IEC: The Job Hunt – How to find work, navigate temp agencies, update your resume and generally stay sane during this process!

It’s time to tackle the nightmare that is finding a job when you first arrive in Canada.  My experience is pretty Toronto-centric, but I imagine there is a heap of overlap with other places.  

After finding a place to live, the job hunt is probably the most stressful aspect of moving countries, and it’s going to be something that will inevitably shape your experience abroad.  Are you looking for something that you can apply back home and is in the field you’re qualified in or are you more focused on travelling and being able to supplement your savings with the odd bits and pieces of work?  It’s important and stressful but it doesn’t have to control your life.  You just have to be persistent, adaptable and realistic. Remember that unemployment is difficult – just do not give up! 

So below, I’ve popped some hints, tips and websites to help you with finding that perfect role during your time in the Great White North.  

 

  1. Your CV

Your CV is generally known as a resume here, later in my job hunt I decided to change the document title of my ‘CV’ to ‘resume’ – maybe that was pedantic (definitely).  I spent hours trying to figure out the differences between a British CV and a Canadian Resume and truth be told, there aren’t THAT many to get hung up about.  Pretty much the same rules apply, be clear, be concise and target to the job spec. 

For a while in my little personal overview I did have that I was on a Working Holiday Visa and looking for experience here in Canada.  When it comes to addressing the visa aspect, I would recommend you leave it to an interview or when you have someone on the telephone before mentioning it.  It’s probably going to be far easier to explain and show the visa and it’s restrictions etc when you’re face to face.  It’s going to be obvious you’ve not been in the country if your experience and education is all British/Australian/Lithuanian.   I’ve found that hiring managers are looking for a reason to throw your application away, so if you leave the visa bit off at the first hurdle you might have more of a chance to meet them and convince them of your suitability for the role, which might make the visa thing a bit less of an issue.

Some websites I find are godsends in the application department:

Askamanager.org (I’ve recommended this one before, but it’s great for tips and examples of cover letters and resumes!)

Guardian Careers (little taste of home! – they do some great examples of cover letters)

 

  1. What you’re applying for

There are a couple of options to go for when you’re looking for work.  Of course it will be more difficult to find permanent positions while your visa has an expiry date, but it’s definitely possible.  It’s going to be far easier to begin with by looking at fixed term contracts or heading down the temp route.  This gives you the option to flaunt your skills while making money and not being roped into anything long term. There’s also always the chance that an employer will like you and help you out with any permanent residency process you might decide to go down. With temping there are lots of agencies here and it all depends on what your skills are and what you’re looking for.  

A couple of specific agencies…

Where to look for a job:

 

  1. Some top tips for navigating Indeed.ca

For weeks – WEEKS – I trawled the dark depths of Indeed, finding a combination of jobs I would be perfect for as well as jobs I would hate.  There are all sorts of ads on Indeed, ones placed by individuals directly, ones Indeed has taken from other places and going through them all and applying can be a nightmare.

Things I would recommend you do:

  • Use the service.  Use it as an incredible search engine for finding different roles and positions you might be interested in.
  • If you decide to apply through Indeed write a thorough cover letter and be sure to send a resume along with it.   
  • If there’s a phone number, definitely call, if you can talk to someone it’s harder for them to reject you on the spot vs not replying to an email and you can get more information about the job before spending any time on an application.

Things I would recommend you do not do:

  • Create an Indeed resume.  If your education was in the UK, the translation doesn’t always work out and you could find that your resume states that you attended uni somewhere in the States that has the same town name. It’s very confusing.  
  • Be cautious about applying for roles directly on the Indeed.  If there are no other details about the job then go for it and apply on the website itself, but if there’s a company name or an alternative website to go to then I would recommend you do that.  I must’ve applied for 100 jobs on indeed to get one email notification that said an employer had read my application. 1/100 to have just READ it!?

 

  1.  Keep your standards reasonable

During this process you might find you receive some very strange offers; one job wanted me to pay them $300 for the ability to train and then work for them. Err, no. What I learned after attending a couple of interviews in very inconvenient locations and being asked to work for free, was that I had to try my very best to stay in a field I enjoyed – I was looking for long term stuff, so ‘hating mondays’ was not what I needed.

I’ve come up with 3 little questions that I think are key for deciding when to take a job.

  1. Does it make me happy?
  2. Can I make enough money with it?
  3. Is it a reasonable time commitment?

I’d probably lean toward a job that answers ‘yes’ to at least 2 of these criteria but if it does not satisfy at least ONE of those criteria, run. Run fast.  It might seem obvious to you right now, but 3 months into unemployment and that 12 hour a day job that begins at 2am and pays minimum wage can look pretty tasty.  Stick it out.  It’s going to be okay.  Sail through those hellish, rocky, shark-infested waters of being unemployed.  You’ll come out stronger for it and with your sense of self-worth intact.

ALSO

Generally, in my experience of the Canadian job market,  sometimes person specifications can be really specific, e.g ‘must be a wizard, have experience colouring in flowers and be a strong swimmer’.  Don’t panic.  If you’re a colouring swimmer go ahead and apply. Read the job description, think about your skills.  If there’s a named contact, drop them an email or even better, a phone call and say ‘I’m an Olympic swimmer and I have great attention to detail with colouring flowers, but I haven’t mastered pulling a rabbit from a hat yet, should I still apply?’ They might say no, or they might give you a really quick telephone interview and ask you to apply.  It’s not going to hurt to ask and if they’re horrible to you, you didn’t want to work there anyway!
You are a great person.  You will find a job. Life will be okay.  Stay happy and positive!

 

On Brexit: Looking forward

The first version of this post was emotional, an attempt to be light-hearted, nonsensical at times and written by a woman hurt and torn apart by the decisions of 51% of the country.  The truth is I cannot be light-hearted.  I cannot fill this blog post with jolly anecdotes of my life today, I cannot be completely upbeat and excited. I am trying to be positive.  To see the silver lining.  I am hurt, but I respect the decision. Ultimately, I’m glad and proud to hail from a country where we have referenda and allow the results to be counted in a way that really allows all of us to feel that we had a say.  I am reminded at this time that I am glad to be from a democratic country that allows its people to make its own decisions. Even if it all felt a bit Eurovision-y.

