2020-12-16T16:11:24-05:00Sep 4, 2020|

From survival jobs to surviving winter in Canada: Vineesh’s story

From an interview with Vineesh Pallikara.


Vineesh is a civil engineer with seven years of experience in India and the Middle East. He came to Canada in August 2018, knowing full well how difficult it would be to find work in his field. His wife, also a civil engineer, came to Canada a year earlier to continue her studies. Vineesh shares his story of having realistic expectations, finding survival jobs, learning Canadian culture and adjusting to the Canadian climate to make a new life here.


Coming to Canada was a very spontaneous decision. My wife and I had never even thought about moving here. We hadn’t talked about living anywhere other than in India or the Middle East. I was working as a civil engineer in the oil and gas construction industry in Oman, and my wife was living in India, finishing her Master’s degree in Civil engineering.

One day, she met a schoolmate of hers who was moving to Canada. She called me and said, “Why don’t we move to Canada?” I was so surprised! She added, “if it doesn’t work, we can always come back.” So then, for the first time, I started looking at Canada. I spoke to some colleagues who had made the move a few years back. Each person I spoke to had their own success story. Maybe it took them a year, maybe two years, or three or four years – it all depended on their goals. 

My wife wanted to continue her studies in Canada, so we started finding out about colleges. I also spoke to my brother-in-law, who was studying here and asked him to tell us all the challenges and hardships that students could face here. She took the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and got a good score the first time. So, in December 2017, she left for Canada. It all happened so fast – in the span of a month or two. I think if we had done more research, we might not have come

In August 2018, I joined my wife here. I came without a job, and she was a student, and we couldn’t afford our own place. We lived in shared accommodation. Although I needed a job, for the first week or two, I didn’t even apply to anything. Some people start with very minimal jobs right away, because they think, “Oh, how can I live without any money?” I first wanted to get to know the place. 

I also came without any job expectations because friends in my industry told me that in Canada, it’s not easy to get into the same job you had back home. I came ready to try anything. If I got a job in my field, great. Otherwise, I was ready to adapt.

Your survival job can provide useful Canadian experience: Like understanding Canadian culture

My initial job was a survival job, and there are many kinds of survival jobs: I could have been a security guard or worked in a coffee shop, but I wanted to get a survival job that was close to my industry. My first job in Canada was at a very large hardware retailer. It was related to my industry because of the construction tools and materials; I learned a lot about the different materials used here versus back home. It also gave me the opportunity to talk to people.

When you talk to Canadians, you will get to know about Canadian culture. Because – to be very specific in my industry – there is a heck of a difference in terms of culture. The work may be the same, but how people work, how people talk, and the way they deal with other people is so different when compared to India or the Middle East.

There are certain things you need to pick up in your first job. It may not be field experience, but the Canadian culture – Canadian experience, those are things you need. Somebody coming directly from India in the construction field would not necessarily have exposure to speaking to people in English because English may not be their mother tongue.

For your survival job, try to get into those kinds of jobs where you are interacting with people. It will be a jolt at first, but it is a great chance to practice speaking English and meeting different kinds of people. Luckily, even though I only worked at the hardware store for two months, every day, I got to speak to construction people, builders, journeymen, contractors, and regular people just doing work on their own homes. I spoke to many different people from twenty years old to seventy years old!

All survival jobs will get you some money, but what about your next phase, when you go for an interview for a position you really want? When I went for the interview at my current company, they asked, “So, you worked for two months in hardware, what did you learn?” I told them that I got to know the Canadian culture and gained experience in how to deal with people here in Canada. That was very important.

While in my survival job, I took some courses with ACCES Employment. I learned how to update my resume and the importance of networking. Through a connection with a friend, I found my current job.

My wife and I both have found jobs in our fields. I currently work as an estimator for a large trade contracting company specializing in flooring and finishing, and my wife works in occupational health and safety management. So, we’ve moved to the next level: We’re both earning, and now we have a place of our own.

During the peak of COVID-19 social distancing, I was able to work from home for almost three months, and now we are back in the office practicing proper social distancing and mask-wearing protocols.

Read more about the engineering job market in Canada.

Coming to Canada may be more difficult now, but it’s worth it.

Because of the current scenario, there are many uncertainties. It may be a little more difficult for newcomers to come to Canada in the post-COVID period. But based on how the country has responded to the crisis with the economic subsidies, it will get better soon.

And Canadian culture is very welcoming and friendly. People told me you would have to say thank you many times in Canada. It’s true, Canadians are very polite and generous. Irrespective of what job you’re in, you will get an appreciation for what you do. That’s a very positive gesture, and very different from my experience working in India and the Middle East.

The work-life balance here is awesome. You work your job each day, for eight hours or whatever, and then come home and enjoy your time with your family. Sometimes you may have to work on the weekends, but it’s very rare. 

Canada is a very open and safe society. You can live peacefully and have freedom. You can walk outside at night with little fear of someone coming after you. Canada is much safer, especially for women. This was the most important thing for me because my wife came here alone. And women are much more empowered in Canada than where I come from.

In Canada, you can get a good job in a good company. It’s not only about monetary gain; it’s also about enjoying your life.

Two views on winter in Canada

Beyond finding a job and settling in, the main concern I had coming to Canada was the climate – the cold climate! My wife came to Canada in December, right in the middle of winter, and I remember warning her that the climate is very different from India. Be prepared, so once you arrive, you don’t say, “I want to come back home.”

But she was super excited by the snow. She phoned me and said, “All I can see is white!” And she sent me so many pictures of all that snow. Every year, she can’t wait for winter to come. Even now, when she is looking for jobs, she is suggesting that we move further north to a place that gets snow for a longer time.

Read more about settling in small towns in Canada.

I didn’t think I could take the winter. I prefer summer. I like the forty degree heat. I don’t even like air conditioning. I knew people who came to Canada with PR and went back to India because they couldn’t deal with the Canadian winter. My first winter was so harsh: I learned later that it was the harshest winter in ten years. But I have survived two winters here so far. I’m getting used to it.