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Meet Karen Becerra

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Student of the month.

Every international student’s journey in Canada is unique. Still, the more we talk with students, the more we notice patterns that seem to impact their overall success in Vancouver. The one common denominator for our Student of the Month is ‘knowledge’. Whether it is knowledge you acquire on your own or knowledge that is relayed to you by people you trust, A.K.A friends, family members, student agencies, or your future school recruiters. However, misinformation can make or break your experience in Canada. And in the case of Karen, it could have cost her her entire life savings without reaching her goal.

Meet Karen Becerra!

All the way from Quibdó Choco, Colombia, Karen exudes confidence and determination. She came to Canada to pursue a better life where she could advance her education and career and perhaps live in a country where she feels safe.

“I moved from there [Quibdó] to Cali, which is a huge city in Colombia and I was living there for seven years, while I was doing my bachelor's. But in all situations, like the political and economical situation, you can feel the environment getting very dangerous, mostly for women.”

And that is when Karen started her mission toward the life that she wanted, but it was not smooth sailing.

“So I decided, okay, maybe this is the time for me to go away and try to find a way to study something and continue my education. But at that time I got an agency that helped me with my process. The thing is, if they have an agreement with a college here, they're not clear with you about the immigration process.”

Ah! Here is where the misinformation began. After completing her education in Canada, Karen planned to get a Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), which is a type of work permit you can get in certain schools and programs that allow you to work immediately after graduation. However, she didn’t know that not all programs and all educational institutes will qualify you for the PGWP. Therefore, the agency she was dealing with then steered her toward a Co-Op* program at a local college. Karen had already paid around $7,000 and started her course before realizing she was not on the right path.

*A Co-Op program allows students to work part-time while they are studying and also requires students to complete “x” hours of work experience to complete their program. Therefore, you can work full-time for a determined period of time as part of your program.

“Maybe they [agency] could be clear. But if they have that agreement with schools, I think it is convenient for them. They will not say anything… You as an agency should be clear at the beginning with these students and let them know, okay, this is what's gonna happen.”

On top of that, Karen had to deal with the regular international student starter pack. Where to live, where to work, how to keep your sanity... you know, the usual crap we go through at first… (it gets better, though).

Karen completed her program despite having been misinformed. She dealt with all the above while struggling with depression and health problems. However, she managed to stay focused! Why?

“Besides all these difficulties, I like it here. The sensation that I was feeling safer here. Yes, more than in my country. For example, I could be with my phone walking on the streets. I was like, oh! This is something different. Besides, all the worries I had in my mind were temporary.”

The first few months here will be difficult. There was an adjustment phase, and Karen knew that. She knew she WOULD get used to certain things, and she WOULD find a home and find a job.

Eventually, Karen had to enroll in another Co-Op program to continue living in Canada as she couldn’t at the moment afford to enroll in a longer program that qualified her for the PGWP. Although this time, Karen found Next Goal Agency, and she had much better guidance.

“‘Take this course for now and then we will need to look for something that is really gonna give you the Post Graduate Work Permit’. She was very honest with me. ‘Otherwise, if you don't do this, you would have wasted your time and money’. And that is something that I was expecting to hear the first time from my agency in Colombia.”
“It is important that in all countries, agencies and agents let the students know the reality because otherwise, it's like, many of them come here and that's why they don't accomplish their goals and they say, okay, we'll go back home. Because they get disappointed. They don't understand why this is happening. Many of my classmates were expecting to continue being in Canada after we finished college. And I was like, it's not just me! Many of them had that idea.”

After finishing the second Co-Op program, Karen found herself in the same place again. But this time, things were different. Although she still didn’t have time for a social life, she found a community that supported her through her church, she found a job that was relevant to her experience back in Colombia and she found a program that was eligible for PGWP for almost half the price! The stars aligned, and Karen’s prayers were answered.

Karen now is an MBA with a 3-year open work permit.

But what was Karen’s biggest challenge other than navigating the system?

“To find a job, to be honest, that was like one of the biggest challenges. You want to get a good job because you have been spending all this time and money on everything related to your education, and then you go to the job market and I’m sure they give priority to Canadians or permanent residents with more ‘Canadian’ experience.”

What does Karen like the most about Vancouver?

“I like the fact that it's very multicultural. That I can find people from everywhere, like people from all over the world! That is something that I feel is very, very, very positive about Vancouver because that is gonna give us the opportunity to know so many cultures and to have the opportunity to share information about what we like within cultures. I also love the sense that I am safer here.”

What did Karen not like about Vancouver?

“Well, I didn't like the fact that there is a problem with drug addiction and how accessible it is here. That was shocking for me to come from a country that has this problem but it’s not supposed to be like this in a first-world country. So I think the government should implement some better programs for drug addiction and homelessness. Because for example in my college which is in the downtown area, it is everywhere in our environment and it doesn’t feel safe.”

Finally, Karen also had a piece of advice that she wanted us to share with you…

“My advice for international students is that when you come to Canada, you need to be very aware of the reality of the country. There are so many good things, but also you need to know what is real. What you need to follow in order to achieve your goals here. Be strong, be organized, and try to have your goals in your mind and go for it. Don't hesitate when you need to make decisions in order to find whatever you wanna find.
And always be strong and courageous. Don't give up. You need to be very persistent about what you wanna achieve in life. But at the end of the day, all your efforts are gonna be rewarding for everything that you do when you get your education done.”

Well said, wise words Karen!

So, what’s next? Karen wants her future to be all about giving back to her community. And to nobody’s surprise, she wants to do that the entrepreneurial way!

“My goal is to have my own business and I wanted to have a business here in Vancouver that can also help the community, not only profit-oriented but as well to implement social responsibility.
Helping back the communities, maybe the homeless people. And yeah. Trying to make the city a little bit better.”

Community is very important no matter where you go and at what phase of your life. Don't feel alone as an international student – join our supportive community on Slack and make new friends!

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