Elena Zabudskaya is the Business Development Officer with the Economic Development division at the City of Greater Sudbury.
She came to Canada in 2014 at the age of 24 to study English at Kaplan International in Toronto. She had already completed a Bachelor of Economics, a Bachelor of Conflict Management, and a Master of Finance.
Zabudskaya is originally from a small town in eastern Russia, which is 9,000 km away from Saint Petersburg University, where she earned her three degrees. Now that she lives in Sudbury and when she wants to call her parents back home, she has to factor in the 14-hour time difference.
“I very vividly remember this feeling when I landed at Pearson airport. I realized that I have nobody on this continent, absolutely no one,” she says. “It was very clear to me that if anything happens, I am literally oceans away from my family.”
Initially, she came for two months. The plan was to study here and return home, as there were many careers opportunities in Russia she could pursue. She soon realized, however, that two months wasn’t enough time to learn the language, so she extended her stay.
After completing the program at Kaplan, she decided to do the IELTS program, an exam taken to prove knowledge of English when your goal is to attend a post-secondary institution in Canada. After earning a good enough score, she was eligible to apply to colleges and universities here.
Furthering her already impressive education
“I didn’t know Canada had such great post-graduate programs, and based on your previous education, you can enlist with a college to get niche qualifications. That was a discovery for me,” says Zabudskaya.
She decided to study Logistics and Supply Chain Management at Fanshawe College in London, starting the 8-month program in January of 2016. “It was an eye-opener for me because it was my first proper educational program in Canada, and I got to meet many international students like me. We were all in the same boat,” she says. “We were great friends and went through the same challenges together. We’re still in touch.”
By the end of the term, she realized that to stay in Canada and receive a longer work permit, she’d need to continue her studies; you need to study here a minimum of one year to be eligible for a three-year work permit. She decided to pursue International Business Management. Fanshawe did offer the program, but Cambrian College included a placement at the end.
“This program has been instrumental for them in recruiting international students, based on that specific component,” Zabudskaya explains. “I decided to take a leap of faith and move to Sudbury for Cambrian.”
She wrapped up her studies at Fanshawe in August of 2016 and by September started at Cambrian. By the time May rolled around she was interviewing with three or four companies.
“Cambrian College is great. They can help you to find a potential employer for your placement,” she says.
Entering the workforce
One of her professors suggested she try to find a spot with the City of Greater Sudbury in their Economic Development Department. A former student was working there, so he made a call, asking if they would be interested in having another international student on their team. Zabudskaya was interviewed and was successful.
There is never any expectation of employment with placements like these; they are simply about gaining work experience. “I was absolutely over the moon with that opportunity, I have always wanted to work in government. Here it was shocking to me that as a newcomer, I could actually work for the municipality. It was a dream come true,” she says.
After her 8-week placement ended, there was an opening with the Northern Ontario Exports Program as a Project Coordinator. She wondered what her chances were, as she knew when she was interviewing that all the other candidates were from Canada. She applied and got the job.
“I did not have any gaps. I finished my placement on Friday and started working on Monday. I was fortunate. It was just the right time, the right people, and I guess the stars aligned,” she says.
Zabudskaya is grateful to the team she works with because they embraced her right from the start. Russia was not big on the international mining stage then, and it wasn’t a market their companies would pursue, so her background didn’t confer any specific advantage.
The immigration process
Many experience challenges when immigrating to Canada, but for Zabudskaya the process was pretty seamless. She didn’t use any settlement services. She did speak with a few immigration consultants and says Kaplan had a great pathway program. Through talking to her friends and fellow international students, they figured it out together. When the time came to apply for her permanent residency, she found the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) materials well written and self-explanatory.
“In my case, I didn’t face any barriers. I understand that many immigrants do, but for me, it was easier than probably for others,” she says.
One of the best pieces of advice given to her at Kaplan was from a Russian-speaking person, who told her in English, “Don’t try to seek your own community who speak your first language. Seek people who speak English. That’s going to help you in the long run.”
