Community Kitchens: Food, Culture, Connections

In case you haven’t noticed, Christmas is coming. How could we miss it? Parades. Lights. Winter activities. Music. Food.

Food.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from newcomers to Canada, it’s the desire to connect in a kitchen, with many people, to learn how to cook ‘Canadian’ food. Reflecting on this, I loved the idea of it. It is brilliant. Food is the centre of all of life’s activities. Sharing food with others connects us and keeps us connected. It is they way we communicate, express creativity and create memories. All occasions, events and activities have food at their centre.

What I was delighted to find out is that there IS a way for us to collectively get together to enjoy food and learn culture. Community Kitchens by Family Services of Greater Vancouver has kitchens in New Westminster and Richmond! Community Kitchens serves new immigrants, seniors, youth and single mothers. They provide food and resources. They meet regularly in local churches and community centres. In the kitchen, members find out so much more than ingredients and recipes; they learn traditions, and culture, differences and similarities, and stories that give a glimpse into others lives.

The act of sitting down together, to enjoy food, creates conversation, dialogue and debate. We learn each other’s customs, manners, and expressions. We learn to appreciate differences and we learn how similar we all are.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a Christmas party. There were 7 of us: some from Canada, some from other countries. We went around the table to share what food was quintessential to us. It was a hard question to answer until we asked ‘what our favourite comfort food was – the one thing we would turn to when we were ill.’ It became easier to define. The funny thing is, not one of us turned to a ‘Canadian’ dish. Each food choice stemmed from our family genealogy, our history, our story.

If you’re wishing to cook a traditional Christmas dinner in Canada, I would harbour a bet that many people will be cooking turkey with a variety of side dishes. If you don’t know where to start (the Community Kitchen will likely be something to look into in the  New Year), the Fraser Valley Regional Library has recipe books you can borrow.

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How To Open New Doors With An Elevator Pitch

I’ve heard of the elevator pitch before, but didn’t like the idea of ‘selling myself’ at networking events. I’m not that good at tooting my own horn, so to speak. So, why would I even entertain the idea now?

I went to a ‘Women in Business’ networking event recently. I had no trouble making conversation with various women, but I wasn’t prepared for succinctly answering questions about my occupation, my career direction, or myself; the entire purpose of the evening was to do just this. People, in particular events, want to know what makes you stand out, what you bring to the table, and why you’re interesting. It’s time that I learn the art of the 30-second pitch.

What is the 30-second pitch?

An elevator pitch, or a 30 second pitch, is a short summary to quickly and simply define you, your experiences and your direction.

How do you make a 30-second pitch?

  1. Introduce yourself – share your name, your education, and your current employment (if applicable)
  2. List your:
    • Major accomplishments or skills: use your LinkedIn profile and write down a few key points of why you’re great. Include your skills & accomplishments in a way that is meaningful to the person you’re talking to, leaving out irrelevant points. The goal is to be as succinct as possible.
    • Passions: what excites you in a day? What do you wish you could spend the rest of your days doing?
  3. Share your goals of where you want to go: what do you want to do, where do you want to go, what are you looking for?
  4. Share a story if you can. People create stronger associations with stories than they do with a sales pitch.
  5. Practice, practice, practice:
    • Make sure you’ve got it down to 30 seconds. Practice with your family and colleagues and ask for feedback. Practice until it feels and sounds natural and shows your real personality. In other words, you should feel and sound like this is a true reflection of you.
    • Consider your body language (posture, eye contact, volume, tone, facial expression, clothing, handshake) and how it impacts your message.
    • Keep it conversational. Use clear language – not everyone understands the company jargon. Pretend you’re trying to explain it to your parents.
  6. Try it: See if you feel comfortable and revise again as necessary.
  7. Ask for guidance: if you’re interested in learning more about an organization, or a person, ask if they can recommend words of wisdom for someone trying to break into their industry or organization. If you’re comfortable, ask for a card and follow up with that individual with more questions.

When do you use it?

Networking event
Career Fair
An interview: tell me about yourself
Professional organizations/associations when asked to introduce yourself

Last words

You need to keep the pitch real. It has to match who you are as a person. It cannot come across as a sales pitch. You are telling people, in 30 seconds or less, the essence of you. It should feel natural and you should feel confident when delivering it. If you don’t feel confident, go back and revise until you do.
ElevatorPitchCartoon

Give me an example!