 

If you voted leave, I will not insult you, I am not here to judge you. I respect your decision, I trust you respect mine, I hope you had legitimate reasons, as I hope remain voters had theirs. I hope we all used our heads and our hearts when we put our X in those boxes.  I hope our reasons were founded in respect of others, tolerance and by thinking of what is best for our country and not just ourselves.  I cannot fault anyone for the way they chose and my primary critique of this whole debacle is directed toward the political system that sought to divide us.  Sought to throw out messages, see how they’d work and then adopt them if they gained traction.  There was no legitimacy or genuine meaning behind the words of any political party. The campaigns have been selfish, insulting and personal. Collectively, this applies to Labour, the Conservatives, UKIP and although my heart hurts to say it, the Green party also.

 

It turns out, that we live in a political world where parties will say almost anything for power.  I know many people will be thinking, ‘that’s always been true’ and you’re probably right, but for me, this disturbing fact has never before reared its hideous head in such an overt and vile manner. They will spread untruths, misleading ‘facts’ and dark ideas all in the name of securing the mark of your pencil (or pen).   They will pretend they regularly drink in some ‘working men’s’ pub’, they will pretend that they know what it’s like for ordinary people, the will say things like,  ‘people have legitimate concerns over immigration’ even if the party they represent did not hold that view until the 2015 general election.  They say ‘take back control’, ‘we’re better together’ – when really, there’s just uncertainty on any and all lines.

 

If you know me, there is no secret that I am an enthusiastic left-winger and I have never felt more of a disconnect from my country.  I’m not in Britain right now but my culture, my accent, my values – or so I thought, were inherently British.  At the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony I was someone who clambered excitedly on the back of the #ProudToBeBritish lion but today, I feel mauled and separate. I have been known to cry heartily at policies passed down by our government.  But today, it is the system.  It is all of them. Unfortunately, my favourite man in British politics, Mr Corbyn, let me down by not being honest with his opinion, my least favourite folks in politics, Mr Johnson, Mr Farage and Mr Gove, hurt me with their words of imperialism, of close-mindedness, and of hate. The Labour Party has been saying things like, ‘we need to change and listen to the opinions of the public’ and all I hear is, ‘we need to be more populist and more Conservative-Lite, because that’s how we get votes’.  There is no concern for offering a real alternative.  Only to be in charge.

 

The campaigns were centred in negativity.  In the downsides of either option.  There has been a distinct ignorance of the opportunities we were faced with following a decision to remain or a decision to stay.

 

For now it only seems right that we focus on the good.  Of the opportunities we have following our decision to leave the EU.  Let’s try to move away from immigration because the rhetoric used by our leaders has been out rightly xenophobic and unhelpful.

 

If you are an EU citizen living the UK – I promise that you will find people who welcome you, who appreciate all you do for the UK and are proud to have you on our shores.  They are there. They are leave and remain voters. If not – give me a shout and I’ll be happy to thank you for coming to my country and contributing to our economy by working there, spending British pounds and for your metaphorical dumpling in our multicultural soup (that looks more like a primary school dinner divided into sections right now).  Thank you for the businesses you have built, the opportunities you have created, the skills gaps you have filled and your presence in the UK.

 

If you need me I’ll be eating ice cream, hoping for Scottish independence, a serious and considered discussion with Northern Ireland, being wrapped under a blanket, intermittently sobbing, trying to understand the future of Britain and British politics.

 

IEC: The Unexpected Language Barrier

Originally, this was supposed to be all about culture shock; however it’s turned into a linguistic analysis of British-Canadian communication.  Or as I’ve come to know it; the minefield that is everyday conversation.

I recently read a really interesting article on BBC News about how Americans and Brits swear differently.  It got me thinking about how fanny doesn’t mean ‘bum’ in England and how friendships are built on mutual disrespect and insults. I wouldn’t say I’m one to partake in ‘banter’- because generally when I am, I say horrible things to people I love, and I always sound far too horrible. And then I spend weeks reliving them and feeling like the world’s worst person.

Side note: sorry again Han about the thing I said at Christmas, I didn’t mean it at all and I’m really sorry.

Anyway, this led me to contemplate my experiences here in Canada and how our Canuck friends across the ocean, like Americans, use the English language far differently to back in old Blighty.

This is the Language Barrier

That’s right.  And I bet you weren’t expecting there to be one when you hopped on the plane at Gatwick/Heathrow/Birmingham/Manchester/Belfast to arrive in Canada not realising what anyone really meant when they spoke to you.  You still might not realise it.

I’ll tell you how I did.

So, after a couple of months of unemployment, I began working at a temp job in downtown Toronto at the end of April.  It’s an amazing office with lovely people who are some of the nicest and accommodating folk I’ve ever met.  Even when I inadvertently offend them.  Like the occasion I will now retell to you.

Here it is:

“Good Morning MJ, You all right?”

“Great thanks”

That was it.

It’s not like MJ, my dear colleague, was seriously offended and ran off crying and my previously Zen-like work environment was forever crushed. Not at all.

A few days later we went for a walk, and I was telling her about cultural differences and how everyone says ‘How are you?’ as a normal greeting.  Which to me (and maybe this is different if you’re not from Gloucestershire/ are me) sounds like something had been wrong, or as if I’d been going through a particularly traumatic event in my life and you wanted to check on me, like, ‘how are you during this tragic life event?’ or ‘how are you following the diagnosis of your terminal illness?’.

To me, that’s the level of sincerity with which I take a question such as ‘how are you?’  So much so, that I have only recently developed a decent response.

‘Good thanks, you?’

MJ cackled at this story.  It turns out that largely, in Toronto at least, ‘you all right?’ is exactly the same as my interpretation of ‘how are you?’

‘You all right after being hit by that train?’

‘You all right? You look tired’

I get it.  But she’d said that it had affected her so much, that she’d even mentioned it to a friend, who’s response was, ‘oh my gosh, did you have a sad/angry face or something?’

Who would have ever thought that this difference could cause so much anxiety?

Maybe it’s just me, and anyone else who experiences this move is able to adapt smoothly and seamlessly.  Not me! Not at all!

I love living in Canada and I love the food and the people and after almost 4 months I’m starting, slowly but surely, to adapt.

