One week after my 27th birthday, I boarded a plane to Canada for the first time, beginning a long, hopeful but uncertain journey. I came to Canada to kick start an education and a career at an age when women in Vietnam are considered “approaching expiry date.” Upon learning that I was about to go to Canada, my family and friends were extremely concerned. It was not an easy decision to leave my teaching job of five years at a prestigious public university for a country half the world away from home, without any relatives or guarantee about the future. Many people would call my decision crazy; but after more than three years in Canada, I do not regret that big move.
Although I was no stranger to the Western style of learning and doing research, but when I went to Canada to pursue a master’s degree in Communications, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work. Besides four classes a week, I was a teaching assistant in two others. For international students to succeed in the Canadian academic environment, a good command of English and studiousness are the prerequisites. You are also expected to have strong critical thinking and an independent learning strategy. These are skills that many students from Vietnam are ill equipped for.
Apart from studying and teaching, I volunteered at a charity organization in the city, tutoring a group of refugee children, plus moonlighted as a magazine article editor. Looking back on that time, I am still amazed at how I managed all those jobs. I only knew that I had set the greater goal of building a new life in Canada and I would try my hardest to fulfil it, despite snowstorm days and sleepless nights.
After graduation, finding a good job in Canada is probably the biggest headache for new immigrants. It can be a rather lengthy search and sometimes will make you feel discouraged. But if you have patience, stay up-to-date with new job skills, and actively connect with your professional community, eventually hard work will pay off.
I accepted a temporary part-time teaching job at a college in Toronto immediately after finishing my program. In the meantime, I tirelessly applied and interviewed for jobs. I started my current job from the lowest position in a company – intern. Even though I had to rebuild my career from scratch, it never made me feel disheartened. I am proud to say that I have been working diligently, and never yielded to learn from my colleagues.
I am fortunate to have a friendly and collaborative work environment. Walking into the office every morning, I am fully energized. While endless meetings and projects, or working until 6 p.m. and answering emails at 11 p.m. are the usual, I also am learning the importance of a work-life balance. Outside of work is time for family and personal hobbies like travelling, yoga, learning a new language, hanging out with friends, or attending one of the many networking events around the city.
My solo life-building days on a foreign land would have been many times more difficult without the warm and enthusiastic support of my friends in Canada – whether they are native-born, international friends or fellow Vietnamese. My compassionate and helpful Canadian-born friends have the good values that people in this maple leaf land take pride in. They help me understand more about the history and everyday etiquette here. International friends empathize and share with me the common struggles we all face when choosing Canada as the new promised land. At the same time, the Vietnamese community in Canada has taught me the way to quickly settle in and showed me many survival tips when I was not familiar with the customs.
I vividly remember the day after I officially became a permanent resident, my friends secretly arranged a small party for me, gave me a card filled with words of congratulation and encouragement, and a Canadian flag-printed luggage tag with the wish that Canada will be a part of my journey around the world from now on. I was too emotional to hold back my tears. Friends give me a family when I am alone in a strange place, help me miss the atmosphere and the food of home a bit less when holidays like Tet are around. Together we blend into the colourful multicultural picture of Canada.
Over the past three years, I have stumbled and fallen much, and thus become stronger, more confident, and most importantly, I have learned to cherish and take care of myself. From a naive mademoiselle growing up in the comfort zone among her beloved family and friends, life in Canada has shaped me into an independent woman. Today, whenever I bask in the amber sunshine of a faraway African country or wander around an elegant cobblestone street in Europe on an extended business trip, sometimes I have to pinch myself to ensure that I am not dreaming. This beautiful life is mine to create and decide. Even though I still have a long way to go and many obstacles await, I am willing to go all the way.
If you are a newcomer and struggling with the new life in Canada, don’t lose hope. We can always begin again right here. Canada has a place for those who are kindhearted, hardworking, and driven.
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This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt