Immigrant Success Stories: Srdjan “Serge” Simic
Monday | February 21, 2022 | by Wilma Lee
World Education Services (WES) believes in the power of storytelling and shared resources. In 2019, we reached out to immigrants across North America. We asked about their reasons for leaving home, their challenges along the way, and the advice they would like to share with other newcomers.
In this new blog series, we are now sharing their stories with you. Below is Serge’s.
Click here to hear from others who have contributed their voices to WES.
A Tale of Two Migrations
Serge’s story really includes two migration journeys: One that brought his family from Yugoslavia to Australia in 1990s, when he was 7 years old, and another that recently brought him to Canada.
With war looming in Yugoslavia the 1990s, Serge’s parents wanted to provide safety for their children, even if it meant leaving everything they knew behind. They decided to find a country that could welcome them as refugees. After visiting embassies for four months, they received two offers: one from Australia, and one from Canada. Serge’s parents opted to move to Australia.
He still recalls their move vividly, and the early days of getting settled.
“One is very impressionable during the early days of migration,” Serge notes, remembering the excitement of arriving in a new country as a young boy. “There was this old retired Australian couple on the plane. We told them we were refugees. They gave me a plush kangaroo and a 10-dollar note. It was nice, and it made me want to be good once we got to Australia.”
After 10 years in Sydney and 13 years in Brisbane, Serge identified fully as Australian. (However, his older sister continues to identify more strongly with her European heritage.) He believes that this early transition in his life prepared him to adapt more easily to his new life in Canada.
Adventure to Canada
After graduating with a degree in business, marketing and management from Griffith University in Queensland, Serge started working for OI’ School Garage, a small family business that restores vintage vehicles for enthusiasts and collectors. The job suited his keen business mind, spirit for entrepreneurship, and passion for luxury cars.
It was also through the business that Serge met his wife, Emma, in 2013.
Shortly after they first met, Emma received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. They decided to weather the storm together and got married. Emma signed up for an experimental treatment which extended her original months-long outlook to four years.
After Emma’s passing, Serge switched industries to work in real estate and construction for commercial spaces.
“I wanted an adventure,” said Serge at the end of 2018. He considered moving to the Australian bush, where labor is direly needed. But then two of his friends moved to Canada, and he began to consider joining them.
On June 11, 2019, six months after deciding to make a big change in his life, Serge got his work visa and decided to migrate to Edmonton.
Upon his arrival in Canada, Serge spent three days in Alberta. He then took a two-month, cross-country train ride to discover Canada. He especially loved Ottawa, with its green spaces and bike paths, and he won’t rule out moving there some day.
Serge’s first weeks in Canada were about experiencing the country’s novelties. He noted that things are bigger and often cheaper in Canada. He was enchanted by the landscape, which was very different from home. He has also noticed the sadder matters: how homelessness is more visible here than back home, and how minimum wage seems much lower, leaving some people struggling.
Serge hasn’t been in Canada long, but he has observed that cultural attitudes are similar to Australia: People are friendly, they’re fans of the outdoors, and they have a similar sense of humor.
However, his social circle is still small. He remembers his desire to fit in when growing up in Australia, and how he was able to integrate through sports and social activities. Once again, he looks forward to forming new relationships and growing his networking by playing team sports.
Ultimately, Serge found an apartment in Edmonton and is now looking for work. He was hired for one temporary job, which he found through word-of-mouth, and hopes to find steadier work soon.
Integration and Challenges
Serge’s has learned firsthand the challenges that migrants, especially refugees, experience when they move away from their home country.
For example, Serge’s father originally found it difficult to adapt to life in Australia. The country felt extremely foreign: It required him to learn a new language and change his profession from lawyer to window-cleaner. However, Serge’s family moved to a neighborhood in Sydney where many Yugoslavian expatriates lived. That brought some familiarity and stability to a period of upheaval.
Despite his former experience with migration, “figuring how to come to Canada wasn’t simple,” Serge says. First of all, there is no immigration office in Queensland (so you must travel to Sydney to process your applications and conduct interviews). Plus, Serge says that the website of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is hard to navigate and not particularly intuitive. “If English hadn’t been my first language, I can’t imagine what it would have been like,” he says. “If it was hard for me, I can’t imagine it for others.”
As an alternative, Serge got information directly from other Australian expats who had moved to Canada. Blog articles, social media groups, and other forums also offered useful step-by-step guidance to immigrating and living in Canada.
Serge thinks it might have been more helpful if there had been a “help line” or someone to call directly to help him navigate the system when he was applying for a visa and when he arrived in the country.
“If I had been a refugee with children, contemplating a whole lifestyle change and going through a similar process, my stress level would have been multiplied,” he remarks.
Advice to Other Immigrants
Serge believes that it’s important for newcomers to rely on a buddy or mentor when they’re first getting settled. Even for someone coming from a country relatively similar to Canada, like he did, there is a lot to figure out in terms of the day-to-day life.
“Don’t do it alone,” he advises. “Ask lots of questions. If you can, find someone local to help out.”
Serge also emphasizes that the immediate post-arrival period is critical for newcomers: “Newcomers will remember their first impressions, no matter how small the details. The first few months are very personal. And when you feel welcomed, you want to contribute [and] give back.”
What Comes Next?
In the months ahead, Serge hopes to become comfortable and autonomous in Canada. He believes that his skills in e-commerce, website design, business, and sales are transferable and marketable. He does not anticipate major challenges in having his experience recognized by employers.
In the long-term, he wishes to return to the business world. Serge plans to find a career he can thrive in and make enough money to buy a house. That would make him feel truly grounded or “part of it,” as he says. He looks forward to meeting more people and building more connections in Canada.
Planning Your Journey to Canada?