I’ve learnt that self-deprecating humour is regularly met with genuine sympathy.  Take for example, another classic Lorna + Customer Service People moment (previous experience is detailed here).

It was lunchtime.  I went to purchase my lunch in Sobeys, the local grocery store near to my workplace.  A common trend prior to these experiences is that I spend far too long contemplating a purchase or a food choice.  I had been stood in front of the glass pane deciding between a prepared chicken breast with sweet potatoes AND roast asparagus or just chicken and sweet potato and maybe grabbing an apple or something.  This truly was the source of the entire problem.

So, the nice lady behind the service counter arrives and asks me what I would like.

The only thing I’m confident I want is the chicken.

I’m about 90% on the sweet potatoes and 50% on the asparagus.  To this day, I’m not even sure if I like asparagus – but that’s not the story.

‘What can I get you?’

‘Can I get the chicken breast please’ – looks around the glass pane as if contemplating an additional choice, which I am. I just thought it was blatant.

Thinking about the sweet potatoes and about to pipe up when…

‘Here you go, thanks have a good day.  Next please’

I’m handed a plastic container containing a single, dry, refrigerated chicken breast.  No sides at all.  This was literally the worst situation that could’ve happened to me.  What do I do?  A chicken breast is not a meal.

It is now on reflection, and with a better knowledge of Sobeys and feeling much calmer, that I could’ve purchased a nice side salad and all of my problems would have been solved.

But that is most definitely NOT what I did.

Instead, I look at the chicken breast and all I feel is panic. I definitely will not be piping up to the lady who has just handed me this, in this context, random piece of meat.  I will also not be putting it down somewhere in a different section of the supermarket.  So I make a final decision.  There is nothing else for it but to purchase the chicken breast and LEAVE as soon as possible.  I have decided that in the middle of a grocery store I have no other viable alternatives.  Like buy a side salad. So I made the world’s most random and useless purchase and head back up to the office.  Where I promptly drop my new chicken breast off in my bag and decide to relay this, in my opinion, hilarious tale of ‘the time I tried to get lunch and came back with a single piece of chicken’.

And this is where the cultural difference comes in.

I thought, this tale would be met with responses such as;

‘You’re an idiot’

‘Why didn’t you just choose some sides?’

‘How is this a thing?’

Instead of the teasing and the jeering and what I had imagined would be some kind of clever new ‘chicken-for-lunch Pegram’ nickname, I was met with genuine concern and compassion.

Offers of alternative lunches.  Suggestions that I march back and ask for the sides I did not have chance to select.  Concern.  Assurances that service has always been terrible there.  Straight faces filled with sympathy for the poor British girl who cannot navigate a simple ‘I want food’, ‘good here is food’ transaction.

Instead, I decided to have the chicken breast for dinner, although I already had several chicken breasts at home, and went to get Subway.  It felt like the safe option.

But it is these responses that throw me occasionally.  I spent most of my first month at my lovely new job just trying to figure out what people were saying to me.

‘Have a good day’ – that’s so nice. Canadians are so polite.  It’s just BYE. Like any normal person would say, it’s just a regularly used alternative, akin to ‘see you later’ or ‘cheerio’ – I don’t believe anyone says cheerio anymore except my Gran, but it’s still an alternative!

It was exhausting.  But it gets better and more comfortable and after a while, like with anywhere else in the world, you adapt and you learn and you stop asking people if they’re all right, unless they’re red or blotchy.

There are also significant benefits to being ‘new in the country’.

When a joke doesn’t go over well:  ‘That would’ve killed in the UK’ – no it wouldn’t have but no one has to know.

When you accidently swear in the workplace: ‘oh that’s not rude in England’ or ‘I’m going to start saying bloody more, it’s so cute’.

It’s an excellent chance to practice all of your regional accents and to incorporate any regional slang you wanted to make your own but couldn’t before.  I used to live in Nottingham where everyone calls you ‘duck’.  But being from Gloucestershire I always wanted to refer to everyone as duck but felt a fraud. Not in Canada! Ducks are EVERYWHERE here!  And no one says I sound like a farmer and I can convincingly say things like, ‘I sound just like Fiona Bruce’ (BBC News presenter and host of Antiques Roadshow), and next to nobody knows who that is, so it might as well be true.

It’s also a great chance to hear about parts of your own country you’ve:

  1. Never heard of
  2. Never been to

Almost everyone has a UK story, just as everyone in the UK has a Canada story.

‘My sister lives in England, Norwich – I visited once, lovely place’

I’m not even sure where Norwich is.  I’m sure it’s lovely.  I don’t know.  But I still thank them for calling Norwich, a place I have no connection to, lovely and reinforce the notion.

‘Thank you! I’ve not been, but I’ve heard it is, indeed, lovely’ – from you, because you just told me.  It could be a terrible place.  I don’t know.  The whole of the East is a mystery to me.  If it even is East.  There is no pride in my lack of knowledge of Britain.  However I’ve been learning more from completing the county quiz on Sporcle in my free time.

There’s also times when you forget you’re abroad – which are some of my favourite times because that’s when I realise I’m starting to feel like I stand out less, and you forget that you should maybe try and adapt to the language you’re in.

‘I’m just nipping to the loo’

‘I’ll pop it in the rubbish’

‘I was just in the lift when…’

Sometimes there’s confusion, other times there’s a look of pure endearment.  My boss regularly says things like, ‘you can ask me anything with that accent’.  Not secured a raise yet though.

Initially, it can be daunting and tiring and it can also feel like people are being somehow insincere with you.  Or, you can become suspicious of what message is trying to be communicated.  Just ride this wave of uncertainty.  Add a layer to that thick British, or otherwise, accent of yours and embrace this new cultural change.  I imagine that this whole experience would be 50 – 100 times worse if English wasn’t my first language.  Generally, I’ve found that everyone is so keen to help here and if you get confused, just ask!! Who doesn’t love a little chat about comparing how you say things.  Just remember it’s AL-U-MIN-I-UM and OREG-AAH-NO. 🙂

 

IEC: Your New Currency

One of the trickiest parts of moving to a new country is navigating the currency.  I tell you now, that you need to try and see past the adorable beaver on the 5 cents, and the fact that a toonie is so named due to a singular dollar having a loon bird on it.  The toonie actually has polar bears on it.  This is your money now.

