Life in Canada taught me to walk with the flow from a good job to no work

This First Person article is the experience of Irlinda Tan, A Filipino immigrant believes that hard work is a prerequisite for a good middle-class life in Canada. For more information on CBC First Person Stories, please see Instructions.

It was an unforgettable day in 2014 when I bought a vacation home in my hometown of the Philippines. I visit my family once every two years, 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 I took my job with it.

But this is all part of what I call a beautiful tidal ride in the 13 years since I arrived from the Philippines. Those ups and downs in Canada made me a strong Canadian and cemented my love for the country.

Work hard to get a foot in the door

I came to Edmonton in late 2009 as the economy of Alberta was emerging from a severe financial crisis that is felt worldwide. They say timing is everything. This was true for me.

My first job was as a minimum wage clerk. To be able to manage it, I got a second job as a supermarket cashier – three days a week, four hours in the shift.

Tan cherishes this note that was sent by a customer and posted for some time on the bulletin board at the grocery store where she worked. “It reminds me of this beautiful chapter in my life,” Tan says. (Provided by Erlinda Tan)

Doing two jobs was hard and some days were really long but I needed extra income. Additionally, working in the service industry taught me to integrate into my new home and honed my confidence by speaking with Canadians from all walks of life – a skill I will need later on in my career journey.

After 20 months working on two jobs, I had the so-called “Canadian experience” that my resume desperately needed and felt ready for the corporate world. With my background in Engineering, I was appointed in 2012 as Document Controller in the Oil and Gas Industry.

In those days, the price of oil was On its way to $100 a barrel And there were plenty of opportunities. I changed my job three times in three years. I was part of the rise of Alberta’s economy.

be Canadian

A group of Filipino women smiling and posing for a photo.  One woman holding a bouquet of flowers.
Tan, fourth from right, celebrates with friends from the Filipino Edmonton community after her compatriot’s party at Canada Place in February 2015. (Provided by Erlinda Tan)

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

At the swearing-in ceremony, I became a passionate singer oh Canada For the first time as a citizen. I felt like I belonged, that I was safe. My definition of home changed at that moment – the Philippines was “home” but Canada is my current definition.

Suddenly I felt a serious duty to become a good Canadian.

during the Federal elections in OctoberI followed the campaign on TV like a long series. If the citizenship ceremony was emotionally touching, the vote was empowering. On that day, I realized how important I was in nation building.

blind faith

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

In 2015, the oil slump turned into a global crisis. Energy companies are laying off thousands of employees; I was one of them.

Alberta job sites were empty. I didn’t want to move but I needed to survive.

A Filipino woman stands behind her with a view of the Edmonton River Valley.
Tan poses for a photo at one of her favorite places to relax: overlooking the Edmonton River Valley. After being laid off in 2015, Tan faced the difficult decision to leave the city she had come to love. (Provided by Erlinda Tan)

Friends and relatives sent invitations to come and work in the US, UK, Singapore and Dubai. It was very seductive. But I just became a Canadian citizen. I had invested time and hard work: the long hours in which I stood on my feet as a cashier, watching the news on TV every night to understand politics. Should I put it all in the past and leave?

I said: I am a Filipino Canadian. I have flexibility genes. This will be tougher.

In a move to blind faith, I decided to move to Vancouver in May 2016. I had no business relationships, had no family in the city, and my church community became my support system.

I was grateful for the business insurance I lived in for a few months and got my insurance money with pride. I contributed to the premiums and knew I was entitled to them.

Finding a new job in Vancouver has never been so easy. British Columbia is rich in forests and my job experience in the oil industry was not required. I decided to accept any job offer, even if I had to start from the bottom.

I got a contract job where the pay wasn’t much but it got me to the door of Crown. After five months of working – when my savings were about to run out – I was hired by that company. Sometimes God’s perfect timing leaves you in awe.

I worked as a records officer for a billion dollar project. Then I moved on to a $10 billion project. When I retire, I can look back with pride in my heart for being part of two major infrastructure projects in British Columbia.

silver stripes

A Filipino woman in winter clothes is standing with two hours behind her.
Tan smiles for a photo on a typical Edmonton morning. One of the clocks behind it shows Edmonton time, and the other is the time in the Philippines. (Provided by Erlinda Tan)

In hindsight, I see that laying off my job in Alberta was an advantage. He forced me to leave my comfort zone. I saw more of Canada, made new friends and grew in my career. Horizontal enlargement. Thank you, Edmonton, for preparing me.

I joke to my friends in the Philippines that I define a Canadian as middle-class: 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 think if God closes the door, somewhere he opens a window. But it is up to me to find it.

A Filipino family gathers for a selfie at Christmas.
Tan, third from right, celebrates Christmas with her family at her home in the Philippines. Their family tradition is to gather for dinner and take pictures every time you visit. (Provided by Erlinda Tan)

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

I’m even more proud that it became the place my mom could call home.


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