The Ring

International employees establish new support network

Wed, 2012-11-28 11:48

Umeki (with globe) and Lyuba Goundareva and Helena Miklea. Photo: UVic Photo Ser
Umeki (with globe) and Lyuba Goundareva and Helena Miklea. Photo: UVic Photo Services

A new support network for UVic employees whose first language is not English is quickly gaining momentum. Founded only last winter, the Immigrant Employee Support Network (IESN) has become a place for employees from international backgrounds to meet and support one another while gaining workplace skills.

The network is the initiative of Atsuko Umeki. Umeki first came to Canada as an international student from Japan, and has worked in the UVic development office since 2008. She conceived of the idea of a support network for immigrant employees while pursuing professional development opportunities through the UVic Mentoring Program and Minerva Women’s Leadership Program.

In Dec. 2011 Umeki recruited Moussa Magassa, UVic’s human rights educator from Senegal, to help craft a mission statement and formalize the group’s purpose. Word spread as the new group began meeting once or twice a month, at lunch or after work. Magassa offered the first of a series of educational workshops—on welcoming and inclusive workplaces.

“The group has two main streams: one for career and personal development, and one for networking and social opportunities,” says Umeki. “We provide a place for immigrant employees to connect and support each other for their emotional well-being and career development. By promoting inclusion, we can stand and grow together.”

The network now has 15 active members, with many more on the contact list. The common denominator is that all members are UVic employees whose native language is not English. Members hail from more than ten countries, including Spain, China, Korea, Croatia, Serbia, Japan, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Romania, Russia, Senegal and Thailand. They are employed in just as many areas of the university, including academic and advising offices, research services, student affairs and facilities management.

"I love being part of this group because we all feel equal. It is a group where we understand each other no matter what accent we speak," says member Jeta Rugova-Plakolli (research services).

In addition to a common understanding of experiences, group members share an advanced level of education. Most have at least a bachelor’s degree, with many holding a masters or PhD. “The current job market is tough, and many educated people can’t find work in their field of study,” says member Lyuba Goundareva, who works in residence services while completing an MBA program. “Nowadays just having higher education isn’t enough. We need to take action and network with others in order to succeed.”

In Oct. 2012 the IESN received official recognition from the university and a small Community Building Fund grant from the adviser to the provost on equity and diversity. “Witnessing the growth and commitment of this group has been inspiring,” says Grace Wong Sneddon, director of academic leadership initiatives and adviser to the provost on equity and diversity. “Grassroots work requires dedication and the IESN is an example of what building community is all about.”

In the coming months, the Immigrant Employee Support Network will offer workshops on a variety of topics, including:

  • exploring career services;
  • combatting stress caused by cultural/linguistic differences; and
  • understanding the expectations of Canadian employers.

More info: Atsuko Umeki at 250-472-4843 or or visit the website:

Upcoming workshops

Sat. Jan. 12, 2013
Cultural differences and ways of communication within cultural diversity
Facilitated by Cheryl Thomas, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business

Sat. Feb. 16, 2013
Coaching and counselling: Resources are a phone call away
Facilitated by Catherine Carr, Counselling and Coaching Victoria