From good job to no job, life in Canada taught me to go with the flow
My adopted home is a land of opportunity and I couldn’t be more grateful
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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