Interview With Alpa
Categories: Worker Interview
November 16, 2022
In this interview, I was joined by FindWRK recruiting coordinator, Alpa Vaidya, who recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving from Mumbai to Canada. Alpa is a student in a Masters Program at Seneca, where she is expanding her skill set in the information technology sector. When she’s not connecting to workers on the platform, supporting them one-on-one at events, or studying for her classes, you’ll find Alpa playing pool with her friends, exploring Toronto, making Indian cuisine, checking the shelves of the library, or dreaming of her future cat.
JC: What influenced you to come to Canada?
AV: The weather.
AV: No, where I come from, it’s a tropical climate, but one of my favourite things about Canada is that the people here are super friendly. When I came, I had no idea. I’d always heard about how friendly people in Canada were but I saw it first hand. I always thought I’d go to the States, but after coming here, I’ve changed my mind.
JC: So, as a child, you thought you would go to the States?
AV: Yes. As a child, I was in the fifth grade, and I remember learning to read the atlas and figuring out the map. It was then that I decided, I’m going to go to the States, and that’s how the dream started building up. It came from inside me, and it was also my Dad. He had gotten into this university in New Jersey, and he couldn’t pay his fees. He has these letters from the university saying, ‘since you couldn’t pay the fees, we are cancelling your admission.’ My Dad always said, “one day, if my daughter goes, I will be more than happy. I will be the proudest person on the earth.” He never pushed his dream on me, but this dream started developing. I told everyone, “I’m going to go one day,” I just didn’t know when. But then COVID started, and I was just at home with my parents, we got into a discussion, and then the plan was set into motion. I thought, ok, let’s do it. And just like that, I did it, I got the VISA, and I came here.
JC: And was it mostly for the opportunity that you wanted to go to the States when you were a child?
AV: Yeh, so when I was a kid, I was always fascinated. I thought, ‘my Dad got into university in the States, I can also do it.’ It was just that way, I just dreamt about it, and I thought, let’s do it. But I didn’t understand what opportunity was, I didn’t understand how everything was going to be, what career path I was going to choose; it was just that I wanted to go somewhere, so that’s what guided me throughout.
JC: And Alpa, tell me a little bit about your program and whether you applied when you were in India or whether you applied here?
AV: Ok, so when I was back in India, I was looking for Master’s programs that were related to my work. Since I had a good amount of experience and knew what I wanted to do in the IT industry, I started looking for those programs. I wanted to do something with machine learning and artificial intelligence, so I had just applied for two courses in two different colleges, and I got into them—St. Clair and Seneca. I got the admission, but then tragedy struck. But I am fortunate, I am so thankful to God or a superior power that I did not go to St. Clair, which was my first choice because it had a better program for machine learning and artificial intelligence. I applied for my study permit. I got the study permit, my passport got stamped, and after that, I got mail from the college saying, “your admission is cancelled since we are over capacity and you cannot do the September start.” I was surprised, I thought my passport is stamped, I have a VISA and everything. I have a permit. And they said, “you can defer to next May.” I had quit my job, and I had no other option. I didn’t know what to do. It was one of the worst times I have faced because there was pressure from home, and from my in-law’s side, there was a bit of pressure to cancel. It was the start of August when I approached Seneca and said, “Hey, I have an offer for you, I know I have not yet accepted your offer, and the offer has expired. Can I still go ahead with the offer?” Seneca accepted. I did the entire process of VISA, and everything again. That’s when I got the study permit in November. I am fortunate that I got accepted into Seneca, it’s one of the best. I had focused and made up my mind that I am going, no matter what difficulties come my way. I am going.
JC: So, Alpa, when you talk about the difficulties, what were some of the biggest sacrifices related to your decision, would you say?
AV: Back in my country, family and being around people is a big thing. So the sacrifices are mostly that family is not here. I miss them the most when festival time is happening. Right now, the festival time is starting back in the country. It’s going to be Diwali soon, it’s going to be the festival season, and I miss that. I also miss working. I don’t know why really, I just miss it. All my life, after graduation, I have just worked, worked, worked, and I enjoyed working; it’s not something that I was forced to do. So, these are the two things I miss the most—work and family.
JC: And does it feel like a sacrifice to come to Canada and not get the same level of work that you would have had in India? Tell me more about that.
AV: Yeh, so yes, it’s a compromise, and I understand that I’m a student. So, I’ve had to tell myself that this is how it’s going to be, you chose this, and this is how the culture may be over here for students, and you have to accept that. So, yeh, it was a bit challenging and initially, I felt I’m not doing what I want to do, but then I got used to it, and now it’s ok.
JC: And do you think that after your program, you’ll end up in a position that reflects your skills and interests?
