One day at a time
Dear younger me,
When you come to Canada at 21, a recent graduate of the top university in your country, with Latin honors and a professional license, you’ll think you have an edge over many other people hoping to establish a career in this foreign land. You’ll feel so optimistic about the future, and you’ll imagine yourself effortlessly climbing up to your own version of success.
But not long after you set foot on this country as an immigrant, you’ll find that things are not that simple, that your background in the Philippines doesn’t matter, and that, yes, excuse me, you have to deal with the same issues as everyone else.
In your first weeks in Canada, apart from getting used to the harsh climate and learning how to get around, you’ll hunt for a job. Because you’re ambitious, you’ll ask one of the staff in your brother’s school how you can be hired as a teacher. And she’ll smile and say, “Well, first of all, Mister, you need a teaching certificate. Are you already certified here in Ontario?” The answer is no.
But you’ll not be discouraged. On the Internet, you’ll surf every job site available in search of schools needing teachers or teaching assistants. You’ll find many, but 99 percent of them will ask for a Canadian certificate and/or at least two years of experience.
Within days you’ll discover that you can get your credentials evaluated for a chance to be given a teaching certificate, so you can teach without having to study all over again. But as you consider the long list of requirements and the tedious process you’ll have to go through, not to mention the slightly expensive processing fee, you’ll know that they actually mean, “You know what, just go study again!” You’ll decide to try it out, anyway. You’ll arrange an appointment with a career adviser and with an organization that helps newcomers write resumés and find a job. But they won’t be of great help to you.
Slowly, reality will sink in: that you urgently need to earn money. Because, c’mon, you’ve moved to a new country with your whole family. Your mom is single, she’s the only one who has a job, and your two youngest siblings are going to school. Your family is starting from scratch, bills keep coming, you’re in debt.
So you’ll be advised not to be so picky with jobs. The very next day, you’ll walk under heavy snow and literally go from door to door handing out your resumé to every establishment—no matter if it’s a coffee shop, drugstore, beer store, or burger stand. But even this will not be easy. Days will pass and you won’t get a call for a job interview. You’ll get a bit depressed, until one morning you’ll read in the classifieds of a local newspaper about a company looking for customer service reps. You’ll give them a call right away and the next morning, you’ll go for training. Only then will you learn that your would-be job is to go from house to house to check every household’s water heater and force/encourage the owners to switch to the brand you’re selling. And you’ll say to yourself that’s not your kind of thing, you’re not yet so desperate. You won’t show up the next day.
A little over a month, you’ll finally get a job. It’s at Subway, and you’ll love how they address their employees: sandwich artists. But you’ll hate everything else. First day of training will be the worst day of your life. The manager will yell at you in front of customers, your coworkers will power-trip, and at the end of your shift you’ll feel like you were degraded and violated. Worse, your boss-from-hell will not pay for your 19 hours of training so you’ll have to summon your best English to text the manager and threaten her to pay you or else. They’ll let you work alone at night and pay you minimum rate with all the work they’ll require you to do, but you’ll not complain and just be grateful that you have a job at last.
Soon enough you’ll realize that you need another job because you’ll want to earn more to pay for your family’s debts and save up for school. You’ll get hired by a Froyo store and you’ll think that things are a little better there than in your other job. Except that on your first day of training, the guy assigned to train you will give you a heads-up by saying, “Don’t worry, I know how to ‘deal with immigrants,’” complete with a “quote-unquote” hand gesture. You’ll know he means something by that but you’ll just shrug it off.
You’ll spend the next months working like crazy, day and night, every single day. You’ll miss family gatherings and special holidays; you’ll have no social life. Your family will start to fall apart because you’ll always fight over money. You’ll forget about your requirements for your certification. You’ll miss friends and family back home so badly.
Then Life, in all her royal bitchiness, will see that you haven’t reached your quota of bad luck. One night while you’re at work, a robber will barge into the store, point a gun at you, and demand the money. You’ll freak the hell out and give him everything you have. You’ll get so traumatized that you won’t work for days, and after contemplating your misfortunes and asking yourself why they happened to you, you’ll feel so trapped because your only option is to believe the greatest cliché of all: that everything happens for a reason.
And just when it seems that you’re only an inch away from the ultimate burnout, you’ll rediscover your favorite self-help book under a pile of novels you hadn’t gotten around to reading. You read about viewing things from another perspective. And you’ll start to wonder: Perhaps it’s just you? Perhaps you’re just being too cynical and overreacting? When you accompany your cousin to the salon one day, you’ll ask one of the girls to do a “rebond” on your hair. You’ll love the reaction on her face and you’ll decide that’s how you’ll live from then on—carefree and unaffected by other people’s impressions. And before you notice it, you’ll actually live life and see things from another perspective.
At work you’ll start to get along with your coworkers. You’ll listen to their stories and you’ll tell them yours. You’ll have so much fun and you’ll wonder why you’re realizing only then how cool these people are. You’ll stop seeing dollar signs in your head all the time and you’ll let your debt worry about itself. There will be time to pay it, anyway. You’ll start completing the requirements for your certification. You’ll take that required exam. And once you’ve turned in all your papers, you’ll just let things be. You’ll buy that swivel chair you’ve always wanted.
You’ll start to reach out again to your family and you’ll bond stronger than ever. You’ll quit that job because it’s not good for your psychological well-being; you’ll get a new one. In the summer that will come, you’ll get into sports; you’ll meet new people—amazing people! You’ll make friends, lots of them, and you’ll spend every weekend together. You’ll pick up new hobbies and finally go for what you love doing. You’ll live your life one day at a time, with so many things to look forward to.
There will still be misfortunes but you’ll be surprised at how you’ll view them differently. Work will still be a pain sometimes, but you’ll learn to suck it up. You’ll realize that Canada has not been bad to you, after all. You’ll believe that everything really happens for a reason.
And then things will start getting better.
Rowell Perez, 23, is a secondary education graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman. He lives in Toronto, Canada.