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Gabriel Almada: from Argentina To Canada

Welcome to my new series, Ten Immigrants, Ten Interviews.

You guys all know my story by now, and you have a pretty good idea of what my life in Canada looks like. I thought it was time to let other immigrants and new Canadians speak. I contacted ten of them, who each have their own story, their own reasons to come to Canada, their own point of view on how life is up North in the igloos. They all answered ten questions, bringing a new perspective on immigration.

A new post will be published every Saturday.

Gabriel Almada

Gabriel has an amazing immigration story, full of ups and downs, that he told in “Coming To Canada“.

He landed alone in Canada in 2000, and his wife and kids later met him there. But pretty much everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, starting with his job (or lack thereof). Eventually, his family stayed at his brother’s place, in the USA, while Gabriel had in Canada what he later called “the worse month in his life”. The odds seemed to be against him: no money, no job and a series a little things that almost made him give up. But suddenly, his luck turned. He found a job in Waterloo and little by little, he made it. His first paycheck arrived and he took his family to the C.N Tower. The Almada family is now Canadian-Argentinean and they still live in Waterloo, nearby Toronto.

Gabriel has an amazing sense of humor and he is a great storyteller. He blogs about his life as a Canadian-Argentinean in the popular blog, Live from Waterloo, written in both Spanish and English. He is a must read for any prospective immigrant: he experienced a lot, the good, the bad and the ugly.

What brought you to Canada?

I guess we came to Canada looking for peace, stability, a better present for us and a better future for our kids. I believe that we have achieved all that already (we’ve been living in Canada for 9 years now).

The idea of coming to live in Canada came in late 1999. My wife knew I had always wanted to know this country, and one day she found an ad in the newspaper, saying that the Canadian Embassy had a special workshop for IT professionals. We decided to give it a shot, but still without the idea of leaving; I filled and mailed the form they sent and soon got my invitation back. It wasn’t until I actually showed up and was told that I had already qualified for immigration that I started to think about this as a certainty more than a ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ thing..

Did you find the immigration process difficult?

Not at all, at least not in our case. Every step we were asked to take was very easy to understand and follow. We filled every paper on our own, and got prepared for the interviews by ourselves. We submitted the papers in December ’99, had our medical tests in March/April 2000, the interview a couple months later and we got approved in late July. Our visas came in early September of 2000, so the total process took just under 10 months.

How long did it take you to find a job that you liked in Canada?

Way too long, for many reasons: our change of plans that found us in Toronto, instead of our original destination (Saint John, NB), the time of the year (late fall), the lack of knowledge on how to search for a job properly… Many little reasons that combined caused us to make many wrong decisions. By the time I finally got a job we were absolutely broke. You might want to read more about it by clicking on my immigration story here.

Where did you learn French/ English? What was your second language level when you first came to Canada?

I never actually studied English (either of the little you learn in school), I pretty much taught myself; this happened mostly because of the kind of work I do (I’m an IT professional) and also because I am a very fast learner. I constantly pushed myself so I can learn more, so it didn’t take long until I found myself talking in front of a room full of people within days of having landed my first job; it was the best way I could find to force myself to learn how to communicate properly faster. Me being a singer, I was already comfortable being in front of people, but doing a training session is much different than singing!

What was your biggest culture shock?

The very first one was the incredibly cosmopolitan characteristics of Toronto. I felt I was in a small version of New York City, with so many different communities co-existing in such a beautiful and vibrant city. I loved walking down the streets in Little Italy, Greektown and the 2 Chinatowns. I didn’t imagine a big Canadian city like that.

The biggest culture shock I had, however, was realizing how warm and respectful people can be here, making sure you know they care about you, but without invading your private space. I find the average Canadian very kind and well educated; in most cases, they show a lot of respect for the immigrant and even make a point in learning more about you, your background, your story and your customs.

What haven’t you gotten used to yet in Canada?

To compare things that don’t work in my home country with how they do here: for example, the respect people show for their elderly, their institutions and their teachers.

Did immigrating to Canada match your expectations?

Absolutely. We have achieved more in nine years here in Canada, than in a whole life back at home. We have a great life, our kids are doing great, and we all look at the future with optimism.

Do you find life expensive in Canada compared to your home country?

No, not really. Argentina was very expensive when we left, back in 2000. I find dairy (especially cheese) and beef expensive compared to home, but on the other hand, chicken and pork is much cheaper… Rentals are higher, but salaries are too. You can save here, and plan for your future.

Why did you apply for Canadian citizenship?

We all became Canadian citizens in May 2005, and to us it was a way to express our appreciation and gratitude to this beautiful country for all it has given to us. It’s more about being able to vote and work for the government, it’s about having that wonderful sense of belonging. We don’t forget about our roots, we’re still Argentines. But we are Canadian too, and we are very happy and proud of it.

What advice would you give to someone interested in immigrating to Canada?

Do your homework! Read a lot, go to official websites and immigration forums. Choose carefully where you’re planning to live, and based that decision not only on which areas are better for your job industry, but also on how safe the city is, the alternatives it gives to your kids (i.e. Universities, colleges), the type of community (Do you like bigger or smaller cities? Are you comfortable living in a big, cosmopolitan city like Toronto, or would you prefer the peace and quiet of Waterloo or Kelowna? What do you prefer, mountains, prairie, sea?).

Don’t idealize things! I always say “don’t assume that you’re going to land in Toronto and find the Prime Minister waiting for you, with the key to your car, the deed to your new house and the job offer for you to sign”. Everything takes its time, and you have to be prepared to wait for sometime until you can get back on track. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go your way at first, and if you think you made a mistake by moving to Canada, there’s no shame in accepting it and going back to your country of origin — or somewhere else.

Immigration is not for everybody.

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