Photo: Nicole Brumley

International Voices: Longing for the warmth of home

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By Ania Bessonov

In Kimilili, Kenya, a regular summer’s day for Melk Tantaine begins with waking up at around 8 a.m. and if the timing is right, he watches the sunrise. A couple of hours later, he rounds up his friends and they spend the day outdoors: walking around, playing soccer and eating, before parting ways at 8 p.m. Everyone is always outside; they waste no time burning daylight.

In my last column, I spoke with Maylie Vu, a business-technology-management student from Vietnam, whose biggest adjustment to Toronto was the culture of reservation among Torontonians. Kenyan-native Tantaine says he’s experiencing much the same, and laughs as he tries to understand the protocol for visiting someone in Toronto.

“Here you have to call someone before you show up at their house, then you’re allowed to go. In Kenya, we just go to their house and call them after we’ve already showed up,” he said. 

Tantaine initially decided to followed in his mother’s footsteps when it came to choosing a path for post-secondary. He went to study sociology at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after graduating from St. Peter’s Mumias Boys High School, an all-boys boarding school in Kenya.

Tantaine soon realized, however, that he wanted to study something with a lot less reading and enrolled in the performance production program here at Ryerson. He is currently in his second year.

But Tantaine’s path to adjusting goes beyond the reservist culture of Toronto. As we enter what will feel like a full year of miserable weather, Tantaine says the negative temperatures aren’t something he ever experienced back home.

The result of the cold weather is what seems to be the hardest challenge. This is the time subways become more packed, and students have more reason to skip classes and stay warm at home. But, for Tantaine, staying indoors has made it difficult for him to make friends and build relationships in university and the city.

In our downtown core, Toronto has minimal greenery. Aside from the Toronto Islands, which didn’t have the highest success rate this past summer, being outdoors seems to be restricted to patio drinks and the occasional visit to High Park. Otherwise, most Torontonians migrate to their cottages when possible.

In part, this probably has to do with our reservist culture but for the most part, I believe this is because many people who actually live in Toronto, are people who aren’t used to our temperatures at all. Our city houses one of the highest number of immigrants in all of Canada, many of whom come from countries with much warmer climates. We are not Scandinavians who grew up in cold winters and we aren’t lucky enough like the English or Western Canada to just bear the brunt of a few rainy days.

For newcomers like Tantaine who are used to relishing in the warmth of their home country, winter can seem like a time of isolation. But as the temperature drops, Tantaine says he hopes he to continue building relationships to help him settle in his new, chilly home.

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