Posted in canada, Life Travel, North America, Toronto City

Volunteer in Canada – an immigrants’ ally

Two years ago, I moved to Canada. It was one of the most overwhelming and eventful steps I had taken in my twenties. Even though I was an independent and enthusiastic individual living an “urbane” life in India, immigration meant a big move.

The thing about immigration is that it paints a rosy picture of the north american dream;, where life is a luxury and all about growth. What it fails to tell us is about the littlest of things that we leave behind and how terribly we miss them every day.

From cultural nuggets to our community life in our country of origin, there is a lot that suddenly disappears. Sometimes we assume too much, misjudge our neighbors and even doubt our actions on difficult days. We crave for social bonding and look for familiarity around us. All of it is a part of package when stepping out of our comfort zone.

Some may enjoy this moment and take it as a challenge, some others may have a hard time to embrace the change and some others may not feel the need for it, the trajectory of settling into a new country is unique for each one of us. The bottom line is all of us are trying to blend in. All of us only wish to feel at home.

In two years, I have discovered various measures to feel at home. These two years have given me an immense level of personal growth. The journey has been not just learning but also unlearning many practices and developing perspectives through experiences I’d never lived before.

One of the tools that has taken me through this journey is my time spent volunteering. In a country like Canada, designed for immigrants, volunteer experience is not only promoted but also valued. Personally, I have always found volunteering to be a great way of belonging to a community, making new friends and pick up a brand new skill all along. It is an accessible ground for experimentation and engaging without fear.  And of course there is a sense of satisfaction through involvement and contribution to the communities where we belong.

Here are a few of my personal avenues with volunteering, what I learnt from these experiences and the reasons why I chose them.

With the UX Community

As a UX Researcher, I am always curious about UX community – the latest developments, industry trends, educational resources and people’s experiences. In the journey of growing professionally, I find “learning by sharing” to be a very useful tool. The community is dynamic and creative in Toronto and individuals are well connected through LinkedIn and social networking events. During one such event, I bumped into an extremely energetic group of UX Researchers, popular around town as UXR Collective. I met these folks for a speaking engagement but stayed back as a volunteer for 9 months. As a community volunteer, I co-organized the next few meetups. As a fun group, we brainstormed new ideas for discussion, invited SMEs and industry veterans to interact and engage with our audiences and experimented with innovative ways of creating amazing experiences for these meetups.

Through this time, I had ample opportunities to learn about the growth of UX, discover more avenues to apply user research and even attend my first global UX Research Conference. The energy at UXR Collective is not only vibrant but also infectious. I am grateful for this opportunity and all the wonderful people I met during my time there.

With the yoga community

I have been practicing and teaching yoga for more than 3 years now. It is my go to spot on happy as well as sad days. If there is something constant about my fast pace ever changing life, it is my love for yoga. I follow the traditional Indian school of yogic philosophy, Hatha Yoga and was trained at the Sivananda School of Yoga and Vedanta in Kerala, India. Lucky enough, I found the Sivananda yoga community at the heart of Toronto and continued as volunteer instructor. While volunteering or practicing Karma Yoga is an integral part of yogic lifestyle, I had more than one reason to continue teaching.

It has not only helped me build more empathy in my thoughts but also helped me grow as a teacher. I am able to teach people with limited mobility, older adults and anyone with no prior experience with yoga. Demystifying the truths around this ancient Indian practice of peace and enabling individuals to be more aware of the present moment has been very fulfilling.

With the tea community

As they say, ‘a cup of tea is a cup of peace.’ Perhaps, the reason, why drinking tea is more than a daily routine and has many different cultural connotations. While I resonate with the Indian pulse of drinking tea, being in Toronto could mean gaining tea experiences from all over the globe.

I decided to volunteer at the Toronto Tea Festival that happened recently in the city and educate myself with more than one tea drinking habit. I gained an exposure to different kinds of tea, the purpose and style of drinking and learnt about the therapeutic, medicinal, spiritual as well as emotional benefits surrounding tea. As a volunteer, I assisted in creating a seamless customer experience and supported the event staff who brought together in one place the great grand history of world teas and tea sellers to Toronto. With this, I am excited to visit many more tea cafes and meet tea enthusiasts from across the globe.

