Originally from Saint Petersburg, Russia, Irina Chulkova and her husband immigrated to Canada in 2014 with their two daughters. They chose to settle in London because of the city’s reputation as a great place to raise children.
Before arriving, they worried about how their daughters would adjust in a new city with no family or friends, but from the very first day, they felt they had made the right decision, Irina says now. “We felt welcome here. Moving here was the best decision we ever made.”
Irina began looking for a place to volunteer, where she would gain Canadian experience, contribute to her new country and also socialize with long-time Londoners.
“Volunteering where local people volunteer is a way to share skills, culture and traditions,” she says. “If you go where you can meet local people, you can get an understanding of what they are thinking about, what they love.”
Her first volunteer job was with Glen Cairn Community Centre, and she is still involved with the organization. She has also volunteered with ReForest London and SARI Therapeutic riding and has been involved with Toastmasters.
Her advice to other newcomers is to meet their neighbours and volunteer in organizations that help their neighbours. She says it will lead to endless opportunities to learn new skills, experience new things and live life to the fullest.
She and her husband are also focused on their business, rebuilding batteries for customers ranging from hospitals to e-bike companies.
But her passion is pickle ball – a fast growing paddle sport that is described as a combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong. As a pickle ball instructor and coach, Irina works to get as many people as possible involved in sports.
Irina says her new goal is to get more newcomers to Canada interested in the sport. She runs tournaments that are free to enter, in hopes to attract people who don’t know or aren’t sure about pickleball.
“Being an active member of a community is the only way to integrate in a new country to get to know local people, their interests and lifestyles,” says Irina. “When you are an active member of your community, you become a family member, not a guest.”