From an interview with Tunji Oyebola-Adeosun, Senior Manager, Enterprise Strategy and Transformation, RBC.
Tunji Oyebola-Adeosun is an analytics guy, football fan, and avid chess player. He’s currently Senior Manager, Enterprise Strategy and Transformation at RBC. In Nigeria, Tunji battled recurring bouts of typhoid and malaria until 2017, when he finally had enough and decided to relocate to Canada. He did his research and applied for Express Entry and the Ivey School of Business’ MBA program at Western University. He received both his PR and admissions acceptance at the same time. Here, Tunji shares his analytical approach to preparing to immigrate and adjust to life in Canada, along with tips for newcomers to help them land on their feet, even in slippery winter conditions.
I didn’t know what to expect coming to Canada, but things started to unfold pretty nicely when I got here. I come from Nigeria and landed in Toronto on the evening of February 6th, 2018. It was winter and I hadn’t ever been that cold before. I remember the airport was very warm despite the freezing temperatures outside. I got on a bus straight to London, Ontario because I was preparing to start the Ivey MBA program at Western University.
While I was taking in the environment from the warmth of the bus, my first reaction was, “Oh, wow! So this is Canada?” It was pretty underwhelming at first. But now that I think back, it was mostly because it was winter and I was traveling on the highway. Then an older lady who sat beside me said, “Hi. Where are you from?” I told her I was from Nigeria and to my greatest surprise, she said that when she was younger, she was a professor and had taught at two universities in Nigeria. We talked most of the trip, and it was a really exciting experience for me. This was such a great welcome!
Adjusting to life (and winter) in Canada
Coming to Canada, I brought two of everything: two pairs of gloves, two jackets, two hats. But in all my planning, I forgot to get boots! Somehow, it didn’t cross my mind. All I had were my sneakers when I went to the bank to get my student line of credit. There was snow everywhere and it was slippery. I slipped and fell twice before I made my way into the Uber I called to take me to the bank. I slipped and fell again between the uber and the bank. So it was a rough introduction.
When I met the RBC Financial Advisor I had spoken to from Nigeria, I showed her my Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) and my residence stamp and she brought out the necessary contracts. There was a bit of a vicious cycle in the fact that the school needed me to pay a deposit of $5,000 to get confirmation to reserve my seat, but I needed the $5,000 from the line of credit to pay for it, which required a letter of confirmation from the school. It was like the chicken and the egg dilemma, but both my Financial Advisor and the school were flexible and it all worked out.
Having secured the loan, I asked, “Where’s the nearest place I can buy boots? I forgot to get boots and I’m falling all over the place.” I went directly to the nearest mall and bought a pair of good winter boots. When the salesperson started to put the boots back in their box and package it all up for me, I said “No. I need those right now.” So I put my sneakers in the box instead and wore the boots home. I felt much more confident walking about. I also learned a new word for hat. When I was in the bank someone said, “Oh, nice toque.” I had no idea what they meant. Toque is a very Canadian word for a knit hat. You should definitely get a toque.
Sales tax can be a shock
One of my first culture shocks was my introduction to the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax). The price on my new boots was about $150, but when I checked out, the total jumped to around $175 because tax is not included in the sticker price. Back home, everything is tax inclusive, just like it is in the UK, so that was a huge shock.
Telecom prices in Canada are high
Another big culture shock was in terms of telecommunication. Back home, you don’t need to pay a monthly bill to have a line, you just need your SIM card––and even if you don’t put money on it, you can receive calls, and you can receive text messages.
Since I didn’t know anyone in Canada, I would put $50 on my phone. I received a call from my uncle in Nigeria and the $50 was gone! I was like, “What just happened?” Fifty dollars was a huge amount for me and it was gone, like that!
I went back to the store and they explained that it all counts. Sending, receiving, everything. Canadian telecom rates are among the most expensive in the world.
Speaking up at school counts
The biggest cultural adjustment at university was learning to speak up and speak up a lot. Back home, students weren’t encouraged to talk as much, there’s more reverence for authority and all that. In my culture you don’t even call an older person by their first name.
Coming here, you are expected to speak up and contribute a lot. For me, that was really hard to adjust to. And not just because I’m Nigerian––I’m also an extreme introvert, I don’t speak a lot. I don’t repeat what others have said. I noticed that here, because people had to speak, there was a lot of repetition, “Yes. I agree with your points, etc, etc.”
