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Learning about strangers with different backgrounds at RIAC’s human library


Speed dating meets the public library with the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council’s human library event, happening in St. John’s Thursday.

Kyleigh Mercer, with RIAC, organized the human library event, bringing in seven “human books” of different backgrounds to share their stories with random strangers.

“It’s like speed dating,” says Mercer.

“You go in and we’ll have little time cards, as though you’re signing out a library book.”

It’s an event open to the public at Rocket Bakery from 4-6 p.m. Thursday.

“People can come in and sign out a 20-minute-long period to sit down with these ‘books’ and just to talk with them, ask them questions,” said Mercer, adding that learning about people is “the whole point” of these events.

I was one of those kinds of people who had never been in the snow. – Juan Pablo Rudolph

“The whole idea is centred around the fact that everyone has their own complex stories and we don’t always get the opportunity to hear them. So people can come in and sign up to sit down with these people and get to know them a little bit more, their culture, their stories.”

One of these “human books” is Juan Pablo Rudolph, who came to St. John’s from Chile when his wife was offered a position to pursue her PhD in aquaculture with Memorial University.

Before coming to Canada, he was the owner of a drone mapping company, after working for years as a commercial pilot. But before that, he was a marine biologist — that’s how he and his wife met — and that’s what he’s been working at since moving to St. John’s.

“We thought it could be great to come to Canada, and especially St. John’s,” he said.

“It’s a great place to live.”

There are a lot of differences between St. John’s and Chile, but more similarities than you might expect.

But not everything.

“In Chile I mostly ride my bike to everywhere, but here I discovered the snow,” he said, with a laugh.

“Two thirds of the world’s population haven’t [seen] snow … so I was one of those kinds of people who had never been in the snow. And I feel completely in love, skiing at Pippy Park.”

Snow days are a hit

It turns out, the snow locals gripe about is actually a big hit with Alaa Alhowaide, too.

Alhowaide moved to St. John’s from northern Jordan about three years ago, to pursue a PhD in computer science.

While he works away at that, he hopes one day to be a small business owner in the tech industry.

“I imagine myself having my own small business, a research lab, for example, maybe trying to develop smart devices,” he said.

Until then, Alhowaide said he’ll continue to work away, while making time to enjoy the outdoors — his favourite part about St. John’s

“The woods, they are fabulous. Snow, as well. Maybe there’s a lot of complaining about it, but I enjoy it,” he said.

“We don’t have that much snow in Jordan so it’s our culture that whenever it is snowing in Jordan we have a holiday until the snow melts, but here we don’t have a holiday. But sometimes we have some closures at MUN and it is my favourite day, to spend a little bit to play in the snow.”

As for what he expects from being a “human book” at RIAC’s human library event, Alhowaide is looking forward to talking with people about life in Jordan.

“One of the interesting stories they have is how Jordanians got introduced to potato, from the immigrants and refugees,” he said, adding that now, his favourite food is french fries.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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