It can be quite satisfying (if you’re a brit – prior to potential Brexit) popping your currency into the Google currency exchange and seeing how many thousands of dollars your one thousand pounds is worth. This is a short lived luxury when you arrive and realise that you now have a limited supply of those pounds.  It’s easy for the first couple of weeks to get by halving everything and thinking that products are generally cheaper or similarly priced to back home, except this changes when you start to work and live in dollars all the time.

Value the Canadian Dollar for what it is not how many pounds it could be

You need to start seeing the Canadian dollar for what it is; not compared to anything else.  Think about in the UK, you know that a pound (frantically searches Canadian keyboard for pound sign to find it is not there ☹), is probably not enough to grab a decent sandwich at Tesco, you know that a pound might snag you a cheapy coffee somewhere and that it should buy you at least a chocolate bar.

You need to establish these cues in Canada immediately, before you find yourself converting your wages into pounds in order to calculate your monthly budget on groceries per pound. It doesn’t work, will stress you out and you’ll end up spending more money than you need to. Stop it.

In Downtown Toronto,  3 bags of milk (approximately 3 litres) is around $4.27.  A good deal on bread is 2/$5.  Chicken can be ridiculously expensive, I’ve seen $23 for 4 chicken breasts!

Do not view the Canadian dollar as the equivalent to your home currency

Avoiding this can be way harder than it sounds because this is absolutely how we operate on holiday and in the beginning, you’ll probably feel a little like you’re on holiday, we convert what we need and spend our holiday figuring out how much these flip flops were in pounds – what a deal! When you live in a new country, you can’t do this , because you can’t go home and make more of your home currency, or you can, but it would be very inconvenient.  You’re making Canadian currency now, so you need to work entirely in Canadian.  

Do not start trying to buy milk for $1 because it won’t happen. This is not Asda, this is Loblaws.  This is not Tesco, it is Sobey’s. This is your new grocery shop mantra.  You’ll also get really depressed at the conversion and will quickly decide you can never buy anything.  It’s difficult, and it will mean that your budgets are off for a while.   

Aside from groceries, working this way can screw you over in terms of rent, and the wages you’ll accept.  A 1 bedroom condo in downtown Toronto is approximately $1500-1800 a month in the downtown core, so based on the rule that your rent shouldn’t be more than 30% of your income you need to ideally make 5000 a month to cover it. Or live with someone else.  

Now, this also works in reverse.  “$45 for a shirt!!” I hear you cry – thinking in pounds. This happens to me a lot! You are allowed to think a little about the conversion here, but only to keep you on track in terms of allowing yourself new clothes. A good way to cope and help to find those cues is to start to thinking in number of hours you work per item. If you’re on minimum wage, then a shirt is about 4 hours work. That’s a good reference point to go by.  How many hours is this shirt – a strange but effective question to always keep in mind.  

The minimum wage here in Ontario is about $11.25 an hour. Be thinking about that milk & rent price in comparison. $11.25 is not 11 pounds 25.  Nor is it almost 6 pounds.  It is 2 lots of milk bags and maybe some M&Ms.  

Compare all the time, but switch currencies as little as possible.

TAX is sometimes included, and sometimes not

This is not a reason to not total your grocery shop as you go along.  HST in Ontario is about 13% so add about 15% (because that maths is way easier) and settle in for a nice surprise at the checkout, rather than the nightmare of not doing so. Classic experiences I have had have included preparing the correct change to find I owe the cashier an extra $1.65.  Fun.   Sometimes however, you will be expecting to pay extra for tax and have find that it was already included on your way round.  Hooray!

Things that are weirdly expensive:

  • Chicken, as previously mentioned
  • Makeup wipes, for some reason, feel extortionately priced, I have recently discovered that Winners do some excellent deals on makeup wipes –and they don’t burn your face off or anything!
  • Shoes! I am yet to find the equivalent Primark/New Look kinds of deals on shoes, however as it’s currently summer Ardene do some lovely flip flop/sandal basic shoes. So those are an option, also, H&M do a bigger range of shoes here in Ontario than in the UK.
  • Microwaves – just try and buy this handy appliance for less than $100. Would recommend Canadian Tire/Costco/Walmart for your hunt.

Weirdly cheap

  • This is generally food based because eating out feels a bit cheaper here. Tim Hortons for example is excellent for a snappy breakfast on the go. E.g my rushed breakfast this morning consisted of an  Iced Coffee and a Cream Cheese bagel coming to the hefty total of $4! Timmie’s is a great spot to rely on in your first weeks in the country because there are so many of them and they are usually an excellent deal.  It’s also one of those truly Canadian institutions, with Tim Horton himself being an NHL’er with the Toronto Maple Leafs back in the ‘60s.   Speak to any Canadian about this and they will know all about Tim – this mainly happened to me while on my flight over.  The tale of Tim Horton + the tale of his company is actually a really interesting one, despite partially marred by tragedy, but I digress.
  • Elaborate cakes.  Basically in all of the supermarkets I’ve been in there is a gorgeous section in Bakery, full of really ornate gorgeous cupcakes and cakes.  Cupcakes are around $2-3 each and cakes are anything from $9-20 up.  It’s incredible and will quickly become an essential.

 

Extra Money Info

  • Tipping is far more part of the culture here.  It’s pretty common to tip with each drink you buy at a bar and between 15-20% at restaurants.  You also tip at the hairdressers, in taxis and especially when you order take-out.  You can tip online when you get delivery here which brings up a whole new interesting debate of whether to tip when the driver arrives or online.
  • Canada is phasing out pennies, so while if you pay by debit or credit you’ll still pay 57c or the .99, if you’re paying by cash it’s normally rounded up or down – so try not to hang around for your penny change, it’s not coming.  However, if you do score a penny, they’re quite cute and have little maple leaves on!

IEC: International Experience Canada

My IEC Experience began back in late 2014 with the announcement that the first round of visas would be released in late January.  I think I remember this correctly – 2015 participants, let me know if I’m wrong.

So, the day the visas would be released was only announced two days before, so you can either rely on yourself to spend every day from around the 10th January checking the  IEC website or you can turn to a great and incredible forum – Experience Canada, or a more recent discovery, the IEC Facebook group.  Both are really supportive and exciting environments where all of us (soon to be) expats get together and talk everything from health insurance, to application panic, to hey – check out the blog I wrote about my experience!