These are only few of the activities that I have managed to take up in the past two years. With these, I have heard many real life stories and got an insight on life in Canada in many aspects.

As an immigrant, I recommend volunteering in any way possible, big or small, cause-worthy or skill-worthy, anything that kicks in positive vibe and makes you feel at home.

Posted in canada, Life Travel, North America, Toronto City, travel

At twenty nine

When 2019 began, I was kind of sad. This was going to be my last year when I could say I am twenty something. Yes, you guessed it right, I turned 29 last year. Numbers do have a way to play on our mind. I could feel it and I was stressing about it. 

I was crossing the dangerous waters of not being married yet, I was trying hard to find myself the right job, I was also not backpacking anywhere far away. Though it certainly was a good feeling to be back in India and initiating my 29 in the lap of Himalayas, but that felt more like a ritual than a groundbreaking achievement. 

While staring at the magnificent mighty mountains from the balcony of my resort and sipping on my morning coffee, reflecting on life and trying to give myself a bit of a pep talk, I said it aloud to myself, 2019 is going to be my year, I will make it count. I am not catching the train of thoughts that goes south, I’d rather ensure that the last of my twenty something would be something!

Little did I realize then that pep talks are short lived and so are the admirable views. As I progressed in my twenty nine, a lot happened, the good, the bad, the ugly. The unpredictable, the unforeseen, the many firsts. Moments of frustration, moments of truth, moments that defined time and reality. Moments big as well as small, but the moments that filled up my life. 

Now this is not a crib crap penned down. This is actually one year of my life where life happened with many plans not taking shape. 

I was back to Canada soon after my 29th birthday, while the winter was still cold and harsh. Although I was back with loads of positive and fresh energy after some traveling in India, it was not enough to fight back against the SAD. I suffered from Season Affected Depression, as they call it, during the tough winter of 2019. It made me cry for no particular reason, especially when I was home alone. I found myself spiraling in negative thoughts without a stop button. It seemed like nothing was great about life. Until one dark evening, when my friend came home to check upon me and started playing Uno with me without asking me to stop weeping. Tears kept rolling down my cheeks and I kept throwing skips and reverses one after the other.

I felt grateful for Uno and just enough genuine friends protecting and caring for me. While there can’t be skips and reverses in real life, a good old caring soul took charge to spin my mood. I realized I needed to keep myself busy with more and more projects. In 2019, there was one project that decided to hang on my neck for a really long time; the job search project. 

With the end of winters, also ended my contract job. After 9 months of captivity and gaining nothing more but Canadian workplace experience, I was happy to breathe some fresh air. Even though it was scary to not have a job I was well prepared for this time. All this while, I was saving a few pennies, I was applying with resumes and I was prepared to go back to a minimum wage job. I had my options open, I didn’t know what would work next moment but I was sure that there is no going back to the same job. To be treated well was on priority this time.

As luck would have it, my first interview for a dream job came up exactly two days after I finished my contract job. Getting through that job would have meant leaving Toronto and my apartment, needless to say a drift away from friends and starting from scratch in another cold city of Canada. I was looking forward to all of it. It was going to be a wave 2.0 of adventure. Yes, 2019 was going to kick in some surprises and landing this job was on top of the list. I prepared day in and day out for it, gushed in some magical positivity in myself from secret sources and was pumped for the conversation that it was going to be. Only to hear in no time that they had decided not to have me despite the fact that they liked me. 

That was my first ever rejection from Shopify. To wear the hat of a researcher again, I was ready to move to Ottawa and beyond. But, for some unexplained reason, it wasn’t a hit but a miss. It took me more than a week to accept this rejection. It was that point of fragility where I felt very strongly that I am chasing a dream with no hope. At 29, I was losing faith in my dream. After all, it was the accumulation of all the failed efforts of the past one year. 

