Vivian Odii is an IT professional from Nigeria who set out on a solo journey to conquer her fears and start a new life by embracing the diversity, culture and opportunities that Canada has to offer. With definitive goals, a clear focus on a successful future and new-found friendships to support her, she’s navigating her life in Canada. This is Vivian’s story.
The internet isn’t always right. Back in Nigeria, I studied computer science and worked in the IT department of a financial institution. It was a fantastic opportunity that helped me get insight into the operations of a bank and the IT department – I loved working there. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about my long-term career goals.
I learned about the process of moving to Canada while having a conversation with one of my customers who was emigrating at the time. It led me to research specific opportunities that might be available to me in Canada. Eventually, I decided to move. Based on my online research, it seemed like there was a lot of opportunity for IT professionals and the jobs were just waiting for me. With over eight years of work experience, I thought finding a job in Canada and settling down would be relatively easy — I would just show my resume, talk about myself and get a job. But it wasn’t like that at all and I had my fair share of struggle.
Patience is key: all good things take time
I had experience working in IT support and I also had the globally recognized IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certification but I wasn’t getting any interviews. I applied to many places where the job description matched my experience and skills but I would never hear back. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. When nothing worked, during the third month after moving, I decided to change my approach. I started networking.
At one event, I met a lady who was willing to put her faith in me and help me find a job. She invited me to her office and asked me to take a few tests in which I performed well. So she offered me a three-months contract position with one of the Fortune 500 companies. In this role, I learned essential domain skills and also gained valuable ‘Canadian experience.’
“In Nigeria, people are blunt in customer interactions. But here, you have to be friendly and polite while responding. I had to groom myself to adapt to the Canadian way and that opened doors for me.”
As my contract was coming to an end, I was looking for other things to do and that’s when I came across ACCES Employment and their cybersecurity training program. Since I had a background in IT, I found this program interesting and enrolled in it. The program was a good forum to meet high profile people from the industry, build connections, make new friends, and gain new knowledge. While this was an enriching experience, by the time the three-month-long program ended in March, 2019, I hadn’t found a full-time job. But I stayed positive. As an immigrant, you bring in your culture which is an important part of who you are. However, you have to also understand Canadian culture and the work terminologies here, and embrace all of it to create your own personal brand. I continued applying using my newly developed personal brand.
Once again, I switched gears with my job search approach and started looking for positions that were similar to my profile. This time it clicked, and I was able to get interviews and even landed a couple of job offers. I accepted a position as the Team Manager for an IT Support Center at a leading investment firm.
During my job search phase in Canada, there were a few things I noticed that were different from back home in Nigeria:
- In Nigeria, it’s mostly your qualifications that matter. But in Canada, the way you interact with your coworkers, and how you fit into the culture of an organization are as important as your skills and experience. You have to also put in the work when you apply to jobs — research and know the company in and out, think about why you would be a good fit for the role and the organization.
- Also, certain roles may be known differently in Canada. So if you’re unsure of how your role is addressed, network and ask people from your industry. Networking events are a great place to meet people and talk about your skills. Read more about where to build your network in Canada.
- Mentoring is valuable in Canada. Getting a mentor in your field who understands the Canadian job landscape can help you find a job quicker.
My key advice to other newcomers would be to stay resilient: Learn from your mistakes, improvise and try again. Build your personal brand and empower yourself.
Canadian winters are harsh but the people are warm
I moved to Canada in July, 2018, by myself, with no contacts and no friends or family here to help me. Adapting to the weather in Canada was one of the challenges I experienced. I came to Canada during the summer so settling in was easier but tackling my first winter was a whole other story.
I didn’t know how to survive the Canadian winter. I didn’t have gloves or a winter jacket and I had no idea which type of clothes to buy. I would just walk up to people on the street and say, “Hey, I love your jacket; it feels very comfortable. Where did you get it from?” And people were always willing to share suggestions and recommendations on the brands and winter gear I should buy. That’s a great thing about Canadians — they’re so helpful!
