Harleen Kaur Taunque is a young, enthusiastic, graduate from the University of Waterloo. After coming to Canada from India, she received her Master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with a Graduate Certificate in Business and Entrepreneurship from the Conrad School of Business and Entrepreneurship. She currently works as a programmer for a startup firm, where she has built various software solutions for different clients. She is a lifelong learner and loves volunteering, communicating with people, and building long-term relationships!
Harleen has a unique story to share as she immigrated to Canada from India to pursue a new life, starting with her education. Reset Zone has invited Harleen to share her story, in hopes that it can inspire others and provide relatability to anyone in a similar situation.
“When I was a little girl
I designed my perfect castle,
Dreamed of living with Kings and Queens.
Everything seemed easy to get with Dad’s magic wand.
Then I left my cocoon,
Reality hit me,
And all the blueprints tore apart.
– Harleen Kaur Taunque
The delay in the connecting flight to Canada had resulted in an overnight stay in London. The three-star hotel I stayed in was equipped with luxurious chandeliers, broken elevators, and bland food compared to what I was used to back home. I had to carry my two 23 kg luggage bags all the way from the London airport to my hotel room. I will never forget the poor customer service.
Somehow, I managed to reach the Canadian airport after 3 days of travel, sleepless nights, hunger, and emotional exhaustion! I was welcomed by my brother at Canadian airport with – guess what? My first (and last) Tim Horton’s hot chocolate. It was so sweet! Double-Double is what I love drinking now.
My first impression of Canada was clean roads, quiet streets and breathable air. I was lucky to arrive during spring, because spring in Canada is so magnificent! Colourful blooming flowers, bright sunlit roads – it all seemed so fresh and inspiring!
My first fifteen days were spent trying to learn the basic cultural and government rules. Using pedestrian signals to cross the street, driving on the right side of the road, saying “sorry” and “thank you,” opening the doors for others, and even paying for the person behind you at the Timmies drive thru. Such a polite culture! Everything seemed like a fairy tale. The Easter bunnies in the malls and the springtime décor almost made me forget that I was away from my home country.
The spring session at University opened on May 15th and I decided to move closer to the university. I was lucky to find a summer sublet across from the engineering building. I was super pumped to live in a new place with new people. However, after I moved, I realized how hard adulting can hit you! My brother was no longer there to help me with groceries, banking, and many of the daily tasks he was previously supporting me with. Going grocery shopping was the hardest part. I was changing buses with no idea where I was going. What a life without my own vehicle! In India I had my own scooter and never really travelled on local buses. This was the beginning of my struggle.
My university classes started, and I found it challenging to make friends. Most of the people in my course were international students like me or PhD students. I found it difficult to connect with some of the engineering students. They seemed so focused on studying, and uninterested in chatting! I was grateful to strike up a conversation with a few of them and learn more about life at university.
The main challenge I had during the summer term was finding jobs. I remember how stressed I was to find work, as I learned that managing finances is very tough. I used to convert everything into Indian currency (INR) and everything seemed unaffordable! I would spend days at nearby shops and restaurants with a stack of 50 resumes to hand out, and countless hours on my computer applying to any position I was suitable for. I received zero responses.
It was a super stressful time. It became more difficult to concentrate on my studies, and I felt that there was no one to support me physically and emotionally. I called my parents almost every day, but that was not same as the physical warmth I used to feel around them. Everything felt so cold without them! I started losing happiness in things I used to love doing. I couldn’t watch movies, travel, eat – all of these activities I used to do with my family. I was feeling so overwhelmed by everything that by the end of summer I wanted to go back to India.
The turning point in my experience was when I began applying to volunteer positions. I got the opportunity to volunteer at the SunLife Busker Carnival, and it was such a great time! At the event, I met a beautiful retired teacher with whom I spent the day chatting with. She shared with me some advice that really changed my perspective on my experience in Canada. “Get involved as much as you can to make the best out of your University experience” she said.
I am still in touch with this amazing lady. I am beyond grateful for her inspirational energy. This was the motivator that pushed me to apply to a variety of roles through the University network. I was selected as an “International Student Experience” volunteer where I enjoyed helping international students, like myself, transition into a whole different country.
I also volunteered at both the graduate and undergraduate orientations and started participating in many hackathons. These experiences helped build my resume and expand my network. My knowledge about the University platform increased rapidly, and I started enjoying every aspect of my new life – meeting new people, making conversations, and learning new languages like Mandarin, Korean, French, Italian, and Tamil.
As this new chapter unfolded, I got the interview call from an emotional wellness app – Reset Zone. I had applied as a brand ambassador through our university job portal. I had never worked in the wellness industry, but my volunteering experience gave me an edge and I was lucky to crack the interview. Who would have imagined that August 2019 would mark the beginning of my journey with Reset Zone? I did not know how much this position would change my life both professionally and emotionally.