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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Newcomer’s initiation into Canadian slang

I learnt that ragging – that rough introduction to college and university life in India – is called initiation in Canada and that ragging meant something else altogether from an embarrassing conversation. We came to Canada when our daughter was in grade 12. She was to join university the following year and there was much excitement over the application process.

Not only were we new to the country, the process was very different from what we’d gone through when my husband and I were applying to universities. Aware that things must have changed drastically in India, too, and not wanting to make an expensive mistake, we talked to parents of our daughter’s classmates.

A parent suggested we set up an appointment to speak to the guidance counsellor at school. “He’s the best person to guide you, as he will be able to discuss the various options keeping in mind Naina’s strengths and interests,” said Marge.

We showed up early for the appointment, eager to learn more about our daughter’s future. Then our turn came and the counsellor, a very friendly gentleman, took us through the choices that he thought were best for Naina. The best university for her, according to him, was one that was in another city. We hadn’t considered her living away from home so soon after moving to Canada.

As we digested the news, another thought struck me. Ragging. It’s a huge concern for students and their families and I’d heard horror stories of how much worse it could get in hostels (as we called university residence or res).

So I asked the counsellor, “But what about ragging? Will it be worse in a hostel?”

He seemed to understand what I meant by hostel, but appeared a little flustered by ragging.

“Ragging, Mrs Varma?” he said. “I’m not sure...” he was almost mumbling as he trailed off.

“Yes, ragging. You know, how new students are treated by senior students?” I persisted.

“Oh, I see. We call that initiation in Canada,” he said, looking distinctly relieved. “There is some level of it, no doubt, but most of it in good fun. There are rules and laws against rough stuff.”

Relieved, we headed home. That evening, I called Marge to thank her for telling us to seek advice from the guidance counsellor and repeated our conversation to her. “You asked him about what?” she said, beginning to giggle. “Oh, I’d have loved to see his face!”

Ragging, she explained, was slang for menstruation, probably going back to when sanitary products were not available and women used rags. I still cringe when I think of my conversation with the counsellor.                                                                      

                                                                                                                             – Preeti Varma


What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@rogers.com.

Posted: Nov 4, 2019

May 2020

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Immigration Peel Canada

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