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Facing The Challenges of Immigrating To Canada
Episode 409th January 2024 • The Speak English Fearlessly Podcast • Aaron Nelson
00:00:00 00:41:19

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Why Listen To This Episode

By listening to today's episode I want you to come away feeling prepared for what it is like when you arrive in Canada, I want you to be aware of the mental health struggles new comers often face, and I want you to have some practical ideas that will help you keep going.

The Inspiration:

Article on CBC: They Came To Canada for their dreams. Instead they found a mental health nightmare.

The byline says it all: "Process of rebuilding a life can lead to frustration and loss of self-esteem, experts say"

Short summary: Among other things, article highlights the mismatch between a newcomer's expectations about coming to Canada and the reality they find.

The result: mental health challenges you never thought you would have to deal with, like great frustration, depression, and isolation.

When I read this article over break, it made me feel so sad and like I we, as a country, can do so much better to help our immigrant population succeed.

If you're struggling today, I hope this episode resonates with you, and gives you hope.

Important Quotes from article:

The stresses caused by the upheaval of moving to a new country — and the often huge chasm between what immigrants are led to expect about life in Canada and the reality — can lead to depression, frustration and a loss of self-esteem, according to experts.

My Reactions:

  • My wife and I have seen this happening first hand.
  • One set of friends: Certified electrician in his home country, but here could not find work in his field. Had to re-certify. Ended up moving.
  • Another set of friends: both are engineers in their home country, but here they cannot work in their field. Thankfully, they are pushing ahead.

Diminishing self-worth:

"[One of the causes of a deteriorating mental health is ...] diminishing self-worth. As part of the immigration process, people are considered based on their training and employment history in their country of origin, and they have the expectation of getting a similar job in Canada. But once they arrive, they often find it very hard to use their previous experience and educational credentials." - Iqbal Chowdhury 

Personal Experience

  • I know it's not the same as being a new immigrant. I had great advantage because Canada is my home country, but the length of time it took me to find work after arriving in Canada again totally knocked my self-esteem down and often made us question our choice to move to Canada. It was a very difficult, dark, and discouraging time.

How To Deal With This

  • First, you're not alone! if you're struggling right now, please know you're not alone. Important to know because this experience tends to make you feel alone, isolated and like you're the only one dealing with it. You're not!
  • Second: Relationships Matter! Focus on developing relationships. Your friendships can help you make it in Canada, and a lack of them can hold you back or make it so you give up. But building relationships is something under your control! So step out and connect at every opportunity you can.
  • Third: Look for employment agencies! If you're struggling to find work, don't go at it alone.

Helpful Link: Worklink Employment Society

Mentioned in this episode:

Free Newcomer Support Resource Page

Find a growing list of resources designed to help newcomers to Canada find work, develop skills, and become an established member of their community. Totally free. No e-mail required to view and use this resource.

Free Newcomer Support Resources



Like you're thinking about and planning for how your life is going to be different once you arrive in Canada from the country where you are before you, before you go in your home country, you're dreaming about a new life. You're having probably great hopes and great expectations about what it's going to be like for you when you arrive in the country. But then the article pulls out the realities that many newcomers face when they arrive. And it's very different, often times between what they hoped for and what they were dreaming of to what they actually get or what they actually experience...


Well, hello there and welcome to the Speak English Fearlessly podcast. This is the podcast for motivated English learners who want to speak English fearlessly and learn practical tips and strategies to conquer the kelp exam. I also love the feature encouraging interviews with regular people, people just like you who are working towards becoming fluent in English so we can learn from their experiences together.

Who am I? My name is Aaron Nelson and I've been an English teacher for over six years and I now work to help students prepare for the kelp exam through online classes.

Why You need to listen to today's episode. My hope is that as you listen to today's episode, you will come away prepared for what it's like when you arrive in Canada. And I want you to be aware of the mental health struggles that newcomers that maybe you are often having to deal with. And these struggles are things that maybe you never thought that you would encounter as you arrive in Canada.

