Leaving India for Canada meant a lot of changes in the life of Drishti Khanna, but no change was as odd and unfamiliar as getting her first job. The gas station gig she got was quite a shock for the upper-class international student from India.
She is one of many international students who works part-time while attending school in Canada.
International students who choose to take on a part-time job will now find the process much easier. This summer, the conditions for work permits changed, allowing students from other countries to work off campus with less hassle.
Rather than waiting six months for a work permit, international students can now work almost as soon as they arrive in Canada.
Although the change offers opportunities for students, it raises the question of just how manageable a part-time job can be for a student juggling social and cultural changes as well as their course load.
Larissa Strong, manager of international student support, believes that part-time employment is a beneficial opportunity for students seeking a deeper Canadian experience.
“For international students, it’s a huge asset,” Strong explains. “It will help with their process of adapting to a new culture, and it helps them gain Canadian experience.”
But there can be a cultural disconnect in the process of getting a job. Applying for jobs is a different process in each country, and many international students are not sure where to start the Canadian process.
Strong runs work preparedness seminars for international students seeking work on or off campus. The first one of this year is Oct. 9, and will focus on how to build a Canadian resume.
With the recent changes to work permits, Strong believes more international students will consider applying for a job.
Sometimes there is a very strong cultural transition when international students start their Canadian employment experience.
For Khanna, a second year international student in Pharmaceutical and Food Science Technology, she found her first part-time job challenging, but rewarding. In India, she says part-time jobs are rarely even considered by young adults.
“Unfortunately, we have status symbols there (in India), so if you belong to upper class, you’re never going to work at such places. The middle class, they are so keen to study so that they can get a job and not work in those places. Only the lower class stay in those places,” she says.
She worked at the Husky gas station on Simcoe Street, and says having a job was a very big change for her, one her family couldn’t understand at first. Her grandfather, a businessman in India, was shocked that she looked for job.
However, having the job helped her language skills, and not just vocally. She claims that small talk with customers helped her to better understand the use of facial expressions and emphasis on words, something that can’t be taught in a class.
Although there are benefits to the job, adapting to the working life is difficult. “The worst thing was the customer is always right,” says Khanna, laughing.
The customers weren’t as much of an issue for Adriana Reyes, a second year business administration-marketing student from Peru.
When Reyes started at Dollarama this past summer, she had almost no idea how to handle Canadian money. With only five minutes of training, she was thrown into a cashier position.
The first Canadian job off-campus didn’t scare her off. Soon after she got a waitressing job at Empire catering and is now employed at No Frills.
“It brought me experience, it brought me to know different cultures and understand different people,” said Reyes.
She credits organization as one of the main reasons she can juggle work, school, commuting, and volunteering.