Divercities

If you’d told me that Toronto is the ‘most multicultural’ city in the world, before living in London, I’d have shrugged and thought of the people and places I’d seen in my time there.
There’s Chinatown, Greektown, some Italian, south Asian, Caribbean areas, and more, all in  pockets – some larger than others –  spread across the city. I’d think of the TTC and interesting accents I’d heard, or maybe of an Ethiopian restaurant I visited.

Toronto has been labelled ‘the most diverse’ city in the world, but I have to say, I’m more pedantic about the definition now.

Much of the U.K., but especially London, is extremely multicultural. Not only was (ahem) the EU helpful in allowing Europeans to move, study or work, freely in the country, but London is a historical and cultural hub. It’s one of ‘the greats’ of international cities.
Not to say the viewpoint is universal, but growing up, there was New York, London, Paris and maybe LA… or the whole of California, that seemed to stand above the rest.
Big cities, where the magic happens. Where all the ‘small town’ folk escape, to pursue their dreams, and/or get chewed up and spit out because they can’t handle the #hustle.

What I’m getting at, kinda, is that London might not hit the right numbers and ratios to claim ‘the most diverse’ title – but it does better than that.
It puts language, religion, food, music and more, in your face, on a platter, with somewhat haphazard presentation, but a hard-to-beat mouthfeel.

Sure there are the same ‘pockets’ where you’ll find more of a specific group (I live in a predominantly Turkish area)  but it supersedes that. You never know what language you’ll hear next, where your bus driver might hail from or what religious celebration your doctor will be observing over the weekend. And though this could also sound familiar to Torontonians, here it feels more immediate, and the range feels broader.

It’s an amazing, cosmopolitan city, and my time here has definitely reinforced my feelings about open borders and global citizenship. But I won’t go too far down that rabbit hole just yet.

Over the years I’ve lived with Germans, Italians, Australians, Hungarians, Chinese, Taiwanese, Irish, and English flatmates.
But those are my people. The 20-to-40-year-old expats that ventured off to London and found themselves halfway-affordable rooms in shared housing.
That does not acknowledge those that have newly arrived as families, to improve their quality of life, speaking little to no English and hoping to find jobs and friends, and establish communities. This describes many, if not most, of the families where I teach; it’s pretty amazing how these kids are growing up.

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Foreign flatmates

My classes usually have between 2-4 students who would identify as British and speak English at home. The rest? They add the splash of colour to life that I didn’t know I was missing. And the kids don’t even realize the impressive nature of our classroom diversity.
They speak Turkish, Romanian, Ghanaian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Albanian, Somali, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Urdu, French, Polish, Vietnamese, and more. There are those  from Turkey but identify as Kurdish, or from Poland, who identify as Roma Gypsy. The origins and languages are innumerable.

Some have parents who’ve lived here for ages, while others will land on a Tuesday and start school a week later, usually without speaking English and sometimes without prior schooling. It makes for fun games with parents of charades, google-translate tag (dependent on education and literacy) or call-a-friend lifelines.  But the students know the drill; it’s not uncommon to gain new students several times over a year. It’s something they accommodate quickly and  – usually – easily.
The kids understand that they’re all different, without understanding that this isn’t the status quo.

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The fact that my class has a group of 4 girls (Chinese, Somali, Yemeni and Bengali) who have daily drama and friendship woes, and 5 boys (Ghanaian, Trinidadian, Polish, Vietnamese and Turkish) who spend every playtime improving their football skills or debating the best team in the premier league, makes it all the more clear that cultural differences only have the power you decide to give them.

We celebrate and learn about everything from Christmas, Passover and Ramadan, to Diwali, Easter and Eid. Our school kitchen makes halal meals and our uniform shop offers school hijabs. Some of the students spend time at church, while others frequent Kingdom Halls, mosques or temples. And no one judges the other for not sharing their same beliefs.
The community is its own teaching tool.

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London is a living, breathing beast of multiculturalism.
It’s pushed my boundaries, challenged my perspectives and nurtured my interest in languages  (not to mention food).
I don’t know that I’ll ever find another class of 30 children, originating from 24 different countries in Canada…

But Toronto is the most diverse city in the world – I’m happy to know I’ll still be in good company.

A little history…

Wondering what came before the looming prodigal-return?
Probably not, but you’ve already clicked the link, so maybe you’ll indulge me.

I left home, a suburb north of Toronto, in 2013.
I had just qualified as a teacher, and job prospects for new teachers in Canada aren’t great.
My specialization is in French, and my placements in teacher training were all for the subject, not a class. After graduating, I worried that I wouldn’t be considered for ‘classroom teacher’ roles – destined to be pigeon-holed into teaching French language.
Knowing this, and that I wanted proper classroom experience, I planned from early-on to go abroad. I looked into a few international schools, but (as feared) heard that language positions were filled, and to try again another time.
So instead I chose a country where I could teach my own class, in English.
Europe was also appealing because it was close to the friends made in past travels.
London was calling – it just felt right.

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I worked supply shifts to start, jumping around schools and getting a feel for the city’s massively diverse neighbourhoods (‘boroughs’)  and learning the ins and outs of the English school system.
I found myself a flatshare, met amazing people, and eventually landed myself a full-time position teaching Year 6 (Grade 5) at **** School.

**One of the things that seems to have stopped me from writing over the years is the expectation that teachers keep pretty quiet over social media.  It’s strongly advised that you avoid speaking about your personal life in the public eye (and to be fair, I’ve definitely had students seek me out online). So my last name will not come anywhere near this blog, and I’ve decided I’ll be censoring myself. Sometimes literally. Asterisks ahoy!

I’ve worked at this school ever since; nearing 5 years now.
As a low socio-economic area, with students of all backgrounds, it’s been demanding, and sometimes disheartening, but especially rewarding. I couldn’t learn what I’ve learned here, anywhere else.  I grew at the school. I gained a lot.

‘Leaving and Learning’ is the title I’ve given this blog.
It feels like it has the potential to be read as a negative, but that isn’t my intention.
I left home, and I’ve learned.
I made a new home – I’ve got my favourite faces and places in the city;  I understand and can identify (some) regional accents; learned to avoid tube stations at rush hour; walk to the ‘high road’ or ‘pop to the shops’ to grab drinks – alcoholic or otherwise – from a ‘newsagent’s’ or ‘off-license’; commute to work on a big red double-decker bus; and I’ve come to appreciate mushy peas, clotted cream and yorkshire pudding.

It’s been an amazing chapter for me, and I hate to turn the page.  It just feels like the time to start a new one.
So once again, I’ll leave.

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In the future, I don’t plan on leaving Country X  every time I get the urge for change.
Maybe I’ll come up with a better blog name once I know what I’m actually going to be writing about long-term,  but for now I’ll settle on explaining myself.
Leaving can mean bad habits.
It might mean unflattering outfits and it definitely means my early twenties.
I can leave a good impression, leave a tip or leave you hanging.
Right now it just so happens to mean leaving a continent, and crossing an ocean.
And it’s very bitter-sweet.

I’m returning to the land of maple and snow.
Of bagged-milk and Trudeau.
Of ‘eh’s and ‘zed’s,
Toonies, Timmie’s and toques,
Hockey – not ‘ice hockey’ – and the dearly missed caesar.

London will always be a home to me.
But Canada is calling me (back).
And it just feels right.

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