Sharing our Shared Journey: Connecting the dots in culture gaps

Taryn Ridsdale Head ShotTaryn immigrated from South Africa in 1994. She has lived in 5 Canadian cities since then, and virtually keeps in touch with close family that geographically spans 4 different continents. Taryn is passionate about contributing to health system improvement in Canada.


“After having numerous health professionals look at me strangely… Or assume that I express my concerns a certain way because of my appearance and accent, it sure is nice to belong to a practice where they understand what I mean and ask the right questions to help me be healthy.”

That comment from a family member turned what I intuitively and academically knew into a truer understanding of why anti-oppressive, all-inclusive landscapes improve health and well being. It’s funny how that one comment completely altered how I now reflect on my family’s journey through numerous interrelated events, contexts and choices.

Looking back to the beginning, we all have a good laugh recalling the day my younger self announced to our family that we were saying all the words wrong after discovering that everyone else spoke differently at my new school. Being young and immersed in a structured school environment, I remember learning as quickly as possible to speak as my classmates spoke. All these years later, my family member’s comment highlights how my seemingly insignificant change in pronunciation has led us to have very different experiences when interacting with the health care system and other sectors.

And it’s certainly not the only change that led to those differing experiences. I also recall the silence I was greeted with when I told an extended family member that I felt ‘at home’ because my closest friends from school were the equivalent of family to me. The combination of not having extended family around and of being in school led me to slowly learn to develop other forms of support, to develop deep relationships with friends, and to trust those friends enough to ask for real help or an ear when needed.

While my younger self wouldn’t have understood what was happening, I realize now that immediate access to social networks and supports available to newcomer youth  enabled me to successfully adjust and thrive in a new country. I wish we all knew when we moved how important those types of supports are for all family members while they are adjusting to life in a new culture. Reflecting back on our differing experiences over the last 25 years of social and healthcare reforms in Toronto, it is clear, in a beyond academic and I get it kind of way, that organizations like Access Alliance provide an invaluable service by using evidence and heart to increase the sense of belonging and positively impact the health of newcomers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s