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I’m Leticia, I’m from Brazil originally, and I have been here for more or less a year and half.

This is my second winter; I came in summer of 2017. So yeah, this is my second winter.  It’s slightly different than the first one, which is fun.

Tell me a little bit about your journey from Brazil to here.

My journey was actually from the UK to here.  I was living in the UK and doing a PhD for four years and a half, and I only spent a few months between the UK and coming to Canada, just to wait for the permanent resident visa pretty much.  To be with family, before my partner and I could come here.  This is more or less where I was before, and you know, the decision to come here was based mostly on finding new opportunities and open space, and to really participate and be able to feel safe in a place where we can thrive both in terms of our own personal and our professional lives. That wasn’t the case in the UK any more for immigrants specifically.  That’s not the case for same-sex partners in Brazil, so Toronto specifically seemed like a great place for us to be in relation to all our diversity as a couple.

Did you have a sense of Toronto and what opportunities it presented?

Yeah.  We did a lot of research in terms of, first, “what are the places with a language that we can communicate well with people, but also in terms of what are the professional opportunities that are there. So, in Toronto and Canada specifically, social enterprises, which are my area of expertise, are growing a lot, while in the UK it was a lot more established. There’s different ways in which to participate there; there are a lot more opportunities here to create and to start and to participate in that, and the same was true for small entrepreneurship programs and projects, which is more the area of my wife, so she is more into that. So we were looking for a space and a city and a country where we would have the opportunity to grow and find professional alternatives for us to contribute in some way.

So, you knew that there were specific opportunities for the work that you were doing?

It’s not so much that it would be easy to make connections or find opportunities, but that we knew there were a lot of opportunities here.    And the pace in which those opportunities become available, and you can find them, it’s a different pace and a different openness than the UK. So that was the expectation that we had coming here.

Did you find there were any initial challenges in settling here that you hadn’t expected?

Because we had had some experience doing some of these things before in the UK, we had prepared ourselves quite well.  But there were things that we didn’t expect. Housing was one of those.  We were expecting… when we got to the UK, we found a house and a place to stay for a reasonable price in a decent neighbourhood in three days, and we were able to move on the fourth day.  So, that’s what happens in the UK, especially Nottingham.  I’m sure that the reality in London, for instance – it’s a much bigger city – is different. When we arrived here, we were expecting it would take, like, a couple of weeks, and we had prepared to stay at an Air BandB  for about twenty days, and that was it. And we were super fast in finding places and everything, but  we didn’t know we had to wait a full month before we could actually get in to the place.  And that’s quite common here, and we had no idea that that was the common practice – that you get the place, and then you have to wait for someone to leave, and that one month that you have to wait is just part of the normal housing process here.

Usually, if you’re in a city already, you will have your own two months to be able to leave your house and transition to another one. But we weren’t; we were in an Air B&B, and it’s quite expensive to stay in an Air B&B, and we were just like “okay, what do we do now?” We were lucky in two senses; one, we had a “Canadian mom” who really helped us when we settled here, which was a great experience. We ended up spending some time with her in their house; that was enough for us to finish preparing and finish finding a place, the right place for us.

And this is someone you had a connection with from when you were in Brazil?

That’s a funny story. A friend of mine came to Canada a long time ago to learn English. And it was a homestay program, so she stayed with Helen in that period. They got along super well, because Helen is amazing, and they kept in contact after that. I think it was about twenty years ago that that happened. Helen went to Brazil to visit Glaucia, they kept in touch, and before coming to Canada, Glaucia put us in contact with Helen.  She calls her her “Canadian mom.” Helen ended up becoming our Canadian mom as well, and a great friend. And she was incredibly helpful in just giving us the way in of a life of someone who has grown in Canada and always been here. She introduced us to things like Value Village, and told us the difference of where it’s cheaper to buy groceries, where it’s cheaper to buy things for your house, so it was really interesting to have that kind of knowledge. And she took us to buy winter clothes, so we knew exactly what to buy, and we didn’t have any problems with winter because we had her to tell us exactly what we should be buying, how we should be dressing, or what kind of things did we need to be careful about, and how to make proper layers, and not have air pockets and things like that. She made a huge difference in that sense.