Somehow I convinced myself not to give up yet. I also decided to be the turtle in my race. I took a step back and tried reflecting on what exactly was missing. Meanwhile, another one of my well wishers pushed me hard enough to apply for an Employment Insurance. It had now been a month with no job, I was digging hard into my savings while I was pretty much eligible for availing the insurance. I was overconfident that I would find my next gig in no time. But then, at 29, my plans were failing. And so I began the  process. Of getting the money that I needed to pay the bills. 

It was not just applying for insurance, but also for another odd job that would help me march forward. It was something that I needed not only to pay my bills but finding a good enough reason to wake up, get ready and leave the house in good spirit. I got myself a certification for customer service and applied at Starbucks to be a Barista. 

A lot of my friends felt jealous of the cool job that I got at Starbucks. Some even went to the extent of saying that this was their dream job and would definitely take a hit at it, but just not now. I quite felt the same, I would love to work in a cafe, but just not now. Anyhow, it seemed like a good way to keep the money wheel running while I was already bumming heads with the system to receive my share of insurance. 

If there is one thing universal about interacting with systems, it is that they are complex. Highly complex, intimidating and exhausting, especially the ones which are meant to deal with the Government. From the time I applied for it online to the time I actually received my first cheque, it took me a good two and a half months. By 29, I was a hundred percent assured that dealing with rigid systems did not align well with my stars. But there lies a very important lesson there; patience. Not losing patience is the key to make it a success. 

By now, half of the 2019 had already passed. I was one month old into my job at Starbucks. I was witnessing the ugly realities behind pretty bars. I witnessed how countless liters of coffee and milk were going down the drain every hour, how customers were charged a premium for water and ice in the name of summer coolers and how fake smiles brightened up the mood of the place. It was a perfect case study of how creating a premium perception in the minds of customers can create a much desired brand value. On a ground level though, it burned me to not only see but also participate in the grand scheme of wastage, and for what joy? To make sure that the one who pays money leaves the store in a happy mood! My job made me wonder, if Starbucks is really a third place or a third grade experience! At 29, I was disgusted by the realities around us and to also know that there was nothing really that I could do to change it. One fine afternoon, while I was at the counter, my sadness took over me and I decided to put an end to it. I quit the job with no notice and no explanation. I didn’t need this job for money or contentment.

I decided to dedicate my time fully towards the job search project. I also decided to never visit Starbucks again. The decision was not very hard. But this time for me, certainly was. I wasn’t enjoying the drag that it was becoming, to find a job. At 29, I was pulling myself up again and again and again. Sometimes the simplest of tasks take the longest. I completely immersed myself into networking activities, I was hyperactive on LinkedIn and I was leaving no stone unturned to tweak my resumes one after another. And I even got interviews scheduled one after the other. They all resulted in a big NO one after the other. One of the major American banks that I applied to even had a manipulated rejection letter sent out to me, which shattered me to pieces.

At 29, I was not only rejected but also dejected. I was broken. It all seemed unfair. My last of twenty something was turning out to be nothing. I was feeling all the more lonely and disappointed with myself. Immigration did not just stop at getting my passport stamped. It wasn’t a dreamy ride of traveling and making new friends. It became a nonsensical, unwanted and frustrating reality of dealing with my negative self. Of the many firsts, this was the most disturbing one. At 29, I was acknowledging my depression. 

The good thing about acknowledging our feelings is that we are able to observe it rather than participate in it. I realized I needed a break. From the rut that I was stuck in. No matter what efforts I made, it all resulted in rejections. Perhaps it was all stemming from my own negative energy. At this point, I realized how important it was to let go. 

I decided to visit the Sivananda yoga ashram in Quebec and volunteer as a karma yogi for few weeks. Leaving my laptop and other resources behind, I decided to camp. I got myself a Woods tent and pitched it in a little corner on the property. The next two weeks were all about cleansing myself. It was definitely not a vacation, but a routine to follow. From 5 in the morning till 10 in the night, the day was action packed. Teaching yoga classes, cooking food in the kitchen, cleaning the campus and spending time in the garden filled up my day. There was hardly any time to entertain fuzzy thoughts. The abundance of green helped me clear my mind. The silent walks in the morning to the lake and chanting with a bunch of spiritual people led to good vibes only. It was a good change for the mind and going back to community experiences has always uplifted me. At 29, I was trying my best to be kind to self. 

