From an interview with Nerissa Fernandes.
Before coming to Canada from India in 2018, Nerissa had a successful career in business research and strategy consulting. She built and led a team while working with global clients in the eLearning, pharmaceutical, medtech, biotech, retail, and telecom industries. She also wrote as a hobby and posted everything from poetry to articles on life in Canada to Korean culture on her blog. She never imagined writing as a career, but a piece she wrote about coming to Canada went viral and changed the course of her Canada journey.
As Arrive’s content manager, Nerissa has written over 200 articles helping newcomers understand everything from immigration to dressing properly for Canadian winters – not to mention guides on topics like life, career, and finances in Canada. From her unique point of view, Nerissa shares some of her story, what she has learned from newcomers, and a few key tips for newcomers starting out.
Moving to Canada was a decade-long dream for me. I first thought about moving in 2010. At that time, the immigration process was different; it was more difficult to get approved compared to now. I tried to apply twice – once in 2011 and again in 2012, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
I moved on with my life and work, thinking Canada was not meant to be. But when I visited Vancouver in 2014, I realized that this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. So, I began looking into the process once again and noticed that the immigration rules had changed. The new Express Entry process was more simple. In August 2017, I submitted my application, and 24 days later, my application for permanent residency was approved!
Soft landing leads to a surprise job opportunity
I did a soft landing in March 2018. I didn’t have a plan: my idea was to do a test run to get a feel for what it’s like to be in Toronto – to actually live here. I stayed for three months, continuing to work remotely with my employer in India, before returning home in May. My thinking was that after completing all my landing formalities in Canada, I would basically have another two years to figure out when I would move here for good.
The day after I landed (in a jet-lagged state of mind), I wrote a very detailed blog, A to Z of First Landing in Canada – which was about my entire experience of moving. This article went viral on various Facebook and WhatsApp immigration groups. Tricia Jose, co-founder of Arrive, happened to see it and messaged me to ask if I wanted to meet for coffee. Many newcomers reached out to me for a casual meeting, and I assumed that Tricia was just another newcomer like me.
We met one Sunday morning, and five or ten minutes into the conversation, I realized that she was actually talking about a potential opportunity with Arrive! I was very honest with her and told her that number one, I wasn’t looking out for a job (I had a good job back in India) and I didn’t know when I’d be coming back to Canada; number two, I had a 90-day notice period with my employer (which is a very long time for any North American employer to wait for a candidate). Number three, my experience was in business research and strategy consulting, involving mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, that sort of thing – not writing.
I liked writing as a hobby but had no professional experience and had never thought about pursuing it as a full-time career. Tricia was very enthusiastic and said, “Why don’t you just come down to our office and meet the team, see how you feel.”
So I did. There was a great team vibe, and the Arrive mission of helping newcomers start a successful life in Canada resonated with me and aligned with a lot of my beliefs. I signed on the dotted line a day before I flew back home. I started working with Arrive while still in India and finally moved to Canada mid-October 2018.
Finding the ideal job and work culture
Having gone through the whole immigration process and completed my entire application by myself, I wanted to share my knowledge and experience with other newcomers. And Arrive was doing just that: our purposes were aligned.
And the team was so awesome. I loved meeting everyone – it was just good vibes. Also, the culture was very different from what I was used to back home. Things are generally very formal in the Indian work environment. At Arrive (like many work environments in Canada), people are very informal and friendly.
Things newcomers have taught me
More than anything else, newcomers have shown me the importance of resilience. I had it easy, but I’ve seen a lot of newcomers cope with the challenges of coming to Canada. Yet they persist. They still have faith in their decision to move to Canada. It’s a good decision: whatever their motivation, it offers a better future for them and their kids.
I have friends who have struggled to find a job for six or eight months. They took some courses, upgraded their skills, and still struggled for a while before finding the right opportunity. And today, they are doing very well. I’ve also seen some people give up and go back to their home countries. Had they decided to stay and push through and just give it a little more time, perhaps things would have turned out differently for them. My advice is to hang in there, keep trying and keep doing your best until you achieve what you want. It’s about being resilient and persistent.
I am an introvert, and at first, I was not very comfortable with the idea of reaching out to people for coffee chats; I didn’t understand the culture of networking. It took me a while to ease into the whole practice of networking. When newcomers started reaching out to me for a coffee chat to learn about my journey, I learned from those conversations and proactively started reaching out to others to build my network.
4 Things newcomers should do right from the start
I had help from many individuals – co-workers and friends alike – which helped make my transition relatively easier. But many newcomers don’t have a support network when they arrive, so here are five things they can do to prepare for life in Canada.
1. Understand the Canadian culture
As a newcomer, it can be a challenge to adapt to a brand new country. You may feel some culture shock because you may not understand how things work or the Canadian perspective. Read up. Do your research. Talk to others who have made this journey. That can help you know what to expect for your own journey.
Find out about Canadian culture by watching Canadian movies and television shows and listening to podcasts. Talk to people to get a sense of what life is like in Canada – not just in terms of the weather but also in terms of culture and how you speak to people and how people interact. I had to pick up the habit of making small talk and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry,” which doesn’t come naturally in my home culture but is common in Canada.
2. Open your Canadian bank account ASAP
I landed in Toronto at 6 a.m. and opened my bank account by 10 a.m. I knew where I would be staying, so I checked the nearest RBC branch to my Airbnb and booked an appointment online while still in India. Nowadays, you can even have that appointment over the phone.
It’s important to open an account right away because when you land, you may be carrying some money with you, perhaps in the form of actual hard cash, drafts or other monetary instruments. You don’t want that sitting with you for long as it could be a risk, especially if you are put up in an Airbnb or staying at a hotel.
Another reason you don’t want to delay is that you’ll need to get a credit card as soon as possible so that you can start building your credit history. Credit cards can take a few weeks to be delivered, so the sooner you apply for them, the faster you’ll get them.
The way banking works here is likely quite different from what you are used to back home, specifically in terms of accounts, various financial products and interest rates. It’s important to educate yourself, or even better, meet a financial advisor and get started from there.
3. Get a proof of address
Have your temporary accommodation figured out early on. Renting is not easy. It can take a while to find a place if you are renting with no credit history. Also, get paper statements: many formalities like getting your health insurance or a library card will require proof of address. So when you open your bank account or get a phone, make sure you sign up for paper statements at least for the first three months, so that you can use that as proof of address.
4. Be ready to enter the Canadian job market
It’s important to understand how the job market works. Managers hire and choose people for their team differently than they would in your home country, so read up and understand the scope of your profession. If you are considering a position seriously and you think you are a great fit for the role, network with people in that organization and get to know what the corporate culture is like. Do your research before you walk into an interview.
Have your Canadian-style resume ready. Don’t be like me, coming in with a three-pager! A one-page resume would be a good start. There may be certain keywords that you need to add to your resume based on the job description. You should also definitely customize your resume to each position and add a cover letter wherever possible.
Being in the right place at the right time
I was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time, and my job actually found me. I feel very grateful to Arrive and RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) for the opportunity and their patience. Hiring someone with no experience and waiting for a good four months for them to join the team – that’s a story that you don’t hear every day.
Canada is a place where you can turn your dreams into reality. It is truly the land of opportunities. You have to be prepared. You have to put in the effort, be flexible, persistent and open to new possibilities, and have a resilient mindset.