When the day finally came, I was lucky that I’d already prepared everything – putting a resume into the CIC prescribed format is one of the most antagonising things I’ve ever done.  Cue visions of the visa processing office putting their fingers between my spaces and wondering what level of security risk radical I was for tapping the spacebar twice after finishing a sentence instead of one.  I would recommend that if you know you’re going to apply, keep as many documents as you can handy and prepared at all times.  Dropbox is a godsend! Especially because I was at work when the quota opened.  

I understand that the IEC 2016 application has changed this year so the experience wasn’t so akin to trying to buy hotly anticipated concert tickets, the Canadian government adopted a more pool style recruitment method – please do let me know how that was though!

Anyway, I’ve decreed myself a firsthand expert on the following: the application experience, the arrival, the apartment hunt, the job hunt (some tips for being unemployed here), opening bank accounts, home internet and a phone, then the actual life experiences like, the value of a dollar, making friends, culture shock, the surprise language barrier and homesickness, sports, places to go in Toronto and how to find out about places to go in Toronto, managing the weather, the Beaches, the Island, the postal system, the public transit, things people will ask you, things you should ask them, books that make the expat life easier and finally the food.  So, this is a fully fledged, blog series aimed to be published over the next 8-10 weeks or so (life depending) about how to move to Canada with a slight definite focus on the experience of Toronto.

So, sign up & follow along for all of the insider info and little guiding light to lead you on your way.  Also, absolutely comment any questions you have, I’m pretty much an open book about whole process! 

Lost Sock Memorial Day: 09/05/16

I remember you. Pink. Fluffy. For years you guarded 5 of my most precious digits with all of your might.  In return, I showed you my part of the world. Peaking above my ankle high boots you saw so much.  Walked with me through so many life events.  Mpink socky first year of university.  My first driving lesson.

I don’t know what happened to you that day.  I don’t even know what day it happened.  It is your sorrowful secret to keep.  All I know is, one day I took you off my right foot, never to place you there again.

Was it the washing machine? That has taken so many of your kind. Are you lurking in some crevice within it? Damp. Cold. Singular. Was it Smudge? The little white West Highland Terrier? Small and unthreatening to me, a menace, a kidnapper to you.

I know you must be somewhere. I know you are lying somewhere, maybe filthy, maybe clean, maybe with a couple of holes in. Maybe faded.

Your counterpart was unfortunately lost in the Great Clear Out prior to the Great Move. It is a harsh reality that without you he was completely useless to me. Trust that we both waited for you as long as we could.  He in the “odd sock” bag, I, struggling through winters wearing different pairs of your kin.  Again, the inconvenient truth is that eventually I simply did not have room for singular socks in my house, nor alas in my heart.  The pain was ultimately too great to bear.

However, today, on this, Missing Sock Memorial Day, you are remembered. You, and all of the pink, fluffy, black, trainer, stripey, holey socks I have left behind.  Thank you for all you did for my feet. The three of us (my two feet and I) are eternally grateful for your sacrifice.

 

A Brit Abroad: Moving from the UK to Canada with a Little Music

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to tell the epic adventure tale that is my recent immigration to Canada.  Originally I thought it could take the style of a checklist or a barrel of hints and tips, but have since decided to embed those a bit.  I’m hoping that this will be a little more entertaining than: “Now you need to buy health insurance – don’t forget those winter sports!”

I’d like you to click play on the song below – not yet, I’ll tell you when. The piece is part of The Planets by Gustav Holst and is entitled ‘Jupiter: Bringer of Jollity”. Just so we all know where we’re going on this journey, I have no idea how to appropriately describe music – so if you’re the equivalent of a connoisseur in the classical department, one thousand sorry’s to you.   If you don’t like classical music, be assured that it’s not drone-y or full of scrapey strings.  It is the kind of song I listen to to get through the last 7 minutes on a treadmill, a song I have listened to at 4am while trying to complete my dissertation, and on reflection, it is a piece of music that completely sums up my move across the Atlantic. I’m going to somewhat attempt to walk with you while we go on my immigration story.  I think this piece of music might help with getting you to feel how I felt.  Maybe I’ve actually, finally cracked.  I get that this might be a bit experimental so please do let me know what you think!

I’ve tried to think of the best way to do this – and  have decided that every now and then I’ll give you a little time stamp of where we’re at in the music feathered with extra links. Huge apologies if you find there’s too much writing for the time or vice-versa.

Hit play now.

During the first minute and 10 seconds, we’re heading from that initial thought all the way to the Departure Lounge at Gatwick Airport.

It’s very exciting.  So exciting.  You have to make a list.  A very long list of what you need to do, including the purchase of insurance, closing all of your accounts in the UK, forwarding your mail, telling your landlord, quitting your job.  But right now, that’s just a thought.  It’s on the list. It can seem quite daunting.  You slowly start to think about this move in real terms, the logistics.

0:24 – Then, it suddenly becomes real and it’s happening. You’re actually packing up and cleaning your house (thanks mum) and headed back to your childhood home for two weeks of goodbyes, quality time and panicking.  There will definitely be a lot of panicking.

You will find yourself, at some point, sitting amongst a pile of stuff you have accumulated from so many years of not having to be worried about fitting your whole life into two large suitcases. You also begin to have existential ponderings about material possessions and their emotional ties – you decide to bring “Ducky” the little white duck with a blue nose that you received from a dear friend during a hard time, although there’s not really any room for him.

Eventually, the night before rolls around and you practice forcing your suitcases into your uncle’s car.  They squeeze in.  You get to the airport and are first in line for check in.  There’s time for a quick breakfast and then the most difficult part of all: saying goodbye to your mum, your dad and your sister. This is when you start blubbing.

1:11 – However, there isn’t much time for that right now as you need to get sorted and ready to head through security.  It’s quick and although you are seriously laden down with your most important life possessions, it’s still relatively smooth.

And now for the duty free. You walk past the vodka, the sunglasses, the perfumes, all of the British memorabilia you could ever dream to buy, but decide you cannot because the past few days have been an admission that you own too much already.

1:30 – Your attention turns now to the task at hand.  No-one is making sure you’re on that plane.  Except you.  Where is my gate?