I was back to my routine life after a break of two weeks. This time I decided to diversify my application process. Along with research jobs, I applied to a whole bunch of jobs outside the skill set of being a researcher, I applied to some schools for certificate programs and I also applied to some special programs designed for newcomers in Canada. All of them resulted in rejections. The rejections were so swift that it seemed like signs from the Universe. As if these were not meant for me. As if it asked me to wait for my thing with a little more patience. 

By now, it had been 6 cruel but dedicated months to the process of searching for a job. If nothing else, I was definitely getting better at one thing – taking rejections with a smile and not beating myself to it. I was assured in multiple ways that what is meant for me will come to me. The thought now had gone beyond breaking me. Somehow the faith was now only getting stronger. 

And so it did. The fall of 2019 brought me some good news. I was offered to join a research agency as a Senior Project Manager taking care of operations in a research tech environment. At the end of October, I found myself working along with data analysts, programmers and researchers. I have found my mentor in the shoes of my manager, I have coworkers who are empathetic and caring and I have even managed to strike some new friendships in the workplace in a short span of two months. 

While my twenty nine seems like a drag of a tale and perhaps I could achieve nothing major of the plans I had carved out for myself, it certainly was a year of personal growth. At 29, I reemerged as strong, independent, happy and grateful. I learned one of the most important lessons of adulting – life will take its own course and I will have to accept, I better do it with grace. It may demand adjustment at every step, I had rather do it with a smile on my face than grudges in my mind. At 29, life is not so bad, it is just getting real. 

At 29, I wanted to visit the Caribbean, I couldn’t. I wanted to take my new bestie to India, I couldn’t. But we sure had a ball of a time, riding our bikes and playing djembe on the streets of Toronto. I did have a chance to explore Canada’s countryside and touristy side with weekend trips. Mt Tremblant and a cottage trip to Westport worked out just perfect. A ton of weekend hikes exploring Hamilton Falls, getting to dance at Dundas Square grooving on some Punjabi numbers at Desi fest, learning French and taking Bhangra classes were just some of the cool things that I absolutely enjoyed doing in the summer.

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Also this year, I made another public appearance at a storytelling event and shared a personal story. I am pumped to do more of that next year. I also attended my first research conference this year, it also motivated me about sharing experiences through public speaking.

Of the many firsts that have happened to me, one of my very favorites is the proud daddy moment. In 2019, my dad visited me for the first time in Canada and had an overflow of mixed emotions witnessing my new life. He admired to see my will power but was also sad to see me doing it all by myself. Parental instinct completely took over his friendly instinct. And this time we were more like daddy daughter duo and not so much like being best buddies. Which only means that for a month I got to eat more paranthas, tandoori chicken, daal makhani and also meeting people with an ulterior motive. 

And that my friends, was only one part enjoyable. At 29, I still do not believe in the concept of matrimony through apps. Though as a researcher, I would still be very interested in decoding the human behavior that these communication designs result in – distrust and inefficiency at a very grass-root level.       

This year, I hosted plenty of social gatherings at my house and celebrated the festive spirits in many colors. At 29, I enjoyed the company of old and new. At 29, I witnessed a few people move in and out of my daily life. Some changed cities, some decided to drift apart with a notice and some of them bonded even stronger. And so, at 29, friendships remained like seasons, sunny as well as gloomy. As my new friend would have said, “It’s all good”, I too learnt that in no time.

In 2019, December turned out to be the best month. Christmas spirit, snowy flakes, an abundance and variety of food, I enjoyed every bit of December. My first Christmas in North America was a good mix of party games, socializing and shopping. For the very first time in life, I bought myself a television. I sang carols and attended midnight mass. And I enjoyed the Holiday season like a happy child not ready to go back to school. 

At 29, I reflected not only at the year that passed in a jiffy but also looked back at the decade that was nothing less than eventful. I do not allow the number 30 scare me anymore and with new resolutions and plans (yes, can’t stop planning!), I embrace the new decade.   


