Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan is the associate vice-president of external relations at Simon Fraser University (SFU)
Prabhanj is an undergrad student at SFU
Niranj is a grade 11 student at Burnaby Mountain Secondary School
Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan always wanted to travel and see the world. In the early 90’s when her Vancouver-based brother encouraged Sobhana to immigrate to Canada, her answer was, “Why not?” And so in 1995, Sobhana started her new journey in Canada. She stayed with her brother for a couple of weeks before moving into a rented apartment. “I loved it!” says Sobhana, sharing her initial memories of Canada, “I met many people who were friendly and really wanted to see me do well. I thought BC was a beautiful place (and still do!).”
Her move to Vancouver wasn’t too difficult. Being young and adventurous, Sobhana was pretty excited to be here and have many new experiences. “While I was married at that time, I did not have my two children then and so it was relatively easy to transition into a new life,” she states. Like most immigrants, her biggest challenge was finding a job, “and trying to convince employers that your international work experience was an asset, not a liability,” adds Sobhana, whose resume boasted of a Masters in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences in India and professional experience in the field.
After waiting for few weeks and getting no responses for her applications for social work-related positions, Sobhana decided to apply for minimum wage jobs. After many attempts, she got an interview at GM Place (now Rogers Arena) and got hired as an usher. “While I was not prepared for this and felt uncomfortable, I decided to do it as I desperately needed a job,” she recalls. She also found volunteer opportunities quite easily and started to volunteer at a seniors home in Coquitlam within few weeks of landing in Canada. “Sometimes, you have to go through tough experiences to get to where you want to be in life,” remarks Sobhana of the job-hunting experience.
Eventually, many months later, Sobhana got selected to work with the Ministry for Children and Family Development (MCFD) as a child protection social worker. “At MCFD, I was trained and mentored by many great professionals who chose careers in public service.
They made me want to stay in the field of social work and try and make a difference in the lives of people who face so many challenges,” shares Sobhana, who believes that volunteering and social work is in her blood. “Since 16, irrespective of the job I have been in, I have always volunteered and been a mentor. I also mentor youth and professionals. Most recently, I volunteered with Aga Khan Foundation and I currently volunteer with TechDiva.”
Today, Sobhana is the associate vice-president (AVP) of external relations at Simon Fraser University. As AVP, Sobhana is excited to have the opportunity to use her knowledge of BC’s public service while working with government and other diverse partners, including First Nations leaders and communities, to strengthen the engagement between them. “My role is that of a “connector” – between people, ideas, opportunities and overall trying to be a strategic leader who values relationships and believes in the power of people to come together and make a difference.”
Sobhana’s journey in Canada has been a pleasant and positive one. “Canada has been good to me and for me. I believe each of us shape our own lives with the choices and decisions we make. I ponder more on what I can do, more than what Canada or others can do for me,” she expresses. She is looking forward to seeing her sons graduate, pursue careers of their choice and be happy adults. “Before or after I retire, I would also love to complete my PhD, own a motorbike and travel lots!” she adds in conclusion.
Likes and dislikes about the country:
I love Canada! We are a very unique nation and we have so much to be proud of. The only dislike I have is the cold weather! On a more serious note, it is not that Canada has no problems or challenges to overcome, of course we do. The important thing is that we are willing as a nation to deal with them – in a respectful and inclusive way. Canada values diverse people and ideas – this is important for any country to be a global leader and I believe Canada is one.
Resolution made for yourself or family:
To always strive to be the best I can be. Always choose to be kind, for it is a character strength.
Advice for immigrants:
Be the best you can be and be willing to go that extra mile to add value.
Memories of your homeland:
I have very fond memories of growing up in India and have deep connections to my family and friends there. Celebrating festivals was always special for me. My sons and I were recently together in India for over a year and travelled to many parts of India. It was a very memorable and valuable experience.