So I hope that by listening to today's episode, you will realize that you're not alone. If you are struggling right now, and if you are still planning to come to Canada, you're in the process. I hope that today's episode will give you some more things to be thinking about, to prepare yourself with before you come. Not to scare you. There's the idea of this episode is not to scare you, but to arm you. It's to give you tools that give you to help you to prepare yourself for what living in Canada is actually like.

And like I said before, if you are already in Canada and you are dealing with some of what we're going to be talking about today, I hope that you're going to come away feeling hopeful, feeling like you've got something that you can be doing that will make a difference in what you are experiencing today.

And this article or not article, this podcast idea came to me as I was reading an article on the CBC, and that article is going to be linked in my show notes today so that you can read it to, if you like.

But the title of it is: "They Came to Canada for Their Dreams. Instead, they found a mental health nightmare." And when I read this story line, it made me feel so sad. It made me feel, Boy, we can sure do a better job here in Canada in helping newcomers, in helping immigrants adjust to what life is like here, meaning we can help them to make connections better than what we are. We can help them to find work better than what we are.

Yeah, just reading this article made me feel sad and in it, in some ways it made me remember some of the experiences that my wife and I have had in our arrival here in Canada, and also some of the experiences that some of our friends have been have had as they have been trying to establish their lives here in Canada. And so that's what I want to talk about today. The the challenge is that you maybe you're already facing, as you are trying to get yourself set up in Canada.

And if like I said in the in the very beginning, if you're preparing to come to Canada, that maybe this episode will give you some things to consider and to be preparing for so that you are not, you know, rudely surprised when you arrive here.

We're going to dive in and talk about that article right now. But the the byline says it all. It says: "The process of rebuilding a life can lead to frustration and a loss of self-esteem."

I'm going to say that again, "The process of rebuilding a life can lead to frustration and a loss of self-esteem."

And of course, the article is talking about, well, it profiles a couple of of newcomers and the experiences that they've been having as they've tried to set up their life here in Canada.

And the the biggest thing that comes out of that article is the mismatch that often occurs between what you feel and what you are hoping is going to happen to your life before you arrive in Canada.

Like you're thinking about and planning for how your life is going to be different once you arrive in Canada from the country where you are before you, before you go in your home country, you're dreaming about a new life. You're having probably great hopes and great expectations about what it's going to be like for you when you arrive in the country. But then the article pulls out the realities that many newcomers face when they arrive. And it's very different, often times between what they hoped for and what they were dreaming of to what they actually get or what they actually experience, or the process of attaining that life that they were hoping for is just this longer than expected journey.

And that journey can be very demoralizing and very discouraging and very frustrating and very damaging to your self-esteem and your sense of mental health. So that's what that article is about in a nutshell.

And it's not doom and gloom, I don't think. But it does point to some of the the very difficult realities that newcomers face when they arrive. So I encourage you to have a look at it if you are if you are struggling right now with your own process of trying to get established in the country. Maybe this article will give you a sense of not being alone, of realizing that you're not the only one walking through this.

And I'm and that's what I hope that this podcast episode will also do that. It will it will help you to realize that you're not alone and that you're not you're not the only one who is having a hard time and you're not the only one who's having a hard time trying to find work. Or you're not the only one struggling to get your PR or your citizenship papers. And it just takes it's hard. It's a hard process for many people.

Many of the people in our friend network, in our circle of friends ourselves, are my wife. And his own journey mirrors many of the things that this article points to. So you're not alone.

And I wanted to share a couple well, two quotes with you and then give you my reactions. And this quote, These quotes come from the article that I'm pointing to in my shownotes, the one that I was just talking about.

One of the quotes says, "The stresses caused by the upheaval of moving to a new country and the often huge chasm between what immigrants are led to expect about life in Canada and the reality can lead to depression, frustration and a loss of self-esteem, according to experts."

The second quote that I want to speak about or want to pull out is: "One of the causes of deteriorating mental health, is diminishing self-worth as part of the immigration process. People are considered based on their training and employment history and their country of origin, and they have the expectation of getting a similar job in Canada. But once they arrive, they often find it very hard to use their previous experience and educational credentials."

And that quote comes from a gentleman named Iqbal Chaudhry. And I hope I said your name right. Iqbal. But he points to he he's he's doing a lot of research around what newcomers to Canada experience as they arrive and as they try to establish themselves in the country.

