My husband, Abhijit Roy, and I were comfortable in our jobs and our lives in Delhi, India. We applied for Permanent Residence (PR) in Canada through the Express Entry program out of curiosity without knowing whether we really wanted to move. Initially, we just wanted to see if we could make the cut. When we actually got the PR, we had to make a critical life-changing decision. Were we willing to uproot our lives and move to a new country where we knew absolutely no one?
I was 32 and my husband was 39—we already had our careers, our family, and a comfortable life. I had been working for eight years as a communications professional after graduating with a major in Psychology, Communicative English, and Journalism, followed by a post-graduate degree in mass communications. My husband, Abhijit, was a practicing lawyer.
But we also felt we were not challenged enough in our lives. It was becoming a mundane routine. So we decided, let’s try this! Both my husband and I are ambitious and we wanted to explore outside our comfort zone. We thought “What’s the worst that could happen?” But, oh God, it was a scary feeling.
Where I come from there is a mindset that you need to have a job before moving to a new country. Then you work for five to 10 years, earn some nice money, and return home. But the PR program is different. We were moving to Canada with a plan to stay indefinitely. We each had a skill set, but no jobs lined up.
Arriving in Canada with just two suitcases
We arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport in November 2019 for our soft landing, stayed for two weeks to get our documents in place, then returned back to India to wrap up our businesses. That day we arrived, it was minus 10 outside. We are from a tropical country, and I wondered, can we survive this cold? But on this day, Canada welcomed me with a snowfall. I had never experienced snow in my life. I saw little white fluffs falling from the sky and I asked my husband, what is this? He said, I think it might be a snowfall. It looked so beautiful.
We returned to Toronto in March 2020 and we had mixed emotions: anxiety, but more than even excitedness and happiness, was a scared feeling. We’d come to a new country with just two suitcases. Our entire life was packed in these suitcases! Distant family friends were kind enough to let us live in their basement for a month, while we figured things out. This first month was especially difficult because Canada went into a national lockdown in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We tried to keep a bold face, but we were struggling within because we didn’t know what was ahead.
Searching for our first place wasn’t easy
When we started looking for apartments, all we could afford with our budget was basement apartments. Back home we were used to living in a big apartment. And, because we were new immigrants, we had no credit history and neither of us were employed yet. A lot of landlords were hesitant to rent to us. That was a really difficult time.
Many landlords asked for advance payment of six months’ rent. We couldn’t afford to spend that much money on rent. We had sold all our assets in India. We would call the money we’d saved “our oxygen” for the next six months. We didn’t know a lot of things: where to go, what to eat, or whether we would have to go back to India. But we knew to keep an emergency fund that could cover our plane tickets to fly back home if things got too bad.
We finally settled on a basement apartment in a suburb west of Toronto. We didn’t have any furniture yet, and had to sleep on the floor. We basically had nothing back then.
Now it was time to find jobs. Abhijit practiced law in India, but in order to work as a lawyer in Canada, he had to earn a Certificate of Qualification from the National Committee on Accreditation. This required him to study and write exams. So I told him, you study, and let me find a job to support us.
Never giving up in the job search
This is when the next big reality came: finding a job in my field of communications. I applied for more than 750 jobs. I still have the database I maintained to track the jobs I applied for, the contact details, and the status on them. I had a full schedule of which companies I wanted to target, who to connect with on LinkedIn, and who I have coffee chats with. I made a custom resume and cover letter for each job I applied for. But nothing worked. Rejection, rejection, rejection.
I came here through Express Entry which qualifies a candidate based on their skills. That program itself is so rigorous. Yet, when I come here, they tell me I need Canadian experience. But how does someone get Canadian experience if they are not employed by Canadians? That was a big shock for me.
After six months of my husband studying and me looking for a job with no results, we worried about burning through all our savings. So, I took a job at a call centre. After having a career as a communications professional in a managerial capacity in India, it was depressing to have to take a survival job, but it helped get us through. When Abhijit completed his exams, he began looking for a job. He, too, was shocked by how hard it was to find a job even as a lawyer.
By this point, we were breaking. It had been almost seven months since we landed in Canada and we were exhausting our funds. It was October and we had enough funds to last the next two months. We decided to give ourselves until January to try and make things work. If our careers didn’t take off by then, we planned to head back to India. At least we’d have given it a good shot.
My career journey in Canada begins
One week later, Abhijit was offered a job as a legal assistant. At this time, we decided to move out of the basement apartment to a one bedroom condo in downtown Toronto. We really wanted to see the Canadian way of life and enjoy the city. I also quit the call centre so that I could return to my full-time job hunt.
In January, I finally got a call about a job as a content specialist. I couldn’t believe it. They offered me the job within two days after my interviews. Soon after, I received two more offers. I accepted the first job offer and that’s how my career journey really started here.
A month into my job, I noticed the company responded to requests for proposals (RFP). I thought, I want to do this. Since I’m always finding ways to challenge myself, I spoke to my manager, asking if I could learn how to respond to bids. She trusted me and gave me the opportunity. She trained me, and I transferred my skills from a content specialist to a proposal specialist. This was an entirely different role than what I’d been doing in India.
After six months working at Bluum, I got an offer from Staples as a proposal specialist. Ironically, I never even applied for that job. Staples’ HR found me via LinkedIn and we had a conversation. I thought, whoa, something is working right. After the interview, I joined Staples and have been there ever since. I have never been happier and, trust me, if I was back in my country, switching my career would have been very difficult.
Job search advice for newcomers
When any newcomer comes to me for advice about their job search, I just have two words for them: patience and network. You need to be patient. You will get there.
The second most important thing is your network. For me, LinkedIn worked the best. I connected with a lot of mentors who were kind enough to have coffee chats with me and give tips that helped in our interviews because we come from different cultures. The work culture in India is completely different from Canada. So it’s important to adapt to the culture. The more you network, the more perspective you get.
I also tell newcomers, if you have the savings, never take a job that is not in your skill set just to get Canadian work experience. Instead focus on finding a job in your field. I made that mistake for three to four months working at a call centre. That delayed my process of getting a job because I was working an eight-hour shift and I couldn’t really apply for any jobs.
Staying connected to home and building new ones in Canada
If you’re away from your family and home, it’s important to build the right connections in this country to stay rooted to your culture. I connected with some of my communities and we celebrate Diwali and certain festivals. It helps me to not miss my home so much. But at the same time, it’s important to not restrict yourself to your own community. It’s important to have an adaptable and flexible mindset—that is one thing that really worked for us.
I love how this country is multicultural. People are so adaptable and accepting. Look at Prime Minister Trudeau! He wishes us Happy Diwali! This is one of the main reasons why we have stayed optimistic.
I feel people can get lonely here, so it’s important to have at least one or two friends that you can talk to. When my husband connected with lawyers to study together in 2020, we became friends with another couple. We are there to support each other. I’ve also made close friends through my workplace. I can talk to them about anything. So that supportive environment is very important. We don’t have a lot of friends, but they are the best. That’s enough to get you through anything.
We came with zero. We just packed two suitcases and came with a dream of settling here. And Canada has really given back to us. We still have a long way to go, but it’s a start.