Posted in Beaches, canada, Life Travel, North America, Toronto City, Uncategorized

Rouge Hill – my thinking spot in Toronto

Do you have a thinking spot? Somewhere where you can sit for hours and revel inside your mind. Corner of a city, top of the roof, by the beach, under a tree; any place that takes your mind on a journey. Thoughts of past, present and future making up for mixed emotions. Nostalgia, gratitude or aspirations taking over and you feel like life is beautiful. Regrets, frustrations or fear may also set in but the hope stays and you still feel like life is beautiful. Do you have a thinking spot which makes you resilient, hopeful and happy and makes you believe in the beauty of life?

The Rouge Park, Port Union, Ontario. On the east end of Toronto city, it is a waterfront trail by Lake Ontario; I found my thinking spot in this city. I have been there multiple times in the past two years. Sometimes I take my bike along. It is one of those places where my mind naturally transitions into thinking mode. I think about me and my life at large every time I am there. Perhaps, it is the magnificence of the place. The colors of nature are explicitly painted on canvas here.

There is a vast and endless Lake Ontario that represents the future to me. I look at the blue waters till infinity. It is like a chase of an unknown that would never end. And yet I would be swimming through it. There is a long green trail that runs parallel to the water.

As I take the road sheltered with 50 shades of green, I feel like I have been on this path before. It reminds me of how the journey so far has been a series of experiences each adding a different color and meaning to my life. Some have been deeply rooted inside me impelling my life decisions, some have been necessary for my growth. The trail is winding and curves at many places. Like turning points in the course of life. With one stretch phasing out and the next one just ahead of me. Something left behind me and yet something else in my sight. A path that I tread exploring many new shades of green. Some are thick that protect me on rainy days, others bloom like flowers and tell me that somethings in life are not meant to stay forever. Not to forget the unchanging Pine trees that give me hope during the long, cold and unnerving winters of my mind.

And just when the train passes through the Port Union station, I go down the memory lane. Of travels, long and far, that I enjoyed. I ogled the beauty of people and places. I looked out of the window of a train once upon a time and everything seemed to brush past me. Just like time, whiling away so fast that never have I ever gotten ahead of it. The train disappears in no time leaving me with more thoughts about my time on earth. I think about how short life is, just like the train, it is in a passing. Always. And while it takes me to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people, I can’t always find myself on a train.

When I reach up to the bridge, I stand there for a bit, looking at the horizon where the lake and sky meets. A flock of birds cross a section of lake from time to time. In the hindsight, the humans and their babies are crossing that bridge all the time. I see that this is a family spot. The place that everyone wants to experience with their loved ones. A casual and fun day at the park. It makes me think of what family means to me and how nature bestowed us all with the need of having one. Of my family, of all the people who are my family.

I almost never miss walking till the edge on the rocky path, close to the lake which makes me feel like this is it. Like there is nowhere else to go. Like I have arrived. And that is where all of my thinking stops. I breathe in the sunshine, the breeze, the water that surround me in abundance. I feel like for few moments I can suspend all the actions and reactions in my mind. In those moments, I am not planning the future, I am not thinking of the past. I am enjoying my being. I sometimes sit there and listen to music, or perhaps take my cup of tea along. I have even had a good laugh with my friends while sitting on the rocks there. Only to remind myself that there is nothing more that I enjoy than the simple joys of life. I think about the simple joys of life; I recreate them in my mind like a playlist that remains untouched for a while but there is a strong urge to revisit and replay and rejoice in those songs.

Every time I visit Rouge Park, I feel like there is a lot of mind space that suddenly appears. I lose track of the real time; its anxiety and worries, I stop scheduling, strategizing and sanitizing. I enjoy my thoughts in their entirety. I enjoy the process. I enjoy the variety. I let them wander in that mind space. I realize that my thoughts are fragile and yet I let them loose.

I love Rouge Park for its natural beauty. That I do not have to leave the city to be at peace with my thoughts. I love it because I am able to unleash myself here. I have developed an emotional connect with this place. I bike around here for hours, finding spots hidden behind trees where I can sit and observe the lake from a distance. I hop on from one rock to another, trying to find my balance.

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Rouge Park is no magic no wonder for me, but just one of those simple joys of life that uplifts me. Have you found your thinking spot yet?