Grace Lamson was twenty-five when she took the first bold step toward realizing her dream of immigrating to Canada. She moved from her rural Filipino home province of Nueva Ecija to Hsinchu County, Taiwan. It was a calculated move. “I’d heard from people that Canada was the best place in the world to live. Most Filipinos feel that way.
Hometown: Nueva Ecija, Philippines
Occupation: Chef, Columbia Garden Village
Columbia Valley arrival: September 2013
Immigrating to Canada is complex and fraught with uncertainty. There is no guarantee a Canadian employer will choose to invest in sponsoring a foreigner. To position herself with the best odds possible for attaining a temporary Canadian work permit, Grace knew she would need to hire an agency to do the paperwork. She also knew that those agencies do not run cheap. This is why Grace flew two hours north from Manila to Taiwan. Taiwan pays better than the Philippines. And the government allows Filipinos temporary work permits for up to nine years. And compared to the Canadian Dollar, The New Taiwanese Dollar is much stronger than the Philippine Peso. Yes, Grace was aware of this too.
So, for the next nine years, Grace worked in a Taiwanese electronics plant. She lived in a dorm facility with five thousand other Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Thai. When she first arrived, she didn’t know a word of Mandarin. “I was up for the challenge. I wanted to prove to myself that I could live on my own, outside of my mother’s influence.” She immersed herself in Taiwanese culture. “It’s a beautiful country, but I knew there was no chance for me to settle there. I always saw it as a stepping stone to coming here.”
With two months remaining on her final Taiwanese foreign work permit, Grace hired a Taipei City immigration agency specializing in Canada. One that was on the honest end of a squirrelly trade. She paid $10,000 USD. She didn’t tell her bosses. Had they found out, they would’ve sent her home. If it didn’t work out, she knew that she could always move back to the Philippines, change her name, and move back to Hsinchu County for another nine years. She’d heard of people doing that, and by then, she was fluent in Mandarin. She was thirty-eight years old.
But to Grace’s enormous relief, the immigration agency delivered. They told her she was moving to a place called Invermere, British Columbia, Canada. To work in the kitchen of a hotel called the Best Western/Invermere Inn. “I had to look up where Invermere was,” Grace recalled, laughing. “I had no idea. I didn’t even know what the Rocky Mountains were.” When Grace told her bosses the news that she was moving to Canada, they congratulated her. “They were happy for me.” It was emotional.
In September 2013, Grace arrived to Invermere knowing nobody. First impressions: she loved the vast, open landscapes. She loved the lake, mountains and the small town— the friendly, welcoming community. Naturally, there were shocks like the absence of public transit, time changes and of course, the weather. The first snowfall that year was Nov. 1. “I loved watching snow fall from the sky. It made me appreciate how God created the world. He can do rain, and He can do ice.” But when the mercury first dropped below ten below, Grace thought “okay, this isn’t as fun anymore.”
In 2017, thirteen years after first moving to Taiwan, Grace became a permanent resident of Canada. On her first attempt, she passed the notoriously rigorous federal government language test. Her dream had finally come true.
Today, she works as a chef at Columbia Garden Village. She loves her job. “I’m so happy to serve the people who live at Columbia Garden, to hear what they feel, and see how happy they are.” In a way, she sees it as cooking for her parents back in Nueva Ecija. “I feel so blessed. All of my hard work and sacrifice paid off.”
James Rose, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer