All posts by Magdalena

When I help others I think of those who helped me. I love to watch success stories unfold and enjoy seeing genuine smiles around. I believe in the unique power every human being was born with. I love reading, I love people, and I see the full half of the glass in everything, all the time. Carpe diem. Don’t miss out, your own life awaits, bristle at prejudices, saddle up, and enjoy the journey – just ask if you need help.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Back Seat Memories (II)

One question came up quite often since part one of this story was published over 2 weeks ago: how did the motorcycle travel from Vancouver to Newfoundland? And I have to say this was not my merit at all, my hubby got to ride it all the way to Montreal (in 4 days!), where he picked me up at the airport when I arrived a few days latter. After spending the weekend with our friends in Montreal, we’ve started our “two up” trip moving towards Baie-Comeau and then Labrador City. Our itinerary took us through Churchill Falls, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Red Bay, Blanc Sablon, St. Barbe, Flower’s Cove, L’Anse aux Meadows – back South towards Gros Morne National Park, Corner Brook, Bay of Islands, Deer Lake, Twillingate. After spending some time here, we moved on to St. John’s without stopping in Terra Nova National Park and without touring the Bonavista peninsula (as initially planned), as the weather was incredibly miserable: cold and foggy. Some say this is how the weather mostly is on the island, you just get used to it. Yet many locals said July was just gorgeous, all nice and sunny, incredible blue sky, but we came in August, of course… After St. Johns, we went to Placentia only to embark on a 16 hours ferry to Nova Scotia (North Sydney). Spent some interesting time on the Cape Breton Island, and then we headed South, went just East of Moncton, on Hwy 1, through Saint John, and took a picturesque route (172 South) that took us on to Deer Island, followed by Campobello Island, connected through small local ferries. This was such a beautiful sunny day! That’s how we arrived at this small US crossing point, Lubec, and once past the border, continued down on the coast, and arrived to Boston two days latter. CowHead-NLNow back to the story. This gorgeous sunset caught us on the shores of Cow Head (Gros Morne area), where we checked into a B&B right on the bay. The light outside was just amazing. It was incredibly quiet and it took me a little bit to realize that – for the first time in days – the wind had been silenced. As if everything that’s movable was emerged into a sacred ritual of sun admiration. Picture-like surroundings were merging into our eyes and, at the time the sun was just half above the sea, the light was of a vivid orange.

Pure happenstance, but we stayed in Cow Head during the Annual Gros Morne Theater Festival, showcasing Newfoundland talent. We wanted to go to the Neddy Norris Night, a great show by all reviews – but ended up feeling lazy and not going. And that’s too bad. If I will ever go back to Newfoundland, I’d like to stay in this little place for at least a week during the theater festival. It’s such a great atmosphere!

Corner Brook is nothing but a bigger city. All I remember is having a great dinner, some amazing sushi at Newfoundland Sushi (we had a Dory Load of Sushi for Two). The next morning, after a great hot breakfast our host at the Green Garden B&B graciously made for us, we hopped on our Honda and took a loop trip to see the Bay of Islands. It started like a fun day, beautiful blue sky with puffy clouds, nice sea food for lunch, all until we realized we have a flat on the back tire. But my hubby was ready and trained to use his super-kit and got it fixed in less then 1 hour, right there on the side of the highway. I can’t really give any technical details, but what’s certain is that today, more than 8,000 Km latter, he’s riding with the same back tire on – so good job, eh? TwillingateNFThe shore above is in Twillingate – one of the most picturesque outports in Newfoundland, located on the centre edge of what is known as Iceberg Alley. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any floating icebergs as July was too hot and they all melted. Yep. But to make up for that, we went to one of the local wineries, Auk Island Winery, and had tasted several amazing wines. Nope, I’m not going to tell you what happened after. Only that yes, we bought a bottle of Aurora, a medium-dry white named after the Northern Lights, to enjoy at our B&B that night.

In St. John’s we had to change our Honda’s chain and sprockets. We knew this was coming since we were back in Corner Brook, where we stopped at a motorcycle shop, had them ordered and had the appointment booked at Honda 1 in St. John’s. It was a really great service and they had it ready for us in one hour, so we didn’t have to sacrifice too much time out of our site seeing (thanks to my hubby’s good planing). St. John’s is considered by some to be the oldest English-founded city in North America, but it was incorporated as a city only in 1921. It’s amazing to see how both old and new mingle in this small town, considered, of course, the largest city in Newfoundland. St.JohnsNFWe went to Cape Spear Lighthouse, and also to Signal Hill, and didn’t miss the famous George Street for some nightlife excitement. We had a good time, but I wouldn’t go that far and say that ‘this place is like no other’. Two days latter we headed to Placentia and embarked on the ferry to Nova Scotia. This was a fun trip: 16 hours, it’s almost like a cruise, only a lot more expensive – considering it’s just a night and you have to pay for all the restaurants.

Cape Breton Island was so beautiful. If you ever plan to go to the East coast but only have a week or less, definitely do the trails here. We had a little bit of a story with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) and lost a day practically because of extremely bad customer service, but decided that we’re going to stay one more day and will complete the trails as we initially wanted. NSThe host at The Maven Gypsy B&B on the Cabot trail was originally from Vancouver, and I actually felt quite excited to hear some good ‘vancouverite’ accent. Accommodation was a great, welcoming atmosphere, plus really good breakfast – a bit pricey though. Well, I guess that’s what one pays for such a great location. There is so much more to say about all we’ve seen on our way to Boston. I really liked the two islands we’ve seen on our way to Lubec: Deer Island and Campobello Island. I’m not sure how the winter looks around there, I should imagine is a bit less romantic and more isolated, as one of the ferries is not working and the other has pretty irregular hours comparing to the summer time. But those definitely are gorgeous places! Boston01Boston was phenomenal. We stayed at Marriott this time, left our motorcycle parked at the hotel and had used a subway 7-Days pass instead. There is no way I could possible say what I liked more about Boston, but probably the way people gather and talk and eat and smile made me think of Timisoara, the Romanian city of my Alma Mater university. Or maybe it’s just because there was something magical about it, something that made me forget about future plans and, like a gigantic hand, managed to hold me in the present – a beautiful one, where I was in a place like this with someone I love and it just felt good. It felt so good.

From Boston I’ve cheated again, I took a flight back to Vancouver, where my hubby arrived one week latter – all in one piece, nice tan and a victorious smile on his face: “I made it!”

Newfoundland and Labrador: Back Seat Memories (I)

This past summer, we decided it’s worth spending our vacation at home, in Canada. Looking at the map, there were not too many provinces we haven’t been to so far and, by elimination, Newfoundland and Labrador was the only one left on the map. Followed by the Territories. Looking at the very few roads (mostly unpaved) Labrador has, I thought… oh my! But hubby comes saying: let’s do it, it’s adventure time! Unfortunately (or maybe not?) I didn’t realize until it was kind of late how wild some parts of Newfoundland and especially Labrador really are. As someone mentioned in an article I can’t recall now, on a trip you may feel wet, cold, hungry, tired or even lost, but when you get back home safe, you call it adventure! And truth be told, I came back from this trip incredibly refreshed and fully energized. Memories of places, people, and stories are vivid and they overtake in size and power any idea of a “fun all-inclusive” vacation type. These life experiences are slowly shaping us, as they travel with us towards reaching our own goals. What did we manage to bring back this time? People. Nature. Life. A completely different look at what Canada – as a whole – really is. Shores like nowhere else. Sea food. Vikings village & trails. Boats. Lighthouses and their keepers.IMG_7921-smWhat I didn’t really see around that much was… immigrants. Funny enough I didn’t even realize it until after being in the province for over a week. Even if the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Nominee Program (NLPNP) works hard towards providing an alternate and quicker entry into Canada, as it allows Newfoundland and Labrador to nominate applicants, a much quicker immigration process for qualified skilled workers, international graduates, and their families who wish to permanently settle in this beautiful province, we weren’t able to see many around. Just south of L’Anse aux Meadows, when we stopped to fill up on gas and I went inside the convenience store trying to warm up and add an extra layer (it was 8 degrees Celsius on a beautiful August day at noon), I got into a conversation with the store keeper, a lady in her 50s, and her friend, who was keeping her company over a cup of coffee… yep, they do have a funny accent and I really had to pay attention to make sure I understand… But when she asked me what I do for work and  I said “I’m an Employment Counsellor” her face showed clear signs of confusion, so I went on, thinking I’m helping her understand, and I said that I work in a program called “Skills Connect for Immigrants”. Nonetheless, this had quite an opposite effect on her and I could see she’s now totally startled… too bad I couldn’t take a picture, yet her funny face is still fresh in my memory. Now, her friend, who was a more traveled person (she actually visited Vancouver, as she proudly told me latter on), jumped in to help her: “you know, they have lots of immigrants in the Vancouver area, and there are big communities with people from all over the world, thousands of them!” Poor store keeper was still looking at me as if I was from a different planet… what a feeling to be looked at this way! Latter on, she confessed she never in her life left the island (Newfoundland).

