From an interview with Viva Zhou.
Viva Zhou is from the city of Dalian, China—known as the Hong Kong of the North. She has travelled widely. At the age of 15, she received a scholarship to study in Singapore. Viva then went to the U.S., completing a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Honours) with a major in Economics and Statistics at the University of Chicago. From there, she worked in investment banking on Wall Street, where she met her husband. After moving to Brazil for two years where she worked at a startup, they returned to Chicago to complete MBA programs. In 2018, Viva moved to Toronto. A mother of two young girls, Viva shares her story of her journey from not really thinking about Canada, to landing, exploring, and making her life here.
Moving to Canada had never crossed my mind. My husband and I were both doing our MBA in Chicago and I had an offer to go to a management consulting company in Brazil. Then my husband got an offer here in Toronto. Luckily, the company I was going to join was able to move my offer to their Toronto office.
We did a three-day due diligence trip to Toronto in the middle of December. We explored different neighbourhoods and areas of the city and really liked the vibe. It was so cold we had to stop at local coffee shops every 30 minutes or so to warm up. So, we thought, if we like it enough to be here during the winter, then let’s do it. We went back to Chicago and started to apply for permanent residence (PR).
I remember the process being very stressful because our CRS score was right on the cutoff line for Express Entry. At the time we hadn’t graduated from our master’s program, so we didn’t have those extra points. Every time the results were released, we would just miss the cut off again. Then we got the nomination through the Ontario Immigration Nominee Program (OINP). We needed to get this before my husband could get his paperwork and start working.
I received my official job offer from the company and they were able to give me a work visa, which meant I could bring my family to Canada. So we came to Toronto and our PR was eventually approved. I had negotiated my start date to be six months from when we arrived, in order to allow me to transition and get us settled in our new city.
Finding a place to live and discovering a community
It was a real challenge finding a place to live in Toronto. There were three important factors we were looking for in our new home: proximity to the public transit, since I do not drive, the size of the apartment, and the vibe of the neighbourhood and community. We wanted something a bit more family oriented, that was walkable, where there were things to do outside. My Toronto friends always complain about the TTC, but it’s a very low- cost way to get around the city. The subway system isn’t extensive, but there are buses and streetcars that can get you anywhere.
In 2018, the rental market was hot. There were very few listings and multiple offers on units. It was really competitive. We were finally able to close one of the listings and settled in a place right on the TTC subway line. From our new home, I started exploring.
We were quite close to the University of Toronto downtown campus so there were always different activities going on. College street, Wellesley Village, and Cabbagetown were all quite accessible. We enjoyed discovering the city through all its villages and neighbourhoods.
I began to fall in love with Toronto. I made friends with all sorts of neighbours and shop owners, people that I wouldn’t normally have talked to before. For example, when I was working on Wall Street, I was rushing through everything. If I was walking on the street it was like I was racing. I was very proud that I walked so fast, but that also meant I didn’t see other people, I didn’t really see anything else. I was just going for my goals, going for the objective.
Being part of the community became more important to me. There was a local organization that welcomed homeless, poor, and excluded people. I would go there to the drop-in. I don’t feel that I did any meaningful volunteer work, but I talked to people and made friends, and heard stories I would not have otherwise heard.
This experience became a fundamental cornerstone for me. It actually changed who I am and what I’m striving for. I was really inspired by the staff who work there. They’re highly-educated young people who dedicate their life to helping a community that is often overlooked and where success is hard to measure. I learned to see every person as a whole person.
It takes a village to raise a child: Starting with quality daycare
One of the most important decisions a parent has to make when moving to a new country is finding suitable daycare. That can be very tricky because most of the daycare services in Toronto have long waiting lists. We got on those waiting lists.
We visited a dozen daycares. You can tell that some are really well run, and that the staff are super energetic, and that the turnover rate is low. Understanding the philosophy of the daycare provider is crucial: How do they resolve conflicts with children? How do they get the kids to take naps? Ask specific questions to see if their philosophy aligns with your own. Reach out and meet the people in person if possible.
I phoned one of the daycares we really liked to check if they had any availability. By luck they said, “Oh, we actually have a spot that just opened up.” I think because we visited in person, they had a good impression of us. And the daycare we chose wasn’t the most impressive space, but you could tell that there was so much love in the way that they treated the kids. They encouraged parents to stay so that the kids would see this as a safe place for them. Emotional safety and emotional stability is a big thing for this daycare. I chatted with the staff. It was inspiring to see people working in daycare, because it’s a hard job, and a lot of the workers are immigrants as well. It’s not a very well-paid job, but the staff are dedicated.
It’s an industry with a particularly high turnover rate, so to know people have been at this place for a long time gives you peace of mind. You can find a list of daycares with capacity, vacancy and some quality ratings at the City of Toronto daycare database. Local facebook groups are also great resources. Try keywords like parenting and mothers group. Also, remember to ask your neighbours.
There are also free programs, like the EarlyON Child and family centres where you and your child can enjoy reading, storytelling, sing-alongs and games, and you can get advice from professionals trained in early childhood development.
I started going to the public library recently, and I’m a big fan. I’ve borrowed a lot of children’s books—including Chinese language children’s books. I think when you become a mother, you understand it does take a village to raise a child.
Canadian values make it possible for you to reach your goals
When we moved to Canada, I didn’t really think we would stay here for long. I definitely saw it as more transitional, a place where we stay for a few years, and then move somewhere else. But I’ve lived in quite a few cities around the world now, and Toronto (and Canada in general) is my favorite place. It feels closest to an ideal society.
I used to really be into the free market, that type of economics theory, but now I really see the benefits of actually contributing a little more in tax and having all the social infrastructure in place. There is always a playground in every small town (or neighbourhood within a larger city like Toronto). I am impressed that such prime locations are reserved for playgrounds.
After living here for three years, I am very passionate about Canadian community values. It may come from the early days of people coming to Canada. With the harsh conditions they faced, they could not survive on their own, so people helped each other out. They thought about the community. Those community values live on in Canada. I think it’s a really good country to raise kids, especially now with the unfortunate instability around the world with some countries experiencing political instability. I see growing equality in Canada—a real effort to actually make a more equal society.
I’m also very impressed by the professional talent here in Canada. I’ve worked on Wall Street in New York, and I’ve worked here in Toronto. Although they don’t have the same flashy resumes, people here are of the same professional calibre. And not just people in the upper echelons of finance. Even my shop owner friends, they are all passionate about their work. Canada is a very hardworking country with great support systems and services. People who are willing to work hard and make their contribution to the community will enjoy life here.
When I think about the next generation, I feel very fortunate to be able to raise my kids in Canada.