Canadian Workplace Culture

There are many new challenges for newcomers when they arrive in Canada. Finding a place to live, enrolling children in school, finding a supermarket that sells ethnically appropriate food items, and getting a drivers license are all very large tasks. However, the largest task newcomers face is finding work in their chosen field.

I wrote last week Canadian Workabout the Vancouver Public Library’s Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre for newcomers. They provide free online and in-person resources to help newcomers find information they need to find employment or explore careers.  In addition to this wonderful resource, newcomers should include Understanding Canadian Workplace Culture to their job search strategy.

The New Westminster Public Library is offering this workshop to help newcomers understand the small cultural nuances that will assist in searching for gainful employment. Topics include:

  • What are the common Canadian work values?
  • How do you demonstrate confidence?
  • What topics can you use to initiate conversation?
  • How important is it to be punctual?
  • How do you express your opinion in a healthy manner?
  • What do you need to know about socializing in the workplace?
  • How do you understand organizational structure?
  • How do you ensure you’re answering an interview question that reflects past experiences?

Finding work is a lot of hard work. The more workshops you attend and the more people you speak with, the faster you will gain a deeper understanding of the Canadian workplace and the culture.

I would love to hear about the strategies you have used to find work and the organizations that have helped you. Please leave a comment below to share with others. 

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The Vancouver Public Library Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre: Exploring Career Options

What do you do when you can’t find work in your field? Recently, I was able to visit the Library Champions at the Surrey Public Library and during my visit one champion announced that she and her family would likely be moving to Montreal. Her husband had been offered a job that closely matched the one he left behind in his country. While everyone congratulated her, there were a number of underlying question marks in the air.

Why is it so hard to find work in Greater Vancouver? How hard would it be to move across Canada? How would they manage in a prominently French-speaking city? Would the transition to Eastern Canada be as difficult as their journey to BC? Was there no opportunity for them to stay here? Was there a chance that they would be able to find a job here before they were required to commit to another move?

Coincidently, the information provided in this day’s session pertained to the Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre (VPLSiiC) at the Vancouver Public Library.

The Skilled Immigrant InfoCentre provides online and in-person resources to help newcomers find information they need to find employment or explore careers. This is a free service for people throughout the lower mainland, not just patrons of the Vancouver Public Library.

Finding work for newcomers is difficult. Finding work that relates to the skills and training they bring to the table, even more so. This is why it is so important for newcomers to use this service. The VPLSiiC assists newcomers in exploring alternative careers based on education and training. They offer insight into industry expectations. They provide information on salary expectations, future employment outlooks, and any other education and training that may be required.

Sometimes, this is not enough. Sometimes, families need to move to new cities to find work. It’s good to know that all options have been explored and that you gave it your very best shot.


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Learning About Culture Through Place and Storytelling

What happens when you bring newcomers together in a room and ask them to bring a photo of where they’re from? A rich storytelling experience. I recently met with the Surrey Library Champions during one of their check in sessions at the Surrey Pubic Library and I left better educated about the world around me.

As each champion spoke about where they were from, the librarian pulled up images and displayed them on a projector for all of us to see. We were visually transported to other parts of the world, while listening to someone speak about it intimately.

Within one room, we were transported to:

  • Guilin, an area northeast of the Guiangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. Known for it’s beauty, and beer, this is one of China’s most popular tourist destinations.
  • The Bund of Shanghai, with its famous historical buildings and sightseeing, the city of Shanghai has the same population as Canada. With temperatures similar to Vancouver, it would appear its real estate is worse – an increase of 30% over the last year.
  • Qinghai Lake is a popular tourist destination in China. One champion hired a driver for one week to visit the countryside and the natives of the area. This lake used to be where people would get their salt from.
  • The Golden Temple in India was built in the 16th It is open for all people from all religions and serves food to approximately 100,000 people daily. People come daily to give their contributions and to sit and have food together.
  • The people who live in Taiwan go east to sightsee, and west to work. There are numerous night markets to serve the population of 23 million people.
  • Yugoslavia’s sea is a beauty to behold. It is warm enough that you could spend a day in the water and not be cold.
  • The Coventry Cathedral was bombed in the First World War, but later served a useful area for one to learn multiple languages by assisting tourists in the area.