Did you go through the official introduction-to-Canada process when you first arrived?

What happens pretty much is that you get a visa that lets you get on with your life.  The only thing which was really helpful, that we didn’t know it happens, is that you can get your social security number at the airport. Not only does that make things much faster for you afterwards when you’re trying to get a job, but they also tell you about how to make it secure, how you should not just give this number to everybody else. So that was really relevant information that we got right when we got here. But there wasn’t anything else in terms of, you know, these are the organizations or support that you can find.

We did end up finding those things much later, because we ended up trusting our own research on housing and things like that, or we had the support from Helen directly, and we could do those without needing any additional support. We ended up finding and using different supports for newcomers afterwards, but the first six months was pretty much focused either on some of the research we already had, or just finding our way with her help.

How much harder do you think it would have been if you hadn’t had Helen’s help?

Oh, I’m sure that the winter would have been much harder than it was, to start with. We wouldn’t know what to buy, and that was very specific. I think we would have, for the details, the life details, we would have ended up learning, but it would have taken us a much longer time to learn. She was willing to share things with us, and take us places, neighborhoods, things like that.  It would have taken a lot of research, hours on the internet.  Those hours ended up being ten-minute conversations – “I’ll show you, I’ll take you, avoid this, be there”, so she was really really helpful in that sense. And even if we hadn’t had her and we would have had to access the services, those services also take time.  So it was much better to have her as an initial support, and then access some of these services afterwards, with time, and having already gone through some of the processes than the other way around.

Would you see value if there was a big brother/sister kind of program?

Oh my god, yes!  Absolutely.  It’s also good first contact in terms of you not being isolated in the country as well. She is a great friend now. Having that kind of support, and that kind of person; you make a first connection, and I think that’s a great way of understanding the country as well.

How did CSI get on your radar?

I started to, professionally speaking, one of the first things I did when I got here was to research organizations that were in the social enterprise sphere. I came across a few, and started trying to get to people who were in these organizations through LinkedIn, and talk to them, and just have a great chat, to see where I should go and what other organizations were interesting. And in one of these conversations, someone mentioned the Centre for Social Innovation for me.  It didn’t come up as a social enterprise in one of my first google searches, but it did come up in conversations, and when I got to the website, the DECA program was open, and I was lucky – it was just the right timing at that point.

You were good at going on LinkedIn, doing the coffee chats – is that something that’s common in Brazil?

No it’s not, and that was one of the things that I find most complicated about the job market in Canada.  In Brazil, you only add people to your LinkedIn if you have already met them in person. Sometimes it happens for you to go and, you know, get in touch with one or two people, but it’s not common. You get in touch, you meet them, and then you add them on your LinkedIn if they are okay with it. So it’s not a common practice to have 1500 plus network connections in your LinkedIn, and here that is quite common. People are not only open to connect with you, but they are happy to go for a conversation, have a chat.  So it’s a lot easier to do that, but at the same time, if you do not have that number, you are perceived as not having a strong connection, and that is something that, for me, has been an issue in finding the level of jobs and roles that my qualifications could allow me to have.

I have now some of the Canadian Experience, I have the background, the experience, the academic background to support all that – but in terms of network, I still have to grow my network here. And even with all the cold-calling and even with being able to connect with quite a lot of people, I haven’t gotten to 200 yet.  And I’ve had an issue with that. I don’t know what is in the background of why you need to have them. I’ve talked to someone recently, and he said “you should have 500 plus. And I asked, “how do you get to know 500 people and have any kind of connection or how can you contribute with that level?  Because for me, there was this exchange; you add someone that you know or are willing to collaborate with.  Someone that there’s this established connection and not only just the click over there.  But I don’t know what is the perception behind it. Is it that if you don’t have enough connections, you aren’t good enough in communicating and making those connections? I don’t know what’s behind it.