Hi. I’m Andrea. I currently work as a social media strategist for NewToBC. I created the social media channels used by NewToBC to promote awareness of services available through BC public libraries and immigrant serving organizations that assist newcomers in their transition to life in Canada. From inception, I have gained approximately 1500 Facebook followers, 370 Twitter followers, and over 3000 views on our blog. What I love about social media is finding the right content that resonates with our followers that is timely, relevant and informative. I would love to learn more about how your company uses social media to engage with people about their needs and what tools you use to do this.
*If the conversation went well, I would then ask for a business card to connect with them at a later date when we both have more time.

The Burnaby Public Library has a wealth of resources on this subject. Why not pop over to their catalogue to see what titles they have?

Posted in Careers, Education, Foreign-trained Professionals, Immigrants, Library Champions, Public Libraries | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Understanding Post-Secondary Education in BC

In my other work life, I work as an undergraduate advisor for a university. I often meet with people who have no idea where to begin. I get asked a range of questions like:

  • What is a certificate, diploma, or degree?
  • What is a major, a minor, or a concentration?
  • If I take this degree, what job will I get?
  • What do I do if I’m not admitted to the university I want?
  • When should I be applying?

I have come to realize that a lot of people don’t really know where to find the information they’re looking for. They don’t know the multitude of options available to them, and they often make choices that make me cringe because I know better alternatives are out there. Today’s blog is a brief introduction to the tools I use when discussion the various options for people exploring public post-secondary education*.

Step 1:

Find the program. Understand what you should be considering as you explore education.

Step 2:

admission

Find the admission requirements for the program. Speak to the Advisor of that program. Know exactly what is required for admission and when the admission deadlines are (usually around the end of January for a September start). Take a tour of the campus to make sure it feels right.

At this point, you may need to:

  • Have your credentials translated: Many people use the International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES) through BCIT. Make sure this is required as it can be an expensive and unnecessary process depending on your goals.
  • Have your credentials evaluated for equivalencies: Many people come to me with their credentials from another university. While I would love to say that all of the courses will transfer into the program of choice, I am unable to say how coursework will be evaluated until someone has applied to the university/college (paid the application fee and submitted all required documents). At this point, the admissions office will evaluate for transferability/equivalencies and then inform the student their decision; then, I am able to provide the guidance required.

Step 3:

If you don’t meet the admission requirements, look at ways to get them:

  • English – many schools offer a multitude of learning options. You may want to be in touch with your local library to find conversation circles to practice your English, or inquire where you should be looking for more information. Richmond Public Library offers English Circles on Fridays and Sundays.
  • High school continuing education – Look to your local school district’s website to see what type of continuing education options are available. Often, high school courses are offered for a nominal fee.
  • College transfer – Many colleges will allow students admission as a mature student (over 21 years of age) into their General Arts & Science programs. Students can then take the required number of courses required to transfer to a university (usually 8 courses). The courses taken can be counted directly towards the program requirements of your intended university program so long as you are careful in planning. The BC Transfer Guide articulates how courses transfer from one institution to another in BC.

Step 4:

Check back with the advisor of the program you’re intending to be admitted into to ensure you’re on track. Also check with the advisor of the program you’re in (if you’re transferring from another school) to see what advice they have. The more you ask questions, the more you understand.

Step 5:

Take the program, but get involved in other ways. Completion of a program does not equal an employment outcome. You must have experience alongside your education to be considered when applying for a job. Things you should be exploring in ANY campus:

  • Co-operative Education – allows you to gain work experience related to your degree choice.
  • Career Services – assistance with resumes, cover letters, employment search techniques, and so on.
  • Volunteer experience – all experience is good experience, paid or non-paid.

At any point during the process, you can check in with an advisor if you need clarification. This is what we do. If you’re not getting the answers you seek, ask again or find another advisor.

*It should be noted that there is both public and private post-secondary education in Canada. I am biased. I feel that our public education system outweighs the private education system for a number of reasons:

  • Private education is more expensive
  • Private education is not transferable to a public institution
  • Private education often has a lower employment success rate as employers do not recognize it as much they would public education

If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I will answer you as best I can. If I don’t know, I will direct you to someone who will.

Posted in Careers, Education, Foreign-trained Professionals, Library Champions, Public Libraries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Volunteer your way to a New Direction

When I was a university student, I just knew that I wanted to become a teacher for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I wasn’t really sure how I would make it happen; I certainly didn’t have any experience working in this area, but I KNEW that this is what I wanted to do with my life. So, what any logical person does when they want to move their life into a particular direction does, I looked up what would be required of me to be a special needs teacher, particularly for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Deaf-Ministries

The first thing I needed to do was to learn the language. I enrolled myself into American Sign Language 101 at York University. I loved it! I loved the expressiveness of the language. I loved being able to understand people who were communicating in sign. It challenged me and held me spellbound. I enrolled in the next level and became quite fluent. I soon realized that I needed to become more immersed in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community to better understand the complexities and issues I would face as a teacher.

