Postcards from #Canada150
I came to Australia in 2000, at the age of 24. Professionally, my career was really in its infancy at the time and I was delighted that I landed strong accounting roles in Sydney. One of the greatest mentors of my career was a gentleman that I worked with in Sydney who is a dear friend today.
When I was interviewing for my first job, I asked an Australian friend to give me some Aussie interview tips. Amongst other things, he told me some slang words to avoid such as “root”. In my interview, one of the issues mentioned was that the junior accountants filed paperwork randomly and it was frustrating for the accounting executives when they could not locate the clients’ paperwork whilst on the phone with them. I sympathised and said, “I can understand that it could be embarrassing if you are on the phone trying to assist a client but in the background you are madly rooting around, looking for files-” I stopped mid-sentence and my face went BEET red. “Oh dear,” I said. “Um, language barrier. I’m so sorry, I was told not to say ‘root’!” The two gentlemen interviewing laughed and one said, “Erin, it’s OK in context. That was totally fine.” I was so mortified! Then, on my first day on the job, one of the interviewers came by my desk to welcome me, and as he walked away said, “Now, no rooting around at work.”
At my previous job, we were not permitted to wear open toed shoes in the office, so later that morning I asked one of my colleagues if there were any wardrobe or footwear policies. He paused to think for a moment and said, “Not really. Just no thongs I guess.” I gasped and awkwardly said, “Um, OK.” But I was thinking, “‘No thongs?’ How would they know? Isn’t that the whole point of wearing them?”
When I set out for Australia, my mom had told me that I was not to marry anyone from Australia because it was too far away. I didn’t meet anyone on that trip, but six years later, while I was in New Zealand on another working holiday, I flew to Brisbane to visit friends and ended up meeting my future husband (an Aussie) on that trip. It took me a while to front up to my mom.
I now run O Canada, an import/export business in Brisbane that imports Canadian products into Australia, and exports Australian products to Canada. I find that social media is a great tool for homesick expats. As a former “Prime Minister” of the Queensland Canadian Club – Brisbane Chapter, it is always really nice to see expat Canadians come together and support each other during Canadian holidays and events.
One of my favourite examples of this was during the 2010 Olympic Men’s Hockey. At one of Brisbane’s larger pubs, the Canadian manager, Rob Mycek, and I discussed showing the hockey games – whether or not anyone would come because the games were between 2am and 4am. His General Manager thought we were crazy, that no one would come to watch a hockey game in the middle of the night, but Rob secured live feeds for the games and I got the word out. Every single game had a large crowd of bleary-eyed Canadians. The final was between Canada and Sweden and it was on at 9pm on a Sunday night. When we arrived at the bar, it was a SEA of red and white. Rob counted 500+ Canadians, all of those friends belting out “O Canada” when Canada won.
The working holiday is such an invaluable opportunity to push one’s self in a number of ways. It opened my mind to cultures, lands, peoples, adventures, languages and employment opportunities. It was an unforgettable opportunity to meet like-minded young people from around the world, whilst forging my independence and furthering my career in another country. Some of my richest friendships today are with the people that I traveled and worked with during that year. The confidence built by such adventures is immeasurable. You become a citizen of the world.
Contributor: Erin Burchill
Occupation: Managing Director, O Canada (ocanada.com.au)
Hometown: Born in Hailebury, Ontario; lived in Englehart, London (ON), Cobourg, Cobalt and Toronto, Canada
Working Holiday: Australia in 2000, United Kingdom in 2002, Ireland in 2004, New Zealand in 2005
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This is one in a series of stories shared by International Experience Canada participants from the 1970s to present to celebrate Canada 150.
IEC began in 1951 as a reconciliatory cultural exchange between Canada and Germany following World War II. Today, IEC supports Canada’s interests by administering Youth Mobility Agreements (including Working Holiday) with 33 countries and territories. The agreement between Canada and Australia started in 1975 and is currently reciprocal in the number of inbound and outbound participants.