NEWCOMER EXPERIENCES OF LIFE IN VICTORIA
The CPN newsletter features stories about newcomers who come to call Greater Victoria home. In this segment, we ask a newcomer to share a bit about their personal lives and the challenges and successes of coming to a new community.
Asiyah Robinson is an international student at UVic and president of the UVic Muslim Students Association.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Freeport, Grand Bahamas on the Bahamas.
Tell us about your family
Both of my parents were born in raised in Nassau, Bahamas. After they finished their post-secondary education, they started teaching in Freeport. I have two brothers – Rasheed Aaman Robinson (25 years old) and Asif Ali Robinson (21 years old).
What do you want people to know or understand about your cultural heritage?
It’s really important for people to know that my parents were Christian born and it was later on in their lives that they converted to Islam. Because they had to learn and study and find their way to Islam, they wanted us to have the chance to make a choice as well. So I grew up reading the Qu’ran, New and Old Testament, and other religious books. At a young age, I have always felt pride for my country and culture as I spent a lot of my youth representing my culture locally and internationally. I think when I came to Canada, I learned a lot more about what my culture means to me, how important it is to have those connections to my home country, and how much my community has impacted my mindset and growth, even if I’m not currently in the Bahamas.
Why did you decide to come to Victoria?
I decided to come to Canada to study as an international student and pursue my undergraduate degree. I chose Victoria because I was looking for a small community. I came from a small school (Pre-Kindergarten – Year 13) and, at any point in time, we had a student population of 200 students or less. And while I was looking for a community where I could step out from beyond my family’s shadow, I didn’t want to get lost in the swarm. So coming to Victoria seemed like a good fit.
What do you hope to do once your studies at UVic are completed?
I’m finishing my undergraduate degree in biochemistry and chemistry. I initially started to study with the intention to work in the stem cell industry, and while I still have so much passion for this field, I’m realizing that my passion lies more so in community activism and human rights.
What are three things/qualities you appreciate about living in Victoria?
First and foremost I think of the determination and commitment that Victorians have towards positive change and growth. I am surrounded by people who are constantly working towards inclusiveness, recognizing their own biases and weaknesses and how they can improve them. I love this attention and dedication towards self improvement. The importance that it’s placing on its youth and their perspective and voices. The friends and mentors I’ve found here. And I find they go hand in hand. At this time in my life, I love to surround myself with people who have characteristics and attributes I admire. These people are my friends and, whether they know it or not, my mentors. And there is no shortage of those type of people here in Victoria.
What challenges have you experienced living or adapting to life in Victoria?
It’s interesting that, even though English is my first language, I did have a language barrier when I came to Victoria. But being here has now made me realize that my diction, the speed at which I speak and some of the words I use are also unique to the Bahamas. It may seem like a small thing, but it really doesn’t bother me because I find a lot of people recognize that it is bit of a struggle for me. It’s not seen as a language barrier because there are people where English isn’t their first language. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle for me too and I just wish that was given more weight. I’ve definitely experienced discrimination based on being a women, a Muslim, an International Student and of Afro-Caribbean ancestry. But that’s okay. I expected that when I came here, and I’m working to make these identities, which are usually seen as weakness, into my main strengths. One of the biggest things I had to adapt to was recycling! We don’t do it back home and I didn’t even know what to do when I got here. I do now!
What things do you miss about the Bahamas?
I miss the culture, the food, the language, the energy of my people, my country, the beauty of the island and people. I miss everything. I miss my mom most of all. I miss some aspects of my community each day and my mom always. Sometimes I feel like my heart is split between the Bahamas and Canada and it hurts.
What are some favourite activities you enjoy doing here in Victoria?
It’s funny because when I got here, everyone would invite me to hike and I never understood the appeal of hiking. Now I absolutely love hiking! I always want to go these days. My other favorite thing to do is photography. Victoria is so beautiful! I also absolutely love brunch! And eating! And there is so much more Halal food here than back home.
What are the successes you have experienced since becoming part of the UVic student community?
It’s hard for me to talk about what successes I have had, because for everything I’ve achieved, it’s never been by myself. I also don’t really see myself as successful. But I am highly involved at UVic. Most recently, I’ve been heavily involved in the Global Community Student Advisory Council. I am president of the Muslim Students Association and with the UVic Equity and Human Rights Educator Volunteers.
What is needed to ensure we are an inclusive and welcoming community?
Sharing stories – and that’s a lesson I had the pleasure of learning when I started working with Anne Cirillo in the UVic International Student Services. Stories hold our emotions and journeys, and when we have those conversations with other people, we find ties and similarities within ourselves. We also become more open and vulnerable with each other. When we share stories, we’re giving the other person an insight into our lives and we’re trusting them with that information. I think to be welcoming, we have to start that conversation and allow others to share. To be inclusive we have to share a little bit of ourselves in return.