It seems that you need to have X number of followers before you get taken seriously by employers.

What I heard directly from someone in terms of a role that I applied for was that “we’re looking for someone that has the network.” At that moment, I knew that they wouldn’t even consider my experience, and I had great experience for that particular role, but I don’t have the same level of connections, even trying quite hard, as someone who has been born here and grown making all those connections, and had an opportunity to go through an education in this country – different levels of education, different levels of opportunities, job opportunities…

Have you come across the “Canadian Experience” thing?

No one’s said it directly to me.  I’m come across, working with other newcomers and supporting youth to find employment, I’ve come across them having a hard time because they didn’t have Canadian Experience. I was lucky to get that experience very early in the process coming here. And, I was already prepared to start from an entry-level position and just to grow to be able to do anything like that. What I found most complicated was… not directly…  I think they’re still used as a way to keep people from working, or to have people working at something they’re qualified to work at, but pay them less – that happens. I don’t think that it happens often – I think that most organizations that I’ve come across, especially in the non-profit sector, are actually trying to make a difference and hire people regardless of who they are that are good for the organization. But I know that it happens because of the work that I’ve done, especially with youth.

The thing that I found most complicated was actually – one, the network, the other one was the contract – the gig economy that I wasn’t expecting.  The level of insecurity in terms of jobs, and that’s not only for people who are immigrants, that’s for anyone – in comparison to Brazil or the UK – it’s insane. I mean, it’s very difficult to understand how a country that is so developed in so many other senses allows its citizens to be in that kind of vulnerable and precarious position. I think that was one of the things that scared me the most. So, and then what happens is that I wasn’t prepared to have a contract, I had a contract for seven months, and I wasn’t prepared to not have anything after that and not have any kind of support, any kind of net. I’m looking for a new position, and I’ve been looking for a new position for five months now, because I wasn’t actually predicting that I needed to have something to just give me that kind of net, that kind of security.

If you were to give a newcomer advice, someone with similar professional background as yours, on how to get their foot in the door and get established, what would be the one thing you’ve learned that you would want to pass on?

I think the first thing that I would say is start making your network before you come here, so that you know the organizations, the people, the opportunities and where they are, how you can access them, and start making those connections as soon as you get here. Go have coffee with people, and don’t be afraid to just do that quite a lot, and just add those people to your LinkedIn or list of potential contributors or collaborators. The second thing is, be prepared to keep continuously looking for opportunities and what is the next one regardless of where you are right now and if you like or not what you are doing.  Be mindful that that’s a continuous process and you should just be happy to be working where you are, because it might not last.

Reversing that, what advice would you give to employers to make sure they’re not missing out on opportunities presented by newcomers?

I think one thing is that if someone who has more qualifications than what you expect is applying for this role, and it’s an immigrant, it’s probably because they want that role, or are interested in that organization.  I got rejected or having too much qualification, which is a shame because I would be happy to be working for now six months with that organization instead of continuously looking for another positon. Usually speaking, people are willing to participate and get involved in your organization even if they are more qualified.  They’re not going to go after three months, they will stay if you give them the chance.  I think that that’s one thing for employers. The other thing is, be willing to spend some time teaching a little bit more in terms of the organizational culture, the working culture… even if there are similarities between how things happen in Brazil and the UK and Canada in terms of professional environment and expectations are very similar. So, it’s not that people aren’t going to be prepared to work in your environment or to work with you, but there are things that need to be said in terms of expectations or how things work. Probably a conversation is going to sort it out and avoid a lot of anxiety, rather than issues necessarily, or challenges.

You also mentioned that an institution that was really helpful to you in a way that you might not have expected was the public library.

