Marina Iyeme-Eteng had no idea what to expect when she landed in Saskatoon — but almost five years on she’s used that uncertainty to her advantage, creating a YouTube channel about the city that has amassed more than 250,000 views.
It was May of 2016 when Iyeme-Eteng, her husband and two children arrived from Nigeria.
“I had one friend in the entire country, which is the first reason why we decided to move to Saskatoon,” Iyeme-Eteng told Saskatoon Morning‘s Leisha Grebinski. “It was tough…. The confusion, the fear, the anxiety of not knowing what to expect in this new place.”
She remembers waking up the next morning and nothing was familiar.
“I can’t put that feeling into words, like I felt really lost,” Iyeme-Eteng said.
Felt ‘in limbo’
The time difference meant it was hard to talk with family and friends back home.
“I felt like I could no longer very easily connect with where I was coming from, but I still couldn’t connect in this place where I was. So it felt like we’re in limbo for a period of time.”
Saskatoon Morning7:44Saskatoon woman from Nigeria shares lessons from her first days in Canada on YouTube to help others
But they persevered. Iyeme-Eteng went back to school after having trouble finding employment and did so well there that the school offered her a job.
In that job, Iyeme-Eteng met with a lot of other newcomers.
“The first thing I would notice is the same confusion, the anxiety that I felt when I first landed in the city,” she said.
She decided to share her own experience as an immigrant and put out information for newcomers that wasn’t available to her when she first arrived. So began her Youtube channel, Marina Esiri, Life as a Nigerian Immigrant in Canada. Esiri is her middle name and is short for Ikwesiri, which means good news in the Urhobo language.
“My first video went live in October of 2019 and I’ve had a video go out every week since then,” Iyeme-Eteng said.
Her videos cover a wide range of topics. One segment shows where to get food familiar to Nigerian newcomers.
“I did this tour of the store. I show people the kind of things they can get, the range of the prices, grocery shopping, the kind of stores that every newcomer needs in Saskatoon,” she said.
Iyeme-Eteng said her videos include, “if you’re looking for a switch in your career, tips on how you can find a job, tips on day care, the education system in Saskatoon, how it works, the ages that your children need to be getting to certain places.
“And I throw in a few family blogs here and there just to show our lives. [So] while I’m telling you things about Saskatoon, you actually get to watch me do those things.”
A daunting task
She said moving from one country to another can be daunting — for example, trying to navigate the job market.
“I had difficulty finding a job because I have a microbiology degree from Nigeria, where all the work experience I’ve had is in customer service, administration and human resources,” Iyeme-Eteng said. “The Nigerian employer understands that somebody who has a microbiology degree can work in these places because that’s the job that is available. Well, I had a hard time convincing the employers here that I had the proper training [from] the work experience that I have.”
Going back to school ended up being a wonderful experience for Iyeme-Eteng.
“Going to school became my first real understanding of Canada. I had a diverse classroom where I learned about different people, learned about the culture.”
Her YouTube channel gives Iyeme-Eteng a chance to talk about everything she is experiencing and learning.
And the feedback has been phenomenal, she said.
“Amazingly, we hit 1,000 subscribers before the channel was four months old,” she said.
She now has 7,000 subscribers and has received more than 1,000 emails from newcomers and prospective newcomers to Saskatoon.
She said she gets “humbling” messages that say things like, “I feel like I have hope now, just knowing that this person who looks like me, sounds like me, has similar experiences. If you can do it, I can do this as well.”
This piece was inspired by Threads: Cultural Conversations, a two-day online event of national scope being organized and hosted by the Saskatoon Open Door Society. It will be held virtually on Jan. 20 and 21, 2021. Learn more about it here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.