October 4, 2009 is a very special day to me because that is when I landed in Canada. I was 26 years old, had worked as an architect in Vietnam and was pursuing a master’s degree in construction engineering at Dongguk University in Korea. One day, I suddenly informed my professor and friends that I would stop studying and move to Canada in a week, under the Family Sponsorship program. My professor was extremely angry. He thought I wanted to quit due to the heavy curriculum. My classmates and my family advised me to stay and finish school, which would take just one more year. However, Canada was my dream and I did not want to waste any more time. One week later, I said goodbye. When I came over, I lived with my family in Jane and Finch area.
During my first days in Canada, I was shocked by the language barrier. My English level at that time was low. The first words I used to communicate included “medium double-double” to order a two-sugar-two-milk cup of coffee. When ordering fast food, I would eat whatever they gave me, even though it contained strange ingredients that I could not swallow.
I started free English classes for newcomers at the YMCA. Every day, I went to school until 3 p.m. After class, I went to a library to continue studying and then returned home at 7 p.m. After dinner, I took a short break and kept studying until bedtime. I opened my laptop, put it beside my bed, turned on English news and fell asleep.
For more than a year, almost every day was like that. My friends and relatives asked me if I felt sad. “Do you miss Vietnam? Why didn’t you stay there, be an architect, get married, and have children like other people your age?” My answer was never “I am sad.” I treasured learning something new and getting to know more friends each day.
I started looking for a part-time job related to my architecture profession. I sent dozens of portfolios to many architecture companies, but the results were disappointing. Sometimes I felt anxious. I was almost 30 and my friends in Vietnam had already started families. I still did not know what I was going to do. I decided to study architecture at Humber College. However, after one year, I stopped. The course covered the fundamentals that I had already learned at the University of Architecture in Vietnam. Once again, my classmates asked me, “Why don’t you finish studying to get a degree and apply for a job?” On average, there are job opportunities in this field with salary ranges from $50,000 – $60,000 a year. When a friend asked, “What are you going to do?” I said I would install hardwood floors for people. He burst into laughter. “Frank, why do you downgrade yourself like that?” I kept silent and smiled because I did not like explaining. Doing labour jobs takes skill. Why did I need to waste time studying things that I already knew? At that time, I had no idea about the market but there was nothing that I could do other than doing nails or something in constructions.
I installed hardwood floors for nearly a year and then started working on my own. Customers liked the way I always cut the wood outside, so the house didn’t get dusty. I placed less beautiful pieces in the corners or closet areas. I’ll never forget when one Italian client called me “the floor artist.” He contemplated the wooden floor, lined beautifully, and almost dust-free. Only a few months later, customers wanted me to paint, floor and repair bathrooms and basements, even though I hadn’t done it before. Since then, I have been contracted to repair the entire interior of a house, plus I have designed and built nail salons and business offices.
Over time I grew my customer base. Many were investors who bought old houses, repaired or rebuilt them and then put them up for sale. They did not know as much about aesthetics or have as many manual labor skills as I did. They had a bit of money and got increasingly rich thanks to real estate. Why I couldn’t I do the same?
My next turning point was to get a real estate business certificate to be a real estate agent. Anything I take on must be done from the heart and with prestige. Money does not preside. Most of my previous clients trusted me with the task of making a home for them. They also introduced me to their friends and relatives. In my first year in real estate, I broke the company’s 30-year record in sales. I sold 20 houses right at the first year and achived 2 awards, which are Rising Stars Award: for an agent at the first year doing exceptional results and Platinum Award: for an agent who makes over $250,000-$500,000. No one in his first year on the job had done what I did. Many colleagues began to congratulate me and ask, “How did you do that?” I told them it was because I can give advice on design and construction. But deep inside, I think it is also important to stay true to my brand and prioritize customers’ benefits.
I have been in Canada nearly 10 years and have fallen in love with the country and the people. Every year, on October 4th, I celebrate the day I came. I continue to work in real estate because it synthesizes all the knowledge that I have accumulated. I am grateful to all the customers and friends who have trusted me. Thank you Canada, for giving me a very good living. I am proud that I am now a Canadian citizen.
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This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt