From Russian exchange student to Oshawa resident

Ksenia Usenko, 29, came to Canada when she was 17 almost ten years ago for school. She never thought she would still be here in 2015.
Ksenia Usenko, 29, came to Canada when she was 17more than ten years ago for school. She never thought she would still be here in 2015.


It was almost twelve years ago that 29-year-old Ksenia Usenko came to Canada from a country just as cold, without knowing a word of English.

At the time, Usenko was 17 and her goal was to learn English to better her future and educational opportunities.

She left behind her family, friends and everything she had in Irkutsk, Russia to come to Canada. But she almost didn’t do it. Right before she left, Usenko had a change of heart and wanted to stay home.

“Honestly,” she laughs, “I didn’t want to go.”

Before looking at schools in Canada, Usenko had applied for a biochemistry program at Irkutsk State Technical University. But her parents had other plans for her before she could accept any offers, and Usenko came to Canada in 2003.

Her life in Irkutsk quickly became a thing of the past, and Canada became her new home faster than she had planned on.

She studied English at a private school in downtown Toronto for international students and then later went to George Brown to study a few other courses. At the time she lived with a Canadian family to help with adjusting to the new lifestyle.

The woman she lived with was the great aunt of her future husband. They met each other at Usenko’s second Christmas dinner in Canada.
Now, happily married to her husband, Kevin, Usenko encourages everyone to travel and step out of their comfort zone whenever possible.

“Even if you do go back, you get to travel to a different country and learn a different language,” she says.

The couple was married in Cuba two years ago, where both she and her husband’s families met for the first time.

“I was excited and nervous. The hardest part was keeping up with the translation,” she says.

Usenko is now a nurse at Lakeridge Health Oshawa and has lived in the city for almost ten years.

She laughs at herself when she remembers the doubt she felt coming to Canada.

“I was given the opportunity to come back (to Russia) and I didn’t want to come back,” she says.

Usenko says the biggest culture shock from Russia to Canada was the mentality of people.

“I first moved to Scarborough, I didn’t know a word of English, and I was waiting for the bus, and a man said, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and was smiling,” she recalls. “He was just walking by with his dog, and I thought ‘Wow, people actually smile and say hello on the streets.”

Usenko says it’s different in Russia.

“It’s probably like one in a million that would smile at you. People are colder there, and here you come, and people are always polite and smile at you,” she says.

Last fall, Usenko and her husband went on a two-month trip to Russia to visit her family.

“The best part was seeing my grandma. I hadn’t seen her in ten years,” says Usenko.

The trip made her realize the place she originally didn’t want to come to was now her home.

“As soon as I stepped back into Russia, I said, ‘I want to go back,’” she laughs.

Besides her Canadian family, Usenko jokes that one of her favourite things about Oshawa is the little traffic compared to being in the city of Toronto.

Usenko’s mother, Olga, now lives in Canada as well. She immigrated to Alberta in 2006 but the rest of Usenko’s family, including her brothers and sisters, still live in Russia.

She says it’s difficult to compare the lifestyle of Canada and Russia, because she was so young when she left her home country.
However, Usenko feels she has more opportunities as a nurse in Canada than she would have back at home, especially because she is now back in school.

She is taking courses to move up in her career, something that she says wouldn’t happen in Russia.

“It is easier to leave work here and you can still make decent money,” she says referring to working and going to school at the same time.

Usenko, a nurse for the past seven years, says she still thinks about her dream job from her childhood, becoming a teacher.

“I still think of it sometimes, maybe later on in life, I’ll teach nurses,” she says.

Currently, Usenko is studying at Centennial College, to be a medical esthetic practitioner.

It’s been over a decade since Usenko became an Oshawa resident. She has married her Canadian

husband and speaks fluent English, something her 17-year-old self wouldn’t have been able to

predict. Usenko says she hopes to expand her family with Kevin and continue to travel. Her top two

places? India and Ireland. But Durham Region will always be her home.