Tag Archives: Vancouver

Bristle at Prejudices

More often than not, prejudice takes in several aspects at both individual and group levels, making it rather difficult to determine what causes it. Are we prejudiced? Yes, naturally. Most of us will not be too enthusiastic about revealing their prejudices, let aside the reasons for them. Some of us may have become prejudiced through some hurtful events experienced in the past, but more often we become prejudiced while trying really hard to meet the requirements of the society we live in.

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Gordon Allport, one of the first American psychologists to focus on the study of human personality, often referred to the fact that all societies have experienced prejudice in some form and to some degree (The Nature of Prejudice, 1954). It’s been always there. According to Allport, prejudice emerges, to some extent, as a result of normal human thinking. When we try to make sense of the world around us, we apparently sort information into mental categories and once we form those categories, they are the basis for normal prejudgment. Allport affirms that it is impossible to avoid this process.

However, there should be a way to improve our ability to avoid negative prejudgment. How can we bristle at prejudices? Perhaps try harder at educating ourselves and our children while the above mentioned categories are forming? In a book I totally love, Jane Eyre, I’ve read something that triggered this whole idea of starting a “Bristle at Prejudices” online battle and it wasn’t long before this became my personal branding message. Because everything evolves and circles around our prejudices. They shape us. Yet, of course, it should be us shaping whom we want to become, while enjoying this unique journey of transformation and crescendo that we call life. Unfolding and running under our eyes us just like a pianist’s hands dazzled by Chopin’s Nocturne.
This is what Charlotte Brontë wrote back in 1840s: “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” When I first read this book in my early twenties I didn’t stop along those lines to ponder their heaviness. But many years later, when I took Brontë’s book in my hands again, I came across these lines and I suddenly paused. It got me thinking. What is a prejudice? It’s an opinion we form about something or someone without having any evidence, it’s an unreasonable bias. If you would like to look into more dictionary definitions, you’ll find that common features of prejudice include most often negative feelings, stereotyped beliefs, and a tendency to discriminate against others. And it seems so ordinary to humans, naturally driven by pride and vanity, to cultivate opinions and grow them into deeply rooted prejudices. Some consider that the lack of self-confidence is yet another reason for prejudice cultivation.

Being an incurable optimist – I actually believe that knowledge, self-learning, and our undivided willingness, are capable of successfully shaping us away from negative prejudices. And here I go again, one has to try it: bristle at prejudices! Not only will we get hurt in the long run, but we will feel constantly drained, our energy moving in all wrong directions. Just think about it for a moment, try to envision a powerful you, someone with a purpose, someone who has a map to follow towards pursuing their own happiness. Someone whose energy is completely focused towards shaping a world we all see with our mind’s eye.

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.