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Diversity and inclusion

Coming to Canada

May 17, 2024

May 23 marks the City of Toronto’s 10th annual Newcomer Day, and Desjardins is proud to be one of the main sponsors for the event. To welcome newcomers, Desjardins employees reflect on their experiences coming to Canada and share what they learned.

“Newcomers to Canada have always been a core component of our society. Desjardins is proud to be part of today because we strive to give newcomers the support they need, as a financial institution, and embrace their talent in the workforce, as an employer,” said Estelle Theng, Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Respect in the Workplace.

First impressions

When Alan Yifan Dong, Business Development Advisor at Desjardins, first came to the country, it was with his family when he was 12 years old. Originally from Beijing, which he felt was much busier and noisier than his new life in Montreal, it was difficult at first to adapt. However, he did mention, “Canada felt very developed and high-tech, I really liked the environment.”

Oumayma Ben Smaya, a programmer analyst at Desjardins, came from North Africa in March of 2020 at the age of 27. Arriving at the end of winter, she noted the drastic change in temperatures. “We don’t have the same weather as Tunisia, it was so cold when I got here,” she said.

Overcoming the language barrier

Born and raised in China, Alan didn’t speak French or English. This made it difficult to adjust when he first moved to Quebec. He learned French through a welcome class offered in school, which taught him the language from scratch. As Canada is very multicultural, he was able to meet a lot of people in the class and make friends who were going through a similar experience.

Although learning new languages was difficult at the time, his ability to speak both French and English, while also being fluent in Mandarin, gave him a great advantage when looking for jobs, especially after he moved to Toronto in 2018.

Benefits of living in Canada

When Alan came to Toronto he immediately clicked with the fast-paced environment. As he put it, “Working here can be very competitive, but that’s a big reason why many people come, including me. There are so many opportunities and choices for your career, it was the perfect place for me to grow.”

For Oumayma, while she is still adjusting to the differences in weather, she connected quickly with nature in the summer months. “One thing I immediately loved about the country is the environment. The parks, the nature, it’s so beautiful. I’m excited to explore more this summer, every week I visit a park.”

Advice for newcomers

Oumayma said that some newcomers like her are not prepared for what their first Canadian winter has in store. Her first recommendation is to get proper winter clothes. She highlights vintage and second-hand stores as great places to find them at a low price.

When both Alan and Oumayma were asked what top advice they would give to new Canadians, they both shared the same sentiment—don’t be scared to put yourself out there. They both pointed out that there are many people in Canada who came from other countries and have gone through similar experiences.

Alan urges newcomers to take advantage of all the local events and activities. “Don’t lock yourself indoors, go out, meet people and stay positive.”

Oumayma also encourages newcomers to make the most of it. “Don’t be afraid. It’s a moment that can change your life.”