On International Women’s Day, seven women talk about how they discovered their deepest strengths in the face of their greatest challenges
By Dean Lobo
With immigration comes great change and the realization of fears that one hardly imagined. Hence, there’s little reason why your next door neighbour or relative who grew up in Canada tells you that you’re very brave in choosing to move here. But with change also comes the opportunity to emerge stronger.
On International Women’s Day, New Canadians speaks to seven newcomer women in a candid chat about how they discovered their deepest strengths in the face of their greatest challenges.
Marcela Chein, human resources professional
“I came to Canada and landed my first job with a small business. I soon realized that the environment there, specifically one’s professional relationship with the immediate upper-level manager, wasn’t good. I had no knowledge of what to do to address his unwelcome behaviour. Unfortunately, there was neither an HR department nor someone I could talk to about this. Quitting wasn’t an option either since I lacked Canadian experience, and finding another job would have been difficult.
The experience saw me sign up for a certification in Human Resources so that I could learn about my rights and responsibilities as an employee and as a Canadian resident. I pursued this course while working.
My goal was and still is, to be a reliable source of information to immigrant women regarding the challenges they might face while finding a job or in the workplace. I want to empower them with the knowledge of their employment rights and the actions they can take in such situations. I enjoy and continue being an advocate for positive-workplace environments by building good relationships with my peers.”
Chitra Sundararajan, banking professional
“I remember when I had to leave Canada within a week of immigrating, to attend to a family emergency in my home country. It was a tough time both emotionally and financially. I had to travel back and forth buying air tickets across the counter. Though I wasn’t in Canada at the time, I had to continue paying rent and other utilities. All this was before I could explore my new home country and its job market. Most of my diligent savings over the years were wiped out and I had to eat into the rest till I found a job, which took several months.
This was when I discovered the true potential of my strength: financial acumen. I was always interested in financial literacy and my frugal and minimalist approach to finances complimented my strength and helped me overcome this interim struggle.
Simple things, such as preparing a monthly budget, keeping track of expenses, comparing prices across stores for the best deals, taking homemade meals (including coffee) to work, and even planning my travel to maximize my Presto card usage, went a long way in keeping me afloat and debt-free in spite of an unplanned financial exigency. Remember, every cent counts!”
Claribel Saldanha, human resources professional
“I remember when I landed a good job shortly after moving to Canada, I was ecstatic and I thought everything would be perfect. But soon, the sense of loneliness crept in; the fact that I was alone in a new country did not change. Ultimately, I hit my lowest in December. No matter how much I tried to stay positive, it didn’t seem to work.
I took a few days off work. I allowed my self to wallow in self-pity for a day and then began to analyze my reasons for coming here. I knew I could manage it and I had to find that strength again. Slowly and steadily I started defining my goals at my pace and on my terms. Setting small goals and achieving them not only helped make me feel better but also helped prove that I COULD do this. I am capable, that’s all I need to believe.”
Khatija Qureshi, social media consultant
“Settlement is a roller-coaster ride; you experience many ups and downs. There is an outburst of emotions – sometimes you feel very high, sometimes very low. When I moved to Canada, I was at a high point in my life. Relatives, the comfort of one’s home ground and a successful profession; my husband and I left all these behind and took this leap of faith. We had our 3-year-old with us and hopes of a new future. During that phase, my biggest challenge was a fear of the unknown and not knowing what our new home had in store for us. We were in a new environment with no family, no network and only our savings to rely on.
However, I overcame those difficulties with a positive, growth-orientated mindset. The will to learn, adapt and evolve from every experience proved to be a real ray of light, and I worked my way through that challenge.”
Roxana Radulescu, personal skills coach
“I remember the time when just like any immigrant, I applied to several jobs after landing in 2017. I got rejected many times. I had to deal with the thought that I have so much to offer but nobody needed it. I then decided to establish my own training and coaching business because that was what I was good at and wanted to do. I registered my business, began working on my website and signed up for my first TED talk. But I also continued applying for jobs.
Then, five months into being here, my dad passed away back in Romania. Here I was now, on a plane back to Romania for my father’s funeral. I experienced a whirlwind of emotions. When I returned, I had an interview the very next day, and while I was the preferred external candidate, the company went ahead with an internal one for the job. There came another rejection!
I continued attending networking events and approaching training companies to offer my services. Soon, I slowly but surely started to develop my business, offering training and coaching services across the GTA. I also got a job at George Brown College where I still mentor new immigrants and coach them into how they could land a job.
This experience taught me that it’s all about resilience. If you know your destination, you can deal with whatever comes your way. Rest, but then get up and move forward. Never go back!”
Liliana Nakamura, human resources project manager
“I remember the time when I moved to Canada from Japan. Of course, I didn’t have a job waiting for me! Additionally, when I was researching and contacting people before immigrating, everything I read and heard about Canada tended to be negative. There were many naysayers all over the place. When I landed and met other immigrants, I sensed the feeling of frustration among many.
In the midst of all this, a strength I discovered is that I could reinvent myself for the job market. I decided to do some freelance work. Prior to moving to Canada, I was doing freelance translation gigs in Japan and I also arranged with my previous employer to continue working remotely till I established myself here.
I thought about the new situation as an opportunity to persist and continue working at my own pace. I believed that new opportunities would continue coming to me. I persisted through the months of April to November and in December, I was finally hired as a project coordinator with the company I continue to work at.”
Carolina Giraldo, outreach assistant at a non-profit organization
“I remember the time when before moving to Canada with my husband and kids, I had to decide whether I wanted to do so or not in the first place. But I’m a mum, I’m a woman; and for me, my children were my priority. Knowing that they would have better futures here in Canada made me decide on coming here. I said goodbye to my family, my work and a comfortable lifestyle in Columbia.
Many read up to prepare for Canada or speak to other immigrants, but when it comes to challenges, nothing compares to when you are actually here in person. I took English classes in Columbia, but I still struggled with speaking to and understanding people here. They spoke fast and often shortened their words. This impacted me emotionally as well. I felt like a child all over again who couldn’t do anything by herself. I had to depend on my husband even if we were going to buy something.
But this experience taught me to begin trusting in myself. It took long for me to realize that I had the strength to overcome this hurdle. I explained to myself that I didn’t have a child’s mind anymore so as to be able to grasp a new language so quickly. I found strength in telling myself that I was already brave enough to be taking chances in a new country. Today, I’m grateful for such situations because they brought out the best in me, and I try to be an example for my kids as well.”