Gurpreet Kaur

Gurpreet Kaur

Imagine being 17 years old and leaving your family and friends behind to start an entirely new life over 12,000 km away. Gurpreet Kaur did just that when she travelled to Winnipeg in December 2012 on a student visa to attend school.

In the seven years since her arrival in Manitoba, she has built a career and found a new home – Portage la Prairie.

Originally, her arrival in Portage was by necessity, not by choice. “I came here to work,” she says, explaining that her first months in Winnipeg hadn’t gone as planned. After starting university, she found she was struggling with more than first year jitters. “I’m used to studying everything in English but not speaking in a fluent way – so that was a big challenge for me. There was no point in staying in university and failing, so I decided to do something else.”

Something else turned out to be a course in graphic design and printing at Winnipeg Technical College. After graduating with her diploma in June 2014, she spent two months applying to every printing facility in Winnipeg, with no success. “If I did get a call back, they were like ‘well, you don’t have any experience so we’re sorry, but we can’t hire you.’”

“I couldn’t just wait for six months and have nothing. I had to make some money to support myself.”

Thankfully, Gurpreet had better luck with her job search in Portage la Prairie. “I moved to Portage and found three jobs in one day, so I was good to go!” she laughs. “I got job offers at the West End Tim Horton’s, then the Mac’s, then Pizza Hotline. I got lucky!”

While working minimum wage jobs after receiving her diploma wasn’t what she had envisioned, Gurpreet had no choice. “It was hard, but I had to be working – otherwise I just have to go back home. I didn’t want to do that.”

“I think you just have to adapt.”

‘Home’ is a small town of around 3,000 people in the Punjab region of northern India. Her family still lives there, but she had good reason for leaving. “Back home there are no jobs. My mom has three degrees, and she’s still trying to find a stable and good – paying job.”

“Here, a person like me, you can always find something, and you can still work your way into being in your profession. Another thing is that people aren’t shy to do any job here.”

Although her local job search went well, there were challenges she hadn’t anticipated in Portage. “When I moved to Portage, there were no Indian groceries and I was vegetarian. I had to start eating something, so I ate chicken!”

Neither was she prepared for the transportation challenges, which she says are one of the biggest hurdles for newcomers. “I didn’t have my license at the time and my boss, Lena Kryvosheya (Pizza Hotline Owner) used to take me to Winnipeg just to buy my groceries,” she says. Still, she felt lucky to be able to live close enough to walk to work. “Minimum wage is $11 an hour, and taking a cab is $5 each way so a cab to and from work means one hour of wages just to get there…when you’re paying for the rent and everything else, those little things add up.”

Transportation challenges aside, her first impression of Portage was a good one, as she was finding Winnipeg’s size daunting. “I was kind of missing my small town. I found out that people here were friendly – you don’t have to be scared. There are services available to help everyone. That is so important, especially for a person like me who is here by themselves. You don’t know what to do. I can’t ask my mom and dad what to do next…now I have people here to support me. And every new place you go you make connections…they are very important.”

One of those connections came during a visit to the Portage Learning and Literacy Centre, where she found a friendly face. “Don Boddy (then PLLC’s Settlement Services Coordinator) was there and said he could help me. And I found that help very important.”

Since that first visit to PLLC, Gurpreet has again switched careers…again with a little help from her friends. Boddy suggested she meet with Warren Neufeld of Royal Lepage Portage Realty. “He said he had a job opening in the office. He knew I had a background in customer service, and with my diploma in printing, I was used to designing advertisements, post cards, flyers, that kind of stuff. So, he hired me to do that too.”

“After working in the office for 8-9 months, I decided I wanted to get my own real estate license.”

Now a licensed realtor, Gurpreet feels like she has found her calling. “I am happy. After coming from India, I wanted to be in medicine, and I changed to printing. Now I’m in real estate!”

Best of all, Portage la Prairie has become home. “Initially, I came for my studies but didn’t want to live here,” she says, explaining that she was just excited to travel to Canada and see snow. “Now I don’t want to go back.”

Her family have visitor visas, so her parents have come for extended visits. Luckily, they have a helpful tour guide because Gurpreet now has a driver’s license. “I just love to drive!” she exclaims. In fact, she’s already taken trips to Montreal and Vancouver Island. “I don’t want to fly anywhere. Canada is so beautiful; I just want to drive.”

Nowhere was that beauty more evident than when she returned home to India for a visit after being in Canada for five years. “In India you can’t see the sky the way you do here…here the sky is blue, and in India the sky is grayish. You can feel the pollution. I was so happy to come back to fresh air!”

Gurpreet says the best thing about Manitoba is that she was able to obtain her permanent residency (PR) much quicker. “I am lucky that I got that part done, and now l am a Canadian citizen, so that’s definitely a good feeling.”

She is also getting more involved with the community. “I volunteered at the Learning Centre, and I started working with Rest-a-Bit Inc., the new homeless shelter. I want to give back as much as I can to the community.”

And while she doesn’t own her own home yet in Portage la Prairie, that is definitely in her future plans. In the meantime, Gurpreet can help others find their dream home. “As a Realtor, I am committed to guiding you every step of the way. I would be pleased to offer you personalized support and guide you through the process. Whether you are looking to market your home or buying a new home, I will put my expertise to work and listen to your needs and wants. Let’s work together to make Canada Home!”

Written by Lynne Bereza
October 28/2019