I was preparing myself for a very busy and long Friday. I would attend the My Job in Canada workshop in the morning at VIRCS (Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society) and HERE Lab, a series of workshops promoted by HERE Magazine in the afternoon. Even though I was concerned about biting off more than I could chew, I ignored the negative thoughts in the back of my mind that sometimes pop up and tell us we cannot do things. What a great choice I made. Both events were beautifully connected. Both are multiculturally sensitive and great places to build networks, making friends, and improve our communication skills.
The morning event was quite important to me because I was looking for content to write about in the writing workshop I would attend in the afternoon. Andrea Westfall facilitated our meeting. I had never met her before, but I immediately got inspired by her first words, so I got out my pen and paper right away. I heard that it takes only a few seconds for interviewers to decide whether they are going to hire the candidate or not. Just like in a job interview, it took me only a few seconds to “hire” Andrea: I liked her smile, the tone of her voice, I liked the way she made eye contact, and I loved the way she was dressed. Sometimes we cannot prevent ourselves from judging a book by its cover. Fortunately, my intuition was right.
Andrea Westfall is an immigrant herself. She is from the United States, has a master’s degree in International and Intercultural Communications and works for the Refugee Sponsorship Program with the Anglican Diocese of BC. Andrea says, “From my experiences working overseas and in the local international community, I have become mindful of the urgent need to effectively communicate between peoples of different races, cultures, origins, backgrounds, languages and societies. More specifically, at the heart of my work is allowing the host community an understanding of the new communities, the immigrants, the refugees, the newcomers in their midst. Regardless of differences, communication can be a powerful tool to help people understand one another.”
What are you afraid of?
The first session of My Job in Canada —a three-series workshop helping you to get and keep a job in Canada—was not only about the do’s and don’ts in a Canadian workplace. It went above and beyond that.
To break the ice, Andrea encouraged us, as newcomers from more than ten different nations, to share our name, our home country, and to reveal our fears about working in Canada. The following concerns were addressed: lack of Canadian work experience; uncertainty of not knowing what the work environment would be like; having to start from scratch in an entry level job; not being suitable for the job; working in a job you are not comfortable with; the balance between personal and professional life; fear of failure; stereotypical assumptions; discrimination, and so on. At that moment, I was uneasy in my chair thinking about what I was going to add to that list. What I really wanted to say was that my blocked self-confidence frightened me. Instead, I said that for me the language was the most significant barrier. It should come as no surprise that I was not the only person to answer that. Indeed, language haunts almost every newcomer, but it is important to mention that in many cases it is only the tip of the iceberg. I intend to write specifically about this matter in the near future.
After listening to our struggles, Andrea followed up the conversation pointing out how important it is to get our dread out of the closet and bring it into the light of the day. “If your fears are validated, they can be overcome,” says Andrea. She illustrated that through an anecdote. There was a mouse, a mousetrap and a piece of cheese on the trap. The mouse wants the cheese, but it is difficult to get it. He is afraid and probably had a similar bad experience in the past, which means that his fear is actually protecting him from danger. However, he is not flying solo in this: He has tools to help him to overcome the trap and get the cheese he wants so much. Bringing the anecdote to reality: We are the mice, the cheese is our ambitions and dreams, and the mousetrap is our fears, which is holding us back from achieving our goals.
There are many tools out there to help us to overcome our difficulties. The My Job in Canada workshop and HERE Lab are great examples. It is not easy, but it does not have to be so hard. With the right tools, you can achieve your goals.
Our diversity is our strength
I attended a round table discussion named “The Canadian Dream – expectations vs. reality” about a month ago at VIRCS and one of the issues raised by more than one participant was: It is unfortunate being an immigrant and having to start from zero. The participants sounded a bit pessimistic. Leaving a solid career in your home country and seeing yourself having to start over again from scratch can indeed be frustrating. Although I can relate to that, I wish those people could have attended the My Job in Canada workshop. I have attended only the first session so far and I can already tell it is going to be incredibly useful for all the attendees who find themselves doubtful about thriving in Canada professionally.
“Your ability to adapt to a new culture is a huge asset,” says Andrea. “If you moved here and made it work, you can also make things work in your career”. Our diversity is our strength and Andrea encourages everyone to include that in the cover letter, and highlight it during the interview. As immigrants, we can offer different perspectives, bring a new way to do things, and take things to a different level. Our multilingual skills are also an asset, especially here because Victoria is a tourism hot spot. Besides our language skills, we can build relationships within a shifting Canadian demographics. Consequently, we can become the bridge between business and services to customers that share our cultural background.
I could keep describing for hours how rich this first session was. Trust me, it was full of valuable and encouraging information and, even though I could, I decided not list in this article each of the insights Andrea shared with us. Instead, I want to invite you to join us next Friday. The sessions are independent, so do not worry if you missed the first one. Next Friday, we will learn more about job interviews, and we are going to show up dressed for an actual job interview. See you at VIRCS next week. And keep in mind: your ability to adapt to a new culture is precious in a multicultural society.