The immigrant experience is full of excitement and the hurdles become easy to overcome because of the irrepressible desire to succeed, says DIVYA KAELEY
It’s mid-2012 when we arrive at the busy Toronto Pearson Airport as permanent residents. The hustle and bustle makes me nervous and the cool July air whispers in my ears: Welcome to a whole new world.
Coming to Canada was definitely broadening our horizons. Two well-paying stable jobs back home to a fresh start from zero is entering the chaotic, with the hope that things will be great in the end. When we land here in Ontario, our friends are already throwing words of caution at us. Others are giving advice on survival in Canada. We brace ourselves for a long road ahead.
The first month is pure excitement. The clean roads, sparse population, fresh air and greenery of the ‘first world’ are surely enamouring. Everything seems glowing, when suddenly reality starts mocking in your face. There is no job! In the next couple of weeks, we rent an apartment with the lingering fear that monthly bills might soon deplete our savings.
But we aren’t going to give up so soon. Step one is to focus on getting your Canadian driver’s licence. With a completely different system, it’s like unlearning how you drove back home. We pass our driving tests, and that is our first achievement.
My spouse, Dr Narinder Pahwa, an orthodontist from India and an erstwhile army officer, is an optimist by nature. While we did get some discouraging ideas in the beginnin —“it’s not easy to be a doctor here”—he wasn’t affected by it. Narinder certainly had a mountain to climb. Medical and health professionals in Canada have to pass a series of examinations before they become eligible to practise in the country. But with a will to surmount challenges, he studies hard alongside taking care of our two-year-old son.
Coming to Canada, in the first place, was always marked with scepticism at the dinner table. I recollect a conversation with my family 10 years ago: “You two have successful careers here. Is it the right step?” Especially the fact that the job market is looking for what is called “Canadian experience”—a glass ceiling that may prevent immigrants from achieving highpaying jobs rightaway.
As for me, I start hunting madly for jobs, accessing almost every possible employment website and uploading my resume. In the first month itself, I land a job at a South Asian newspaper and start reporting on the Indian community in Canada. This is the second achievement in getting Canadian experience. I also find a volunteering opportunity at a local centre helping new immigrants learn English. I enrol in an English language teaching course to become a licensed instructor.
Within a couple of months, I get a job at a local language centre—helping immigrants pass IELTS and TOEFL. But it’s more than that—coming to a foreign country forces you to explore other skill sets. As I extend my research, I find other opportunities that may be conducive to my skills. I find an entry-level position at a Canadian bank. By now, we are already in acceptance stage. I am willing to take up different responsibilities and focus on new priorities. I am excited about my new beginnings and learn something novel—banking.
All this while, Narinder focused on his dentistry exams and he clears them in the first attempt—he gets accepted at the University of Manitoba for the Doctor of Dental Medicine program. In between, our comfort is the temple and our resort to spirituality, prayers and mantra chanting.
Today, 10 years down the line, I have two kids—12-year-old Parth and five-year-old daughter, Meher. Narinder is an accredited Canadian dentist. I have successfully passed a series of banking exams to achieve the world-recognised Certified Financial Planning designation in Canada. As a financial planner with a reputed bank, I empower families with holistic planning and help them achieve their goals in a tax-efficient way.
My education in India, a master’s degree in literature and a decade-long background in journalism, built me into who I am today. It has given me the appetite to pursue newer ventures and enhance my learning.
My story may resonate with that of several Indians who have built a life for themselves overseas. Manitoba has a significant Indian representation among medical and health professionals, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs and even the city councillors. This strong Indian diaspora has made Canada a relaxing place to live, perhaps as comfortable and familiar as my home, India.
Living in Winnipeg, I see Indians striving towards passing their culture to the future generations, whether it’s through knowledge of scriptures, music or languages. There is a huge inclination towards learning cultural traditions, promoting food habits and celebrating heritage festivals. People encourage children to volunteer in places of worship and temples. While I do miss the festive frenzy of India, and the feasting and gifting that go with it, I notice that Indo-Canadians keep the spirit alive through their gettogethers, events and functions.
To use a cliché, there is a hope for a “better life” when you travel abroad with your family; there are hopes for a brighter future for your kids and more opportunities for their growth. While hopes can come true, it is all at a cost of leaving your extended family back home. It can be a severe test of your patience while you settle in.
From starting a new career to owning your first home in Canada, it seems like a fantasy story. As I walk in my backyard today on the dewy grass, I try to relive our past struggles as newcomers. We have certainly travelled a long distance. Is there any rest, I don’t know.
(The writer is a Certified Financial Planner in Canada. A former journalist, she has worked with India’s leading dailies and is an enthusiast about immigrant issues.)