Edmonton·First Person

From good job to no job, life in Canada taught me to go with the flow

Since adopting Canada as her home 13 years ago, Filipino immigrant Erlinda Tan is grateful for the opportunities she’s had to work hard and get ahead — and for the support she received when times were tough.

My adopted home is a land of opportunity and I couldn’t be more grateful

A Filipino woman wearing an Edmonton Oilers T-shirt poses near a river.
Edmonton was the first Canadian city where Erlinda Tan began working. Despite her eventual move to Vancouver, she still wears her love for the Edmonton Oilers on her sleeve. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

This First Person article is the experience of Erlinda Tan, a Filipino immigrant who believes hard work is a prerequisite to a good, middle-class life in Canada. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

It was a memorable day in 2014 when I bought a vacation house in my hometown in the Philippines. I visit my family every other year and being able to gather everyone in that house is like a dream come true. 

I had no idea the property would become a souvenir from my Alberta days. Two years later, the oil and gas industry took a turn for the worse — and took my job with it.

But it's all part of what I call a beautiful journey of ebb and flow in the 13 years since I arrived from the Philippines. Those ups and downs have made me a strong Canadian and solidified my love for this country.

Working hard to get a foot in the door 

I came to Edmonton in late 2009 as the Alberta economy was emerging from a severe financial crisis that had been felt globally. Timing is everything, they say. This was true for me.

My first job was as a clerical worker earning minimum wage. To get by, I took a second job as a supermarket cashier — three days a week, four hours a shift. 

A note of thanks written for a grocery store clerk.
Tan treasures this note which was submitted by a customer and posted for a time on the bulletin board of the grocery store where she worked. 'It reminds me of that lovely chapter in my life,' Tan says. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Doing two jobs was hard and some days were really long but I needed the extra income. Plus, working in the service industry taught me to blend into my new home and honed my confidence speaking with Canadians from all walks of life — a skill I would later need in my professional journey.     

After 20 months of working two jobs, I had the so-called "Canadian experience" that my resume so badly needed and I felt ready for the corporate world. With my background in engineering, I was hired in 2012 as a document controller in the oil and gas industry. 

In those days, the oil price was on its way to $100 per barrel and there was opportunity aplenty. I changed jobs three times in three years. I was a part of the rise of Alberta's economy.

Becoming a Canadian

A group of Filipino women smile and pose for a photograph. One woman holds a bouquet of flowers.
Tan, fourth from the right, celebrates with friends from the Edmonton Filipino community after her citizenship ceremony at Canada Place in February 2015. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

I was excited about my promising career but was even more excited when I became a Canadian citizen in early 2015. 

At the swearing-in ceremony, I became emotional singing O Canada for the first time as a citizen. I felt like I belonged, that I was secure. My definition of home changed in that instant — the Philippines was "back home" but Canada is my current one. 

And all of a sudden, I felt a solemn duty to become a good Canadian. 

During the federal election in October, I followed the campaign on TV like a soap opera. If the citizenship ceremony was emotionally moving, then voting was empowering. That day, I realized how important I was in nation-building.

Blind faith

But as the saying goes, every flow must have its ebb. 

In 2015, an oil downturn rippled into a global crisis. Energy companies laid off employees by the thousands; I was one of them. 

Career websites in Alberta were empty.  I didn't want to move but I needed to survive.

A Filipino woman poses with view of Edmonton river valley behind her.
Tan poses for a photograph at one of her favourite places to unwind: overlooking the Edmonton river valley. After being laid off in 2015, Tan was faced with the difficult decision of leaving the city she’d come to love. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Friends and relatives sent invitations to come work in the U.S., U.K., Singapore and Dubai.  It was very tempting. But I had just become a Canadian citizen. I had invested time and hard work: the long hours on my feet as a cashier, following the news on TV every night to understand the politics. Should I put all that in the past and leave? 

I'm a Filipino Canadian, I said. I have the genes of resilience. I'll tough this out. 

In a move of blind faith, I decided to move to Vancouver in May 2016. I didn't have any employment connections, I had no family in the city, and my church community became my support system.         

I was grateful for the employment insurance that I lived on for a few months and I received the insurance money with pride. I had contributed premiums and I knew I was entitled to it.       

Looking for a new job in Vancouver was not easy. British Columbia is rich in forestry and my job experience in the oil industry was not in demand. I decided to accept any job offer, even if I had to start at the bottom. 

I took a contract job where the pay wasn't much but it brought me to the door of a Crown corporation. Five months into the job — when my savings from Alberta were almost gone — I was hired by that corporation. Sometimes God's perfect timing leaves you in awe.

I worked as a records administrator for a $1-billion project. Then I moved on to a $10-billion project. When I'm retired, I can look back with pride in my heart for being a part of two big infrastructure projects in British Columbia. 

Silver linings

A Filipino woman in winter clothing stands with two clocks behind her.
Tan smiles for a photograph on a typical morning in Edmonton. One of the clocks behind her shows Edmonton time, the other is set to the time in the Philippines. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

In hindsight, I see my job layoff in Alberta was an advantage. It forced me to leave my comfort zone. I saw more of Canada, I gained new friends and grew in my career. My horizon got bigger. Thank you, Edmonton, for preparing me. 

I joke to friends in the Philippines that I am the definition of a middle-class Canadian: poor in money but rich in benefits. I couldn't be more appreciative.   

Sometimes I ask myself, do I regret staying in Canada when I hit rock bottom? Do I regret not working in other countries? The answer is no. I believe if God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. But it's up to me to find it. 

A Filipino family gathers for portrait at Christmas.
Tan, third from right, celebrates Christmas with family members at her house in the Philippines. It’s their family tradition to gather for dinner and photos every time she visits. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Speaking of doors and windows, my house in the Philippines is now much more than just a vacation property. The concrete house, located in the heart of a commercial district and within walking distance to malls and supermarkets, has become a refuge for family members from the typhoons that regularly visit the Philippines. 

I'm even more proud that it has become the place that my mother can call home.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erlinda Tan

Freelance contributor

Erlinda Tan, a one-time editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, dreamed of becoming a writer but ended up working as an office employee after graduating in 1993 from university. Now she’s preparing for a Filipino Canadian retirement where she can travel back and forth between her beloved countries while still making time to write.

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