This is the cultural story of how a Venezuelan photographer made Calgary, Canada his new home.
Jose Soriano entered the pharmacy. It was a warm summer day in Montreal – a perfect day to get outdoors and enjoy the weather. His wife Leydy suggested they get some sunscreen first, so Jose volunteered to go get it. As he walked past the aisles, he spotted a clerk. Thinking he might get some advice, he decided to ask her a question about the sunscreen. He opted to speak French because he was in Montreal and because he thought it would be polite, but he very quickly realized his mistake. His French wasn’t good enough and he was just confusing the clerk. He promptly switched to English, hoping he would be understood, but that failed as well. To his amazement, the clerk continued speaking in French; then she simply turned and walked away!
As a new resident of Canada, Jose says his encounter in the pharmacy was just one of the many cultural challenges he’s faced since emigrating from Venezuela. Experiencing difficulty finding the right sunscreen might be a small hurdle, but it illustrates how even seemingly simple, everyday tasks can become points of miscommunication. Despite that, Jose says his decision to come to Canada is one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
Jose left Caracas, Venezuela when he was 31. At the time, he had limited proficiency in the English language, which he had picked up during his time at university. For this and other reasons, leaving Venezuela was not an easy decision. Not only was he leaving the familiarity of his country, he was leaving his friends and his loved ones.
“Leaving my family behind is still the most difficult thing. It will take years for me to overcome that,” Jose says. Thankfully, Jose’s family who live in Venezuela but are of Italian decent, have been very understanding and supportive. Venezuela has experienced many years of political, economic and social upheaval. Employment opportunities are scarce and crime is a real concern. In fact, when Jose arrived in Canada, he was surprised at how different it was from his home country.
“I was surprised by how respectful Canadians are. They seem to respect the law in every aspect.” It’s not surprising Jose feels this way. According to a 2013 Gallup report, Venezuela is one of the most “insecure” nations in the world due, in part, to a very high murder rate. One of the generally cited reasons for the problem is a dismal economic situation.
Two important criteria Jose considered in selected Canada as the place to start a new life were better career opportunities and the fact that Canada is highly rated on world indexes for standard of living.
Jose’s gamble is paying off. Since coming to Canada, first to Montreal and later to Calgary, he has worked hard to build his skills as a photographer. Being a photographer is a competitive prospect, but Jose feels he has some cultural advantages that will help him succeed.
“I grew up in an environment where you have to fight for what you want. I never got the easy toy, trip or car I wanted. I had to fight and work hard in every sense to get that,” Jose explains.
In his efforts to create a new life in Canada, Jose was not alone. He had the support of his wife Leydy who immigrated with him.
“When I met Jose, he’d been already working on the immigration project to Canada. I had no immigration plans at that moment, but I supported him by agreeing to come together and have a new start,” Leydy says.
Leydy says that one of her and Jose’s primary goals was to adapt to the culture of Canada as much as possible even though Canadians can sometimes make that difficult for them.
“I think Jose has struggled. It’s been difficult for him to get used to starting from the very beginning in another country where you have no friends, no family, no social connections,” Leydy says, adding, “It’s been difficult for him to get accustomed to [Canadian] people not trusting foreigners.”
According to Jose, making friends was easier in Venezuela, whereas in Canada it takes longer to build a level of trust. It’s is one of the things that he misses most about his home. However, he’s got a list of other things too: the food, the hot weather and, of course, his family. Jose laughs and jokes about Canada’s cold weather saying no country can be perfect.
It’s been three years since Jose arrived in Canada. His English has improved steadily and he is finding it easier to communicate. Basic communication is easier, but Jose doubts he will ever truly feel Canadian.
“Sometimes I think I will never feel like a Canadian because I have very strong Italian culture and, of course, Venezuelan. At this age it is kind of difficult to adopt the Canadian culture fully, but I’m pretty sure I will get used to it.”
Although finding his footing in a new country is a lifelong process, getting the right sunscreen is no longer a problem. Now, Jose has bigger fish to fry. He’s been working on his photography business and recently enrolled in a user experience design program at Bloc, an organization specializing in online training. If there’s one recurring theme in Jose’s life it is this: the drive to succeed, despite the obstacles.
“My family and business are my biggest focuses in my life. I think they are linked; one doesn’t work without the other. So, I will keep working hard to achieve my goals and when I get them I will start looking for another challenge to keep me alive.”