VIDEO: Success as a Second Chance Learner

Literacy helps everyone! Imagine finding success in one country as a civil engineer, then moving to a new continent, and finding that all of your hard work has been in vain. Eric now works in the field he loves because he got help from a community-based literacy program. See the full video of his video and read his story…

Born in Sichuan, China, Eric obtained a degree in Civil Engineering in 1995, and worked as a project manager, finding success building major projects such as a municipal reservoir.  After moving to Guangdong province for a change of pace, he met and married a Canadian partner, and decided to make the move to Canada to live with her.

“When I moved here, I thought I would be self-supporting – I thought I could be just like everyone else, getting a regular job, driving to work every day,” he says.  “But I just couldn’t do it.”

He found that the tool he was most lacking to find success was his language skills.  “I saw some people who came here with PHDs, and they were driving taxis,” he says in disbelief.

Instead of worrying, Eric decided to act.  “I found out that in Canada, you get a second chance at learning,” he notes.  “I thought: ‘oh no, I’m done school’…but I found out that adults here are given many chances and resources to keep learning to always upgrade their skills.”

He researched the adult education system in his community, and found out that there was a provincially-funded community adult literacy program and offered to new residents of BC.  “I dropped into a few classes and started liking it,” he says.  “Especially the language part of that, [because it’s] what I needed to speak in day-to-day life.”

With encouragement, Eric also began seeing an adult literacy tutor. The tutor, who also became his mentor, convinced Eric to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam, a well-known English proficiency test to improve his chances at finding a job in his field.  By studying hard and with much interactive learning, he passed this difficult test on his very first try.

“Half-time working, I was chopping vegetables in the basement of a Chinese restaurant for a year while I was getting tutored.” He realized that without his newfound skills, this type of job may be the extent of his job success in Canada.

Though passing TOEFL helped, Eric was determined to fully overcome his language barrier; the test was only the first step in Eric’s journey to regain success.  His Canadian family and friends also convinced him that school is important and that he should go into the field he was originally trained in.  His stellar TOEFL results helped him to gain admission to the full-time BCIT Civil Engineering diploma program, where he eventually graduated at the top of his class.

“I graduated from BCIT with honours, and I found a job right away…I learned so much because of my experience from before, and I achieved so much,” he notes.  Eric has worked on such high-profile projects as the rebuilding of the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, as well as the Highway 1 Improvement project in Metro Vancouver.

Eric attributes his job success to his mastering the English language through his tutor and through provincially-funded literacy programs.

“Language is such an important part of daily life,” he declares. “If you don’t understand what people are saying how to use the tools, how are you going to succeed at work?”

Still restless about achieving further life success, Eric would still like to gain site inspection experience, and move back into project managing large projects.

“Life just gets better and better, just because I got over the language barrier,” he says.  “If you don’t have the language skills, you can’t do anything. For people who are born in Canada, it’s nothing special, but for immigrants, it’s everything.”

Eric credits the adult literacy program and his literacy tutor for regaining his sense of self-respect, success, optimism – and most importantly, happiness.

“If it wasn’t for the adult literacy program, I would probably still be chopping vegetables in a basement,” he said.  Although, he laughs, “my chopping skills are really above average.”

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