The public library has so many things that they offer. Not only the space is always open, not only the books, but there are courses for free, there are… we did a virtual reality experience there which was great. The main library in Toronto has all the 3D print labs, and if you’re a graphic designer, for instance, they have all the equipment that you might need and software that you might need, from Photoshop to all the most complicated ones. You can get free tickets for museums, to ALL of them, from the different libraries.  You have Kanopy, which is kind of a movie/documentary software they have a partnership with, they have Mango which is a language translation app… there are so many things.  The list is ridiculous. It was funny – my partner is a library rat, she just loves the library, and we got to learn so much about those things that sometimes people who are from Toronto or from Canada that were born here have no idea they exist. So yeah – the library is pretty good.

You said one of the reasons you picked Toronto was that you felt you would be safer here.  Has that actually been the case?

It is.  When I say safer, I’m mostly considering the fact that I’m in a same-sex relationship, and in a sense yes, absolutely, there is… people here are okay to come out and just be whoever they are. It’s very common that people will identify themselves in terms of orientation, gender,  without worrying about it, including in the professional setting, which is something that, for instance, doesn’t happen in Brazil. It should accepted, but the reality is that it’s not. You could lose opportunities if you identify as someone who is gay or lesbian or.  Here, in this sense, it’s a lot safer.  We know a lot more people who identify in the LGBTQ community just because of that, because there people don’t say that they are until they’re very very safe and secure that their lives are not going to be in danger, or they’re not going to be excluded because of that. Here, we have a bunch of friends who identify as LGBTQ as well.

If you are LGBTQ coming from a different country to here, are there additional barriers to trying to find and integrate with the gay community, is it easier because there’s only the barriers you have to face as an immigrant coming in – is it easier/harder if you’re LGBTQ?

I think it’s easier. I mean, I don’t think there are additional barriers related to it. I think it was easier for us to find people just because they identify as here so much more easily than anywhere else. There are some great organizations working specifically with LGBTQ issues; the 519 is one, there so many different ones… Pride at Work… So you have a great range of organizations working with the LBGTQ community as well that allows for you to just find your way much quicker.

If sexual orientation and gender are two barriers, regardless of us being in Canada or not, but that’s not different from the fact that there are barriers everywhere else. In some cases, here there is less of a barrier, professionally for instance, than there were in Brazil for us. Here similar to the UK in that sense. I don’t think that it’s that complicated.

This is one aspect of safety – the other aspect of safety for us is just the size and the urban life, and the level of violence that we had, for instance in Sao Paolo, where we were living in Brazil, vs in Toronto. That has to do mostly with the size of the city and how it’s been structured, and the imbalance of equality, and opportunities for people.  If you go to a countryside in Brazil, you would probably be safe in terms of your physical security from being robbed or things like that – it would be a similar level of safety to what we have here in Toronto. But it’s definitely not the same coming from Sao Paolo to Toronto.  We feel a lot safer here.

If you were to give two pieces of advice on settlement or clothing or weather or anything like that to someone who is coming from Brazil for the first time and doesn’t know anything about Canada, what would you think that they should really know?

Hm.. definitely pick well the time of year that you’re coming. If you’re coming from Brazil, then definitely be mindful, because both the summer and the winter are very different than where they’re coming from. So, for the winter, you will need the right clothes, and we do not have them in Brazil. And for summer, especially in Toronto, it’s a lot more humid and a lot warmer than you’d think. It has that kind of heavy effect on you and your body as well, so be prepared for that. You’d think that you’re used to it – especially for people who come from Sao Paolo, for instance – you think you’re used to heat, but it’s a very different type of heat.

I actually had a harder time during summer than I had during winter because I wasn’t prepared for that kind of humid heat.  That’s definitely one related to the weather.

I think, related to people, people really are friendly – just go with it, and enjoy the fact that people are open for conversations and to help you out and find places, and just enjoy that aspect of being in Canada.

What’s been your favourite thing in Toronto?

One of my favourite things is going to the different summer festivals. There are so many of them, and they’re all from different cultures, so you can experience a bit of the world all around during the summer period in Toronto, that’s one thing.  They’re all free, so you can just enjoy what’s happening there. There are some amazing music festivals as well that happen for free, especially during summer. You get amazing music just walking by, especially on the harbourfront, there’s a lot of things happening. Those things are amazing.