The Loss of a Professional Home and the Search for Career Adaptability: The Disequilibrium of Immigration
By Lorraine Godden
In July 2009, my family and I immigrated to Canada from England. As a woman in my forties, I had built a career in education in England where I felt I was making a useful contribution to society. My skills and experience were, it seemed, of value, and I had a sense of belonging within my professional environment. I felt I had achieved a professional home. Throughout the planning stages of immigration I looked forward with anticipation to the experience of working in a new, different educational milieu. One where I could use my existing expertise, embrace new challenges, and find an even greater sense of professional fulfillment. I greatly misjudged that in moving across the Atlantic; my professional home would be left behind.
Prior to my arrival in Canada, I had decided that completion of a post-secondary qualification in education would ease my transition into my new working environment. I was fixated with the notion that additional Canadian qualifications would be the route to fulfilling employment. I already completed my teaching qualification in England and so it seemed a natural progression to begin a master’s program in education. I began a new learning journey with an expectation that completion of the qualification would help me gain employment. As I navigated the master’s program, I realized my decision to gain Canadian qualifications had been based upon my perception that they would be seen as being more valid than my British ones. I had read the many accounts of immigrants not having their home-gained qualifications recognized and accredited. I wanted to pre-empt any issue of legitimacy in my curriculum vitae through the addition of relevant Canadian qualifications.
As I attended classes alongside my (mostly) Canadian peers, I was soon immersed in discussions that centered on the working practices of teachers, and various educational institutional contexts. I had expected to feel I would add valuable insights to these deliberations; however, I had not anticipated feeling that any experience I could share no longer seemed relevant in the context of these debates. It had been a long time since I felt so inept; that my previous experience was somehow invalid in this new context, and that gaining a qualification by itself would not, for me, address this new insecurity. It is important to acknowledge that subsequent discussions both with my class instructors and peers revealed they did not see the invalidity of my previous work experience the same way as I.
Feeling the way that I did gave impetus for me to seek out experiences I could undertake alongside my academic development. With reflection, I see this led to a number of choices where I was focused upon my career and professional development in addition to my academic growth. For example, I undertook a leadership course alongside university staff. Engaging with the university staff in their working environment provided an opportunity for me to have work-related conversations rather than purely academic ones. Alongside my experience of what it was like to study here, I began to be exposed to what it was like to work in Canada through a process of self-directed activities such as these. Brown, Bimrose and Hughes (2011) argue that learning to adapt is a social process, that it is facilitated through social interaction, but that it is necessarily an individual process. My experience may well have been unique to me; however it may also be that the feeling of losing one’s sense of a professional home is shared by others who have suddenly found themselves trying to navigate the path to employment within an unfamiliar working environment.
People’s awareness of their goals, aspirations, motivation, personality, inter-personal skills and resilience vary (Brown, 2009). Personally, seeking out opportunities to undertake professional development activities, in addition to acquiring an academic qualification provided me with a sense of contextual understanding of the country I had emigrated to. Through activities that I felt promoted my career adaptability, I have started to overcome the disequilibrium of immigration and begun to feel like I may have, one day, a new professional home.
Lorraine Godden M.Ed., PGCE, BA(Hons), FHEA, moved to Canada in July 2009 from the UK where she acquired extensive experience both as a teacher of business studies and a teacher, assessor and manager of professional and career development programs for educational staff. Lorraine is now a PhD candidate at Queen’s University Faculty of Education where she is involved in research projects that examine the role of work-based education for at-risk youth, a pan-Canadian study of teacher induction and mentoring programs, and her own work that examines career education for high school students.
Brown, A. (2009). Higher skills development at work; a commentary by the teaching and learning research program. London, UK: ESRC, TLRP.
Brown, A., Bimrose, J., & Hughes, D. (2011, October). The Role of Learning in Developing CareerAdaptability at Work: Evidence from the UK and Norway. Paper presented at the Second
Education and Employers Taskforce Research Conference, Exploring Social Mobility and Delivery Mechanisms in International Perspective’, University of Warwick, UK.