When she first moved to Toronto, Tammy got off to a rough start. It was her resilience, her willingness to take a chance on the Y, and her newfound passion for Arriba that eventually allowed her to make a home for herself and her family in the city. Here’s Tammy’s story:
I’m originally from Hong Kong, and used to live there with my Canadian husband and our young son. Almost a decade ago, my husband took a job in Toronto. We thought we’d stay for three or four years, and then move back to Asia.
We landed in cold, snowy Toronto in January, and I faced frustrating challenges almost instantly: two nasty falls on the icy ground, and an emergency appendectomy. I had no relatives or friends here to turn to for support, and that made me even more depressed and frustrated. My son, however, settled in well, and my husband loved his new job so much he told me he wanted to stay and continue working at it for another three years! So we decided to stay, but by that point, I had lost all my confidence and become increasingly shy, to the point where I was afraid to speak with people. I tried to alleviate my homesickness by flying back to Hong Kong every year for a few weeks, and when I wasn’t there, I hibernated in my house and made no effort to connect with the community here in Toronto.
After those first six years were up, I finally realized we were never moving back to Asia. I knew I needed to make a change, so I started looking into a few different gyms and community centres. I made a couple of friends, and in the summer of 2013, one of them asked me to check out the Toronto Sheppard YMCA with her. I was surprised and excited to see their big swimming pool and the wide variety of fitness programs they offered every day. The staff seemed very helpful and friendly, and compared to the other fitness clubs I’d tried, the whole organization was just really family-oriented, which made me feel welcomed.
I joined immediately and started out doing some swimming, along with Arriba and Pilates classes, and was thoroughly enjoying myself. Before long, a staff member approached me and said I should think about becoming a volunteer Arriba dance instructor. I remember retreating a little bit into my shy mode and thinking, “Why are they asking me? I don’t know how to dance. I’m not a professional dancer at all!” But then I realized I’d already started growing my confidence in the few short weeks since I’d joined this community, so I decided to give it a try.
And I’m so glad I did! The training program I started was totally amazing — I suddenly had all of this support, inspiration, and encouragement, when just a short time before, I’d had none. The program facilitator was motivated and energetic, with the ability to help others achieve their full potential. Not only did she make me believe I could be a great Arriba dance instructor, she helped me believe in myself and gave me strength when I needed it most.
Today, I teach my own Arriba class once a week, and also sub in for other instructors. Since I joined the Y three years ago, I haven’t flown back to Hong Kong at all – and I haven’t felt the need to! Now, I feel grounded, not just in Toronto, but also in who I am as a person and what I’m doing with my life. Even though the beginning of my journey was challenging and frustrating — just like it is for many newcomers — the YMCA totally changed my situation. I love my Y and the amazing things it’s done for me.