AV: Yes, so I am hoping that after my program, I go back to the IT industry, and I always wanted to work as a database administrator. I want to search specifically for those jobs because I have worked and I have experience in that sector, and I know how things in the IT industry work. So, I want to continue. And I believe that after I complete my program, I might have an upper hand in this because of the experience and knowledge I have in the field. It goes hand-in-hand. I’m doing a post-graduate course that is going to help me and that’s enabling me to learn more about the technologies, so it’s going to be a good thing, a cherry on top of my experience.
JC: But Alpa, do you feel as though, you know, you worked in IT in India, you have a strong working background, do you feel like you bring new knowledge to Canada?
AV: In one particular field, yes, I do. I have a good amount of experience in Linux administration. So, when I came here and began studying that subject, I felt that yes, I had done this, I know about it, and that’s a good thing. It means that I can help everyone with the assignments. I guess it’s going to be useful because when I go out into the industry looking for a job after my program is completed, that’s going to be something where I have confidence and hands-on experience. I have gained knowledge from the program I’m studying, so I feel it’s going to be very helpful when I go out into the Canadian market.
JC: What do you think employers can do to welcome new Canadians better and to take them into positions that represent their skillset?
AV: Many have less than two years of experience, but as a student, they come with zero expectations because they know that finding a job in their field of study is going to be difficult. For instance, if they are studying business, finding an entry-level job when they are a student is going to be tough. I feel like it’s an unsaid truth here that students have to do something that’s outside their field of study, they just have to do something like be a Walmart employee or something with Home Depot. I’m very fortunate that I got an offer for this job. I don’t know what I must have done, but I am fortunate, and none of my classmates have a job like this; everyone is either working at Home Depot, Walmart, or Subway. And I feel that there could be more internships. That’s the thing, for students it’s tough, and that’s going to be everywhere, not just in Canada.
JC: I want to talk a little bit about when you first arrived in Canada, some of the challenges of those early days and your fears.
AV: The biggest fear was ‘I don’t know anyone, how will everything fall into place, how will I settle down, how will I get my bank account open, how will I commute, how will I know what to do/what not to do.’ The biggest fear is, ‘I am very new to it, who will help me?’ Since I’ve landed in Canada, I have no friends or family. It made me ask myself, ‘who will be that person who will help me?’ That was the biggest fear when I was coming from there to here. But then, when I landed, I found a room where I could stay for a few days, and there were so many contacts that connected me, and they helped me. They said, ‘if you want to find a room or anything, just let us know,’ But the challenge we face is the fear, the thought that nags, ‘how will I do this?’ There’s no infrastructure to help you cope with the fear of that looming question, ‘where do I stay, how do I do this?’ We can stay on college campuses, but they’re way more expensive than us staying elsewhere. So, it’s going to be tough for anyone who comes to Canada to stay on a college campus. My biggest fear was what I was going to do for the initial seven days when I came, but I was lucky that I found a roommate on the second day. She took me around everywhere, and we gelled so well that I have stayed with her for eight months since we both have.
JC: You and I had a discussion where we talked in depth about how you are very social, extroverted, and adventurous in nature and that allows you to connect with people and value your relationships. And you told me about how much having strong and connected relationships is valued in India. So, tell me about how, for instance, recently you explored the Exhibition. Tell me about how you built connections, and as you mentioned, that made it a lot easier.
AV: Yes, so, when I was back at home, everyone said that when you go to Canada, you have to socialize. Socializing here is a lot different than socializing back home, where we tend to connect with a small group of people. Over here, socializing involves going to meet an entirely new person, and that new person becomes your friend. Since you have no family in Canada, you are meeting an entirely new set of people. And then they will introduce you to their friends and then to their friends, and that’s how socializing functions here, and it’s quite the opposite. It’s a good thing if you choose to see it that way. My personality is that I’m an extrovert, but a lot of my friends are introverted, and it’s very difficult for them. Back in the country, for instance, I would depend on my family and close friends for socialization, whereas here, a lot happens through friends offering further connections and word of mouth. I might ask a friend, “do you know of any job vacancies?” So, in my case, I asked Tristan at the end of the session, “Tristan, do you have a job for me? Can I work for you? Can I do what you do?” But most other people will not do that. They will not be so upfront and go and ask someone for a job like that.
JC: What do you think gives you the courage or the strength to be able to do that, Alpa?
