Carolyn in Alberta : "I was surprised at how friendly Canadians are"

Expat interviews
  • Carolyn in Alberta
Published on 2015-02-12 at 00:00 by team
Filipino expat, Carolyn, settled in Alberta three years back through a care-giving program. Though she wishes for a career change in the near future, she enjoys writing, traveling and volunteering as well.

Where are you from and what are you doing nowadays?

I am Carolyn and I came from the Philippines, a tropical country with 7,107 islands in South-east Asia. I came to Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program (which is now called Caregiver Program since November 30, 2014). I am currently looking for ways to contribute through my love of code, writing, and technology.

Why did you choose to move to Canada?

Did I choose Canada? Looking back, somehow, it might have chosen me. The opportunity was presented and it was up to me whether to seize it or let someone else take it. I did eventually choose Canada, but not right away. The itch to travel, learn a different culture made me decisive after a couple of years. It was time to head West.

What were the procedures to follow for a Filipino national to move there?

For any Filipino aspiring to come in Canada, work experience will at one point be the deciding factor in which the doors of opportunity will be wide open: Express Entry, provincial nominees, start-up visa and more. Keep an eye on the changes through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

How long have you been in the country?

I've been in Canada for three years and I could say that I progressively adapt over the years. Getting warm and bundling up in winter with fewer layers of clothes (it's a matter of investing in the right clothes). In the future, I'm hoping my parents and siblings can visit me during summer or winter. They probably like to experience both seasons minus the mosquito bites and cold wind.

What has attracted you to Alberta?

Mountains, prairies, and weather are the things I picture in my mind every time I hear the word Canada. Then, I would imagine how it feels to play in the snow. I did try tobogganing; everybody should try it with safety as the first priority followed by fun. I love nature and how it transforms in different seasons. I do now enjoy winter but not the -38 degree joining forces with snowstorm. Winter gives me something to look forward to (lush parks in summer) while appreciating the moment.

Are you currently working? What are the local labor market's specificities?

I am currently considering a career change focusing on what I am passionate about: technology. This is an advice I try to follow and give to others: before diving into a new field, it is best to look at the bigger picture. You have to research the market outlook, budget, certification, local groups and organization.
The local labor market in Alberta focuses on jobs serving the oil and gas industries. Engineers and any jobs relevant to exported commodities have attracted immigrants. Assess yourself and research the trend. The best way to start is through the Alberta Learning Information Service website.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?

For live-in caregivers, accommodation is one thing not to worry about. For others, they can choose to live in an apartment, condominium, or rent a bedroom. The rent in Alberta is a bit high. You can save by sharing the expenses with a friend or relative, but find someone you can trust and get along with. If you are planning to migrate with your family, find a house close to school and transportation. Traveling takes longer in winter, a season when road accident and power outage happen often causing delay in the schedule of trains and buses.

How do you find the Canadian lifestyle?

The saying "You don't have to wait for the perfect moment" is the best way I can describe the Canadian lifestyle. Dog-walking or jogging in winter, strolling in parks in summer, enjoying the week-end, working hard on week days. These are the things that I'm amused of. Canadians will find the time to balance work and life. I'm trying to adapt to such lifestyle while adding a twist of personal finance. As much as possible, particularly in summer, I like to explore the city without spending much. You can buy daily or monthly pass. Not to mention the free movies and events you can join just by staying informed.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

Working from home has helped me to gradually adapt. But comfort and warm have made me miss the chances to discover the city and learn from others. So I went out more. I discovered places, meet people, learn new things, volunteer for a cause I believed in. Gradually, I was able to integrate. A tip for newcomers: join a meet-up group based on your interest. You will have much fun without the stress and pressure of having to start a conversation, right away.

What does your every day life look like in Alberta?