At this point I’ve started to look around more carefully and realized that not only there were not too many immigrants in the area, but also there were not too many young people, and not too many children, and most likely not enough schools. Unemployment rate in the province is the highest in Canada, as per the latest statistics. So is the lack of literacy. Newfoundland and Labrador are now at a critical crossroad for addressing and advancing literacy skills, yet they need federal help; there are many provincial councils supporting the general effort to help all people reach their full literate potential. It’s different when you only read about it, yet it makes such an impact when you get to see it. PicturesinNLPeople are so friendly. Not a sign of the vancoverite-specific sophistication. I’ve heard many times about the well-know old fashioned Newfie hospitality, but it’s actually much better then all you can imagine. At one of the Bed & Breakfast locations in the Red Bay area (http://www.grenfellbandb.ca), as our hosts knew we were coming on a motorcycle from Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and they knew it has been raining pretty much the whole day, with miserable cold winds, and they knew we were supposed to get across about 560 Km of unpaved roads (as part of our Translabrador Hwy Adventure) – so they started a fire in their beautiful backyard gazebo (white and tall, with large windows and glass doors), where we could hang to dry our rain suits, our boots and gloves – all on a long rope, that was fastened across the gazebo’s wooden ceiling. That’s what locals do when they return form a stormy fishing day, it’s standard procedure. Then we were provided with some huge rubber clogs, and walked through the yard’s mushy-wet emerald-green grass, to enter into a beautiful house, a historic building, which back in 1930s used to serve as a Nursing Station. As I stepped in, I suddenly forgot I was covered in wet mud just an hour ago, I forgot we had to use a hose to clean ourselves up at a gas station just before checking in, I forgot all that. I just felt strangely light, like I was 12 year old again, a girl coming back into her grandma’s warm kitchen after a summer storm. A soaking wet redhead with lots of freckles and shiny blue eyes. They offered us hot tea and biscuits. Each room was decorated with amazing quilted covers and white embroideries. Hardwood, warm floors, sparkling clean and just like heaven. I even found mini chocolates on the elegantly wrapped king bed. After a long warm bath, I slept like an angel, woke up in the morning and ran to the window. The ocean was beautiful, but really stormy. Wait, what? Again? It was raining pretty bad. I decided I was going to just ignore the weather. Downstairs, in an elegant dining room, with a long table seating 12, decorated with beautiful china and a gorgeous fruit platter, Peggy was making breakfast. The smell was amazing. I poured myself some hot black coffee and enjoyed looking at the rain outside while cheating with the host. In that rain, my hubby was  getting the pressure up in the motorcycle’s tires, as firmness has to change from an unpaved to a paved road ahead. Our Honda CBF 1000 did pretty well so far. Yay! No more unpaved roads (or at least that’s what I thought at the time). So I said to myself: happy birthday girl, you’re on the other side of the world!

CowHeadNLHappy and dry, we loaded up after breakfast and went to the ferry in Blanc Sablon, QC to cross over to St. Barbe, NL – a quick, close to two hour, ride. This is where we were saying good by to Labrador. A couple of peculiar facts about this ferry: even if Blanc Sablon is practically in Quebec, the ferry operates by Newfoundland Standard Time (NST), plus one must make a reservation no matter what, and the staff is not exactly motorcycle friendly either (those who are used to our local BC Ferries know exactly what I’m talking about). Anyhow, we made it to St. Barbe, it was still raining on the island, still windy, but we had a super nice and dry afternoon in L’Anse aux Meadows, where we checked in at Viking Village Bed and Breakfast and celebrated my birthday with a rather elegant dinner of authentic Newfoundland sea food, at the Daily Catch. DailyCatchNLSome more Newfoundland adventures, followed by a long 16 hours crossing to Nova Scotia and a beautiful East coast style ride to Boston, are to follow soon.

