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Meet Ebunoluwa

"Home is where I feel safe, I can have hopes and dreams."
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My name is Ebunoluwa Soneye

I am a second year McMaster student

in the program of social work.

My immigration story started about three years ago.

I moved to Hamilton with my Mom and my brother.

My Mom choose Hamilton because

she wanted a place that had a little bit of

home feeling and safety.

And she didn't want to go to Toronto because she

felt like it was too busy of a city.

And she wanted a place that was close to other cities

kind of a big city as well.

But a very nice place to raise a family.

Which I think that she deduced from the environment

and what is just looked like.

I think that my Mom has a very, hawkeye type of view

because we didn't know anybody in Hamilton, but she

stayed in Hamilton for a day and she figured out this

is where she wanted us to be.

Yeah, it's been an interesting process for the past 3 years.

Still trying to settle in in some ways, but in other ways

I feel like we have adjusted pretty quickly.

Yeah, and that's our story.

The first time I felt like I was in Hamilton, um...

was the day we,

literally the day we came into Hamilton I remember just

looking out the window and I'm like, this is happening,

it's real. The place that I've spent the majority of my life

that's not it anymore. I'm in a new place

where I have to embrace the culture, learn how to settle in,

learn how to maintain my own identity while

still understanding the space in which I'm functioning in.

I remember just like looking at the Jackson Square building

downtown and I was just in shock, this isn't real, someone

needs to pinch me because there is no way that I'm here.

That feeling lasted for, a good year.

I remember any time that I would walk to school...

I remember watching Disney Channel my entire life, 

I saw these things on TV, but this is a whole new

environmental change.

I really love and appreciate the aesthetic that

Hamilton has, with the old buildings and

everything. It's just so beautiful how you can go from

seeing these really tall old buildings downtown to seeing

houses further out of Hamilton.

I remember adoring the beauty of Hamilton, the trees,

the mountains, all of it. Winter was super.

I get cold really easy, but I didn't focus on the cold that

summer, I'm just amazed I could see snow.

In Nigeria it's a very hot and temperate place,

so I had never seen snow my entire life.

It's just a very aesthetically pleasing space.

I love cameras and social media, and all of that stuff

like other teenagers my age. (laughs)

But, I think it's a very beautiful place to be in.

A moment when I felt really welcome in Hamilton was

probably in the first year of moving in high school.

I went to Cathedral High which is in downtown Hamilton.

Actually I had graduated High School in Nigeria

because the age system there is much faster.

I graduated High School at sixteen.

But, when I moved down here I had to go back two years

and then start High School again at grade 11

because of the age differences.

But I remember the one moment that I felt super welcome

was the day during my lunch where,

the student success centre teachers actually reached out to

me and just asked me what I wanted. 

At first I wasn't sure how to answer the question, because

I don't know if they mean, do I need new books?

Do I want a teacher to explain things differently?

But I just told them well ok, here's a list of things that

we are trying to get at home. And they showed up

the next day with every single thing on that list,

like it was no big deal, like they hadn't just spent

a ton of money (laughs)

trying to get those items for us.

They didn't ask if we could afford it.

They didn't ask if that was the reason why.

They didn't ask if it was financial issues that didn't allow

us to afford it, or anything like that, they just said,

You need something, you're a newcomer

we are here to support you and the followed up with me

every single day throughout my High School journey.

Even until now I am still in contact with them

and they play such a significant role in

helping me feel welcome.

When you're young and you migrate, your 'job' (laughs)

is school. So you have to focus on school.

But if your main focus is school and they make you feel

welcome in school, then it sets a good foundation

for everything else.

I don't think I can tie home down to a place.

I think that my definition of a place that feels like home

is a place where I feel safe.

A place where I have hope, a place where I can dream.

And believe that one day I will be able to attain

those dreams.

So I think, a major turning point for me where I felt like

Hamilton was home was,

at the end of my High School journey when

a couple of friends and I got invited to do a few

things at McMaster. A few conferences and all that and

I remember just walking into these rooms being the only

17 year old, and sitting in the same place as graduate

students and all that.

They don't know our age. (laughs)

Are we really supposed to be in here?

At the end of the program we got to speak to the person

that invited us and she found out about our age

and she was super impressed that we could add to the

conversation despite being young.

I think in that moment I felt like,

this is something you can do

there's room for you to be.

There's room for you to create,

there's room for you to dream and attain things.

So I remember sitting in the space where I occupied as a

grade 11, grade 12 student.

Looking at people who are like 5 years down the line

of what my plans are and thinking I can do that.

I can be there one day.

So I think that was a signifying moment

when Hamilton felt like home to me.

Hi, my name is Ebunoluwa Soneye

and Hamilton to me is a land of opportunities

where I can set goals, work hard, dream big,

and know within my heart of hearts that I can achieve

everything, and anything I set my mind to do.



Ebunoluwa (Ebun) is a second-year student in the School of Social Work at McMaster University. She embraces an anti-oppressive social work practice and is driven to work with newcomers and marginalized communities get access to resources and the equality they deserve. She is very passionate about advocating for social justice within McMaster university and the city of Hamilton and is currently one of the Community and events coordinators with the McMaster student unions diversity services and is always looking for ways to serve the community. 

Ebun arrived in Canada with her family in 2018 after emigrating from Nigeria. She was sixteen years old at the time and her experience during those formative teenage years revealed a path to grow, create and dream, which she is now pursuing. 

Migration Context:

Immigrant Youth

Youth is a critical transition period between childhood and adulthood, involving physical and mental changes. Teenagers, in general, may experience social isolation and struggle to feel a sense of belonging.

Among immigrants, particularly those immigrating as teens, these challenges are often compounded as youth learn a new language, adjust to a different educational system, build social relationships in a new culture, experience family division or separation, in addition to other challenges. Immigrant youth are more likely to live in low-income households, stemming from difficulties their parents often face entering the labour market.

In the 2016 census, just under 80% of newcomer youth ages 15 to 34 identified as racialized. The top five ethnic origins for first-generation Canadians 15 to 34 years old were Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, English, and French.

Youth themselves may face barriers in having their educational credentials recognized, leading to time and money spent on educational upgrading. On the positive side, these months or years of investment may provide time to build language skills, create a foundation of social supports, and mature in ways that facilitate success in future educational and employment endeavours.

In this context, the presence of mentors and role models is especially important to immigrant youth. A recent study conducted by McMaster University researchers found that youth programming focused on sports, the arts, academics, and employment was highly valued by youth not just for the program content but also because they nurtured trust, positive relationships, and a sense of community. The youth in this study discussed how having a sense of belonging and a positive identity impacted their health and well-being directly.

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