Zabudskaya agrees. “It’s important to learn a new language when you come to a new country. I understand that all of us want to carry our culture with us, but at the same time, it’s essential to be open to change and embrace it. Give yourself a chance to integrate with the local culture.”
The biggest challenge was the language itself. She had been studying English since the age of 7 but couldn’t practice much in her home country. When she started working at the City, she was self-conscious, worried she might make a mistake and people would laugh at her. “They are all Canadians here, and for all of them, English is their mother tongue,” she says. “It’s just something you need to work through and improve.”
Other learnings were cultural. “Russians are very straightforward people by nature. Here I learned that sometimes you need to be more accommodating. You don’t need to get straight to the point. You don’t always have to say no right away; you might leave space for some wiggle room for later,” she explains. “Those little things you learn culture-wise are very important. It’s incredible how different we are, but that’s the beauty, right?”
Zabudskaya loves the outdoors and the easy access to so many lakes, greenery, and nature. “I’m a very outdoorsy person. I like to engage with nature. I can absorb the wildlife in its natural habitat,” she says.
“At the end of the day, all of us are immigrants. It only depends on who immigrated first in our family, whether it was our grandparents or great-grandparents. All of us came from somewhere, except for the Indigenous peoples that live here. Diversity is great, and we should embrace and celebrate it,” she says.
Just the experience of leaving one country and coming to another allows newcomers to see things from a different angle than people who have lived here all their lives. Sometimes long-time residents don’t realize how great things are.
“At the same time, maybe we should bring a feeling of gratitude for people who don’t know anything but Canada. Some Canadians don’t appreciate what they have. They can take for granted certain rights,” she says. “Sometimes to understand the value of what you have, you have to lose it or look at it through somebody else’s eyes—the immigrant perspective.”
Canada as a country was built on immigration and is probably so successful because of the immigrants who have come here, from years ago until now, says Zabudskaya. Immigrants play a central role. For everyone to continue to enjoy a decent standard of living, we need to ensure we have a strong workforce. We also have an aging population that will rely on receiving pensions, and a thriving workforce will pay into these supports.
Advice for newcomers
“I honestly haven’t had any bad experiences,” says Zabudskaya. “I think the fact that I’m an immigrant makes a great elevator pitch. You start speaking, people get curious about your accent, they ask about your story, and you spend a few minutes with the person. They’ll remember you because you’re different from the rest of the people in the room.”
She suggests newcomers avoid the more metropolitan areas. “When you land in Toronto and try to live and make your life there, you’re one of many. There are so many newcomers you can get lost in the masses. But when you come to a smaller community like Sudbury or another Northern Ontario community, you’re unique, and your story is very noticeable,” she says. “You can make a statement faster.”
The value of meaningful work
Zabudskaya credits her colleagues with making the most positive difference of all. “The workplace is absolutely essential. If you don’t feel like you belong there, then everything else might feel like it’s not enough,” she says. “The workplace became my family, and they are the closest people that I have on this continent at the moment. Get acquainted with your co-workers and spend more time with them. If you’re happy at work, you will be happy in the other aspects of your life.”
She’s a firm believer in hard work, as evidenced by her personal history. “If you work hard here, you can achieve everything you want and even more. When people see that you’re a hard worker, the doors will open for you. Do your absolute best, and that should be enough.
Greater Sudbury is Greater Together.
Greater Together is a series of stories that will run throughout the coming year. It will feature the success stories of newcomers that have made Greater Sudbury their home and who have contributed so much to the city. It will showcase those who arrived decades ago, as well as more recently.
The aim is to tell the story of the people who live here, who have chosen to make this city their home, and the gifts they have brought with them. It will be a celebration of everyone and every culture that makes Greater Sudbury such a captivating community. Please share your story or write about why Sudbury’s multiculturalism matters to you.
SLIP works with stakeholders to support the retention and proper settlement of newcomers in the community. The program is funded by the Government of Canada and falls within the City of Greater Sudbury’s Economic Development Division.