watching as many movies and cartoons in English as I could. My mother and older brother loved “talking above my head” in English, thinking that I couldn’t possibly understand them because in Israel, at the time, you would only start to learn English in the fourth grade. I loved English so much that I started thinking and daydreaming in English. That was my ‘happy place’ to turn to in my mind.

English was actually my third language. My parents emigrated from the USSR to Israel in the seventies. My grandparents followed them and I was practically raised by my grandmother who only spoke Russian. By the time I went to school my Russian was great, but my Hebrew was very poor. I would get laughed at and teased by my classmates for being slow at reading and writing. That happened because while they were learning how to spell the words, I was figuring out their meaning. For most of my childhood I was the ‘odd man out’. I was the only blond (yes, I was blond as a child) Ashkenazy (originally from Europe, East Europe or Russia) girl in a neighbourhood that consisted mostly of people whose families emigrated from Arabic countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Iraq. I say emigrated because most Jews have immigrated to Israel at one point or another since the early twentieth century from all over the world.

Nothing made sense to me growing up. How can I explain this? I didn’t understand the Israeli mentality and culture. I always admired heroes and amazing stories from Israel’s history, but I could never claim it as my own. Everything seemed strange and unfamiliar. It was like experiencing a permanent culture shock all of your life. There are people who feel as if they were born in the wrong body, well, I felt that I was born in the wrong country. Sadly, nationality and original background is not something you can just rewrite. I was born a Jew in Israel and although I don’t identify with that, it’s part of my identity. I can however, come as close to changing it as possible. Some people are leaving Israel because of all the hardships and the complicated life. They are often seen as quitters, runaways. For me, this was a wish that I was wishing as long as I can remember, and it finely came true. I don’t feel that I ran from, I feel that I ran towards. Here, where I am not even a citizen yet, I have a small glimpse at belonging. Things are starting to fall into place. I love the gracious way people conduct themselves, and the thought of my children growing up in such an accepting and civil society is a happy one. I also love hearing English all around me and writing from left to right. I love the whimsical cold weather and the stunning scenery. Fortunately, my absolutely wonderful in every way husband shares these feelings. We chose to come to Canada and be reborn in it, to adopt it as part of our identity. I even started learning French and drinking ‘Second Cup’ coffee (Tim Horton’s was too much too soon).

Before we came to Canada as immigrants, we toured different provinces. We fell in love with the beauty of Nova Scotia. We particularly appreciate that it seems that here people interfere with nature as little as possible. The general scenery reflects that people are living within nature and in peace with it. They are not enslaving or destroying it for their own needs or for what is considered a trendy, fashionable landscape. We went to see Ottawa to celebrate my birthday in our new capital. Coming back from there, while we were leaving the plane, my husband turned to me and articulated what I was feeling in that moment. He said that this was the first time in his life that he truly felt that he was coming back home.

There are many challenges to being an immigrant. It is a big, scary and stressful transition. Mainly, I feel that my life, especially the professional aspect, is in an overall ‘restart’ mode. I have to reinvent myself and is some ways, rediscover my own abilities. Working at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 has been a real treat. I love being surrounded by such intelligent and kind people. You can always strike up a conversation and it will most certainly be interesting and enriching. I have learned a lot in my short stay here about Canadian history and culture. This program has really lived up to its name for me and has made me feel that I am indeed welcomed home to Canada.