Early childhood educator builds new life in Canada with her family

Shalini Prejesh, graduate of the Early Childhood Care and Education program, credits the Port Alberni community for helping her transition to living in Canada.

NIC graduate, Shalini Prejesh, is crediting the Port Alberni community and her move to Canada for helping her build confidence and a new career.

Prejesh moved to Canada in January 2020 to take the first Early Childhood Care and Education program ever offered at the Port Alberni campus specifically for international students. 

“NIC’s Port Alberni campus was pleased to welcome a cohort of international students for the first time in January 2021,” said Kelly Johnsen, associate dean, health and human services. “With a number of new childcare centres opening or expanding recently — both for full-time and for before and after school care — the graduates from the Early Childhood Care and Education program are addressing a pressing need in our community. This first cohort of students paved the way for future international students to learn and live in Port Alberni.”

As an experienced teacher, Prejesh wanted to continue working with children, and the program at NIC helped her transition into living and working in Canada. Coming to Canada on a study permit meant, however, that Prejesh had to leave behind her husband and two young children in Kerala, India. The immigration process typically would have allowed her family to join her within three months, but longer travel and immigration procedures as a result of the pandemic meant she was separated from her family for over a year.

“I didn’t want to come to Canada without my husband and children,” Prejesh explained. “In order to support my husband and be able to settle our family in Canada though, I had to make that tough decision to come without them. I never expected it to be for so long though.”

Prejesh soon realized that she was going to have to manage life without her family, as they had used their savings to enable her to study at NIC and move to Canada. Her husband was laid off from his job due to the pandemic, so she worked two different jobs and took on extra shifts during her summer break to earn extra money for her family. On weeknights, she worked as a dishwasher, and on weekends she worked as an attendant at a local gas station. “My mother taught me to always be hard working. I really believe that we have to struggle to get the sweetness of success,” said Prejesh.

Looking back on her journey, Prejesh appreciates the opportunities the Port Alberni community has offered her. “Port Alberni is a small community and a very good place. The community here has meant so much for me and my family.

Prejesh found support through her classmates and the local Sikh temple community, even though she is Hindu. Prejesh came to realize that she also had the most life experience amongst her classmates, having already lived outside of India in the past and having worked as a teacher for many years before moving to Canada. She started sharing her experience and helping students in her program who were living away from their families for the first time. “I saw people struggling, so I started to support my younger friends by providing them with emotional support, as well as teaching them how to cook well for themselves and how to manage their lives without their families,” she explained.

Prejesh’s husband and children were finally able to join her in Canada in March 2022 — just in time to attend her graduation ceremony where she received her diploma. She now works full-time at a daycare in Port Alberni, where she lives with her husband and children. Her work, along with the work of those from her program, helps to address a shortage of early childhood educators in the community. Prejesh is also waiting to receive her permanent residency, which will allow her to return home to visit the rest of her family in India — something she’s been unable to do for more than three years.

Prejesh faced a lot of challenges coming to Canada during the pandemic, but she doesn’t regret her decision. “Coming to a different country, I found that I had to change my mindset. I don’t know how I did it, and I didn’t know that I could do it. I really wasn’t a confident person before coming to Canada but coming to Canada, made me the stronger person that I am now,” said Prejesh. 

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