1:40 – The gate information arrives. You meander through the fanciest airport shops in the general direction of where you are due to leave the UK for longest time you’ve ever left: Gate 25.

1:50 – At this point, you’ve been by yourself for about an hour and a half and you’re feeling pretty comfortable.  It is a confident walk toward the gate, as if you do this walk daily as part of the commute.  You’re still nervous, but the excitement level is definitely rising fast.

2:09 – You’re 10 minutes into walking and realise you’ve just now gone past Gate 4.  You increase speed in the fear that you are about to miss a flight that is still almost an hour and a half away.  Gate 25 feels like it’s half way to Toronto.

You finally find the gate, sit down and feel frantic.  Have I missed the plane? You keep checking out the large, glass window to make sure that the plane hasn’t left without you and the 300 other people you’re sharing this experience with.  You hear the announcement that boarding is slightly delayed, become convinced you’ve met Nikki Grahame from Big Brother and feel generally uncomfortable and nervous.

2:31 – Then they announce that there isn’t going to be any tea of coffee on the flight.  It is an 8 hour flight. -.-

2:40 – Boarding begins and you’re patiently waiting for your turn to jump on the giant hunk of metal that will take you across an enormous ocean.  Terrified.

2:52 – The queue is too long and disorganised and you think you’re going to miss the plane.  By some unearthly miracle, you don’t.  You board. That confidence from earlier is back.

3:02 – You find your seat, sit down and meet your fellow passenger.  Unfortunately I don’t remember Keith’s actual name, but he was friendly and from Hamilton.  You give him your headphones because he didn’t have any.

3:12 – Take off.  You feel an overwhelming sense of achievement.  Who really knows why, all you’ve done is successfully boarded a plane. But I think it’s a culmination of the crippling fear, the leaving behind of almost everything and everyone you know and you really just feel brave. When we pass the coast you are brought back to road trips with your parents and leaving the county and saying “Goodbye Gloucestershire, Hello Worcestershire” except this time it is “Goodbye Britain, hello Atlantic Ocean”.  After this touching moment you remember your crippling fear of sharks and look down at all of that water.  You quickly decide to forget this fear, and not to worry about dealing with any potential shark situations until they arrive.  The flig2013-12-27 17.36.53ht is mostly uneventful, with the exception of Keith sleeping for 5 of the 8 hours and the experience of a desperately full bladder.  The food is as always enjoyable and although looks like rice, tastes exactly like the potato style meal you had on your last flight. The man in front of you keeps putting his seat back but the anger of this is quelled by the discovery that you too can put your seat back.  This is acceptable because you are at the very back of the plane. Occasionally, during the 8 hours you are brought back to the gravity of what you are doing.  The only way I can really describe this is how brave you feel and how proud of yourself you are.  You are so excited at the prospect of the unknown.  No, Canada isn’t really much different from the UK, but the distance is huge and who knows what opportunity is waiting there for you.  Even though you’ve visited before, it didn’t feel like this.  It didn’t feel so monumental.  You finally have the opportunity to watch The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and, as was expected, it is excellent.

4:42 – We start to land, and what has just been a big white expanse becomes trees and bigger sections of white where lakes and rivers are.  As you descend further you can see the CN Tower and the Toronto Skyline.  Take some deep breaths and don’t forget to suck on those soft mints you bought so your ears don’t hurt and pop horribly.

5:02 – TOUCH DOWN. You’ve moved.  You live in Canada now. You can’t help but beam from ear to ear.

5:13 – Here, begins a series of lines.  The first one is at the spot check for passports.  Keith and I chat about the dangling ice (whose name escapes me at this moment). Then you lose Keith and jump in the visitor’s line.  Have that blue folder with your life in it handy.  The border guard is nice and directs you to yet another line.  The 3rd line is quick and small.  You get to be processed by the jolly sounding lady, who takes a look at your landing letter and although you were told to have numerous bank statements and proof of insurance ready, she does not ask to see it.  She issues your visa and tells you it’ll be $30 to replace. Written on your visa you are reminded not to work in the sex industry – all right.

Now comes the 4th and final line.  Service Canada to get my SIN (the equivalent of a National Insurance Number in the UK) This line is again, relatively quick, but the process is a little slow because the computer of the gentleman who’s helping you keeps deciding to crash.  He passes the time by making some light hearted jokes about you being a witch.

6:10 – You pass through into arrivals and your bags are not on the conveyor belt.  My whole life was in those.

6:22 – This becomes a great success because some other poor schmuck has had to lift the 50kg of possessions off the conveyor belt and in a pile near other neglected bags (puts weight lifting chalk away).

You pick up your bags, try to determine some kind of method for carrying two suitcases, two handbags and a life folder.  A final border guard asks to see the passport you have already efficiently put in your life folder.  Some awkward shuffling and dropping of bags ensues. You crinkle your newly printed visa at some point during this process.  The gentleman takes a passing glance at your passport and you are free to go.

7:00 – You’re through the door into arrivals.   You give the wonderful Canadian you’ve been sweeting up for a couple of years a quick kiss and all of your luggage before making a beeline for the Tim Horton’s line where you order your first French Vanilla. Typically, it burns your face off, but is worth it after 8 hours of no caffeine.

7:14 – Your luggage, your Canadian, your shiny new visa, your French Vanilla and you head out of the airport and into the car park, there is lots of snow on the ground and it’s very very cold.  But you’ve made it.

7:25  It feels pretty amazing, the excitement of a new home, a new job and new friends is on the horizon and you just feel epic.

 

The Ballad of Toaster

When she stabbed him there were only two people in the house.  Her and him. That’s why in court it was super difficult to determine what had actually happened beyond: she stabbed him 5 times with a carving knife.

People say there are always three versions of a story: yours, theirs and the truth. Unfortunately, we are rarely able to hear the objective truth.  However, there is almost always something that would know.  A couple of things that bear witness to everything you do, and they’re in your home or office or public garden right now.

“She’s going to lose it.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Well she’s just bashed him with the frying pan so I think we’re definitely headed towards a serious skirmish. She’s looking pretty psycho with make up all over her face and the hysterical crying.”