My day begins with deciding whether I should wear the clothes I plan last night. (In Alberta, you can have three/four weathers in a day.) Next, I do the things on my to-do list (either scribbled on a paper or drawn from memory) for the day, but I try to be flexible when things don't turn out the way I plan. Obviously, avoiding stress is on top of the list. By the end of the day, I squeeze a "for only me" time, I read (book or newsletter), blog, or go out for a short walk. However, my day gone by, it's likely to end with a cup of hot tea.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

On my arrival, I was more trembling than surprised. I arrived in summer, but the wind was so cold in the airport. My hoodie became my best friend since then. Apart from the weather, I was surprised how friendly Canadians are. Later on I adapt the gesture of opening or leaving the door open for others, giving way on the escalator, and saying sorry when I'm blocking someone's way. And the one thing that surprised me most is their love for hockey. Trains are congested whenever there's a game.

Any particular experience you would like to share with us?

I mentioned volunteering so I thought of sharing my first volunteering gig without leaving home. It is possible. I volunteered online for a non-for-profit organization. I saw the announcement for the position through the organization's newsletter in my inbox. So newcomers should subscribe through email or RSS feed of an organization or blog that they like. You will be surprised of the many opportunities and wisdom that you'll get free of charge. Volunteering goes hand in hand with networking. Start as soon as you land.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Canada? Is it easy for an expat to live there?

The cost of living in Canada can be high or low depending where you are coming from. Since I'm from Asia, at first I thought it was high, but later I found out that in Alberta you don't have to pay for provincial sales tax unlike in other provinces.
Budgeting is a skill everyone has to learn. I chose a lower mobile plan for my phone based on my technological needs (and wants). Ditching caffeine also made more room on my budget.
Spend on the things you really need. Buy on a discount, but you don't have to deprive yourself. Regardless of wherever you are it is the "cost of spending too much" you should watch out for.

How do you spend your leisure time there?

Reading, watching movies and documentaries are my favorite pass-time. I'll also add experimenting/cooking vegetarian food. I just use whatever ingredients are available. Voila! There goes my seemingly edible food. (For the worst case scenario, salad rescues me all the time.) Lastly, blogging and learning how to code should come first (not always) before I reward myself with my favorite pass-time. My leisure activities are not that fancy at all. Still, I want to have a balance between fun and productivity.

What are the differences between life in Canada and in the Philippines?

Philippines is 14 hours ahead of time from Canada. It's a huge gap but I felt that my clock is catching up so fast. Or is it just me? I have to slow down not just to avoid falling on ice but also to cherish the moment. Be present!
When I was in the Philippines caught up in the traffic jam, queue in trains, or acid final exams, I wanted to make the clock's hands move faster. So what happened? I changed to my disadvantage. I don't have to go back, but I do have to be patient and become more aware of the present. Slow down. It isn't hard to practice this habit in a long queue of free movie premiere night. I wouldn't mind waiting. Not at all.

Do you miss your home country?

Every day. Home is where your heart is. But it doesn't mean you cannot live and have homes in another country. How much I can achieve in life is partly rooted on the values and knowledge I learned back home. These are my very own survival kit. The opportunities that await me are my motivation. I'll be a better person when I go back. Until then, I hope to give back both in the Philippines and Canada whatever ventures that come in my way.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Canada?

"I should have never quit." These are the words shared to me by a fellow commuter on my way home. It's a brief but meaningful chat I will not forget. Having a small talk is typical, but sometimes I am trusted with life lesson from a stranger-just when I least expected and needed.
Always remember why you are here. Is it for your dream or to help someone achieve his own? Or maybe to find yourself, to know who you truly are? We are all travelers. Own the path that is only meant for you.

What are your plans for the future?

My plan is to have several plans. Try, and if I fail, the next plan is to press on. I may move to another place or not. Wherever my journey leads to, I'll keep on writing. It still amazes me how I am able to reach out and help others through words reliving stories and lessons to each reader, time and again. Their inspiring words somehow tell me that I made the right decision.
For a not-so-distant future, I plan to ride my bike often and start gardening early in spring. I learned a lesson when my romaine and tomatoes succumbed to snow last September!

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