Newcomer creating website to help other international students in Cape Breton find work

Nitasha Nijhawan fled an abusive relationship in India and moved to Sydney, N.S., with her son where she says she started over from scratch.  (Provided by Nitasha Nijhawan - image credit)
Nitasha Nijhawan fled an abusive relationship in India and moved to Sydney, N.S., with her son where she says she started over from scratch. (Provided by Nitasha Nijhawan - image credit)

After fleeing India to escape domestic abuse at the hands of her former spouse, Nitasha Nijhawan worked day and night to make ends meet in Sydney, N.S., her new home.

The single mother and business management student at Cape Breton University found a job, but the hours were long and punishing. Until recently, she attended classes from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days a week, and then worked from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. as an IT project manager.

During that time, she says she only slept between 10 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. On weekends, she worked remotely as an instructor for BITTS International Career College in Ontario.

"In one year I hardly slept for two hours in 24 hours. But I have started sleeping since January. I know what the pain is," she told CBC in an interview.

In January, Nijhawan landed an internship with Webonise Canada Technologies as a project and program manager in Halifax. She'll stay there until the end of April and then move back to Sydney and look for work.

She's also working on a website to help other international students with their resumes and online profiles on platforms like LinkedIn. The site is called edipulse, which is still a work in progress — as of early March 2023 many of the links and templates on the site were not up and running. When completed, the site is meant to inspire women to focus on jobs that will provide more employment options, including working from home or part-time hours. Or empower women by become their own bosses and navigate job searching in Cape Breton.

Submitted by Nitasha Nijhawan
Submitted by Nitasha Nijhawan

"I think having a common forum set for women international students where they can get all information about housing, safe travel within town, information on creating resumes and job search and if they have kids for single moms, they get affordable deals for after-school care for their kids," she said.

"I really would be happy if it at least turns up for a few people to change their lives and be comfortable in their own zone here," she said.

Many immigrants and international students, she said, end up working retail jobs with long hours and low pay.

Minimum wage jobs

If immigrants want to become permanent residents, Nijhawan said the most suitable programs for them, like the Atlantic Immigration Program, have limited employment options, mostly retail and restaurant jobs. And many choose minimum wage jobs because they can work outside school hours, Nijhawan said.

"They can go into retail, they can work at Sobeys, Walmart … But when it comes to expanding their choices, I don't think they have many," she said.

In India, Nijhawan studied civil engineering and received a master's in planning and entrepreneurship. When she planned to study in Canada, she only had her savings to pay for school. She couldn't get a loan for her education, so she sold her car for flight tickets. She is now in her final semester as a business management student and is graduating in May.

"I started from scratch again after landing here," she said. "All these years I've been working as a single mom. So that's where I started my journey to think about something that can help others, especially women."

After working, studying and parenting on her own for nine years, she re-married and is now hoping to find her dream job.

Making Sydney home

"It's very difficult to earn as a single mom while studying and working. I did it alone so I learned to do it the hard way," she said.

Her son inspired her to want to help women in situations like hers.

"He's one of my inspirations behind all this thought process because he inspired me to think that you need to find an alternative, not just for yourself but for others who are in the same boat as you, as a woman, as a mother," she said.

Nijhawan said she worked hard to make good memories for him."He is very happy here now, he considers Sydney his home with his friends," she said.