“To be fair, he shouldn’t have been at it with Susan from number 12”

“Well no probably not.  But I don’t think he quite deserves the level of maddened behaviour we’ve got going on here.  I mean, a carving knife? Really Karen? Get over it. He seems like a pretty solid bloke.”

“Wow, Clock you seem pretty calm considering what’s going on here.”

“Seen a lot of murders in my time, Sideboard.  Back before the days of cheap Swedish furniture we’d get to stand in tens of living rooms and dining rooms, and see a ton of things. I saw the whole industrial revolution from the window sill of a small medicine shop back in Nottingham.  How things have changed for the Boots’.  No use getting worked up over any of it, just sit back and watch them. What can we do?”

 “BLOODY HELL HE’S BLEEDING ALL OVER ME!! PHONE!! She’s stabbed him!! Call the police”

“You know I can’t do that, Rug.”

“What can you do then?”

“Same as you, Sideboard you idiot.  You know very well we can’t do anything except sit here.  There’s no control over anything.  I wouldn’t know where to even begin thinking about lifting my receiver.” 

“Wonder how we’ll get divided up? I’m not sure they’ll bounce back from this.”

“Can’t see Keith bouncing back from 5 stab wounds in his chest at all Lamp. Probably sold – Oi, Toaster! Did you come here with him or her?”

“What have you asked him for? You know he’s mad.”

 “Doomed to watch the world are we,

Sitting on the side,

People come and people go,

There’s nowhere they can hide,

 

They think that we’re unconscious,

Not capable of seeing,

But we’re here and we’re watching you.

Furniture.”

 

“Alright Toaster mate, we’ll figure it out later. Didn’t his poems used to rhyme better than that?”

 

Imagine the stories they would be able to tell if they really could talk and watch.

It would probably be a mix of trauma like witnessing a murder or complete mundane day-to-day things like;

“Gladys wakes up at 8am every day.  After I’m boiled she makes a cup of tea and head out of the room.  I don’t see her again until 2 when she comes in to make lunch. On Sundays she fills me up right to the top because her kids visit.”

Antiques would probably be the most fun pieces of furniture to interview.

With family heirlooms being the most protective over the humans they’ve watched grow up and live and die over and over.

Older furniture probably has a sense of permanency while the newer Ikea era furniture knows it’s more temporary and less likely to be passed down.

Older furniture probably thinks more traditionally about itself and its other furniture colleagues; while, newer furniture is more likely to be open to non-traditional pieces of furniture joining its ranks, like sofas made of palettes and storage shelves made of cardboard.

And so, to conclude, your furniture’s watching you. It’s got opinions on what you’ve matched it with and where you’ve placed it in the room.  They’re probably keen advocates of Feng Shui.  It’s most likely a reluctant accomplice to where you hide the extra biscuits, and knows exactly where that pair of glasses you lost is.

How to be Unemployed

Being unemployed has led me to seek the opinion of and take comfort in the experiences of others who are also unemployed.  I wanted to add to that, so this post is about how my experience has gone thus far, how I’m coping and how I think you should try to cope if you’re in this situation.  

For me, my experience can be summed up into a circular process consisting of three stages:

  1. Living the dream
  2. Momentum and Applications
  3. The Sky is Falling

People will tell you there is a fourth stage; acceptance. I don’t think you ever accept being unemployed.  Maybe at 2pm on a Saturday when you can justify the 8 episodes of ‘The Good Wife’ you just watched because this is what employed people do too.  But that feeling never stays long.

Stage 1: Living the Dream

Common thoughts that occur during this stage:

“I’m not that worried, something will come along.”

“I have enough money to survive many winters – I’m going to be fine.”

“I can get in shape!!”

“I can FINALLY do that juice cleanse”

This is a nice position to be in and a really positive way to feel.  Cling to this.  You can normally churn out 3-4 quality applications daily and you don’t mind taking a day or two off.  You tend to get to the gym easily and you’re feeling confident that this time is like a holiday that won’t last long.  Wasn’t everyone unemployed at some point?  Maybe this is your artistic awakening.  You finally have time to paint!

If only it lasted, because I feel that if you stayed in this stage you’d be all right – you’d probably rock your juice cleanse.  It’s also a nice state to be in because the steely silence of your inbox just rolls off your back. You know it’s going to be all right.

 

Stage 2: Momentum and Applications

There’s no wasting time, you have to treat unemployment like a full-time job.  You will get a job today that will be your sole focus.  You’re having a little less fun and the guilt is starting to slowly build. You miss a day of applications and lay awake thinking that you could’ve missed the ultimate opportunity that appeared for one day only.  You’ve probably stopped shelling out on the pair of jeans your bank balance says you can afford, but the threat of long-term unemployment knows you can’t. You’re also setting yourself mini-targets like:

“I’m going to have a job by Thursday”

Unfortunately, save for sending out more applications this isn’t something you can control.

For the most part however, you’re still feeling positive. You’re going outside and delivering CV’s and it’s great.  You’re going to fix this situation.

And you might fix it during this phase – in which case, AWESOME!

If not, then eventually, like a tidal wave, stage 3 hits. And it hurts.

 

Stage 3: The Sky is Falling

I woke up at 7am.  I checked my emails once before 9am and again at 9:01am in the hope of some communication from a potential employer. Nothing.  I conducted my daily trawl of Indeed.ca in the hopes of finding a new opportunity and I made some toast.  Then at midday, I cracked.  I physically couldn’t complete any more applications because thus far it felt like every hour I’d slaved over sending out cover letters and every second I’d spent perfecting my CV had been for nothing.  I was useless and worthless and hopeless.

So I did what any reasonable, grown-up, individual does when a hard time hits. I went to bed.

I also ate a litre of ice cream and watched 10 episodes of Friends, and wept.

At this point there is next to no joy gained from doing anything because you either feel too guilty to enjoy it or you feel like you’re letting those around you down by enjoying yourself when you should’ve been considering your situation.  It’s getting difficult to justify the purchase of anything, even milk.  You get to the point where you feel you don’t deserve coffee with milk; you’re unemployed! You’ve decided there is little need to get dressed because you’ve got no interviews or anywhere to go and sometimes, you get up just to go back to bed.

Here’s why it’s okay for the above to happen to you.

It’s really difficult to be unemployed.

