I Was Once New In Toronto

Teresa postLooking for a job in a new city (or country) is challenging!  Just like many of you, I had that same “newbie” experience myself almost 7 years ago.

In the summer of 2009, I bought a one-way VIA Rail ticket, took a cross-Canada train ride from Vancouver to Toronto, and arrived at my final destination – Toronto’s Union Rail Station 5 days later.  My uncle picked me up at the station, and my new life began!

As a freshly minted “Torontonian”, I felt a great sense of excitement and adventure as I walked around the city, exploring its many interesting neighborhoods, and feeling hopeful for a bright future.

However, that honeymoon stage didn’t last very long.  Once the initial “newness” started to wear off, loneliness kicked in.  One month after I had arrived in Toronto, I moved out from my uncle’s place and started living on my own at another part of the city, hardly knowing anyone.

Everyday, I diligently read job postings from Settlement at Work.org and Charity Village, looking for job opportunities in the non-profit, immigrant services sector.

Everyday, I diligently sent out job applications to possible employers…confidently thinking that I’d be a good fit for all of these positions, based on my years of experience as a very successful settlement counsellor at one of Vancouver’s largest immigrant service agencies – S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

Much to my disappointment, I got no reply at all from any of these agencies.  Absolutely nothing.  I started to become anxious, and it was hard not to.  After contacting numerous immigrant service organizations in Toronto, and after conducting a few information interviews with them, I got my answer why they won’t consider hiring me: “Teresa, you have no Toronto experience.  As a settlement counsellor, you must know Toronto inside-out in order to provide proper guidance to newcomers.  Why should we hire you when we can easily find someone local who is a Toronto pro?”

Taking their advices to heart, I started making a real effort to know Toronto, inside out.  Everyday, as part of my homework, I took the TTC and explored different neighborhoods in the city, paying close attention to local news, participating in free cultural events and festivities, and looking seriously for volunteering opportunities…soon, I landed a volunteer position with CCNC – Chinese Canadian National Council for Equality. Through this non-profit organization, I got some volunteering gigs at some local events, such as Chinatown Festival, and Settlement Services Info Night at Tibetan Cultural Centre.

Still, no job offering though – 2 months after I had arrived in Toronto.  My uncle got really worried and started questioning my job search strategy.  He told me don’t be picky, and even suggested me to work part-time as a waitress at a restaurant in the meantime.  Since I got no waitressing experience at all whatsoever, and since I wasn’t desperate yet, I politely rejected his idea; however, I did manage to find a part-time retail job, as a salesperson, at Toronto’s downtown Eaton Centre.  That kept me busy, actively in contact with the public, staying positive while earning some income.  Having a flexible work schedule was great too, as it allowed me to continue focusing my energy on my job search.  Best of all, our store manager was kind enough to offer herself as my future job reference.  So, you see, something really positive came out of this!

As part of my job searching effort, I faithfully went to the Humber Employment Resource Centre every single weekday, first thing in the morning.  I used their wonderful facilities to do research, printed job postings that I was interested in, and attended their job search workshops.  At the back of my mind, I was wondering if I should also consider other career options, so I signed up for an intensive Career Exploration Workshop for women at JVS.  It offered me the opportunity to understand myself better, do some soul-searching inner work, and broaden my social horizon by networking with other amazing ladies attending the workshop.  So, something really positive came out of this too.

At the same time, I started taking part-time courses: one at George Brown College on “alternative therapy”, one at Humber College on “Canadian immigration history”.  Guess what?  Both of my instructors were more than happy to be my job references, and some of my classmates became my new friends.  Hooray!

In early September, I met the settlement program director of WoodGreen for an information interview.  She kindly introduced me to the Host Program volunteer coordinator, and in just a few weeks, I officially became a volunteer for this wonderful program, now called the Community Connections.  My volunteer duties included mentoring and English Conversation Circles facilitating.  Pretty cool.

By this time, I started to get lucky too with my job search.  Some employers responded to my applications, and I went through a few job interviews.   Two of these interviews were successful, as both employers wanted to hire me.  I picked WoodGreen in the end of course, as you  have already guessed.  December 14th, 2009 was my first day of work at WoodGreen, and I have been happily working since as a staff of this amazing organization.

Now, looking back, my first-hand experience as a “newbie” in Toronto looking for job has helped me immensely in understanding and supporting newcomer clients at WoodGreen.

My dear friend, I know that as a new immigrant moving from afar to Canada, your job search journey might be much tougher than mine.  However, as long as you stay positive and do not lose hope, all of your hard work will one day pay off!

If you have tried any other job search strategies that I haven’t mentioned above in my article, please write a comment and share your experience with us.

Thank you for reading and best of luck with your job search!

Teresa Tao

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