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Diversity and inclusion

Coming to Canada

May 25, 2022

As May 25th marks the City of Toronto’s 8th annual Newcomer Day, Desjardins is proud to be one of the title sponsors for the event. In honour of welcoming newcomers, Desjardins employees reflect on their experiences coming to Canada and share lessons learned.

First impressions

When Alan Yifan Dong, Wealth Management Advisor at Desjardins Ontario Credit Union, 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 27 years old.  Moving in 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.”

Overcoming the language barrier

Being born and raised in China, Alan didn’t speak English or French making 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 and make friends through this class who were also going through a similar experience as him.

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

Navigating the new normal

For Oumayma, her experience was much different. Growing up in Tunisia, French is her second language. In fact, her ability to speak French was the main reason she came to Quebec.

Instead, her struggles were more closely linked to Covid as her flight to Canada came just days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. “I had never been on a plane or lived on my own before. It was a big transition for me going to a place where I didn’t know anyone, especially with everything being shut down.”

While in-person activities are opening again, the pandemic has changed the way we meet people. She recommends getting creative, whether its going to local events or exploring online community groups, both are a great way to make friends and help with the transition. 

Benefits of living in Canada

When Alan came to Toronto he immediately clicked with the fast-paced environment, “Working here can be very competitive but that’s a big reason why many people come, including myself. 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 changes in weather, she connected quickly with the 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 acknowledges that some newcomers like herself are not prepared for what their first Canadian winter has in store. Her first recommendation is to make sure you have 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 acknowledge there are many people in Canada who came from other countries that have gone through a similar experience.

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 the moment that can change your life.”