Even when I was looking for permanent accommodation, it was so difficult because I didn’t have a job or a credit score and most of the landlords asked for a job offer letter or a credit report, which I couldn’t provide. I’d researched accommodation online but didn’t use credible sources and so, I found reality to be very different. Initially, I stayed in an Airbnb because although I had the money, no one was willing to take me in. Eventually, one of Airbnb hosts offered her place to me until I found a job and built my credit history and that was immensely helpful — another great example of how Canadians are so nice.
It’s also worthwhile to connect with people from your community. They can help you remember home and act as a good support system while you’re away from your family and friends. Finding people from my own community here in Toronto helped me adapt.
Embrace a positive mindset and stay motivated
During my initial months in Canada, I was more focused on getting a job but at some point, I told myself, “It’s okay if I don’t get a job right away, I can use this time to experience the culture, the food, the country, and learn about the people here.” I started attending events and taking up outdoor activities like zip-lining and skating. I wanted to learn the things that Canadians do and find the ones that work best for me. Try to explore and not to just focus on work, because that can be stressful.
My family back home in Nigeria has always been a huge source of support for me on my journey. I am the first generation immigrant in my family so they feel like I’ve done them proud. I used to be more dependent on people but moving to Canada has made me independent. It makes me feel good that I was able to bring such growth to myself. Psychologists always say that there are two major things that motivate people: the fear of loss or the joy of gain. For me, it’s the gain that keeps pushing me.
My family, the joy of gaining, the thought of looking back on my past achievements, seeing that I did a good job and tapping myself on the shoulder and saying that I’ve done well and that I can do better, keeps me motivated. One of my goals is to constantly improvise, push myself beyond my comfort zone, and be a better person. When you step outside your comfort zone and face fear, you realize that there’s nothing behind it; it’s just a mirage.
“Success to me is not just about making more money but how you’ve progressed and added value along the way. I usually outline my goals and map out success metrics for each of them to stay on track.”
One of the things I do to stay motivated is to say affirmations to myself. Before going to an interview or meeting people, I look in the mirror and repeat all the things I’m good at. And it works for me; I feel confident. When you create your personal brand in Canada, it doesn’t have to be limited to what you’ve done in the past. You are so much more than that — you can learn and grow.
Taking small steps to realize bigger financial goals
I’d read about credit history and credit score before I came to Canada but I only realized its importance after I actually moved here. It took me a while to get comfortable with the whole idea of monitoring my credit score and using a credit card to pay for things. I learned that credit scores are vital for things like getting a mortgage. Nigeria is more of a cash-based economy so getting used to credit cards was a bit of a process for me.
“I bank with RBC and they did a fantastic job of explaining the banking and credit ecosystem in Canada. The banking advisors sat me down and enlightened me thoroughly.”
I learned how to budget and manage money through experience. I planned my expenses for the first six months in Canada but by the third month, I noticed that I was spending more than I expected. One of the things I always tell people is that if it’s not essential for your current phase in life, you don’t need it and you don’t need to spend money on it — this philosophy has helped me control my expenses. Have a budget and stick to it as much as you can.
A job, of course, helps take away some of these financial worries. So focus on improving your skills by studying or taking up a certification to get the job you want. That way you won’t have to worry so much about money.
Another area of financial literacy for me was taxes. In Nigeria, my taxes were deducted from my salary and automatically taken care of but here, we have to file our own tax returns. I had to read and learn basic information about taxes and the things I needed to do.
“There are government services that guide newcomers and help them file their tax returns for free. I found it to be a great way to learn about taxes.”
Know who you are, know your goals, and know your values
I want to be able to give back more, I want to get a professional certificate in my field, I want to be able to buy my own house and learn new skills. It would be nice to have some of my family members move to Canada and not have to worry about money — these are just some of my goals, some of my dreams.
One of the important things in realizing your goals is to know who you are. Canada broke me down, dissected me, divided me, multiplied me, and added me. My journey to Canada has helped me find myself, identify my goals and core values. It forced me to introspect on my strengths and weaknesses. It pushed me to take risks I hadn’t taken before, which opened up many opportunities.
In the end, it all worked out because I didn’t confine myself to my comfort zone. Stepping out of my comfort zone and conquering my fears has shaped me and made me more independent. I took each challenge as an opportunity to learn, improvise and grow. Moving to Canada has made me feel enriched, both, in knowledge and experience.
As shared with Arrive in a personal and candid interview.