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Immigrant snapshots: Meet some newcomers to Canada

Newcomers to Canada were drawn to a trade show for immigrants in Vancouver on Wednesday. Many are working to overcome barriers — both linguistic and cultural — as they settle into their new lives.

New immigrants to Canada face many barriers — linguistic and cultural — as they try to settle in

Exhibitors and attendees at the 2016 Career, Education and Settlement Immigration Fair chat on Wednesday in Vancouver. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

All photos by Kamil Karamali

A trade show for new immigrants that has been making stops across Canada arrived in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Dr. Gurdeep Parhar is with the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine. He was the keynote speaker at the Career, Education and Settlement Immigrant Fair in Vancouver. (Kamil Karamali/CBC)

Newcomers to the country milled around the Career, Education and Settlement Immigrant Fair a the Vancouver Convention Centre, stopping at booths, learning about opportunities and networking with other attendees.

Dr. Gurdeep Parhar with the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine was the keynote speaker. He discussed overcoming stereotypes to thrive in Canada.

"The job market is such that, I think, most industries right now, it's hard to get a job," said Parhar. "It doesn't matter whether you were born and raised in Canada versus somebody that came more recently. Then if you add to that some sort of language barrier or other challenges, I think it is more difficult, for certain."

"We all racially stereotype and we do it subconsciously. The most important thing is to ... bring it out front and deal with it," he said.

Meet some of the people from various countries who dropped by the fair:


Sayed Shajjan, 30, left his family, including 10 siblings, in Kabul, Afghanistan. He worked there in a government agency, but moved to find a safer life where the threat of bombs and fighting in the streets aren't a constant reminder of decades of war.

"For me, it is difficult, you know, to leave my family back at home in Afghanistan and live alone with myself. I have never lived alone, so it's something a little bit stressful. But I'm sure I can overcome," he said.

"I think yesterday there was a blast in Kabul city, so I was just worried, texting my brother and my family saying, 'All you safe?' Some of the times you don't get a reply back soon, so you're very stressful."

Shajjan arrived in February and said the most challenging thing is integrating with Canadian society.

"Normally in Afghanistan we don't smile, and in Vancouver when you look at somebody, you just get a smile passed at you," he said. 

He's now looking for any sort of job, and considering going back to school to kick off a new career.


Anna Dzhanvlyan, 26, followed her husband to Canada. She left Moscow in July, a year and a half behind him.

She has had to reset her expectations in terms of her career. She was a project manager at an IT company in Russia.

"It's difficult to work in my professional field with my level [of English], I discovered it by myself, and I decided to improve my English by volunteering and doing some background performer job here," she said.

"It wasn't very shocking, I was prepared for that, that it might be difficult."

Dzhanvlyan and her husband are in Canada on work permits, but hope to eventually secure permanent residency.


Luisa Cebulski, 20, happily gave up living in Brazil's warm climate for Vancouver's rainy weather.

"I had a friend who visited here a few years back and he told me it's 'Raincouver,'" Cebulski said with a laugh. "So I was already expecting [the rain]."

She said even with the near-constant wet weather, life is much better in the Pacific Northwest.

"The transportation, the landscape, the security. Everything is better. Except leaving people behind."

Cebulski left her parents back in the city of Londrina.

She also left behind a life where she worked a part-time bartender while attending law school, but soon learned that law was not a career she was interested in.

"So I got interested in tourism ... and I just fell in love with it."


Tom Nguyen, 50, uprooted his wife and his four children from Vietnam to come to Canada.

Unlike many immigrants making their way here, Nguyen is living a very comfortable life. He's still supported by the many businesses he has running back in his home country.

"I have kids and I think at a certain time, you think about someone else rather than yourself, like your kids. They're growing up," said Nguyen. "I think this is the country we all love and enjoy, so we decided to come here."

Nguyen is at the job fair to make connections for his businesses back home. He hopes to manufacture products overseas and sell them in Canada.

He said culturally, the transition to his new country has been smooth.

"We don't see any discrimination or racism here because B.C. is very diverse."


Michele Maerd, 21, moved from her home in Switzerland just a couple of weeks ago, and she's thrilled to be in Vancouver.

"It's a big city, Vancouver. Nice mountains and the ocean," she said.

But Maerd didn't pick Vancouver for its beauty alone. She said she was searching the internet for job opportunities and stumbled across a hospitality, service and tourism school in the city that she wanted to attend.

"It would be nice, in a hotel, to work as a server or something like that. Or a restaurant," said Maerd.

She hopes to stay in Vancouver for at least a year, but that all depends on if she can find a job to keep her here.

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