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Stranded in Canada: Mei’s Story

I left China for Canada just before the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, intending to visit my husband for a few weeks. It was the Lunar New Year, and I hoped the panic over COVID would pass while I enjoyed the holiday with him. Instead, every flight I tried booking back to China was canceled. I was stuck. I continued my work for an international magazine in Beijing remotely from Canada for the next few uncertain months.

I chose to stay after the pandemic for several reasons. My husband was completing his degree in Canada, and I wanted to stay with him. Additionally, during the pandemic, I watched from afar as the political situation back home became increasingly repressive. My degrees and training are in journalism, and I did not feel it was possible to work in a country that did not have freedom of the press.

Thankfully, I had just started my career then, so I did not need to rebuild my experience like most immigrants. However, I still faced several barriers to finding a job. As a non-native speaker of English, it was especially difficult for me to practice journalism because it required good writing skills. I applied again and again to jobs and received no response. Instead, I chose to work in the marketing industry, where I faced fewer barriers. In my first Canadian job, I worked for a tech startup doing content creation. Today I work with an immigrant services organization in Calgary, putting my degrees to use, working on their social media and website while helping others. My own immigration story helped me understand the perspectives of our clients and direct them to good resources, including career advice which was invaluable for me. I encourage all newcomers to use the support services offered by non-profit organizations in Calgary!

In my culture, I was taught to study hard and work hard. It’s imprinted in me to build a career for myself, and in Canada, I saw more chances as a woman to do that. My female friends back in China are struggling to build their careers. They are working overtime with no work-life balance and no paid maternity leave. Even though it’s getting harder to find a job everywhere, I still feel I have more opportunities in North America. If I could go back in time and change one thing about my journey, I would have done my bachelor’s degree overseas in addition to my master’s. This could have given me more time to adjust and learn English in an immersive environment. In my work with newcomers, I always advise immigrants to make connections and network. I did not realize at first that this was so important in the Canadian workforce. Meeting new people opened up lots of job opportunities for me.

I got lucky. Due to the pandemic, there were very few newcomers, and I was able to quickly obtain permanent residence. I had gotten my master’s degree in the United Kingdom which allowed me to practice my English immersively for a year. Additionally, being young and just out of university made my transition much smoother. I know friends who have not had the same experience and have had to restart their careers. Doctors, engineers, and other professionals, who have had to assume essential roles to secure financial stability for their families.

I love living in Calgary and feel at home in Canada. The city is ideal for me and my lifestyle. I own a dog, so I got to know my neighbors and made friends while walking him around the neighborhood. At work, I am surrounded by people who have had similar life experiences and struggles. Working also allows me to practice my English as an introvert who does not often talk to strangers. A big way for me to master English and Canadian culture was through imitation. I listened to podcasts and watched youtube videos to adjust to the new language and environment. My husband was a wonderful support since he did his education in Calgary and knew the ropes of living in Canada.

I’ve only been back to China once due to pandemic restrictions. I had a bit of reverse culture shock, even though I was returning for just a few weeks. More people were out on the streets and in the malls than here. Even though I miss my friends and family, I don’t think I will ever be able to adjust to living in China again. I now see Canada as my home and am used to living here. My family has applied to move to Canada as well and will hopefully be able to join me soon.

Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity

This story is a collaborative effort between Sophia Vitter and Mei Yang

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