Adjusting to a new country can be hard but there is a place for all of us here in Canada: Isaac Garcia-Sitton
By Tosin Ajogbeje
The rate of annual immigration in Canada is one of the highest in the world, with over 405,000 people immigrating to the country over the last year. Exploring the stories of these newcomers is important, as it provides insights into why these individuals chose Canada and how they collectively represent the values of our country. Let’s revisit why immigrants are so influential to the very essence of our society. Meet Isaac Garcia-Sitton Ph.D. (c), a trailblazer and esteemed leader in the post-secondary education sector. Isaac immigrated to Canada in 2010 and has been actively working to promote newcomers in his community for over a decade.
Born in Barcelona, raised in Panama, and trained and educated in the United States, Isaac applied for permanent residency in Canada through the skilled worker program in Quebec. His story of leaving a pleasant life for uncertainty would ring true for many. “Adapting to an unfamiliar environment, while searching for work in my field, was quite challenging. Before moving to Canada, I served as a diplomat for Panama and worked at the Consulates in New Orleans and Montreal in 2005 and 2007 respectively. Although I’ve been fortunate to travel to and live in many places, Canada was the first place where I felt at home in my adult life. At the same time, being apart from friends and family and starting from scratch was not easy.” says Isaac.
After a year of applying and interviewing, Isaac started his career in post-secondary education at Montreal’s McGill University as a Senior Manager, Language, and Intercultural Communication (LIC). Subsequently, he joined York University as the Director of the International Education & English Language Institute and oversaw its growth as it became the largest university provider of academic English programming in Canada. Now the Executive Director, International Student Enrolment, Education & Inclusion at Toronto Metropolitan University, Isaac is overseeing international recruitment and student support areas to create and sustain a learning ecosystem that understands and advocates for the distinct needs of international students.
Passionate about serving his community, Isaac also works extensively with a range of national and international professional associations on initiatives to enhance opportunities for newcomers, minorities, and international students. “New immigrants significantly contribute towards the sustainable growth of our economy and development of our communities. They are relied upon to fill essential gaps across multiple sectors, and it is important that we collectively support their well-being and lived experiences in Canada,” says Isaac. In recognition of his work, he was identified as one of the Ten Most Influential Hispanic Canadians in 2018 and was honoured with the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award in 2020.
An avid proponent of community support, Isaac advises newcomers to be intentional about relationship building. “The do-it-alone mindset can only take you so far. We need to make time to nurture the communities in which we live. Professionally, this means contributing ideas and building partnerships, but at a more human level, it also means caring for each other as people and working together in our difficult moments. Above all, it means always remembering that people are more than their work.”. This is particularly important for newcomers and international graduates seeking employment. Because the job search process can be lengthy and stressful, and most times employers require Canadian experience, being involved with the community pays off. Speaking on the importance of communities, Isaac notes: “Staying connected with your personal or professional communities will help you find a sense of belonging. It also really helps you to stay grounded and meet others with similar interests and struggles as you settle here.”
Sharing what he has learned from his lived experience, he also advises newcomers to work actively towards their career goals: “Focus on how you can position yourself to be the best candidate for the jobs that you apply for. Learn new skills, seek constructive feedback, reach out to your communities, and – as much as possible – don’t let the pressure of needing to find a job throw you off”. Connecting with professional agencies and potential employers at career events or workshops is important as well. Isaac points out that settlement services can help newcomers excel. “Adjusting to a new country is hard. By counselling newcomers and identifying their short-term and long-term career goals, these agencies can help by conducting mock interviews and giving feedback to newcomers to strengthen their portfolios,” says Isaac.
Applying to many jobs himself before finding his first job, he understands the effort it takes to adapt to the Canadian job market and the importance of seeking support when needed. Similarly, it is helpful to engage in volunteering activities. “Meeting like-minded individuals and networking will enable you to navigate the workforce as a newcomer. From drawing parallels, having one-on-one conversations with your network, and attending informational sessions, you will gain clarity in your search,” he says.
He also highlights that we can empower newcomers to break through. Organizations in both the public and private sectors, as well as society at large, have a role to play when it comes to empowering newcomers in Canada as they attempt to build a life here. In today’s economic climate, businesses can thrive from the skills and experiences of immigrants if they are open to confronting stereotypes and committed to creating inclusive workspaces. “Canada is a beautiful and diverse country where people are free to be authentic. Inclusion and equity are part of our identity, and it is important that we — as employers, educators, and community members — collectively support newcomers as they transition into our society and adopt Canada as their new home,” he concludes.
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