By: Tom Sproat
When Chipo Mhlanga received word that she had been approved as a Canadian permanent resident, she was overwhelmingly excited; when she stepped onto the plane in Johannesburg, South Africa, she was nervous; when she landed in Toronto she was tired after two days of flight. But when Chipo Mhlanga, an actuary and insurance analyst born in Zimbabwe arrived in St. Marys, she didn`t know what to think: “I’ve obviously never lived in Canada before, but more than that I had also never lived in a small town before! Where are the crowds of people, the honking buses and tall buildings!” she told me, laughing. “Don’t get me wrong: your town is quite beautiful and everyone I met was very nice, but it was still a big change. The weather was colder than anything I have felt before yet everyone assured me that it was spring! I’ve never had to wear so many layers in “spring”” she continues, shaking her head as the laughing continues.
Chipo (Chih-Poe) immigrated to Canada through the Express Entry system, a government tool that ascribes points to things like education, age, work experience and tested language ability. Individual totals are then ranked against other applicants in the system, with the highest ranking totals being invited to apply for permanent residence in the country. But even with a university degree in the actuarial sciences and five-plus years working for companies like Deloitte and Liberty Mutual, she was unsure of her chances. “I didn’t know what my chances were, to be honest; you’re told that your skills are in demand and your profession is in demand, but then at the same time you also realize you’re competing against people from all over the world!”
But selected she was, and so it was at the end of March that Chipo set foot on Canadian soil..err, pavement for the first time after a nearly 14 month process, the first day of what would become a 6 week “exploratory visit” to the country before returning to South Africa to tie up some loose ends with her employer. She stayed at my family home on Water Street, an offer I had made to her many months before as her hired immigration consultant, and spent her days networking with local professionals in the field, sending out resumes, going for walks across the Trail and throughout the town, and enjoying all that St.Marys has to offer (Hearn’s Ice Cream being a particular favourite). When she returns to Canada in September she admits that she might settle elsewhere—somewhere with more jobs in her field and more people, she says with a suggestive smile, “who remind me of home”. So if this is the last time St. Marys plays host to Chipo Mhlanga from Zimbabwe, she wants to be sure to communicate one parting rhetorical before she goes: “Why does everyone always ask me how old I am?”
St. Marys! Everyone knows that’s no question to ask a lady!