Workplace Culture & Team Dynamics

Canadian employers mention in almost every job description a preference towards someone who is a ‘team player.’ In turn, this is mentioned so often in a resume, that it got moved to a few buzzword lists in 2013. However, that doesn’t mean that we should stop displaying our ‘team player’ abilities in our job applications; it only means we should describe these abilities via specific examples or explicit results. In Henry Ford’s words, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success”. In a classic definition, successful teams are made up of effective individuals, who are open to address various problems and are action oriented. Now, for a team to be successful, its members have to be able to give and receive feedback in a comfortable environment where they can communicate honestly and openly. Sounds a bit like a fairy tale, eh? Well, don’t be so surprised, this theory is applied and actually functioning well in many work environments. For that reason, when we are new to a workplace culture, the best way to spend our time would be by learning and adding to our knowledge of that local workplace culture. Ideally, we should get to the point where we can actually understand the dynamics of a team working in its specific culture. Yet many of us just take things for granted, thinking about what we know already, about all the countries we visited so far, about all of the experiences we’ve had, and so forth. Instead, we should really ponder the missing pieces of this puzzle. A successful team player is focused on the future steps, on what was omitted, on what needs to be done to cover the gaps. In contrast, nostalgic team members will usually focus on the past. It is said that teams are often divided into high performers and low performs – see more on this topic in Mark Murphy’s book Hiring for Attitude1231

By now, my cherished reader, you’ll be ready to argue that the entire philosophy is coming down to the leadership style. By all means, an effective team leadership will ensure a collaborative climate and will build confidence of team members, managing performance through relevant, constructive feedback. Many times, team members will need to learn more about the team dynamics. Or as new members they will need to quickly integrate into the existing team and team building activities will come into play to help it move from the ‘storming’ phase back to its ‘performing’ stage (Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development may provide more context into this topic). Western workplace culture loves these activities and they are meant to improve how the team works together. Team building is not the equivalent of ‘team recreation’ (which consists of activities that are purely recreational) and should be regarded as a set of activities that will benefit team members’ self-development, positive communication, and the ability to work closely together as a team to solve a problem. To learn more about team building activities specific to our west coast workplace culture run a Google search and I promise you’ll have plenty to learn about. You may also take a look at Lawrence G. Fine’s book on Team Building.
How can a newcomer learn more about a new workplace culture? Volunteer. Participate in all kinds of events. Conduct Informational Interviews. Make friends outside your close circles/ communities. Bristle at prejudices. We’ve heard many times people mentioning the ‘Catch 22′ situation, where job seekers have a hard time to obtain that very first job because of the lack of local work experience, and how are they supposed to get that local experience if nobody gives them a chance. Yet experience tells us that all of us did eventually get into that first job. Some sooner, some latter. Some will move up fast, some will do it slowly, and some will just stay there. And again, experience tells us that this usually comes down to preparation levels. Commitment. Consistency. It comes down to “are you really ready to perform in this job?” A combination of good knowledge of Canadian workplace culture + excellent presentation skills + self-confidence + unpretentiousness will eventually get you that first professional position. It is well known that many newcomers think it takes technical skills + knowledge + intelligence to secure that position and they bid everything on this particular skill set. Unfortunately it is not the card we want to play. With all the excitement that follows an interview invitation, we forget that this is a meeting where 10 or 5 other people (the number is irrelevant, since there is just one position) are invited to, and they have the exact same technical skills (or very similar). We forget that the interview will primarily assess our soft skills, our ability to be part of a team – a team we don’t know anything about. Because we did not consider taking the time to do the research or because we did not know it was available to us. And this is why, with a poor knowledge of the local workplace culture, with the habit of making assumptions, when a candidate has the unique chance to meet with an employer, instead of selling apples (which is what the employer expects), s/he will sell oranges. Beautiful, shiny, ripe ones. Only it is not what the employer is looking for.

(by Magdalena Mot – initially published on http://skillsconnect.wordpress.com)

Arriving to Vancouver

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Flying for the first time to Canada, to Vancouver more precisely, was, for each of us, a different type of experience. It happened many years ago. For our son, who’s age was still counted in months at the time, was just one of those regular trips, he didn’t really get all the fuss around him since he was on the go from day 1 of his life, so this trip was no different. To me… I was literally trying to enjoy it, as much as a young mom could, but as I have been only minimally involved in the trip planning itself, there were simply too many things I didn’t know, not to mention all the things I didn’t know I don’t know. So about that specific emotion “you’re changing your life forever”…  I can’t remember. To my husband… well, that is a different story. He was watching the Rockies as we flu over on a beautify sunny day, and I could see he was barely breathing. To see the Rockies was one of his big dreams. It was the first day of May. I didn’t understand much at the time. The plan was to come here, so we were coming. It was quite simple for a side watcher. All the wheels turning behind the entire mechanism din’t seem to be one of my troubles at the time, and I should say I have rather failed to consider this arrival a life changer. But it was.

