Special to The Morning Star
Many immigrants to Canada have a story to share when it comes to barriers they may face.
For Anya Blokhina, 26, who moved to Canada eight years ago with her parents, seven brothers and two sisters, that first barrier occurred when her family left the airport in Winnipeg.
About to head to their new home in Winkler, Man., the family went for a meal at a fast food chain.
“When we came to Canada, all we knew was how to say hi, bye, yes, no, good and bad. All 12 of us were using a dictionary to translate what we wanted. We were showing (the cashier) pictures and using gestures, but something happened when we ordered the fries. She cancelled our whole order. She thought we said ‘free,’” remembered Blokhina. “A German woman came up to the front and we explained to her that we didn’t want our food for ‘free,’ we wanted fries. She got our order sorted, but it took 30 to 35 minutes.”
Born in Russia, but raised in the small eastern European country of Belarus, a lot has changed for Blokhina and her family since they stepped off that plane.
Blokhina, who trained as an LPN (licensed practical nurse) while in school in Belarus, did not have the qualifications to work in the medical profession in Canada so she ended up getting work at a fast food chain.
However, her family struggled.
It was hard enough for Blokhina’s parents to find a house in the beginning. Not many wanted to rent to a family of 12, but her brothers and sisters also struggled in finding work.
“My family couldn’t find a job for the whole time we were in Winkler because of the language barrier. My brothers couldn’t even get work at a farm and because our (immigration) documents were made for Manitoba, we couldn’t go anywhere else,” says Blokhina. “We were eating up all our home country money rather than saving for the future.”
After hearing that a family they knew in Winkler was moving to Vernon, Blokhina’s parents approached immigration to see if they could also move to the North Okanagan. The paperwork came through and the family moved to Vernon six years ago. Just about everyone found a job soon after arriving, including Blokhina, who worked at the same fast food restaurant chain as she did in Winkler.
“I asked (the restaurant) if I could go from the back to the front counter so I could practise speaking English. I wanted to hear how people speak. When I learned Belarusian after we moved from Russia when I was young, it really helped to be around people who were speaking the language. I picked it up quicker that way. There were great people at my work who helped me learn English. They would show me an object and ask me to pronounce it.”
Blokhina also took an ESL course at Okanagan College so she could improve her reading and writing. Eventually, she decided she wanted to do more with her career.
“I wanted to keep learning and I liked to study. I thought I would find something else in the medical field,” she said.
Blokhina decided to enrol in a dental assistant office course.
“I also wanted to test my level of English to see if I would be able to pass and graduate from any course in English. I ended up graduating with 98 per cent. I actually cried that I didn’t get two per cent more,” she laughed.
However, once graduating, reality set in after she started applying for jobs.
“I didn’t do enough research. A lot of dental offices are looking for those with experience. At the time, I was only able to get work volunteering at a dentist office. They were not able to provide me with a job. I was still applying for jobs everywhere but I did not get one call.”
That’s when she decided to approach Community Futures North Okanagan for help.
“My sister Natasha went through Community Futures after she lost her job and was on EI. She told me about them and I thought after applying to so many places with no success, by going to Community Futures, I would get some tips.”
While in Case Management, Blokhina was committed to building up her resume, doing extensive career exploration and applying to many places, but was not having much success. Blokhina attended many workshops with one of her favourites being the True Colors workshop.
“It was very helpful. I also learned about the different colours (True Colors) gold, blue, green, orange to learn about different personality types so you can better understand yourself, your coworkers, managers and clients. Before, I realized I was more of a gold personality than orange, meaning I was more strict, and now I’m more in between.”
After exploration into what other Community Futures programs she may be interested in or eligible for, Blokhina entered Wage Subsidy Services provided by WorkBC. After applying to a few positions without success, Wage Subsidy Advisor, Selena Stearns, connected with her about a new opportunity – this time working as an office assistant at Valley Chiropractic, owned by Dr. Larry Kinakin.
“I thought, I don’t have any training in chiropractic, but I met with Dr. Larry the following day for an interview. I didn’t feel any pressure. I walked in the doors and felt I wanted to work here. I felt really comfortable,” says Blokhina.
Blokhina started work at Valley Chiropractic back in February and says she has been happy learning the ropes.
“I love it. It’s an amazing job. Every day, I get up and look forward to coming in to work. I realized I like it better than working in a dental office. You see the improvements in patients’ health faster. People initially come in with pain and they may not be happy at first, but then after two weeks or a month, they are smiling.
“I am also very grateful to Community Futures. In three years, I did not get the job in the industry that I studied for, but they really helped me find this place and I never would have thought of applying here without them.”
Employers interested in participating in Community Futures North Okanagan Wage Subsidy Work Experience Placement Program can receive financial support with the costs of on-site job training and skill development for new employees.