Eventually I had to start doing the same thing because my first couple of grades weren’t so great due to low marks for contribution. I was told my exams and tests were really good. They said, “You understand what’s being done. And when you do speak, there’s quality, we need you to speak more.” It’s been a huge adjustment for me and I get the same feedback at work to this day. “You always make sense. We just want to hear you speak some more.”
Getting into the conversation is important
I found Canadian jokes to be very different from what I was used to and small talk was often around sports I was not familiar with. I am a football (called soccer here) fan. I’ve only met a few people here who are into soccer. When I find them, I’m super happy. Everybody here talks about hockey. I remember going to a group dinner with another Ivey alumni and the other guys there just had more to talk about with him, because they were talking about hockey and basketball. I had never seen hockey before, so I felt left out because I really couldn’t contribute.
Those little cultural gaps were big adjustments. When I was in an interview, I made sure to lead the conversation, quickly bringing up topics like food. I love food, so I was able to talk comfortably about it. If I allowed them to go first, there was a high chance they’d bring up something I was not familiar with, like hockey.
Remember that your international experience is valid
We internationals tend to play down our experience. That’s something you need to avoid. The experience may be international, but the functional roles are the same. It’s just in a different market. Your experience is valid, so play it up instead of playing it down. Always feel confident during your interviews because you know what you’ve done previously.
Your accent is proof you speak at least one more language
As much as you want to speak clearly and use proper grammar, don’t worry about your accent too much, because other people around you won’t mind it. Many people in Canada value diversity and will appreciate that you bring a different lens and a different kind of thinking. A colleague at work said something really fascinating that has stuck with me, “An accent is proof that you can speak at least one other language.” It’s also a point of connection or a conversation starter. I remember in one of my first interviews, I knew the interviewer was Dutch and I made sure that language was one of the areas I steered the conversation toward.
Really network. Don’t just click add to network
Reach out to people. LinkedIn is a great resource, and I find that people often respond pretty quickly. But don’t just click “add to network” without sending a message. That’s one thing people (especially we Nigerians) do a lot and I’ve learned that it doesn’t work. Sending a message will help you network more efficiently.
When you have conversations with people, those conversations should be more for you to learn. Let the person talk, learn about their experience, and be interested in them. Of course, they will want to know your background, but your goal is to get to know them. When you build the relationship to a certain point, feel free to ask if they can connect you with others.
People know people, and they’re willing to help
My experience has been that people here are very willing to help. You just need to connect with a few people up front, and those people will help connect you with more people. Everybody knows somebody. I had a chat with someone yesterday who was introduced to me by a friend of a friend. That friend then introduced me to two other people, who are now willing to introduce me to even more people.
Make the connections you can and if you don’t know something, ask. People want to explain, they want to help. Leverage your strengths and don’t be shy. What’s the worst a person could do? They could say no. Then, you simply move on.
Landing a job while doing an MBA
At Western University, there’s fall recruitment. Firms come on campus, they pitch, they wine and dine you, it’s quite nice and you feel very valued. That was a good experience. About 30 to 33 per cent of the class get jobs halfway through the program. Fortunately, I was one of those people.
When RBC initially recruited for my role, they invited 12 people, and I wasn’t one of them. But one of those 12 people declined the interview spot because he got the job he really wanted that day, and then the very next day that interview spot came to me.
I had the last interview slot of the day at 5:00 p.m. I went in with the mindset that there’s nothing I could say to impress the interviewers because I knew my classmates were equally smart, if not smarter than me. I just went in calm and confident and had a good time, cracking jokes, like I was just having fun. Fortunately I was able to translate that into an offer.
Preparation pays off
I’m an analytical person by nature. Predictions and forecasting are part of my job, so from beginning to end, my approach to moving to Canada has been very structured. I calculated the capital required to cover my immigration, and the cost of the MBA program. Because of that, I had to start saving and cutting down on expenses while I was still in my home country. I researched the best place to get a loan and how much it would be. I figured out the type of job and salary level I would need to be able to pay back the loan at a comfortable pace over a certain period of time. That kind of thinking has always shaped what I do.
Now that I have a stable job, I’m beginning to look at different options like investing, because I’m also an entrepreneur. I’m looking into how I can diversify my income and increase it as well. I’m thinking about my next steps in my career and completing certifications that could help me achieve my goals.
For newcomers to Canada, I would say learn, research, and ask questions. Be flexible, keep your ear to the ground, and speak to people who know more about these things so you’re able to choose what works best for you.