We landed at about 3 pm. My hubby would know exactly, I am quite sure he still remembers. Went through the landing immigration paperwork quite fast as he had it all set and knew everything step by step. A friend from North Vancouver was waiting for us at the airport. The airport looked cute, but small. We’ve loaded our luggage into the minivan and left. Buildings looked funny, many seemed unfinished, with no roof, nothing like in Europe I thought, and I was rather disappointed. People were nice and smiling all the time, but as I didn’t speak any English I didn’t quite get why. Once in our friends’ apartment I felt better, even though many things looked funny there as well, the toilet was full of water (first time I flushed I thought it will overflow), the bathtub was really low, and our friend, holding a green smoothie, was happily explaining how great this is for your health. But there was a gorgeous view of the Lion’s Gate bridge from their balcony. That – I loved! As the night settled, we were definitely jetlagged, so I stayed on the balcony and looked at the sparkling view over the gulf for a long time. A myriad of tiny stars made room for themselves, one near the other, just to add more glamour to the whole picture. sheridan-lakeTwo days latter, we moved our luggage into a rental car and embarked on a two weeks trip around British Columbia – our first discovery journey. The plan was to stop for the first night at a hidden in the forest cottage on the Sheridan Lake,then a few days in Prince George as I had to see the UNBC, then move on to see Jasper National Park, 3 days stop in Edmonton, then Calgary, followed by a stop in Banff for a few days, we drove up on the Ice Fields Parkway towards Mt. Athabasca, did some hiking, came back to Lake Louise (which I fell in love with forever), Yoho National Park, Revelstoke, Kelowna, and back to Vancouver. I still remember pretty well many of the amazing Bed & Breakfast locations we stayed at throughout this trip. They have added local flavor to the breakfast time, when we could learn more about people, listen to their stories and try to understand what makes them Canadians. It was an amazing trip, helped us see how huge, how beautiful and how delicate British Columbia is, and we even didn’t go past Prince George… some day I should come back here to write more about certain parts of it.

SFU’s Backpack to Briefcase Conference

One amazing situation/question passed on by our audience at SFU’s Backpack to Briefcase Conference last Saturday: In this competitive labour market, where everyone is so driven, so talented, so educated, and so willing to show s/he has the skills and passion to do the job, how do we, as candidates, distinguish ourselves, how do we find that unique side we all supposedly have?SFU-B2B

Theodore Roosevelt’s words, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there” stand strong when I think about this. We would all benefit from each others’ thoughts on this topic, so I consider the front open to answers and comments. As far as I’m concerned, there are not two people alike, not even after a so called “superficial” 5 minutes conversation. We’re usually not doing a good enough job at getting to know ourselves, and that doesn’t stop at youth or digital gen, but applies to all of us, thus we need help from others (anyone who can be completely honest will do) and we need to access/use available personality tests, such as MBTI, Personality Dimensions etc., to run a comprehensive research on ourselves. We need to start with understanding ourselves, this comes first. When we have a chance to talk to prospective employers at an event, they will see certain traits in us right away (surveys say it’s a game of seconds). We need to be able to help them see the rest of our abilities and soft skills, and we need to be able to convey that in a certain way, we need to become good at displaying it. Not that we should fake it, but do you recall any memories of imagining yourself at this event or party, walking elegant, talking with confidence, smiling, and all that in only a few seconds of keeping your eyes closed? Yeah, that kind of day dreaming.

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Then reality kicks in, and at the same event we have just imagined ourselves shining, we stumble in things, or people, or just mumble what was supposed to be a glorious speech. When we look back, we think “gosh, I should’ve said that!” Something’s missing, eh? Yes, you’ve got it, it’s called practice. A gold medal doesn’t come without hard work and lots of perspiration, so imagine the job you dream of is your gold medal. Fight for it. Think about your story. Have it ready. Say it with confidence. One of the students told me he kept a job along to pay for his own studies and I could see the sparkle in his eyes, he was proud of what he has achieved. I liked that. So use your story, make it beautiful, tell your friends about it, become a natural at taking about it. A short and compelling story, told from your heart. That is what will differentiate you from others. People remember stories, and while not all of us can be a good story teller – here’s the good news – most of us have improved by working at it. Once you became good at it – you may add this to your soft skills set.
Good luck!