AV: I guess the way I’ve been brought up. So, my Dad always told me, ‘go and be independent in the world.’ My parents had this hand in making me the person that I am today. They knew that I was an only child, and they knew that once they were not present, they wanted me to be ok by myself. They did not want me to be dependent because back in India, it’s a big thing; a girl depends on her husband for almost everything. And they didn’t want that for me. They felt, “we are not going to be around. We want you to be a fighter, we want you to go out in the world. We want you to make your mark and be independent, go out and enjoy your life. That’s how I grew up, and that encouraged me that I could do this. I don’t want to be dependent on some guy, so that has always been the driving factor for me, that “no, I want to do this on my own.” If I want to shop, it should be my own money. If I want to travel, it should be my own money, my own hard-earned money, because I don’t want some guy buying things for me.
JC: So, Alpa, you’re married but do you think that’s what lets you be here in Canada and chart your own course? Although your partner will come, you’ve done your own thing for almost a year without worry.
AV: Yes, so I had this proposal for marriage, this guy was in the States, and my parents were like, “ok, you should get married. He’s in the States, you’ll get to go to the States and everything. I just rejected that offer, I said I wanted to do it on my own. I didn’t want to go and be dependent on some guy. I said, “no, I’m going to go and make my own mark, I’m going to struggle, I’m going to put in my effort. I’m going to do this on my own.”
JC: If you were going to advise someone who was coming to Canada this year, what would you say to them about how to settle in Canada, find work, and create community?
AV: First, keep an open mind and be aware that the culture you have in India is not going to be the same as the culture that is here in Canada. It’s going to be different. Accept the culture because now you are here. If you say, “oh, this doesn’t happen back in India, I don’t want to do it,” that thinking will not get you anywhere; just accept everything. It’s going to be new. Here, we have a different set of rules or regulations or a different vibe. Keep your mind open about it, and think to yourself, this is cool. Accept it. If you start accepting it positively, things will go in a positive direction. If you don’t accept it positively and you’re still with the mentality that you had back home, you cannot adjust well to Canada. Just accept it. Things will take time, give it some time, and don’t be restless. It is going to take time, but once you are settled in, you will enjoy yourself over here.
JC: That’s really cool. It reminds me of the Exhibition because it was so different from home, but when you were there, you found things that reminded you of home, whether it was food, the feel of a carnival, or holidays and I feel like your excitement and exuberance about that was because you weren’t trying to compare it to home.
AV: I found some pieces that were similar to home. Everyone goes to the fair, carnival, everyone enjoys it, that’s the same thing everywhere. People are going to be the same everywhere. I was so excited to see everything. And back home, food would be just our own cuisine, it wouldn’t be multiple cuisines. But here they had so many options, and it’s ok if I’m vegan and I don’t eat meat, but for the people who do, there are so many options.
JC: And Alpa, if a new Canadian was coming here, what are the top five things you would tell them to try to explore?
AV: I would tell them to enjoy the local festivals because that is something that will help you talk to people. If you are in some kind of depression that mentally affects you, if you go out and enjoy yourself and have that courage just to put yourself out into the world, you will forget feelings like loneliness. You won’t get that feeling. So that is my very first piece of advice. Even if you don’t want to do it, just make an effort, have that courage, and just get dressed and go out. Once you see people, all the feelings of loneliness and depression go away. That would be my first advice to them.
The second would be to go and see the CN tower. It’s just amazing. Sit on the Harbourfront, put your legs in the water, and enjoy. Go to the beaches, explore Niagara, of course, and go to art exhibitions. I went to Van Gogh, and it was awesome. It was the very first time in my life that I had gone to an art exhibition, and I am such a huge fan of paintings. That inspired me so much. Do something that you haven’t done back in your country, do it because Toronto has so many opportunities. Toronto has so much to offer, just take up as much as you can. Take it in, you’re going to love it.
JC: Lastly, since we’re talking on the FindWRK platform, what would you suggest to employers about how they should welcome or think about new Canadians coming into the workplace?
AV: I don’t know about others, I’ve never worked in any other job apart from FindWRK, but I felt so welcomed, and I felt the similarities. Tristan was so friendly, Mike was so friendly, at the time, we were just three of us. I had a very nice interaction with them; I had a great experience with them, but you won’t have the same experience if you’re getting a job at Walmart or Subway, and the employers can sometimes be tough about it. Not everyone is lenient. I have a friend who works at Walmart who has the best manager, she understands him, and he can go and do his shift whenever it’s feasible for him. My other friend who works at Subway, her shifts are entirely opposite, she has to go if she wants to or not. If she’s sick, she still has to go and fill her shift, so I expect that employers like this should be a bit more lenient and understanding because we are very new. Try to understand our perspective and our mindset, and give them a bit of a break if they need it. Canadians are so friendly. I never expected that I would just be sitting out on my porch, and people would just come and say, ‘hi, how are you? Good day.’ That makes the day, trust me, a stranger walking and saying that, it makes the day.