By Andy Radia
On the surface, it looks like Cristina Popescu and her husband had an easy transition to life in Canada.
Just a few years after immigrating here from Romania, they both have jobs in their field of choice – she’s a teacher and he’s in the I.T. industry — and they appear to be living ‘happily ever after.’
But it didn’t happen by accident or by luck.
Even before immigrating to Canada, the couple started preparing – they went on the Internet to find out where the best opportunities for them would be.
“We did our homework and Calgary was the sunniest place, the cleanest three years in a row and plus the oil boom – it was a good [economy],” she says.
“And it was the only [place] that would have an [accreditation] process for teachers’ [from Romania]. So for me to get a teachers’ certificate, only Alberta had a program for that.”
Upon arrival in 2008, Popescu enrolled in the Transitions to Alberta Classrooms program – a ‘bridging’ program that provides foreign trained teachers practical experience, English language instruction and other learning. Ultimately, it’s meant to prepare students to gain and retain employment as teachers in the province.
In addition to that program, Popescu also needed13 additional university courses.
To pay for it she worked two part-time jobs as a tutor.
“My transition to Alberta ran from morning to 4 o’clock. And then after 4 o’clock I would be a tutor from 4 P.M to 8 P.M at different learning centres,” she said.
She also needed a $5,000 loan which she got through the Immigrant Access Fund. The IAF is a not-for-profit organization which provides micro-loans to internationally-trained newcomers to help them gain the accreditation they need to work in their fields of expertise. The unique thing about these loans is that approvals are based on the applicant’s character, not their collateral or Canadian credit score.
After two years of full-time school and two part-time jobs, Popescu earned her certificate in teaching and within a year she got a first full-time Canadian job. She now teaches math to Grade 10, 11 and 12 students at a Catholic school in Calgary.
And her advice to new immigrants: ‘be prepared to start all over’
“When I look around I see two types of people. Those that will be humble that know that they have to start from zero again,” she said.
“The other type of people think ‘I am so good that everyone will see that and they will hire me in an instant’ and unfortunately they are not. I know my story is…close to amazing but it’s just because I knew I would have to start again and I didn’t mind going back to school and having ‘survival jobs’ because it got me in the field.
“I started over and it was worth it.”