In being transported to each place, we were able to ask questions about culture, about customs and place. We were able to connect through our similarities and better understand our differences. It made me wonder if we all could try a little harder to ask questions when we meet people. Hear more story. Learn. It’s pretty easy to do and we already have the space for it in our public libraries. It just takes a bit of time to get involved in the myriad of workshops and events that are available.

If you would like to learn more about the people who live around you, you may consider the next Philosopher’s Café hosted at the Surrey Public Library (Central) on January 27th at 7pm. You’ll leave feeling richer for it.

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Install a Mini-Library in Your Community

The first time I saw a mini-library, I was confused. Here was a little house, with a shelf of books on a street, nowhere. No instructions were listed on the glass door to this little house and, being unobtrusive, I let it be. The next time I saw one I was with a friend (who knows everything about everything) who explained what it was. This time, I stopped and had a look through the books. I found a book that interested me and I took it. I felt a little guilty, as I had nothing to replace it with, but soon learned I could contribute anytime.

mini-libraryMini-libraries are popping up more frequently around the Lower Mainland. Recently, Shagun Bhanot was featured in the Burnaby Now when she and another woman partnered to bring four new mini-libraries to a variety of areas in Burnaby.

Curious about the process and how it works, I approached Shagun with follow up questions:

What prompted you to start the mini-libraries project?

The core of the project was to bring community together through reading, possessing, exchanging and recycling books. The idea behind setting miniature public libraries was to have access to books anytime anywhere without the deadline to return or renew them. This book exchange initiative wanted to increase connections between people living in a housing complex or in a particular neighbourhood. We also wanted to create some common meeting points for people where they could meet up and nurture friendships through common interest in books and felt that these mini structures could be a point of reference as a common hangout or meeting place. Another thought that prompted this project was, to encourage the component of education by making children “return to books” in today’s world of technology and inculcate the habit of sharing.

Have you been monitoring the libraries since their inception?

Yes, we have been doing that and it is doing pretty well. We are surprised how many people have been approaching us with a donation of books or buying structures to build mini libraries in their own neighbourhood.

What surprised you the most about this project?

What surprised me was the amount of people who became involved in the project, as well as enthusiasm of the community partners. This project was truly inclusive.

How long did this project take from idea to completion?

It took us approximately six months from start to finish.

What was the biggest struggle in this project?

Complying with the City Bylaws was a challenge. The City of Burnaby was very supportive and brainstormed with us as to locations, as well as amendments to Zoning and Sign Bylaws to distinguish mini-libraries from other structures. They also introduced regulations specific to this for any future mini libraries.

Finding raw materials for the libraries and finding volunteers to build and install these was another challenge we had to overcome. We approached various community partners and were fortunate to collaborate with Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion and Artists helping Artists whose major support helped our project see the light of day.

Where would you recommend others to start if they’re looking at making a similar project in their own community?

Folks should collaborate with community partners as well as the Public library and the City. Most important, however, are the people of the community as it is they who would eventually be using the libraries and keep the project running successfully.

Can you tell me about the funding process?

We applied for funding through Vancouver Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grants Project and were supported by Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table and Burnaby Neighborhood House in making an application and getting it approved.

What do you have planned next?

The next is to install another library at the Simon Fraser University (SFU) campus in Burnaby to give people access to more books, as there is no public library on campus. We also plan to monitor the libraries and maintain the continuum.

If building a mini-library is a New Year’s resolution for you, you may want to visit the ‘Mini-Library Burnaby’ Facebook page. Alternatively, the Surrey Libraries will share with you how to bring a mini library to the Surrey communities in their January 20th presentation.


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Wishing you a Traditional Christmas

Christmas is once again upon us. This year our family of four will share this day with my sister and her husband (Aunty and Jimmy). Of four adults, three of us (the planners) thought to break from tradition and make things ‘easy.’ Rather than go through the effort required of making a turkey with all the trimmings, we discussed the idea of Bloody Mary Mussels making more time for visiting and less time in the kitchen. Tradition (Jim) decided this was dumb and that we will, in fact, have turkey with all the trimmings.

