From an interview between Miri Hysi, Senior Product Manager at Arrive, and his dad, Jimmy Hysi.
In Albania, Jimmy Hysi studied kinesiology and played competitive volleyball at university where he eventually became a teacher and coach. During periods of civil unrest, Jimmy traveled to neighbouring countries as a seasonal migrant worker to provide for his family back home. In 1997, he moved his family to the capital, Tirana, where they would be safer. He started a small foreign exchange business while his wife continued her career in civil engineering. However, they saw that the opportunities for education were limited and started to look outside Albania. In 2003, the Hysi family moved to Canada. Jimmy was 47 years old, didn’t have much money, and could not speak English. But he had one clear goal: to give his two sons the opportunity to get the education they needed and have a better life in Canada. Here are Jimmy’s reflections on his journey, and his son Miri’s thoughts about his newcomer dad.
Leaving Albania was very hard. For three or four months before we left, we kept asking ourselves, “Are we doing the right thing?” We were leaving everything behind––our lives, our close family, the home we worked so hard to buy. Somehow, we had to muster up the courage to face the unknown.
We chose Canada because the immigration policy gives you a fair chance. In Canada, your future depends on you. How hard you work determines how successful you are. You are not limited by a government policy. We had also heard of how multicultural and diverse Canada is and felt that this would be a good environment for us to raise our 11 and 15-year-old boys. My main goal was to invest everything into our boys, to give them a better chance at life in Toronto.
Challenges in Canada
I thought that we would stay long enough to get our citizenship and raise the boys to the point where they could stay here together and do their post-secondary studies while my wife and I returned back home. My wife felt the opposite. That was challenge number one!
I knew Canada was cold, but I never thought it was going to be this cold. To date, this is still my biggest challenge coming from a place that is in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Given the reality of our finances and the fact that I didn’t speak English, I knew I was going to have to start at the bottom, but I wasn’t sure which bottom. All I knew was volleyball and coaching, and without English, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to start that career again at 47 years of age. I wanted to support my sons through childhood like any other parent and luckily, I was healthy and willing to work any job to make this possible. My wife and I have worked as building superintendents for the last 19 years.
Most surprising aspects of Canada
Compared to Albania which has 3 million people, Canada is huge, the topography is so varied and vast.
I was surprised by how helpful people are. Every person seemed to be willing to help, night or day, in any part of the city. If you ask for directions or where services are, someone will always stop to help you.
I was impressed by the Canadian education system. The schools are so big, so organized and clean compared to where I had studied and taught back home.
What made you decide to stay?
The fact that our boys were enjoying Canada and thriving here motivated us to forget the everyday stresses of our new life. The education they were getting was excellent, much better than they would have received back home. It was all about their future.
The political stability, and the healthcare system that gave me confidence as I got older that I could receive the care I needed if I got sick, made Canada feel like home. As the internet became part of life, I felt more connected to my family in Albania too.
When my parents visited us, my father told me, “Canada is your home now. You cannot leave your children alone and come back to Albania.” He pushed me to stay because he too fell in love with Canada.
The future in Canada
I am 65 years old, and although I’m eligible, I have no desire to retire. I am able and healthy and will continue working. I am an espresso lover, and every day, for the past 15 years, I have visited the same coffee shop to see my friend Sebastian. He makes the best macchiato in East York!
As I get older, I feel safe here, and secure. My kids have finished their education, their careers are well underway, and that makes me happy. Given the state of the world currently, I am glad that I am in Canada. When I ask myself, “Would you do it all over again”?, the answer is always “Yes. In a heartbeat.” Canada is my home and I’m here to stay.
Thoughts on my Newcomer Dad
As a young boy, I never fully understood why we left Albania. But I am so grateful for the sacrifices my Mom and Dad made. Everything I have, everything I am, and everything that will come, is because my parents left their lives behind on August 16th of 2003 for my brother and me.
The fact that I was able to experience life in Albania for 11 years and life in Canada has left me with multiple perspectives. I can always experience my life through a couple of lenses. This allows me to connect to people and their life paths, no matter where they come from, old or young.
My dad taught me the importance of empathy. He is always willing to lend a hand, no matter what time of the day it is. He is the first one to offer help, with no expectations of anything in return. He does it because he loves to help others, something that I’ve come to understand he gets from his father, my grandpa.
It can sometimes be difficult to translate certain ideas from Albanian to English, but here are a few universal thoughts from my dad that have helped guide me on my life journey.
- Life is very simple: It’s all about health, family and friends.
- You can earn with your brain or your muscles. Choose one and be great at it.
- Marriage is two heads sleeping on the same pillow.
- If I’m paying for this cell phone, you pick it up when I call!
- Sundays are for family, including calling our grandparents back home.
- Money is not the source of happiness, your family is.
Through the uncertainties and challenges of starting a new life in Canada, our collective love of basketball was a constant. I have so many great memories of staying up late on school nights to watch games from Los Angeles. It was our ritual, it made things feel normal. My mom would watch the games with my brother, my dad and me, but to this day, I think that what she loved most about basketball was the fact that it brought us all together.