And what he's speaking about is some of his findings from his research. So my reactions to those quotes, these are the things that made me think about some of our friends that we have that we have met here in Canada. And I'm thinking of two sets of friends in particular.

One of them, the husband was assertive, is a certified electrician in his home country. He had his own practice or his own work in his home country, and he was very successful at it. But here he couldn't find work in his field because his degrees, his experience just they weren't

valid here in Canada.

And in fact, in order for him to be able to to work in his field, to be able to work as an electrician here in Canada, he was telling me that he would have to go back to school again and re-certify it with, you know, local, local regulations here in Canada. And that was not something that he was wanting to do.

And that is totally understandable, isn't it? I mean, you've already invested in your career. You've already spent years of your life in training and in an in practice and in gaining experience on the job and in his country, he was already certified, but it just didn't translate over here and that he would have to start all over again.

And unfortunately, in the sense of our friendship, he and his family decided to move. They left Canada and they started to go to re establish themselves. I think they moved to the states.

But that's that's a typical ah, that's that's a very common experience for people to have that they are very well trained and very well-educated in their in their home country. But when they move to Canada, they find that their certifications, their training, their experience just doesn't it almost it's like it doesn't matter. You have to start all over again. It's almost like you're being knocked back to 0 in many aspects. And that's a really daunting challenge to overcome.

Another one of our friends, they are both engineers. It's a husband and wife team. I guess you could call them. They're a couple. They're married and in their home country. They were both engineers and very successful ones. One of them was working for the government. But just like what happened to our first set of friends, their work experience, their training, their certifications that they had in their home country didn't translate over to Canada, and they would have had to both start all over again, go back to school, re-certify, start all over again from the beginning.

Thankfully, this couple is persevering. They're continuing to push through those challenges and they've they've started to find work not in their field, not in what they're trained for, but they are making a new life for themselves here in Canada, but not doing what they were trained to do, which well, they've said that it's been difficult.

It's been a difficult journey for them. And that's understandable, isn't it, that they've had to kind of set aside their previous work experience and try again, but in something completely new.

And that kind of speaks to that second quote that I shared with you, that from Iqbal Chaudhry, where he says One of the causes of a deteriorating mental health is diminishing self-worth as part of the immigration process, as people are considered based on their training and employment history in their country of origin. And they have the expectation of getting a similar job in Canada. But once they arrive, they often find it very hard to use their previous experience and educational credentials.

That's what my friends were experiencing. That's what me and my wife experienced. Not me so much. My wife experienced it, and I'm going to be having her on this podcast, hopefully, maybe even in the next episode so she can share with you what her journey has been in moving from Mexico and like immigrating from Mexico to Canada. In Mexico.

She is a teacher and a very well-trained one. But here in Canada, she's not able to work as a teacher unless she gets certified locally. But I'll let her talk to you about that directly when I interview her next time.

e back here to Canada back in:

And when we arrived, let me backtrack for a moment before we we moved here to Canada. My wife and I ran our own business. We had a successful business of teaching English in corporations.

Our clients were businesses like CEOs and managers and workers in international companies, and we ran that business for over ten years. So it did very well. It took care of our needs. It helped our family survive and grow in Mexico.

But when we when we decided to move for me arriving here in Canada, it was a very an unexpected challenge for me. For one, I was starting all over again, in a sense. In Mexico, I was I saw myself as an entrepreneur in Mexico, I saw myself as a business owner not in a in a proud or prideful way, but that was kind of my identity in a way. And when I arrived here in Canada, I was no longer working in that identity. I was no longer running a language school. We had to shut it down. And so when we arrived here, it was like, I don't know if you've ever seen or used an Etch-A-Sketch. Have you ever seen that? It's like a little red square. It has like this screen, this grey screen, and then behind it it has like these little magnetic points, I guess you could say, and a little dials on the front that as you turn those dials, you can make pictures on the screen with a little magnetic. I don't know what they're called, the little magnetic dots inside of the screen. And the only way to start over again with a drawing that you were creating is to take the screen The etch a Sketch, and you shake it up and down. And by shaking it up and down, you erase everything that's on the screen.

