Canadian correspondent Quay Evano on the beauty of experiencing snow for the first time and the importance of having a childlike mindset when you have a new place to call home.
Our first white Christmas in Canada was very memorable – my two kids and I were in the hospital.
We were suffering from the flu for almost a week because of the cold weather, among other reasons, so my wife and I had to bring us all there for check-ups, tests and medications.
The snow and the super cold temperature in our new home of Calgary, took us by surprise. I guess our bodies needed more time to adjust to the cold weather after living in Dubai and traveling to different climates before settling in Calgary.
Over four months, we experienced the mind-boggling heat of the Middle East, the super humid tropical weather of the Philippines, the mild and nice cold weather of Vancouver, then the freezing temperatures of Calgary. Drastic and extreme temperatures in such a short span of time took its toll.
Adjustment – that’s what the life of an immigrant in Canada is all about.
You adjust as much as you can, to the extremely cold weather especially in some provinces in Canada like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba where the temperatures could drop to -40 degrees Celsius. It can even go lower because of the so-called wind factor.
Layer and peel
You turn up your heater at home to full blast and savor every moment you are indoors where it is warm. You equip your vehicles with winter tires for better traction on the road. You apply lip balm so your lips won’t get dry and crack. You learn about the phrase “layer and peel”, which means before going out, you put on thermal pants and long sleeves, layer them with more clothing, then top it all with a snow jacket, gloves and toque/bonet. But once you are indoors again, you start peeling off most of what you are wearing.
There’s a saying that goes, “you are never ready for the snow or winter”. In Calgary where we live, snow comes early, usually in October. After a few weeks and months, you adjust to it because winter lasts up to April, sometimes even May, so that’s around seven to eight months of snow. There are days in March where snow will fall but might melt the same or next day. It’s a guessing game to what the temperature and weather will be like. It might be 10 or -10 in one day, or it might snow, hail, rain or the sun will come out. They say in Calgary, you can have all four seasons in one day. It is so true.
Starting with a “survival job”
One big adjustment an immigrant or permanent resident goes through here is finding a job. Most, if not all, go through what they call the “Canadian experience” – taking on a start-up job like being a staff in Tim Horton’s, McDonalds and other retail stores. You take on a job that is totally different from your chosen field or career. In other words you end up having a “survival job”. You’d often hear stories of engineers working as cashiers or service crew, of doctors working as janitors and top-level managers from their country of origin working as sales trainees.
Alvin Manigo used to be a policeman in Davao in the Philippines, but found a job as a production worker in a meat processing plant in Brooks, Alberta. Cesar (last name withheld) used to be a civil engineer in Manila is working as a product merchandiser while trying to get his engineering accreditations and board exams. Imam, a guy from Iran, used to work in Saudi Arabia and has a Master’s degree in Marketing, but the first job he got here was sorting out mail in a public library.
I personally experienced this. The first job I had here was as a customer service associate for a clothing store. I folded clothes, greeted customers, stocked shoes. It was a bit of a shock for me. Although I had previous experience working for a clothing company, I never had any experience being on the floor to greet customers and sell clothes.
But in Canada, everybody treats everybody equally. You may personally think that you are way above the job that you have or a certain job is way too low for you, but people don’t really care – as long as you have a job. The dignity of work is what is important here. Egos and pride get a beating, but you learn to adjust your mindset to align your cultural upbringing to the totally different norms and customs of this country.
But the so-called “Canadian experience” is a Catch-22 or like the chicken and egg paradox. Recruiters and Human Resource Managers will not hire you because you don’t have any Canadian experience so you take survival jobs or volunteer your time and talent to organizations to build up your “Canadian resume”. Giving back to the community is very important aspect of the local culture here.
For Canadians, adjusting constantly is a way of life.
But all in all, seeing real snow fall for the first time was such an exhilarating experience. You really become like a child again. And I guess that’s what a new immigrant should be – childlike enough to take in everything with open arms; accepting and seeing everything that is happening, and taking it as a day by day learning experience.
They say in Calgary, you can have all four seasons in one day. It is so true.
I guess that’s what a new immigrant should be – childlike enough to take in everything with open arms; accepting and seeing everything that is happening, and learning from it.