It is an emotional rollercoaster, that isn’t always rational – OF COURSE YOU CAN HAVE MILK IN YOUR COFFEE! It’s really hard to maintain a sense of identity and determination and momentum when all you get in return is silence.

The two fundamentally, above all, most important things you need to do to get through these times are:

  1. Take good care of yourself and your mental health
  2. Ensure that any application you send out is of the absolute highest quality.

A few additional notes on point 1:

DO NOT DO A JUICE CLEANSE.  You will get upset, angry and you won’t be able to write any kind of quality job application because all you will be thinking about is the amount of cheese in your fridge and the biscuits in your cupboards.

Don’t panic if you have a mini-emotional breakdown.  Take an afternoon and cry it out. The combo of guilt, lack of purpose and fear of wasting time is a huge burden to bear.  So yeah, cry.  Afterward, or the next day, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going.  To quote, what I consider the single most under-quoted movie of all time:

“Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right it’s not the end” – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Even if it’s not all right next week, or next month, eventually, with hard work and determination it will be.  You have to make it all right and you can and you will.  But don’t worry if it’s not tomorrow.

Finally, try and exercise and do try to give yourself some kind of routine.  Setting an alarm to avoid the guilt of a wasted morning helps a lot!

Exercise also helps.

So, okay, I don’t have a job but I’m lifting heavier weights than ever and running a lot faster. It’s a small sense of accomplishment in a time where you can be very quickly convinced that you will never accomplish anything.

Take care of number 1. Power on through.  Get help if you need to.  There is no shame in asking.

Some additional notes on point 2:

There is nothing worse than reviewing your CV after sending it out to 30+ people and finding that it has confused tenses and a couple of grammatical errors.  You want to send out best version of yourself to the workplace (even if you’re doing so in your PJs). It’s also tempting to have written a cover letter and be so tired from writing about yourself that you just hit send.  You’ll feel better for taking a minute away and then coming back to read it refreshed.  Take it from someone who learned the hard way, you HAVE to proof read. AHHH.

Exciting websites I would direct you to for some interesting employment reading are:

  • Askamanager.org – there’s tips for CVs and cover letters here as well as interesting questions from readers, e.g. “My co-worker clipped his nails during an interview, should I have said something?”
  • Your local university careers service. Even if you’re not a student, this is a great spot for cover letter and CV tips. If you’re at the University of Leicester, I cannot tell you how much they want to help and how capable and opportunity-ridden the service is.  I’m sure that this is pretty standard in all universities.

 

Ultimately please remember the following:

  • Unemployment is hard, you can be upset and you can ask for help.
  • You do need to continue to apply to positions, even if it’s entry level shovelling, just try and fill your time, you’ll feel better.
  • Take the best care of yourself, even mini achievements go a long way to boosting your morale at this time

It will be okay.  You are important and valuable and useful and you will find something.

Just. Keep. Going.

Me, Eyebrows and the Benefit Lady

Occasionally, maybe it’s when there’s to be a full moon, I have some horrendously awkward experience with a customer service/ sales associate.  Here’s one for your enjoyment.

It was Christmastime in Nottingham.  The leaves had fallen from the trees and as I stepped off the bus into the city centre the place was heaving.  My two aims of the trip were:

  1. Buy some presents
  1. Have a look at some make-up and maybe go for some kind of contour palette or get an eyebrow pencil or something. I don’t really know what I was looking for specifically, but I knew I wanted to do something about my face.

I end up in Boots, browsing the brands, not super high end, but your Maybelline, Bourgeois, Rimmel priced stuff.   I was also having a look at some brushes.  So basically I was wandering through 6 aisles of products occasionally picking items up, deciding “yes, this is the product that will help me with my face” then walking about some more before changing my mind to “I don’t know how to use this item on my face” and hurriedly putting it back.

This process continued for quite some time.

On reflection it definitely looked like I was going to steal something.  Maybe that’s why she approached.

“Hi, can I help you with anything today?”

Okay – it’s a Benefit lady.  Benefit is far too high end for my face.  Financially I mean. This could mean trouble.

“Um…maybe, I don’t really know what to do with my face” – this is exactly what I said, and I remember because as soon as I said it I knew that this was going to be the start of an adventure.

She starts talking about my face – I don’t wear lots of makeup to work and what I do wear is put on at 7am, it is now 5pm. I’m not looking that great.

“Okay so do you ever put anything on your eyebrows?”

“No.  I’m a bit scared to do that”

“Well you have to put something on your eyebrows – *adds something about drawing the eye down the face – I am terrified and confused*”

Please don’t offer to put me in a chair and apply some product to my face.

“Why don’t we go over to the chair and try a product  or two?”

All-righty, here we go.

Make-up lovers this is where I get SUPER amateur.

Her opener was “you’ve got lovely eyebrows, do you pluck them yourself?” I do – in fact, I had recently done them. “Yeah, thanks” I say, she quickly adds “make sure you don’t over pluck them”.  Oh.

She puts this fancy paste on my eyebrows.  Eyebrow paste is not for me, and when I look in the mirror, I can’t hide how horrible I think I look, coupled with the uncontrollable “wow” that flies out of my mouth before I can catch it, this is not good.  She notices and says “this mascara stuff will do something extra to it” – okay that’s not what she said, but I don’t remember her words. Regardless,   she’s now putting some mascara style stuff on my face.

 

These brows are dark.  It’s December and I skipped a tropical summer holiday so I am ghostly white.  It looks horrible.  I have virtually no other makeup on than my now super dark eyebrows.   It’s just terrible and then to top it off here comes the sales pitch.

This is a serious problem; I could end up with these products.  Just to describe them, they are thumb-length, little finger wide tiny pots of goo. I don’t want them but tactfully decide that I will consider buying one if it is a fiver – although there is a tinge of guilt considering the whole 15 minutes she’s spent painting the little hairs above my eyes.

“So they’re £20 each, not huge costs for great eyebrows like these”

Hell no.  I’m out.

I don’t feel that bad for wasting her time any more.  I stumble through some crappy line about seeing what Santa brings me and run out of the shop.  I spent almost an hour and a half in Boots, purchased nothing and now have the most ridiculous eyebrow/ghost face situation going on.  I decide to forgo any present shopping and run to the bus to get home; hand and hair strategically placed to try to cover the eyebrow disaster.