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Embracing beauty and diversity: A Filipino immigrant’s journey to Kelowna

Alan Gonzales from Philippines dedicates himself to assisting fellow immigrants
Alan Gonzales is a Filipino immigrant who moved to Canada, settling in Kelowna, British Columbia. (Photo courtesy Alan Gonzales)

Immigrants make up 29 per cent of B.C.’s population, according to census data released Oct. 26, 2022.

One of them is Alan Gonzales from Philippines, who had marketing skills that were in demand in Canada. In early 2017, with hopes of starting a new chapter in his life, Gonzales applied for the Canadian Express Entry program, designed to attract young individuals with valuable skills and talents to become permanent residents in Canada. After a six-month processing time, he finally began his journey in British Columbia, specifically Kelowna.

Gonzales chose Kelowna initially because his sister was already living there, but as time went by, he fell in love with the beauty of Kelowna.

“I’ve always been drawn to the vibrant city of Vancouver, and I envisioned myself living there long term. But I changed my mind. I decided to just stay in Kelowna because I realized that it is a really beautiful and breathtaking city. I also just bought my first property here earlier this March,” Gonzales said.

However, finding employment proved to be a hurdle for Gonzales.

“One notable challenge I encountered was the initial struggle of finding a job, even though I had marketing skills. It was difficult for me to find a job since I lacked a professional network in the area. I had to start working as a grocery clerk, which initially seemed unrelated to my previous experience,” Gonzales said.

But Gonzales remained resilient and saw the job as a stepping stone towards his desired career. He understood that these obstacles were opportunities for growth. The job allowed him to build a network, understand the Canadian work culture, and gain valuable character references.

In May 2022, Gonzales successfully became a Canadian citizen, with Kelowna Community Resources (KCR), an organization dedicated to assisting newcomers in integrating into the community, assisting him throughout the process.

“Once I arrived in Kelowna, I connected with KCR. They became one of my pillars of support. They played a very crucial role in helping me integrate into my community and navigate the challenges of settling in the country. They had set for me workers and specialists who provided me with guidance, advice and encouragement as I embarked on my journey to find a career. At that time, I was getting really disappointed, but they just encouraged me that someday I would be able to find a career that really aligned with my values and goals. Fast forward to today,” Gonzales said.

Now Gonzales has secured his position as a project coordinator in the settlement industry, working with KCR. This role not only aligns with his professional aspirations but also allows him to give back to the immigrant community by helping other newcomers in integrating into Canadian society.

“This is very interesting… It’s just a full circle for me, and it’s a rewarding experience to be able to share my own journey as well, provide my guidance, and contribute to the success of my fellow newcomers,” Gonzales said.

Various agencies, such as KCR, the Immigrant Services Society of BC, and the Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia (IECBC), offer settlement, employment, English language learning, and community connections programs to assist newcomers and new immigrants in British Columbia.

IECBC offers a number of programs aimed at bridging the gap between experienced professionals and newcomers aspiring to join the Canadian workforce and utilize their talents effectively, introduced by Patrick MacKenzie, chief executive officer of the IECBC. One such program is FAST, a skills assessment initiative designed to help newcomers in comprehending their existing skills and demonstrating them to potential employers within the Canadian work environment. It also equips them with the knowledge of how to apply these skills in a way that aligns with Canadian expectations. Additionally, the ASCEND workplace preparation program helps immigrants in gaining a deeper understanding of employers’ expectations during interviews and hiring processes. By participating in ASCEND, immigrants can position themselves more effectively to achieve success in their job search, MacKenzie said.

Gonzales also wanted to provide advice to newcomers to Canada.

“I would say just open yourself up to the opportunity to learn and grow both personally and professionally. You need to immerse yourself in the diverse communities and cultures that Canada has to offer. Many times I see immigrants isolate themselves. They just stick with their own communities. Personally, I think it is essential not to isolate yourself.”

Furthermore, Gonzales advised newcomers to remain resilient, embrace gratitude and appreciation for the opportunities in Canada, and seek out organizations like KCR that provide valuable guidance and resources.

“Let’s be part of the fabric of diversity. Let’s be proactive, and the rewards will be immeasurable if we do that,” Gonzales added.

“Being independent here is more important than anything else. More and more young people are coming to Canada. It’s important to make network here, make friends here, practice English, and make income to survive. No matter what English level they have, they have to really break out of their shell, forget about what they were back home, and start right away,” said a settlement worker from an immigrant support agency for the North Shore community, requiring anonymity.

“Look for those services that are in your community to help you find work. There are lots of federally and provincially funded programs to help immigrants find work and connect with the labor market. I’d say that the best work though is to start early and start even before you arrive in Canada to familiarize yourself with the labor market, familiarize yourself with the opportunities that exist for the skills that you bring to the table, and to look for opportunities to network. Certainly… what we have to keep in mind is that most jobs actually don’t require a credential,” MacKenzie said.

Yatan Anand, originally from India, arrived in B.C. in 2004 as an international student and later became a Canadian citizen. He currently holds the position of Vice President of Business Development and International at SELC College. Anand mentioned the challenges of too much information available, which can sometimes lead to confusion for newcomers.

“Sometimes too much information also deviates an individual from getting off track… Now having different programs, more information can be helpful as well. But it’s all about reality versus expectations, what we have given to a system at the end, and what our expectations are after doing what we should be doing,” Anand said.

Despite the challenges, Gonzales felt immense gratitude for the opportunities Canada had provided him. He also observed the difference in work culture compared to Philippines, the abundance of opportunities, and the emphasis on work-life balance.

As the seasons changed, Gonzales found solace in Kelowna’s forgiving winter, where the beauty of nature and the enchanting landscapes embraced him. He thrived in the multicultural fabric of British Columbia, cherishing the diversity and inclusivity that surrounded him.

“There’s the scenic beauty and the geography. There are beautiful mountains, lakes, terrains, trails, and parks. If you are a person who enjoys the outdoors and love nature, B.C. is one of the best places to be. It’s very, very beautiful here. Also I would say multiculturalism is very prevalent here. The demographics and population are diversifying. I truly enjoy seeing people from different communities, from different countries coming into, settling, and finding their new homes,” Gonzales said.

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