And for me, when I arrived here in Canada, those first months for me felt like that edgy, edgy sketch experience of being shaken up and having everything that I had drawn on my screen and my life being totally erased and removed, I felt like I was starting over again and it was a hard experience for me because I couldn't find work for the first like four months or so. I couldn't find work and I was applying daily, even even from Mexico.

Before we moved. I was I was engaged in a job search and I was sending out my my resumé online and I was emailing potential employers and I wasn't getting anything back. I wasn't getting I wasn't even getting no, thank you's. I was just being like nothing in return. Crickets.

You know, I would send my resume thinking that I was a good fit for an opportunity that I had seen, and I would get nothing in return. And I thought to myself, Well, okay, that's understandable. I'm still in Mexico. I if I were them and I was putting my own, you know, business hat on, I wouldn't want to hire somebody who wasn't already established in the country. I just wouldn't even consider them. And so when I when I thought like that, I thought, okay, maybe, maybe it'll be easier for me to find work once I arrive in the country.

But guess what? It it didn't turn out that way. It it took months. Like, I think it took about four months for me to find work and during those four months, my wife couldn't work either because she. She was a new a newcomer to Canada. She wasn't a Canadian citizen yet. She wasn't a permanent resident yet she was just a visitor and she wasn't even allowed to work. So everything would depend on me finding work and I just wasn't finding it.

And the only way we were able to make it through those first months was that we had sold our apartment in Mexico and we were living off of the proceeds of that sale. In fact, every almost every last penny that we made off of the sale of our place in Mexico went towards paying our rent here in Canada and keeping food on our plates for the month while we tried to get ourselves set up.

That in itself was a very demoralizing experience because every day it just felt like we were becoming poorer and poorer. You know, we were kind of losing whatever while we were losing our money. Every every month that our rent money came out, it was like, Oh my goodness, it's getting smaller and smaller our bank balance and I don't have a way to add to it, you know, to add income to it because nobody is hiring me.

And I remember one time I was I was feeling so desperate that I even applied for a grocery store job. Not that that's a low, a low level job or anything, but out of all the jobs that I was applying for, I thought to myself that was going to be the one that has to let me.

And I mean, it was an entry level position. I think it was like a stocking clerk, you know, the person that goes in and puts products on the shelves. That's what I was hired. That's what I was applying for. I got a callback for that interview. I talked with the manager and we we hit it off. I remember talking with them and feeling like in my mind, I'm thinking, he's going to hire me, he's going to hire me.

But then he looked at me and he said, after looking at my resume, he said, You know what, Aaron? I think that if I were to hire you, you would feel very disappointed working as a store, as a as a stocking clerk. Based on what your your previous work experience, I don't think you'd be a good fit. You'd feel disappointed and probably end up quitting because you're used to doing different work than what I would be offering you.

And in my head I'm thinking, No, no, I would be very grateful to work right now I need to work. But it didn't work out so I was applying everywhere. I was applying to so many different jobs, but none were saying yes. None were even getting back to me. There is like a I could probably count them On one hand, the number of jobs that wrote back to say thank you.

But no, there was one other job that I did apply for that I got like several, several rounds into there to their process, to their hiring process. But in the end, even that one didn't pan out. It just wasn't working. I couldn't I couldn't find a job.

And during that process, like I was sharing before each month, my sense of excitement, of being back home, of being back in Canada began to dim. It got darker and darker each time. Like I said before, each time we paid our rent, I felt a little part of myself, slowly becoming sadder, slowly becoming darker, slowly losing some hope because this was all we had. All of our life savings were depleting month by month at a very rapid rate, and I just wasn't finding a job.

And for me, that plunged me into a self-esteem challenge or a self-esteem crisis. I felt like I wasn't worth it. I felt like, who am I now? I mean, like I can't even find a job. And I used to be able to run my own company. But here I can't I can't even get a job at a grocery store, for crying out loud. What is wrong with me?

