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Origin Stories: Rebuilding a life in Canada after family tragedy

After her parents and sister were killed in an accident, Giselle General worked to rebuild her life in Canada.

Gregory and Giselle General in their adopted city of Edmonton. The brother and sister moved to Canada from the Philippines after their parents  and sister were killed in a car crash.

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Tim Potter for Metro

Gregory and Giselle General in their adopted city of Edmonton. The brother and sister moved to Canada from the Philippines after their parents and sister were killed in a car crash.

Oct. 31, 1999, I became an “ulilang lubos” meaning “complete orphan” and so did my little brother.

We were on our way home to our mining village in the Benguet province of the Philippines, when our jeepney fell off the road. Most of the passengers died. My mother died saving me; my father died saving my brother; my sister didn’t make it.

Afterwards, relatives came to care for us. At that time, my aunt was on her way to Canada, and it was decided that as soon as it was feasible, we would be sponsored to go and live there.

My high school years in the Philippines involved filling out the paperwork for family sponsorship. Whenever a letter arrived, we would be in a frenzy. Some days I would miss school and would have to rush to pay for the costly fee to send parcels, ensuring that the requirements were submitted on time.

In May 2007, I received my visa and my flight was booked for Toronto.

It was my first time on a plane, and I flew by myself. To say I was terrified is an understatement. But during the first leg, a connecting flight through Japan, and the flight to Toronto, there were many other Filipinos going to different destinations who were so kind and helpful during the trip.

When I landed at the airport, it was very sunny. Never had I seen the sun so bright at 9 p.m. before. I thought it was 9 a.m.! That was my first culture shock moment and many more came, which is typical with adjusting to life here. My cousins picked me up from the airport and I saw the sun set while driving on the QEW highway.

I had been living for a month in St. Catharines, Ont., when I went to the high school to register myself. The principal wanted me in Grade 10 and ESL classes because I was only 16 and new to the country. I asked “Sir, can I please go to Grade 12? I just want to go to university as soon as I can.”

Then I asked, "Can I please take challenge exams, so I can go to regular English classes?"

I was taken to a classroom, where the ESL teacher made conversation with me for a while, and asked me write several pages of paragraphs with specific grammatical instructions. I passed! I went straight to Grade 12, and took regular classes.

After graduating, I moved to Edmonton.

Working part time while going to school helped me complete my bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Alberta. I lived with my relatives, renting a room and sharing living expenses. The way things are set up here helped a lot, like free health care, supports integrated in the school system, jobs with flexible hours for students, and public transit.

It has been 10 years since I came, and my brother also settled here six years ago.

Two types of transformations happened since then: the first one from being a teenager to a confident adult, and the second one from being a newcomer to a confident resident.

My goal is to provide safety, stability, freedom and comfort for myself and my brother. This always dictated my decisions and goals.

We are now excitedly planning for our second visit to the Philippines next year with our significant others.

For me, it has been an exciting and empowering process. I would say in Canada, there are abundant opportunities to build a better life for one’s self and loved ones.

About this series:

We are telling tales of our multicultural nation through your stories of arrival. Share yours for a chance to be included in the series with #MetroOrigins or email sjbattersby@metronews.ca

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