Conquering a new country (personally & professionally)

in transit : in the process of being transported (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

I have a feeling I’ve always been in transit all my life, physically, mentally and spiritually. Trying to find the country/city/region that suits my lifestyle, that maximizes my potential in my profession, that makes me feel safe and at home, that makes me grounded and at bliss with the people around. After jet-setting from Bombay to Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia and now Canada, I believe I have found solace (albeit temporarily) in the city I live in now, Toronto.

 

I landed in Toronto at the start of 2016, all fresh-eyed for the dewy world of North America, and I got sucked in, and how! It was a fresh start for my career, a new arena to explore my personal life, a way for me to face my fears, conquer the unknown and start from scratch.

I’d love to share with you some experiences and tips on how I conquered a new country, both personally and professionally.

       

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND TIPS

    • Networking – Networking is difficult, especially for an introvert like me. However, I had to start somewhere. In fits and starts, I fiddled with networking at events, big and small. After almost 4 years, I believe I’m comfortable talking to a group of strangers, approach them, start conversations and build rapport for a few hours. This is a sure-shot way to make new friends, acquaintances, and connections in a new city. In other cities, I’ve also approached friend’s friends, long lost connections, people I’ve bumped into in my condo. I made a long-lasting friend with someone I met at my co-working space and another one who I met on couchsurfing.com in the first few months of moving to Canada. Who knows, you could find a new connection with that friendly-looking face in your yoga class.

 

    • Professional leagues/ sports/ group outdoor activities – I’m not a huge sports person; prefer solo running or workouts. However, I did make quite a few acquaintances and friends when I joined my company’s dragon boat team. Professional & Amateur sports groups and clubs such as softball, baseball, running clubs, etc. allow you to meet people from different spheres of life, but who share some common interests with you and provide a way to work as a team to compete in a sport and build that ‘team spirit’. Worth a try.

 

    • Attend meetups that interest you – I’m a Product Lead in the tech industry, hence I was always interested in attending events, conferences and other meetups happening all across Toronto to learn from other product leaders in the field, learn new functions such as marketing and business development, pick up a new skill or just to be in the know-how of things happening in different industries. I made a few acquaintances this way, who cheer for me on Linkedin or whenever we bump into each other at social events. Every major city has tons of events happening, be they related to tech startups, finance/banking industry, book clubs, product events, speed networking, etc.

 

    • Have hobbies outside the ‘work and professional’ sphere – after all, all work and no play makes Jill a dud. Attending work-related events and focusing all your energies at your professional narrative is great, however, I found I needed some downtime outside my work environment to pursue things that relax me and in return rejuvenate me for my work. I found strength in running outside, exploring new neighborhoods, checking out the art scene in Toronto or even joining some kickboxing classes in between.

 

    • Start exploring the coffee/bar/music/food scene out there – whatever suits your tastes and pockets. For me, it was mostly the coffee and bar scene in the downtown Toronto area. Working in downtown has its perks because I could check out the newest bar or trendy cafe that caught my eye, take some cool Instagram shots, compare and contrast different bars.

 

    • Assimilate yourself in city life, culturally, politically and socially – I joined my friend to help her with a campaign she was leading to elect a new city councilor in a city ward. As a result, I did start understanding a bit more about the politics in the city and civic issues such as housing, transit, safety and more. This also piqued my interest in city-building initiatives that gave me prompt conversation starters at networking events.

 

    • Have ‘go-to’ people for the essential things in your life – Tax accountant, financial advisor, hairdresser, real estate agent, mortgage/insurance broker, lawyer, handyman, etc. These people will form the backbone of your existence in your new city. They’ll help you to take care of the critical aspects of your life such as finances, taxes, housing needs and various other aspects of your personal life.

 

    • Attend events happening all around your city – I’ve really started feeling connected to this city over the last few years after I started checking out things that tourists usually don’t check out or don’t know about. For Toronto, we have events held annually without fail such as the annual Nuit Blanche arts festival, Canadian national day celebrations, various marathons, LGBTQ parade, Caribana parade, Doors Open Toronto and many more.

     

     

    PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCES AND TIPS

      • Coffee chats – To get that first job or to get a foot in the door as a newcomer to a country, start going for coffee chats, basically build that network with people from your profession or others that interest you. Start networking, get references, put yourself out there because you never know who might recommend you in their team for your dream role.

     

      • Build your brand – I started doing this by writing a blog on product management, volunteering at various events around the city (thus meeting people), speaking at events and panel discussions, organizing events and so on. All these activities will build your offline and online brand up and propel you to progress in your career in a new city.

     

      • Update your resume – in fact, create different versions of resume for various roles you intend to apply for. Keep this resume updated even as you get a job at a company and be alert for opportunities lurking at your doorstep at all times.

     

      • Form those connections & maintain them – Building your professional network in a new city is one thing, but maintaining that network is a challenge in itself. As with any relationship, maintaining and growing this network is key, which means you need to nurture it by putting in an effort, support the network when needed, help out and mentor when you’re well established in your city.

     

      • Other notes – Along with networking, getting references and preparing for interviews, start applying and giving interviews. I’ve seen people wait until they’re good enough to start their interview process, but the earlier you start, the better. After you start interviewing, you’ll refine your interviewing skills and get better at each of your next interviews.

     

    A few other experiences such as volunteering at the museum (Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto), at the Young Leaders Summit for Fighting Blindness Canada at the Nuit Blanche festival, at the Blue Jays game, and also following well-known professionals in my city (in the profession I’m interested in), connecting with them on LinkedIn, initiating coffee chats with them, following them on social media helped me form a tangible circle that made me feel connected to this city of mine.

    As I prepare myself to receive my Canadian citizenship this week, I believe my slow but sure drive for survival helped me thrive in a new country. It’s all about forming those social connections, feeling a part of the local society and contributing to it as you make the new city your home.

    Guest post by Swapna Malekar

    Swapna is a Product Lead at RBC in Canada, leading their innovation stream to create products and digital solutions using lean methodologies in the financial planning and investment space. Prior to RBC, Swapna was the Head of Product at a UK-based SaaS Data intelligence company and a Product Manager at Scholastic in Singapore.

    www.swapnamalekar.com

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