And it was during that process where I'm so thankful to have been able to find a connection at a local employment office. It was like an employment agency. It's called Work Link and I'll I'll link to it in my show notes. I think it's only here in the Victoria, British Columbia region of Canada, but I'm sure if you look around where you are that you can find a similar organization that is funded by the government, it's run by the government and its sole objective is to help you find work and it's to help you to develop jobs seeking skills and to help you to work on your resume. And for me, when I found that

that that organization I don't even remember how I came across it, but as soon as I found out about it, as soon as I found out that it was free, and as soon as I found out that they would help you, help me to to work on my resumé and help me to learn how to connect with employers, potential employers here in the Victoria area and maybe help me figure out what I've been doing wrong all these months.

I jumped at the opportunity and it was wonderful. It was so encouraging to meet some of the team members that worked in there because, one, they were they were encouraging. They knew what it was like to be in a long job search situation where it seemed like everything was resting on your shoulders. So they did a very good job of coming alongside of me and helping me feel like I wasn't a loser.

They helped me to to look at my resumé and redesign it. Not not in a making it look better necessarily. But I learned through the workshops that I attended there that one of the things that I was doing wrong, one of the reasons why, for example, I couldn't get my job in the grocery store was that I was designing my resume wrong. I was overqualified myself. So so that, you know, a manager that that knows what they're doing wouldn't hire somebody who's overqualified.

Maybe you've heard those words directed at you before, where you be turned down for a job because you're overqualified. I was starting to get some of that feedback in in my job interviews, the very few that I was able to get. You're overqualified.

So I had to learn to relearn how to design my resume so that I wasn't giving too much information about my previous work experience so that I would look attractive on paper. I would encourage you to look for to look for an agency like that.

And I think I'm trying that I'm starting to get ahead of myself a little bit, but But just to close off my experience of of living like moving to Canada and trying to establish ourselves again, it was a very dark and very difficult and very discouraging time of the year. And it was dark for physical reasons too. Like we were coming from from sunny Mexico and we arrived in October and at the end, at the very beginning of October. And that if you if you know Canada after after the summertime and the fall, it's the days start to begin to be darker earlier.

So I remember that feeling of just slowly slipping into darkness month by month and that darkness feeling like the darkness that was kind of taking over inside of my mind and inside of my heart just feeling discouraged and hopeless because just can't find work.

So how can you deal with this if you are facing a difficult adjustment period in your move to Canada? If you are here and you are struggling to find work like those those people in the article that I'm linking to, my heart goes out to them. I want to speak to you. I want to say, first of all, you're not alone. If you're struggling right now, please know that you're not alone. And it's so important that you hear that and you internalize it, because when you're on that journey, when you are struggling to make ends meet, when you are struggling to find a job, any job, when you're struggling just to to feel like you belong here, it's a very isolating journey.

It's a journey that makes you feel like you're all by yourself and it makes you question your choices. It makes you think, Boy, that was the stupidest thing that I have ever done coming here. I maybe my life was better back where I am from.

That's what happens in this part of the in this part of the process. It was happening to me. I was feeling alone. I was feeling like nobody saw me. Nobody understood what was going on in my life until I got

well. Nobody understood how to help me. And employers just weren't paying attention. I felt alone. But understanding that you're not alone can help you keep going and connected to that feeling of not being alone.

Maybe when you first arrive, you are. Maybe when you first arrive, you don't know anybody except the people who came with you. If you came with family or with friends. And if you're by yourself, maybe you truly are on your own. When you first arrive here. And if that's you, I want to encourage you today to make your focus this week to begin looking for relationships, not to go on dates. I'm not talking about that kind of relationship, but to reach out to people and start making connections and friendships that can help you make it here in Canada.

Because a lack of relationships, a lack of friendships is what will probably push you to give up before it's time. We need people in our life. I need people in my life. And when we first arrived here in Canada, my wife and I, I mean, we had the benefit of having family here. My my family lived. He lives here on the island, but they don't live close to us. They were about an hour's journey north of where we lived, where we are living here in Victoria. So it's not always easy to connect. I mean, it did help knowing that they were there, but in reality we didn't see them and we still don't see them very often just because of the distance part.

So we were kind of starting in some ways from zero as far as friendships go, all of our friends and our network of friends were back in Mexico and none of them were here in Canada.

So we had to start over again, making friends and some of our best friends. We were able to meet in a church that we found that we started to go to. We made our, I would say, some of our our bestest friends. They're still our friends today. We have so much in common with them. Their both their family are our board gamers.

