Walking in an Immigrant’s Shoes

Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)

It takes an immigrant to really understand what it’s like to be one. For starters, it is not an easy journey. So if you feel you don’t have the nerve, the determination to make it, nor the guts to overcome the challenges (and they can be many), don’t get on the bus.

In 1997, my family came to Canada with three young daughters in tow and settled in Montreal where my husband was hired by Rolls Royce Canada. You could say I was the reluctant immigrant. It wasn’t easy to leave family back home in the Philippines and a career where I had already worked my way up to upper-management level. This was my first big hurdle. But I wanted to support my husband’s decision and keep our young family intact.

The first year was particularly difficult. I am not one prone to depression, but I had to fight it, especially for the sake of my young daughters. If they saw me broken, it would have rubbed off on them. I couldn’t let that happen. We didn’t stay long in Montreal as speaking French at work proved too much for my husband to handle. He was excellent at his technical job but communication was a problem both for the francophones and for the anglophones in the same work setting. So we moved to Vancouver when another job opportunity came up in a unionized company. After six years, this company laid off workers and my husband, being one of the junior ones, had to be let go.

On to Standard Aero, Winnipeg. A month after we relocated, I was hired at RRC as a temp replacement. The term appointment progressed to a regular position that lasted until my early retirement in 2015.

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Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on

Working at RRC forced me to face cultural and social differences between East and West, so to speak. It wasn’t always a breeze to distinguish between what is acceptable and what is not. To illustrate: where I came from, there is hierarchical distinction in an organization. Bosses are not addressed by their first names. The same is true with adults: people ten years or more your junior will never address you by your first name; it is considered impolite and disrespectful. So imagine my initial discomfort when such situations arose. Eventually, I got used to it and told myself, Well, that is not offensive here, so do as the Romans do. I practised a more eclectic approach to things without losing my own basic values.

I entered RRC with what I thought were reasonable expectations: professionalism, respectful workplace, high standards of education. While disappointed to see the lack of these in some people, I saw evidence of my expectations in a lot of other fellow RRC employees. That saved my faith in humanity. Some saw you as an immigrant from a presumably “Third World” country and seemed surprised that you are educated, can be articulate and can hold your own candle. Most of the backstabbing and nasty comments came from these people. There were times when I wondered, What did I do wrong to deserve that kind of treatment? Those who became my friends see the value that you bring to the workplace and appreciate you for who you are. And I treasure these friends.

Perhaps this is not unique to immigrants like me. But the unpleasant experiences are probably more pronounced for immigrants, especially when you hear comments like, “they should all go back to where they came from.” Pardon my saying this but comments like that speak of ignorance. If all immigrants did that (go back), who would be left to work in hospitals, care homes, businesses, etc.? In instances when detractors exhibited office drama targeting me, I had to bite my lips, not because I couldn’t push back, but deep inside I felt that such behaviour was unfit in a school setting. Besides, office confrontations are not my thing. If you face me one-on-one, I have better self-control and can sort things out like mature professionals. They didn’t know me well enough. I had fought so many battles in my life so what’s another one? But it wasn’t worth the aggravation. I prefer peace to war.

When we came to Canada, I did not expect to find a job similar, or at least close, to my managerial job back home. I had decided that my family would be my priority. I was concerned that if I aimed higher, my family, especially my young daughters, would suffer. I had a successful career back home. It’s their turn to get there with as much attention and help my husband and I could provide.

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Photo by Viktoria Slowikowska on

I would like to think that I made the right choices as an immigrant (and a smattering of bad ones as well). All my three daughters finished school and are making valuable contributions themselves as Canadian citizens. Since my last career move before early retirement was Red River College, where I had my share of happy memories, I choose to keep them over the bad ones. The students, for the most part, gave me my most meaningful experiences. They made me feel their respect and in many instances, their affection. I guess it was because they felt that I really cared for them. And I honestly did.

Well, this is an immigrant’s one long and short story. There are many others but I hope the readers will get a glimpse of what it’s like to walk in our shoes.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in our Celebration of (Retired) Life series. Thank you for answering the call, Lina. We welcome any uplifting, funny, inspiring, or otherwise simply interesting story, profile, or bit of whimsy. To share with our other retirees, simply email your 500- to 1,000-word piece to HG-Editor@RRC.CA.

Categories: All, HG Life

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