A Professional Life in a New Home

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In front of me was a room full of highly educated teachers from all over the world, and I was supposed to be their teacher. I had just finished my Master’s Degree and had been asked to teach professional communications skills in George Brown College’s College Teacher Training Program. The program lasted 8 months, including a 4-month paid internship at a participating Ontario College, and my job was to help get these students’ language and cultural skills employment-ready in the first half of the program.

The coordinator of the program, Patricia Robinson, focused on the development of teaching skills.

My four months with these students in the fall of 2008 involved a lot of hard work from them as well as me, as our time together involved questioning many values and ideas that students hadn’t questioned before. I became curious about these students’ learning experiences. It was difficult for me to imagine what it was like to adopt a new home and culture away from the country where they had built their careers, and I was lucky enough to keep in contact with some of them after they had finished my class and started their internships. With the help of five of my former students, who I asked for help writing this article, I was able to reflect on my own time with them and what I learned from them:

  • Language development and the job market can remain challenges even after a bridging program is finished.
  • Being flexible, patient, and persistent helps keep you stay positive and achieve your goals.
  • Integration involves the change of the newcomer and the change of the community into which the newcomer enters.

I didn’t have to ask my students to know what challenges they still experienced 8 months after the start of the program. I knew from my short time with them that language development and difficulties in finding jobs would continue to be issues for many of them when they graduated. It can be very difficult standing up in front of a room of students if one doesn’t have confidence in one’s English language abilities. Julie, a professor of Geomorphology from Iran, made great improvements in her ability and confidence. Nevertheless, she felt that she still needed to work on her English in order to lead a full professional life in Canada. In addition, résumé writing, job hunting, interviewing, and networking are all done differently here and can be very challenging and stressful even for those who have been in Canada for their entire lives.

We developed these skills in the program and the students were very eager to learn, but inevitably they will need to continue to develop these skills throughout their professional lives. Elaina, a biology teacher originally from India who has just completed her internship at an Ontario College, indicated that she feels she still needs help developing her professional networks and that perhaps “hiring services in colleges still see the ‘new immigrant’ tag attached to us.”

I was concerned that these students would be discouraged from achieving their goals to be teachers in Community Colleges and Universities. However, I found that those I spoke to had not changed their professional goals and were still very positive. One such student with an MBA from a Nigerian University who tried a customer service job before pursuing her dream, advises newcomers not to get discouraged by people who tell them they cannot do what they were trained to do. Rather, they should do their own research and let government agencies help them. “Don’t throw away your certificates,” she said, “It is not as hard as people tell you.” She has had to be flexible in accepting temporary supply teaching jobs, which is a big change from what she was used to in Nigeria.

Another lesson that I learned from my students was that integration is not only about the changes that a newcomer experiences, but also about how the host society changes to accept the newcomer. I had been worried that some students would feel too much pressure to make big changes in their professional and personal beliefs. I was happy to see that these students saw integration as a two-way process. One student talked about learning how to operate in a different world. Jae, who was a college professor of Tourism Management in Korea, is currently working at a library and a home improvement store. He pointed out that he knows he has to adapt, but that he also has a lot of knowledge to bring to Canada. “In the future if I get a chance, then I think I can bring my experience from Korea to Canada.”

I believe I discovered with my students that integration into Canadian society, into a good job in one’s chosen profession can be a very long and sometimes frustrating process. I remain inspired by their determination and flexibility, and I wish them all the best!

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