A Short Story By Mina Wong
When I first met Susan Shin in November 2017, she was a college student studying international business. A frequent library user myself, I would often see her among the stacks, and once, I even helped her find a book when the library assistants were busy.
At 27, Susan was a visiting student from Seoul with just enough funds for a two-year business program. She was also a candidate for permanent residency in the Skilled Worker designation. That meant she had to graduate from college with a competitive GPA, secure job offers, and earn high marks on IELTS, the official English test for all applicants.
Before coming to Canada, Susan had been an administrative assistant for a South Korean export firm. Once her studies had begun in Toronto, she also started working part-time in the offices of a local Asian supermarket chain.
Despite her employment success that many newcomers envied, Susan expressed a deep concern during her third semester: “I like my job and my GPA is okay. My problem is IELTS. I already failed it once. I need 5.5 but got 5.” Susan also explained that language tests for immigration would be evaluated separately from a college transcript.
“That’s a lot to deal with,” I observed. I also asked Susan if she could get tutoring help, such as coaching just to target IELTS.
“Yeah, but that means spending money saved for my last semester, and not working for a month. IELTS courses are long and expensive,” Susan replied.
“Who could help if you needed money?” I asked, hoping Susan could approach her family.
“My father retired so he can’t support me anymore. My mother can help but she thinks I should go back to Korea. She doesn’t want me to stay in Canada. She doesn’t understand why I get a low mark in English. She thinks my English is already very good,” Susan described some of her family’s cultural beliefs that differed from her own.
Meanwhile, Susan understood that by marrying a Canadian, she could bypass many challenges that confronted her. Jimmy, a manager from her workplace was interested in marrying her, but he also wanted her to quit school and live with him in a small condo that he proudly owned. He tried to impress her with practical assets: “No mortgage, a nice bedroom, just my son visiting every weekend, but he can sleep in the living room.”
Although Jimmy was an honest man, Susan didn’t want to date someone from work. At 27, she also wasn’t ready to co-parent Jimmy’s fifteen-year old son twice her height.
A week before last Christmas, Susan told me she had decided to try IELTS again. “I know my family doesn’t like it, but it’s the right thing for my future. I‘ll quit school for one semester and hire a coach just for IELTS. I’ll write it again in April. Wish me luck!”
I could offer only moral support and encouragement: “I really respect you for trying again, and wish you tons of success.”
Susan was hopeful and thoughtful: “No one said coming to Canada was easy. Learning English, lots of difficult assignments, no sleep, working twenty hours a week, and worrying about failing – but I won’t give up. I will pass IELTS this time.”
To my relief, Susan did get financial help from her college. After telling a counselor about her dilemma, she asked directly, “Is there any emergency money I can apply for if I want to succeed? I just need some help.”
Impressed with Susan’s focus and self-advocacy, the counselor found a few funds that she could apply for. In total, Susan raised an amount close to her IELTS expenses, part of which she would repay, but some was emergency assistance available to international students in need.
Elated, Susan pledged to score at least 10 extra points on her next IELTS before completing the final semester of her college education. With exciting jobs dancing in her head, she also visited career fairs to learn about professional development, salaries, benefits, and global prospects in her field.
As Susan attempts her second IELTS this spring, I feel optimistic about her success. Passing IELTS would mean one step closer to becoming a permanent resident, graduating from college, working in international business, and making Canada proud of another resilient young person building her life here.
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