I have my own office. An office with a door, a desk, a computer, a phone, a whiteboard and drawers. I also have a very cool magnetic pass to get around, one with my picture on it. I have a favourite lunch place and I hate Monday mornings. I got a new office job. I feel like a lucky girl.
I loved teaching. Yet, after four years, I decided it was time for a change. Teaching is draining and doesn’t pay much, plus the school’s success was linked to its ability to get new contracts with government agencies—not easy in the middle of the recession but for us, teachers, no new contracts = no work hours.
Teaching taught me a lot. I was 22 years old when I started and my students, all civil servants, were usually at least twice my age. I didn’t know much about Canada at the time and I knew even less about the government, politics or second language training for that matter. I learned as fast as I could because every morning, I was facing a class of executives who, for the most part, would have probably rather be swimming with sharks than learning French. Being taken seriously, both because I was an immigrant and a young woman, wasn’t easy. Trust me, I won’t ever be afraid to speak in public after this work experience.
Yet, I was terrified during my first classes. At the time, I had very little work experience. I had worked briefly in France as a student and then as an intern in Hong Kong. After I arrived in Canada, I had a series of short-time contracts, usually in the customer service industry. I had no idea what I truly wanted to do nor did I know what I was able to do. University in France doesn’t exactly prepare you for the real world.
I kept on telling myself I should find something better but kept on postponing the job search ordeal. Making barely enough to survive was good enough. I wasn’t picky—my generation grew up with the fear of unemployment and job insecurity.
One day, shortly after I got my permanent resident visa, the staffing agency I was working with called me for an assignment. When I asked for more specific information about the job, the woman on the phone was very noncommittal. Being my usually silly self, I wrote the address down and didn’t ask further questions. The following morning, I ended up in a warehouse and I learned my task consisted of stuffing envelopes. I was a fucking human envelope stuffer and no a productive one, mind you. My hands were cold after a few hours and I kept on getting paper cuts. But I stood in the middle of the cold hangar all day, folding letters, opening envelope after envelope and stuffing them with—of all things!—firearms license applications. I was seething with frustration. What the hell was I doing there? Wasn’t it anything else better I would be good at?
This was my wake-up call. At the end of the day, I used the manager’s phone to call the staffing agency and let them know I wouldn’t be coming in the following day. They didn’t sound surprised—it was a shitty job. That night, I spent several hours writing a better resume and in the morning I left home with as many copies I was able to print. It was January and the weather was very cold. I started in one of Ottawa’s main street and dropped off my resumes at a few language schools. A couple of hours, cold and tired, I went back home. By the time I got there, the first school I had dropped my resume at had already called back and wanted to see me for an interview. I was hired, open the spot and started the following day. I stayed there for almost four years. It was my first real job.
Looking back, it’s funny that I have never been formally trained for any of the positions I had. This is a huge difference between France and Canada. In France, you need to have a degree matching exactly the job offer, otherwise you have no chance. In Canada, being willing to learn and having the relevant skills from previous experiences means more than a degree.