They have the most impressive collection of board games that you've that I've ever seen. I remember when when the first time we went over to their house, they showed us their board game collection that literally goes in a shelf from the floor to the ceiling and it wraps around part of their room. And I remember just standing there with my mouth open thinking to myself, Well, these guys are so cool. We have to be friends. Because, I mean, I love playing board games. My family enjoys playing board games, and it's not always easy to find people to play board games with. But these guys had such a huge collection and it was like we had this instant click, you know, we had that in common and we became really good friends over playing board games together and they've been able to support us through some of our difficulties and hardships and we've been able to offer support to them.

But don't underestimate the power of having friends in your life. Also, don't underestimate how long it can take you to to make those friends, but you won't make them until you start reaching out. They probably won't just magically fall at your feet is what I'm trying to say.

So in:

And it's probably going to be as easy as you think. It's not because we're candidate Canadians are unfriendly. I just think that it's sometimes hard to break into into friendship groups. It just is. It takes time. And so I encourage you to start working on that if you haven't already.

And finally, the third thing that I definitely suggest that you do is to look for an employment agency. I, I believe I started to share about that earlier, but for me, that was a game changer. Finding work. Link I'm leaving a link for it in my show notes in case you are local here on Vancouver Island in Victoria. But even if you're not local, I'm pretty sure that there will be local agencies like this where you are and they are funded by the government.

And like I said before, their sole objective is to help people find work and that's why they're called in an employment agency. And so their goal is to help you, your resume. Their goal is to help you look for work that is appropriate to your skills. And their goal is to help you to make connections with the right people.

That's what I learned when I started taking their workshops and connecting with them with their team members. I started to learn things about how the local job market works. I started to learn things about what I was doing wrong with my resume, for example. And those are things you probably never think about.

Like maybe, maybe the way you used your resume. If even you use a resume where you where you're your home country is. But the way you find work here in Canada, here where where you are living might be quite different to how you are used to doing it and taking some some free courses to help you to learn about it can give you a big advantage.

And for me, going through that, that process of going to those workshops and of meeting the staff who work there, they helped me to build a better a better resume. They helped me to understand what I was doing wrong with my resume. They helped me to learn how to make connections with with people who I might be interested in trying to apply to work with. They they taught a lot about volunteering and how strategic volunteering can be in helping you find work.

And but for me, my biggest takeaway in working with them was my resume. I learned so much about what I was doing wrong with my resume, and once I got it fixed, employers started to pay more attention to me and I eventually did find work. I work full time now in the job that I got way back, thanks to working with this employee, this employment agency, the tips that they gave me to improve my resume is what helped unlock that door.

And I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God helped me. He was the one that took care of us through all of this time. And I, I don't for a minute think that I did it on my own. I needed his help to make it through.

So what I want to leave you with today is, first of all, know that you're not alone. Know that others are dealing with this too. And that voice in your head that's telling you that you're the only one who can't find work or you're the only one who can't seem to to make it here in Canada. Know that that's a lie. You are not alone.

Second, know that making relationships with who are already here is probably the most important thing that you can be doing to help you move forward.

Don't isolate yourself. Look for ways to make connections with people. That's going to make a big difference for your own sense of belonging here in Canada. It will help you to feel like you're not alone. It will help you to feel like you've got someone to talk to and someone who can help you through those dark times by just being there for you.

So and it's networking, too. I mean, people know people, right? They know people who might be looking for work or they know of places that are looking for work. And sometimes that's that's a sneaky way to get a job interview is knowing somebody who knows someone. So look for relationships. Make that your focus this year. I really encourage you to do that.

And finally, my my last thing that I offer you is look for employment agencies in your area. Their job is to help you find work, and they're pretty good at it. So that's why that's what I suggest for you today. And I hope that today's podcast interview was encouraging for you.

If you need someone to talk to about this, if you'd like to reach out to me, I would love to hear from you. You can write me at I would love to hear from you and I will cheer you on as you are working to get established in Canada. Thank you for listening and join me next week when I will be interviewing my wife Anna, and her her experience in immigrating to Canada. Bye bye



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