From Poor Student to Top 30 Women in the World: A Success Story
I have an unusual guest for an interview: Aina. She moved to Canada as a student and is now one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs in the world, according to the New York City Journal.
Short-term courses for the sake of moving
Aina's success story is full of difficulties and obstacles. Seven years ago she came to Vancouver from Ukraine, Donetsk region, on a student visa. Aina considered several countries for immigration, but Canada was not a priority. However, in 2014 there was unrest in the country, so there was no time to think about it. A year-long hotel internship in the Maldives, which Aina took in 2013, helped her get her student visa. She found a course in Canada related to the hotel business, although she had no intention to develop in this field. The training lasted 3 months, with another 3 months set aside for an internship.
Aina was not impressed with Vancouver, unlike Montreal, where she had originally flown to. However, college was in Vancouver, and Montreal, she later realized, was an underdeveloped business.
Aina thought about renewing her visa six months later, but as it turned out, she should have taken steps much earlier. Moving to Vancouver, constant part-time work and little money did not give time to deal fully with the visa issue, so Aina decided to buy another course, this time in English. At the same time, the girl took any job that she could do 20 hours a week, which is how much she was allowed to work during her studies.
"I worked part-time, frankly, doing whatever I could," Aina recalls. — It was dishwashing, cleaning, restaurants, bartending, waitressing..."
After several more visa extensions, Aina realized that she was trapped in a vicious circle: she was extending her visa for six months, working, but there was only enough money to live and to buy another short course. She was faced with a choice: to return home or make some serious breakthrough that would help her stay in Canada.
Going to a prestigious university without money
Aina talked a lot with immigration consultants, and one of the suggestions was to take a full course of study at the university in order to get a work permit for 1-3 years and then a permanent residence permit. In her home country, she had a master's degree in electrical engineering, but she wanted to develop in business and project management. Therefore, she decided that if she wanted to get an education, she should get a second master's degree.
I chose the MBA (Master of Business Administration) program, which is considered one of the most prestigious because its graduates can hold senior and middle management positions.
"I was almost 100 percent sure they wouldn't take me there, but I wanted to check," says Aina.
MBA programs seemed inaccessible for two reasons: strict selection and high cost. Nevertheless, Aina managed to pass the preliminary competition and receive an invitation to an interview. She managed to impress the commission at once — Aina took with her backpack from Euro 2012, which she had received for volunteer work at the championship, and one of the commission members was a soccer fan. Then there were answers to the questions.
"I tried to take charisma because I had nothing else," shares Aina.
The final touch is a picture. The girl introduced herself as a Ukrainian blogger and asked the committee members to take a picture with her so she could write about how she was getting into university. Aina admits that at that time she only had an idea for a blog.
A week and a half later the answer came. Aina was accepted for an MBA at Simon Fraser University, one of Canada's top universities. There was still a question of finances — two years of study cost $50,000 CAD. When Aina was already ready to pack her bags and return to Ukraine, one of her Canadian acquaintances, who knew how much effort had been put into the process, decided to take out a loan in her own name to pay for her education.
Difficulties with work and starting a business
So the girl successfully completed her MBA, but the difficulties were just beginning. Because of an error in the certificate she was denied a work permit. It took a month to solve the problem, but the work permit was still obtained.
"This kind of thing has happened several times in my immigration, but this situation has made me stronger and more experienced," Aina notes.
The next obstacle was the job. Aina sent numerous resumes for the project manager position, but no companies responded. After consulting with one recruiter, she learned that MBA graduates were considered too ambitious and overqualified for the project manager position.
Another mentor advised a solution — to write the profession transcript (business administration specialist). As Aina says, this did not help much, so eventually the girl came to the decision to open her own company to train project managers. At the same time she kept sending out resumes, asking for feedback from recruiters, and communicating with mentors.
Aina quickly realized that having her own company promoted her candidacy in the eyes of employers. When the first clients for training began to appear, she was approached by top companies with job offers. So she got a job at Central One, one of Vancouver's well-known companies, and had to leave her own business for the weekend.
After a while, Aina did move on to working for herself and working with companies under contract. Soon it became clear that opportunities in Vancouver were not enough, and Aina decided to move on to Toronto.
Popularity in social networks
Surprisingly, it was the voice-based social networking site Clubhouse that led Aina to a place of honor on the list of Best Female Entrepreneurs. She got there at the height of the network's popularity.
"It was the kind of place I've dreamed of all my life," is how Aina reviews Clubhouse. — A concentration of minds, a concentration of people who are much more advanced than me, much more intellectual than me.
Aiming to talk to such people, Aina could wait for hours for her turn to speak. Over time, people began to show up who liked her talks, so Aina became a speaker herself and started doing interviews at Clubhouse. The main topic was the project management industry in IT. At one point, Aina was even called the ambassador of women in IT.
"I've never written a code in my life, not a line," Aina comments on her "title."
People started talking about Aina outside the Clubhouse as well. That's how the girl got other social networks. An unconventional approach also played a role. To impress the audience and get to know people, Aina drew sketches about what was discussed at Clubhouse and marked the social networks of those present. Aina is also actively involved in volunteer work.
Place in the rankings and tips for immigrants
At some point Aina was approached by representatives of a New York magazine. Who recommended her is still a mystery to the girl. Aina didn't believe the letter at first, but sent her photo and biography anyway.
"And for a while, for two or three weeks, everyone disappeared," says Aina. — I thought, 'Well, this must be a prank.
But all turned out wrong, and Aina appeared in another issue of the magazine.
As someone who has been through a difficult journey as an immigrant, Aina has some advice for newcomers. First of all, she recommends that you start preparing for life in Canada as early as possible:
- register with volunteer organizations;
- Create a profile on the business social network LinkedIn;
- write posts or articles on a professional topic;
- to look for business acquaintances;
- attend professional conferences and participate in mentoring programs.
Alex Pavlenko, founder of Immigrant.Today