Any education program in Canada requires students to have a strong background in volunteering with children. If I were going to apply to Teachers College, I would require experience with children. I contacted a school in my neighbourhood and began volunteering in a grade 5 classroom. I enjoyed my time working with these students, but they were hearing: a small problem for a person who is trying to learn about Deaf and Hard of Hearing culture.

I found the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf and started to volunteer there. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. Most of the clients living there were Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing, as well as special needs. Their communication was rudimentary and hard for me to follow and I was volunteering with adults, not children. A fellow volunteer suggested that I might want to look into volunteering at a school for the Deaf.

After some time, I found the Earnest C. Drury School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing 80km away, in Milton Ontario. A school dedicated to teaching the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Knowing how far it was to travel to, I contacted them and asked if I could volunteer in a classroom. They said yes. I was over the moon and so terribly scared. I was taking the exact step I needed to secure my future as a teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I went once per week, for a year, spending the day in the classroom and helping where I could help.

I applied to Teacher’s College and was accepted. I was one step closer to my dream.

I ended up in a different career, but that’s another story. The point that I want to illustrate is that my experience volunteering took me into the direction that I needed to go. I had a vision, and volunteering in the right direction took me there. My opportunities gave me a chance to:

  • meet people who were able to point me in the right direction
  • gain experience where I had none
  • enjoy a learning experience
  • immerse myself in a new culture
  • make a difference in the life of people I connected with

There are so many organizations that would love to have help. There are many ways for you to find volunteer opportunities. Think of what you have to offer, what you would like to gain, and go for it. Volunteer as much or as little as you can.

If you’re looking for a starting point, the Surrey Public Library has both opportunities and references available. You may also consider becoming a Library Champion like Mansoor Karimifar. Leave a comment below to tell me what your goal is, and what steps you will take to get there.

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Stop Preparing. Start Doing. Today!

I think, sometimes the largest challenge that we have in the job search is that we spend so much time preparing ourselves so perfectly, that we miss opportunity when it presents itself. We attend employment workshops, we go to employment centres for advice, we learn LinkedIn, we complete assessments to determine what type of career we should be aiming for, we read up on networking, we learn what it takes to create the perfect resume, cover letter, and what types of jobs we should be applying for. Then we stop short of pulling it all together to apply for that perfect job. What is the point of having all of this knowledge if you’re not going to use it to help your search come to fruition?

We tell ourselves that we lack the right skill-set, experience, or expertise. We tell ourselves that we don’t have the time to apply. We make excuses to stop ourselves from achieving our dreams. What if, instead of arming ourselves with more knowledge about what we should be doing, we just did it? What if, we apply for that perfect job with our imperfect resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile?

The reality is, the perfect cover letter or resume doesn’t exist. The perfect experience may, in fact, be not entirely what the organization is looking for – when presented with alternatives, many hiring managers do an about-face about what an ideal candidate looks like. We are each unique. We each bring something to the table. Sometimes, we feel that what we bring is not up to par with what is already there, not realizing that the hiring manager has never been exposed to this particular flavour of experiences. We compare ourselves to our imaginary counterparts so we can tell ourselves that others are better than us. We kill our own dreams.

I think if we force ourselves to sit down and just do it, we could do what it takes to find that perfect job. Make small changes as you go, but keep applying. Apply for the job you want, even if you’re not 100% qualified. Contact someone for an informational interview and learn more about your ideal position. Get in touch with the governing organization of your profession, if there is one – ask if there’s a way to get involved/get a membership/attend events catered to that career. Work on your LinkedIn profile. Ask people to review your resume and cover letter and offer feedback. Trying to everything is overwhelming – so much so that we don’t do anything.

So pick one thing you’ve learned recently and actually do it.

  • Define yourself – let your true self come out on paper
  • Narrow your focus – pick a range of jobs that you would really love to do
  • Contact your local library to see what resources they have that can assist you: The Vancouver Public Library Career Commons has a comprehensive list of materials to help you get started (but don’t get stuck there!). They also have a TON of workshops (don’t get stuck here either!).

When you’re done that one thing, do the next. Eventually, it becomes second nature to do it as you learn and grow and prosper into your dreams. Leave a comment to tell me what one thing you did after reading this post. I look forward to reading what has worked for you!

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss

Posted in Careers, Foreign-trained Professionals, Immigrants, Library Champions, Public Libraries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Day to Remember

As a child, my classmates and I would dutifully practice and recite the poem ‘In Flanders Field’ for the yearly Remembrance Day ceremony put on at my school. My thoughts then were of memorization and trying not to trip up over the words of the poem while our community watched on. As ceremony continued, the senior citizens of our community would present themselves to us in uniform and polished medals and share their words on the impact of The War: what it meant to their generation, and in turn, ours. I remember looking at them, at how old they were, thinking that this war was long ago and that it meant little to me. I wondered why we had to participate in something that had nothing to do with us. I also remember their emotion, the tears in their eyes, opening their memories to us so we would see.

Time passes. I grew and began to realize that the war was not, as my child’s mind thought, so long ago. I began to see the young faces of these seniors and recognized what they endured: the bravery demonstrated by going off to war, the ultimate sacrifice they made to ensure future generations:my parents, my own, my children, would be free to have choice. What used to be a poem of recantation has now become a very emotional and real one for me. To see the source of the poem: red poppies growing over the graves of the fallen, the sheer number of the fallen. I look at my forbearers with new eyes. I wonder what they endured. What they sacrificed. How they were able to return to their ‘normal’ life. I remember because I have been taught to remember. I remember because stories teach us to remember. I remember so my children will remember.

This November 11 marks 100 years since the start of the First World War, and 96 years from its end. 888,246 British or Colonial military lost their lives aPoppiesnd about 17 million people overall. In London this year, an installation by Paul Cummins, entitled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” has placed a ceramic poppy in the dry moat of the tower of London. Each poppy represents a British or Colonial military fatality during the war. This spectacular, visual display emulates, very clearly the blood spilled and lives lost during this war. Let us remember those who died to give us our today. Let us remember the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace. On Tuesday, November 11th at 11:11 a.m., the 11th month, the 11th day, the 11th hour, take pause and reflect what others have sacrificed to give you the freedom you have today. Two minutes of silence is little in comparison to what has been given already.

There are events scheduled for every community in the Lower Mainland. If you’re not familiar with Remembrance Day, I encourage you to attend, observe and try to appreciate the way we honour those who have and continue to sacrifice themselves to continue our democratic freedom. Your local libraries are involved, your city is involved, and you should involve yourself. This is a Day to Remember.

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NaNoWriMo (It’s National Novel Writing Month)

NaNoWriMo

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get the novel out of your head and put it down in writing? November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): a challenge to write a novel of 50,000 words from November 1st to November 30th; a call to let go of your excuses and your fear and just write by the seat of your pants. If you’ve ever had a fleeting thought of writing a novel, now’s the time.

This program offers direction and encouragement to get you writing creatively and vibrantly through:

  • NaNo Prep – resources to help inspire us, challenge us, and prepare us to write a novel.
  • Pep talks from authors – Kami Garcia informs us that our excuses of being too busy are lame, our ideas don’t suck, our muse is not MIA and we ARE qualified to be writers.
  • Conversations with others – you can reach out to others in your region, join forums and discussions online
  • Earning badges – who doesn’t love a little external reward?

There are also programs for both youth and adults are being offered at various libraries throughout the Lower Mainland to help you get started. To list a few:

Burnaby Public Library: invites youth to submit the first chapter of their original novel to any BPL information desk or through email. The first chapter will be judged by BPL Librarians. One winner will be selected from each category: Younger Teens (grades 8 – 9) and Older Teens (grades 10 – 12). The winners will receive a $50 gift certificate to Metropolis Metrotown! The winning chapter will also be featured on the BPL Teens webpage.

Fraser Valley Regional Library (Maple Ridge): opening-up our Teen Area every Friday evening in November to provide space for like-minded writers to ply their trade together.

The New Westminster Public Library: offers a catalogued list of books written during NaNoWriMo.

Surrey Public Library: invites youth to join local author Denise Jaden and fellow teen writer Linda Xia for two hours of writing activities and discussion, Wednesday, November 5th from 4:00-6:00pm at the City Centre Library, Teen Lounge.

The Vancouver Public Library: will enter participants who complete this challenge in a draw where 3 winners will be chosen to have the first chapter (up to 5000 words) of their NaNoWriMo work read by an SFU Creative Writing consultant.

West Vancouver Memorial Library: invites you to come to the library and write like the wind!

Now if you’ll excuse me, it would appear that the prep section of the NaNoWriMo website is calling my attention. Will you join me?

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