In July 2017, Samah Hadaia moved to Canada from Jordan with her husband through the federal government’s former Immigrant Investor Program. An accomplished media editor and writer, entrepreneur, playwright and teacher with a PhD in Arabic literature, Hadaia was active in Jordan’s literary scene. As well, she and her husband, a trained engineer, together ran an internet services company.
“I gained a lot of insights into how to run a small business and how to communicate my concept to others.”
After settling in Barrie, Hadaia explored the possibility of teaching Arabic at a post-secondary institution, but discovered no local opportunities. She then shifted her aspirations to starting an Arabic cultural café in her community. Her first move was to take part in the Job Finding Club for Immigrants at Georgian College. She then discovered a unique course at the school that could help her put her business goal into action: Workplace Communication Skills for Entrepreneurship and Sales & Marketing.
Part of Occupation-specific Language Training, the free work-oriented language course helps newcomers understand the communication skills and cultural dynamics relevant to business workplaces in Ontario. Participants learn how to effectively interact with customers, colleagues, employees, suppliers, financial officers and government officials. They also learn how to network with local employers and business associations and access relevant business-development resources.
In the course, Hadaia engaged in a range of small group exercises to develop her workplace language abilities. Role-playing different workplace scenarios, participating in mock job interviews and making class presentations provided ample opportunities for Hadaia to practise her new skills.
“The course gave me a good overview of the business environment in Ontario and of the culture of business workplaces,” Hadaia says. “I gained the right perspective on the language to use with others, whether in person, by phone or email, including how to make small talk.”
What was particularly helpful to Hadaia was discovering the “elevator speech” – a brief, persuasive description of her expertise to share with individuals who could support her business objective. As well, she gained key insights on the language to use to effectively collaborate with others on projects and solve business problems.
Hadaia found herself learning with other internationally-experienced entrepreneurs from countries such as Brazil, Iran, Korea, Russia and Venezuela. She says the teacher was thoughtful about adapting the class exercises to their specific business contexts and language abilities.
Soon after completing the course in March, Hadaia helped stage a cultural exhibit at her local library called Explore the Arabic World. She is now participating in Georgian College’s Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre, which provides mentorship and other resources to aspiring entrepreneurs. She also meets monthly with her former OSLT classmates to discuss business successes and challenges and provide support to each other.
Hadaia envisions her cultural café as a vibrant place in Barrie for enjoying Middle Eastern literature, art, music and food. She credits the OSLT course as being a critical first step towards realizing her venture, one she hopes will strengthen her local community.
“I gained a lot of insights into how to run a small business and how to communicate my concept to others,” she says. “I think the café will be a lovely place for both Canadians and immigrants to sit and talk, and experience Arabic culture.”
Occupation-specific Language Training (OSLT) courses are free workplace communication training courses for immigrants. They are available full-time or part-time; classroom-based or online. These courses are offered at many Ontario colleges and cover a range of occupations in business, construction, health sciences, human services and technology. OSLT is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and coordinated by Colleges Ontario.