Newcomer Story: Alfredo Santa

Alfredo Santa“I think that the best thing about Canada is that you can start over and over again. You have a wide panorama here and the view is wide open. Don’t be discouraged if you are not in your field of expertise because maybe you can be valuable in another field and you don’t know that. Write your history in Canada again!”

These are inspiring words from Alfredo, our featured newcomer. Prior to the interview, I did a bit of research on him and learned about his professional achievements. Aside from his impressive work history in sales and engineering back in Colombia, Alfredo began his career in Canada in 2017 as the Business Development Manager for Latin America for UltraSpan Technologies Inc. (UltraSpan is a company founded in Winnipeg that provides products, equipment and technology to precast producers all over the world). Then just last year, he moved up to the position of Business Development Manager for International Markets. Not a small feat for someone who has been here for only about two and half years. When I met him for an interview, I was eager to ask him about his success secrets. What I discovered is an inspiring story about overcoming challenges through a positive mindset and commitment to lifelong learning.

From Colombia to Calgary then Winnipeg

Alfredo’s immigration story actually did not begin in Winnipeg. They had family in Calgary, so together with his wife and three daughters, they moved there in 2016. Unfortunately, they arrived at the height of the recession. They had a difficult time looking for jobs. “We noticed that a lot of people were being laid off so although we had good education and professional experience, it was difficult for us to compete with English-speaking professionals with Canadian experience,” he said. After about 6-7 months of a rough job search, an opportunity opened up for Alfredo in Winnipeg, so they moved.

“To be honest, I didn’t know much about Manitoba but we took the chance because of the job. At first, it was rough for us because of the weather but something strange happened – we started to fall in love with the city and the people. They are very friendly, very open. We decided to stay and we’re enjoying it here now,” Alfredo said. He added “My wife and daughters have settled here and they’re doing great. Also, we got our very first house in Canada a month and a half ago. Considering that we have been here for a little over two years, it’s amazing! I think Manitoba has very good conditions to settle and to get a very decent job here.”

“The good thing about this program in MB is that you can learn English while you’re working. You can practice your English at work in the day and then at night you can learn grammar or other language skills. In my case, my work demands that I travel abroad. Even then, I can still work on my English lessons and study. It has a certain level of flexibility and I think that’s the great advantage of this program.”

Professional opportunities and the language barrier

Just like other newcomers, one of Alfredo’s first challenges was the language. Back in Calgary, he started with a LINC Program at Maple Leaf Academy. “First, you have to know the language for them to believe you (that you can do the job). The only way to do that is to be able to communicate your ideas in English. To be honest, I think I’m very lucky because my job is to cover Latin American markets, something that I did in the past and I still speak Spanish when I go there. This gave me a chance to have a professional job very fast and without getting licensing for my studies. So in a certain way my path was very short compared to other people who first needed to learn English or validate their studies,” Alfredo said. However, he realized that he needed to continue improving his English if he wanted to expand the markets that he can cover. So when he came to Winnipeg, he continued LINC with English Online.

“The good thing about this program in MB is that you can learn English while you’re working. You can practice your English at work in the day and then at night you can learn grammar or other language skills. In my case, my work demands that I travel abroad. Even then, I can still work on my English lessons and study. It has a certain level of flexibility and I think that’s the great advantage of this program,” Alfredo said.

“My instructor Karen is an expert in Canadian English and that’s very valuable. You’re learning ways to say the things here in Canada; you learn proper pronunciation. There are also a lot of topics that are relevant for us on the platform. For example, how to buy a house here in Canada, or how to volunteer, or how to apply for a job. The platform also has idioms that are used here. At first, you might not get them. But as soon as you hear a person mention one, something clicks in your mind and you say, ‘hey, I learned that idiom from the platform! Now I know in what context to use it,’” he adds.

Alfredo has been with LINC since 2017 and by the end of the year, he will be ready to take the exit test. He is looking to get CLB 8 in all the four skills, which is the maximum level for a LINC student. As early as now, he is already planning on taking other language courses to sustain the momentum. “I’m trying to get a pronunciation course or some communication coaching. I’m also thinking of joining the local Toastmasters Club,” he said.

Aside from this, Alfredo has not lost sight of getting his degree recognized in Canada and then continue studying something entirely different from engineering. “I think that the good thing about Canada is that you can start over and over again in different fields. Maybe I can study history, or something absolutely different that is not about numbers or engineering,” he said.

Tips to newcomers:

Alfredo shares his secrets for success for other newcomers:

  1. Don’t limit yourself. “We are all very capable. Please do not diminish yourself thinking that ‘ah I don’t speak English I’m not very valuable.’ I don’t think so. We need to have self-confidence and know that we can do it. It will take time to learn the language but you definitely can do it. This is something you need to overcome in your head and say ‘ok, maybe my English is not 100% accurate or my pronunciation is not the best, but it doesn’t matter’. What matters is that I can convey my ideas and express myself. Work on improving your language but realize that Canada is a wide open country for immigrants. People are friendly and open. They will give you a chance. It’s up to you to launch yourself, to shoot with whatever you have.”
  2. Get involved in the culture. “Listen to music, go to concerts, listen to the news, read books – try to enjoy that because it’s part of the experience. Try to get friends from here. Talk to people. Share your culture with them. That will give you the chance to express yourself and at the same time share who you are. For instance in my case, everybody asks the same kind of question (something related to cocaine). I know that it is very discouraging to talk about it but this is the chance to say ‘you know what, Colombia is not that, Colombia is this and this. It is very interesting!’ And people will value that. They will tell you ‘oh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that’. Maybe you can convert that person into your friend and even travel together to Colombia.”
     
    “Language is a barrier for sure. But more than the language is the way you handle it – for example how to express your ideas in a polite way. I come from a Latin American culture and we have a different way of expressing ourselves. You will notice that some people from my culture look like they are fighting but they’re really just talking, they’re exchanging ideas. People here are calmer. They get their point across by being eloquent not by arguing. If the point is related to some rules, ok, those are the rules and there is no point in questioning them. In my country, that doesn’t work. So you need to change your mindset and you need to understand the culture.”
  3. Start again. “This country is giving you a chance to start again, to do anything you want to do. So don’t be stuck with the idea that ‘I am an engineer and so I have to be an engineer.’ Think out of the box. If you’re an engineer, maybe you can open a company here, or maybe recruit people in engineering. Canada is a good country to start over again. Learn English, start a new profession or pursue different goals. In my country Colombia, this is not easy to do because it’s not easy to change your career. If you study engineering and you become an engineer, you’re going to be an engineer forever. Here in Canada, they will give you the chance to change your path.”