Elif & Guerkan’s settlement journey: From WoodGreen’s Newcomer Services to serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight in a Toronto hospital

Almost 10 years ago, Elif and her husband Guerkan came to Toronto from their home in Germany to visit friends, and enjoyed the city so much they decided to start a new life here.  

WoodGreen’s Newcomer services has been helping immigrants and their families settle into their new lives in Canada for over 40 years by offering a wide range of settlement programs including language classes, employment support, professional mentorship, programs for newcomer youth, social recreational activities and so much more. Our staff speak a combined 30 languages.  

“We decided to immigrate to Canada from Germany because we had travelled to Toronto as tourists, and we liked the city very much,” Elif said. “We started the process to come to Canada as skilled workers, and arrived in March 2013.”  

Every year, almost half of newcomers to Canada settle in Ontario and in 2019, Canada expected to welcome over 80,000 people under the Federal Skilled Workers program. 

The duo, who had worked as an academic at a university in Germany and as a marketing manager in media, connected with WoodGreen’s Newcomer Services almost immediately. “We enrolled in language classes, and met some amazing people,” Elif said. “Both our peers in our classes and our instructors were fantastic.  Our hard skills were there – we had good education and experience, but we needed to enhance our soft skills. Things like workplace culture, what kinds of things are important to Canadians.”  

 “Right from the start, it became apparent to me that they would succeed,” said George Giokaris, an Employment Consultant at WoodGreen. “They had a positive attitude and the curiosity to learn about this culture, as they set out to make a new life for themselves in Toronto. They were always appreciative for being given the chance to be part of this country’s multi-cultural force, and saw challenges as opportunities to explore this world, reinvent themselves professionally, and redefine their future; a future in Healthcare, dedicated to helping others,” he said.  

The couple found the key to gaining employment success was Canadian work experience, and making social connections with people who could show them how workplaces operate. While Elif was volunteering with seniors, Guerkan accessed WoodGreen’s Employment Resource Centre at 989 Danforth Avenue in addition to keeping up English language classes with the WoodGreen Newcomer Services team. “I got a job working in an industrial vacuum pumps repair shop,” he said. “I hacolleagues I could learn from, and I was able to grow my social networks this way. I started to know people by name. I had their phone numbers. I was connected.” 

On the advice of a WoodGreen employment advisor who helped hone in on his career interests, Guerkan decided to join his wife in the healthcare field, and the pair enrolled in a PSW certificate program at George Brown College and continued to become nurses. Immediately after finishing their schooling, Elif and Guerkan both landed jobs at Michael Garron Hospital and then full time jobs as Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) in general medicine with a University Health Network hospital. Shortly after, the COVID-19 Global Pandemic hit Toronto.  

“We heard about COVID-19 from our friends at the beginning of the year, and we were watching the news – we knew it was coming,” said Elif. “Since COVID-19 arrived in our city, our jobs have changed drastically. We work on a COVID-19 floor, taking care of people who have tested positive. We aren’t scared of those patients, we aren’t afraid of our work. We know how to protect ourselves. This is what we signed up to do.”  

Elif and Guerkan are quick to point out that although they are on the frontlines, they believe everyone in Toronto is playing an important role in the battle against COVID-19. “People need to remember that although we need to practice physical distancing, we are all connected. We can still be social online. We can stay optimistic, and stay connected to each other.”  

Working on the frontlines of a global pandemic at a busy Toronto Hospital is not the only way Elif and Guerkan give, the couple created a scholarship fund at George Brown College to honour an outstanding PSW student who demonstrates outstanding commitment to the field.   

“Elif and Guerkan were recognized for their outstanding contribution to patient care and were given the PSW AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE recognizing their outstanding academic and clinical achievements,” said Laura Bulmer, a Professor in George Brown’s PSW Program who taught both Elif and Guerkan. 

They approached me almost 2 years ago and said they wanted to give back to the program and team that started it all – the PSW program.  With their generous annual donation, we now have a new annual $500 award that will be given to a PSW student courtesy of this wonderful couple.  The award is given to a student who the PSW faculty team determines best represents the essence of both Elif and Guerkan. A student who goes above and beyond expectations and who is dedicated to providing the best possible care to clients. 

Elif and Guerkan talk about their settlement journey with enthusiasm, and underscored the importance of a positive attitude and hard work. Their advice for other newcomers includes not to be afraid of asking for help and support, networking as much as possible and staying positive.   

“Whatever comes your way – don’t see it as a burden, see it as an opportunity!” said Elif.