Every year at Campion College, we assemble a small group of students to be part of the Campus Ministry team. We collaborate, learn from each other, and build community. This is how I got to know Moreen Ogwenyi.Moreen came to Regina from Nairobi, Kenya in August, 2015 for University. As a member of the team, I know her as a bright, funny, hard-working individual. I was born in Canada, so I was curious how our 150-year-old country looks to someone just starting to build a life here.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Sarah Hanna: What surprised you about Canada when you first moved here?
Moreen Ogwenyi: The first thing is the culture that people live. It was kind of a culture shock for me. Even though I was living in Nairobi, in the city, the first day I got here everything looked so different to me. It’s like it’s another dimension! Even the first time we went downtown… I had seen these kinds of tall buildings before, but it just looked so different, it was like a new experience!
SH: You’ve said before that you would like to stay in Canada. What makes you want to stay?
MO: I believe I have more opportunities - if I stay here I’ll be able to get a job. Going back home where there aren’t many jobs, even if I would be capable of getting a good job with my University of Regina degree, I’d still prefer to stay [laughs]. Not that I don’t love my country - I would go to visit! But I would prefer to get a job here; I can help my family better from here.
SH: Does Canada have anything to learn from Kenya?
MO: Yes. For example, the number of people who go to church is much smaller than in my country. In my country, where I went to Church, we had three masses and they were packed to capacity, people were sitting outside, and here we only have mostly one mass and it’s not that full. The culture of just going to Church on Christmas, while you recognize yourself as a Christian...they could learn from us.
SH: What do you think makes the difference as to whether people will go to Church or not?
MO: I think over here, people are living in a world where they have almost everything they want. Even if you’re poor, you can get financial assistance from the government, but when you’re back in Kenya, if you’re poor, you’re poor. Unless out of nowhere someone helps you, poverty continues from generation to generation… Most of the people hold on to religion with the hope that God, being our provider, will help us to have a better future or a better life than the one we’re living.
Plus, over there, we’re taught religious education. It’s part of our curriculum from childhood - you grow up learning about God and about the Bible. People learn to believe in God from childhood.
SH: Is there anything that strikes you as funny about Canada and Canadian people?
MO: Yeah, the art of maintaining eye contact [laughs]. Every time I went to apply for a job, they told me, “Maintain eye contact!” In my culture, we are not supposed to look at people straight in the eye, especially if they are older than you. You don’t look them straight in the eye, they’ll say you’re insulting them, or you’re being rude. So that is so hard for me! [laughs] Even nowadays, when I’m working (I work as a cashier at a grocery store), I have to maintain eye contact with someone, it’s so hard for me, especially if they’re men. They may perceive it as being shy...but it’s just you haven’t grown up with it.
The other thing is having to call people by their names, because that is not my culture. If someone is older, you might call them, I don’t know, “madam” or “sir.” I wouldn’t call you by your name, that is rude! Unless you’re close to my age. Like, it was so hard for me to call Stephanie [Campion College’s Campus Minister], “Stephanie!” I would just look at her and think, “ok, I’ll just time her and when she’s looking straight at me I will talk to her, so I don’t have to call her Stephanie!” [Laughs] But, I got used to it, I’m like, “this is the culture here and I have to live it”
SH: Do you see yourself as Canadian?
MO: Not... [laughs] at the moment.
SH: Do you think you could, ever?
MO: I could be a Canadian, but not now. I still don’t know a lot of things about Canada…I live with an African family, so even the food we eat is African. The only time I get to enjoy Canadian food is when I buy food at school or when I’m with the Campus Ministry team, so I don’t have that much Canadian influence, even though I’m in Canada.
After staying here for a while, you know, I am sure I know a lot of things, I understand better when people speak to me. When I speak English to people back home they say my accent has changed, so, like, it’s in transition! [Laughing] It’s in between back home and here. So I see myself being Canadian one day, but...not yet.
SH: Anything else you would want to add?
MO: I think the Canadian government is doing a good thing by allowing people to come into their country and giving us opportunities to learn and to be part of this culture. It makes me very grateful because most of us are happy and we see ourselves changing our countries and our future, our families’ future by being given an opportunity to come here and study. We are grateful to the Canadian government.
We are very grateful to have you here, Moreen! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!