The Manitoba government’s Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP) is a points-based, multi-stream immigration pathway for foreign skilled workers and investors to move to the province and become eligible for permanent residency visas. In turn, the MPNP enables local businesses and institutions to attract and retain skilled workers and investment from around the world. A total of 5,207 nominations were made in 2018.
One of those professionals that came to Winnipeg via the MPNP is Liang Xiahou, a supply quality engineer. This is his story.
Liang Xiahou worked as an engineer for 8 years in Winnipeg’s Chinese sister city, Chengdu, before arriving in Canada as a skilled worker in 2016. Photo: Liang Xiahou
We came to Canada from China in 2016, I believe it was September – the whole family: me, my wife and our two kids. I was working for a big international engineering company and my wife was working for a large telecommunications company, but the curiosity of living in another country, especially in North America, drove us to try to move to Canada and see what life was like here. So we made the decision to quit our jobs and landed here in Winnipeg.
After about three months I found a job as a supply quality engineer with a farm machinery company. It’s similar to the work I was doing back in China for eight years before coming to Canada, working in a manufacturing facility.
We actually chose to come to Winnipeg as a result of the Manitoba government’s Provincial Nominee Program. While we were still in China, a team from Manitoba came to Shanghai and I got the chance to interview with them, and that started everything. As a result of the program, we are required to stay here in Manitoba for minimum number of years before we would be eligible to move to another province. Actually, Chengdu, the city where I’m from in China is a sister city of Winnipeg – I didn’t even know that before I came!
Chengdu, the capital city of China’s southern Sichuan province, and Winnipeg became sister cities in 1988. Photo: LWYang/Flickr
The first year, everything here was new to us, even the winter. We found it quite interesting; the kids were always asking about when we would get the first snowfall. Even now they are still excited about the snow every year. But after a while we have started to think: oh, the winter is too long. Even today outside it’s something like minus 18, and with wind chill it’s like minus 30. It’s dangerous. Although, it’s not really an issue for us, because our home is warm and we can easily drive anywhere we need to go.
But still, the difficulty for me and my family remains the language issue. Even though I have a full time job as an engineer, I’m finding the language barrier is big for me because in my position.
Working as a quality engineer in a technology company, it’s not just about sitting behind a computer and designing things. I have to have a lot of meetings with people, often with a lot of people across different sectors of the company and they kind of speak their own language within their teams, and they have their own standpoints on things.
So that’s a really big challenge in developing those kind of specific language skills, you know, because English is not my mother language. And because the company I work for now is a mechanical engineering company – the work I was doing before, I know how to deal with the supply and quality control issues, but I never really dealt specifically with mechanical engineering processes before, so it deals with a lot of words and terms that are new to me.
I’ve tried hard to improve my language skills through joining meet up activity groups in the city and going to their events, doing ESL classes and I even purchased online language learning programs. But when I went to the classes the instructors would say: oh your English is perfect, I don’t think I can help you. That made me frustrated.
Because I’m trying hard and looking for help to improve my English skills, and doing all these things and I do get positive feedback. But then on the other hand I also experience people at my job finding it difficult to understand me because of my accent – I can see it in their face, and especially in meetings or team discussions. So that’s probably the most difficult thing for me. Also for my wife, she’s working a part-time job and just began studying an education training program from the government but if she wants to find a good, full-time job then language will still be a barrier for her.
However, Canada is quite friendly to expats, I’d say. Because even though the relationship between China and Canada has a lot of tension right now, I still see the provincial government and the city putting on lots of activities to celebrate Chinese New Year, and I’ve even heard people on the radio wishing a happy Chinese New Year to others. I find that welcoming.
Although, and I don’t know about other new immigrants to the city and their experience, but for me personally, I still find it very difficult to find close friends, especially people local to Winnipeg. It’s hard to find. Probably because of the language barrier, and then cultural differences on top of that. We can speak the same language and understand each other, but because of the cultural differences it’s not enough to make friends.
I think that’s probably the difficulty for most expats. Because no matter what country they come from, they spend the most time with other expats from their own country who can speak their own language. So they stay in their groups. But I’ve tried! I want to make friends and want to meet new people, not just from Winnipeg but expats from other countries living here as well. But, I don’t know. It’s just hard.
We still have a strong connection with family in China. My parents and my two older sisters are still there. My niece is living with us, my oldest sister’s daughter; she will stay with us for two years. She came to Canada for the education, but mostly to learn the English language.
Young learners in an English class in the Guangxi autonomous region in southern China. Proficiency in English is seen as a key component of social mobility in China, with parents often enrolling their children in private English academies on top of the instruction they receive in the public school system. Photo: Brian Yap/Flickr
In China, the kids now have to learn English beginning in kindergarten until you graduate from college or university, so instead of her staying in China and learning English there for a long time to then end up still struggling to communicate with people from English speaking countries, why not just have her spend two years in North America? I see the kids picking up the language very fast – my niece is doing very well. I think that’s the biggest intention we have for them, as well as the experience of living in a foreign country. It’s exciting right?!
My sister has paid several visits to us. She came last September, but last year by mid-September we already had our first snowfall. This was a big surprise for her. She’s from the part of China that is furthest south – there’s no winter there. So that gave her the impression that Canada is quite cold. I’m not going to argue with that. *laughs*
One of my best memories was in the first year, during the first months after we arrived. I had found my job and was driving to work, and it was minus 20 or even worse, and I still didn’t know much about the roads to work. I was still finding the best way to drive there, and that day I was on the Perimeter Highway, and I knew that I was getting close to work but thought that I should pull over on the roadside to check the GPS on my phone to make sure that I take the right turn. And so I pulled off on to the side of the road, but then realized that it wasn’t the side of the road – I had driven off the road right into the snow bank. So I was stuck there!
It was minus 20 or minus 25 or whatever, and it was cold, and I didn’t have a lot of layers on that day but I had to go outside to try and wave at someone to help me. I’m not going to lie….at that time I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet, I had failed several times! *laughs* So I was worried about what if a police officer came by and found out that I didn’t have my driver’s license.
Anyway, I was so impressed because several people stopped and came over to help me, but they didn’t have the chain to help me. They also tried to show me how to drive my car out of the snow, but failed. Then there was another guy with a truck that saw me, and came on to the highway, then drove backwards against traffic to get to me. He had the proper chain and hook and he pulled me out. That was so impressive, I really appreciated that, because afterward I realized that it was really dangerous for me to be out there in that cold – it can kill people.
Before coming to Canada, our goals for our family were to see if we can get a better education for our kids; if we could live in a different country with better access to safer food and somewhere with less air pollution than China. But now, I feel kind of stuck here – I’m not going to get moved up in my company because of the language barrier. But I still feel I’m lucky being able to work as an engineer in Canada, doing the same kind of job I was doing in China before. Most people, especially engineers, when they come to Canada they have to start all over and often go back to university first before they can look for work, and even then it can take several years to find a job. But I’m lucky, and I appreciate that.
We’ve thought about moving elsewhere in Canada, but the first thing you have to consider is if you can get a job somewhere else. The other thing is that in Canada, it’s going to be cold wherever you go – except for Vancouver, but we can’t afford to live there, same as in Toronto.
But the kids, I’m proud of them, they are doing very well. Their English isn’t good enough yet to be able to be fluent, but it’s hard, I understand that. And it’s only the third year. The idea that you just throw someone in the water and they learn how to swim, I don’t really believe that.
But aside from that, they’ve been learning a lot of things in the past year – soccer, jiu-jitsu, biking, they’re learning piano, swimming. I’m proud of them. The education in China was too much stress for them, we wanted to get away from that. But Canada I feel is also kind of too….flexible, you know? So we also give them some extra curriculum work to keep them busy and help them explore their interests too, right. So it’s good for their future, but we’re not putting that much pressure on them as they would face in China. And I think they are happy.
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