Let me share with you you a bit about how this came to be. In an email exchange:

Brad: “I wouldn’t mind making Bloody Mary Mussels if you guys are ok with non-traditional. It’s quick, easy and more time for visiting.”

Jim: “And then we’ll cancel Christmas………. No Turkey. OK, that’s it I’m driving to Toronto to get a real dinner!”

Eva: “I will make a (small) turkey breast for Jim. I will make some turkey gravy for those (Jim) who don’t want “sauce” (Jim). That way Jim (I mean everyone) gets what Jim (I mean everyone) wants.”

Do you see what just happened?

We’re not the first to break tradition in my family.

Many years ago, when my brother was around 5 or 6, his teacher was educating the class on tradition. Thanksgiving was near and the class was learning about turkeys – they drew pictures of turkeys and talked about why people had turkey dinner, learning this collective tradition. Meanwhile, my mother had a very large chicken in the freezer. A table full of food, my brother burst into tears: “Theres no turkey! We’re poor! Where’s the turkey?!” A catastrophe.

So, turkey with all the trimmings it is. Because, Jim. Tradition.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope your traditions allow you to appreciate how your history brought you to this day.

(Maybe this year, we can break tradition on the Christmas Cracker hats?! Nah..)


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The Myriad of Services Available for Newcomers – At Your Library!

Finally! The Syrian refugees are starting to make their way into Canada. As many of you already know, the journey is not over; rather, a new one is beginning. There is much to learn in adapting to their new country: learning a new language, understanding culture, navigating a new city, enrolling in school, finding a family doctor and more. A myriad of service providers are available and eager to help, but newcomers often don’t even know where to begin.

Often, the first place that makes a newcomer feel at home is the discovery of their local library. As we know, libraries are more than books – now, books are supplied in a multitude of languages, a myriad of services ranging from resume workshops to understanding computers are offered, and referrals and connections to other supporting organizations are prevalent.

Richmond is one of the first cities in BC to receive a Syrian family. The Richmond Public Library has a comprehensive list of services available for newcomers. So comprehensive, in fact, that an entire section of their website is dedicated to newcomers.

Listed on this RPLsite is information on:

  • Where to stay
  • Settlement services
  • Transportation
  • Getting identification
  • Bank account and money
  • Internet, phone and facilities

We know these folks coming over have a network of sponsors and supports to assist them in accessing all required services, but do we need a reminder that these services are available to all newcomers? The attention to the Syrians is a response to a crisis beyond the comprehension of many. Let’s not forget that there are many of you who have walked a similar journey before them. The services are for you too.

If you’re a newcomer, and you have questions or would like help in your transition to Canada, please have a look at your library’s website. There is so much to offer – you just need to reach for what you need.

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Free Holiday Activities in the Lower Mainland

It’s beginning to look a lot like holidays. Kids school concerts are booked, black Friday is tomorrow, and work functions have been scheduled to celebrate the season. One thing about holidays is that they generally cost a lot of money. It’s good to know where to find activities that will get you into the spirit of the holidays without breaking the bank.

Here’s a few events to get you into the spirit of the season:


December 5th:

Lantern Festival and Parade in Port Coquitlam
At Leigh Square Community Arts Village

December 6th:

Rogers Santa Claus Parade
On Georgia and along Howe

Big Rigs for Kids Lighted Truck Parade in Surrey
At Surrey City Hall Plaza (and University Blvd)

Christmas in Steveston Village
On Steveston Public Wharf

December 11th & 12th:

Lumiere Festival Vancouver
In Vancouver’s West End


Burnaby Village Museum Heritage Christmas
Until January 1, 2016. Free gate admission. Carousel rides are $2.55.

Christmas at Canada Place
Beginning December 12th, free outdoor displays, lights, the legendary Woodward’s Windows, 15-foot snow globe, and more.

CP Holiday Train
In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows (December 18th), in Port Coquitlam and Port Moody (December 19th).

St Paul’s Hospital Lights of Hope
On now and throughout December. A beautiful light display in Downtown Vancouver.

Skating at Robson Square Ice Rink
Free when you bring your own skates. Rentals are available for $4.00. Open December 1st until February.

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