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My Canada Immigrant Story: Choosing Growth Over Negativity

My Canada Immigrant Story: Choosing Growth Over Negativity

Saturday, September 16, 2023
Jorge Ligason, CPA, CGA

CHANGE. I thrive during times of change because it brings with it challenges and opportunities. However, moving to Canada more than ten years ago was different. I had mixed emotions. I was excited at the same time fearful. I was excited because I heard so many good things about Canada. On the other hand, I was fearful because I was already contented of my personal and professional life in the Philippines.

Before I left the Philippines, I was the Treasury Officer at one of the Philippines' largest integrated food manufacturing companies. In my mid-20s, I already had challenging and rewarding career. The product my hard work in obtaining a university degree and passing the CPA board examinations.

I felt the stress of the thought that I had to start over in a foreign land. In addition, I learned about sad experiences of professional immigrants in Canada. Few months before the move to Canada, I prepared myself that I will be working in jobs unrelated to my education, accounting designation, experience and skills. I had to do odd jobs to make ends meet and support my family.

When I first landed in Canada, I was so excited seeing beautiful places and loved my new environment. Few months later, I felt the pressure to get a job as soon as I can. I felt unproductive and I have a family to support. To add to the pressure, I was not getting responses to my accounting and finance job applications. Although I had high hopes, the sad stories of professional immigrants were becoming real for me.

I felt disappointed and questioned how come? Why? In addition to my experience and skills, I graduated from a reputable university that produced topnotchers in national board exams. The university's accounting program had strict cut-off marks requirement of 2.0 to 2.5. (highest mark of 1.0 and standard passing mark of 3.0). I graduated the program with excellent marks. Furthermore, Filipino CPAs and accounting graduates work in companies around the world. How different can accounting be in Canada?

Then, I came to know about specific industry experience requirement. I never thought about this when I was in the Philippines. I moved from banking to manufacturing as Internal Auditor. In this move, I was never asked if I had manufacturing industry experience. When I hired staff, the most important qualification I looked for is the ability and willingness to learn, character and one’s potential.

To avoid rejection and disappointment, I invested my time looking for jobs in the retail and service industry. I did not want to be disappointed for not having Canadian experience, industry experience and Canadian academic credentials.

There were times I felt that, it is unnecessarily complicated in Canada.

I took jobs as parking attendant at a Vancouver casino, as sales associate at an off-price department and discount home furnishings store. I also took a part-time job at a 24-hour convenience store.

I can't believe I had three jobs at one point. Yes! Three jobs. Who would have thought I could do such. Nevertheless. I enjoyed going to my work in the retail and service sectors because I interacted with customers and teammates. I learned a lot from those experiences especially working in multicultural and diverse environment. My jobs kept me busy. It kept me away from ruminating thoughts of negativity. It kept me positive.

When things settled down for a bit and feeling positive, I took a course to start the journey of getting an accounting designation in Canada. I also submitted applications for entry level accounting positions.

I got a break when a recruiter that I connected with presented me a temporary contract accounting clerk opportunity for a reputable animal welfare charity. Although it was an entry level position, way below the last position I left in the Philippines, it was a great opportunity to start over.

While working as accounting clerk, I kept my sales associate and parking attendant job part-time. With all that I've been through, it felt I could keep all three jobs, easy. Eventually, I decided to let go of my sales associate job, then later my parking attendant job. I focused on my studies after work and during weekends. My goal was to obtain a Canadian Chartered Professional Accountant designation.

Within almost a year into my temporary accounting clerk contract, I got hired permanently. Couple of years later, I was promoted to General Accountant in 2011 and to Assistant Controller in 2013. It was a valuable experience. I was very fortunate and grateful to my managers, team and the organization. They were all very supportive in my professional growth and development. With their support I got my Chartered Professional Accountant designation in 2015. To take on more responsibilities and leadership role, I moved on to another non-profit organization in August of 2017.

After over a decade in the non-profit sector, it was time for a change. So, in January 2022, I accepted an offer from a Biotech/Life Sciences company focused on its mission to accelerate the creation of transformative medicine that significantly impacts human wellbeing.

Looking back, I am glad that I choose growth over negativity. Having a growth mindset enabled me to successfully obtain my CPA designation despite the hard work. I have proven to myself that as long as I have the right attitude, I could thrive, in any other country or industry. Although, I initially struggled because I did not seek the right information and connections early on, the struggles I went through made me more resilient. It helped me endure the hard work of balancing time between studies, work, and family.

I am sharing my story hoping that my experience and realizations can help new immigrants and those who plan to move to Canada. If you are starting out and finding your place in Canada or if you are planning to move to Canada, below are 3 lessons I learned and wished I’d knew/had early on.

1)     Right mindset. Choose growth over negativity and be cognizant of the psychological effects of reading/listening to negative experiences.

2)     Right information. Research and get the right information directly from various agencies supporting newcomers to Canada or even your own organization if it has operations in Canada.

3)     Right connection. Get connected with immigrant support organizations, professional associations and immigrant associations.

Are you a recent immigrant or plan to immigrate to Canada? Share your thoughts, experience and or questions in the comment section.