Keilin Ramirez shares a passion for the opportunities Halifax has to offer to newcomers
“Pure cold winter,” is what Keilin Ramirez remembers most about her first Canadian experience. Coming from the warm island of Cuba with a permanent resident permit and arriving on Jan. 1, 2012, she didn’t anticipate the snow and the cold weather, but felt in love with Halifax right away, “particularly because it is by the sea.”
She considered other Canadian cities, such as Toronto and Montreal, where salaries expectations were higher, but so were the housing prices.
“Halifax offers economic stability, lower expenses than in other bigger cities, better quality of life, the lifestyle is more laidback, and with housing, for instance, is the only way to own a home. In other cities like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver it would have been impossible to buy a home and do everything I’ve done here.”
The first months in Halifax were not short in challenges for Ramirez. She started in a “survival job” at a furniture store, where she needed some time to adapt. Language was not the issue, she spoke English well thanks to her university studies in Cuba (Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology), but everything else was a challenge: a new culture, learn a new software and all the procedures of a new workplace.
“Everything was different to my home country,” she says.
Meeting other immigrants and newcomers was key to helping Ramirez overcome these challenges. They helped her decide to continue her studies in the following academic year.
She enrolled in business administration at the Academy of Learning Career College. Her relationship with the college continued after graduation, joining the staff as a career advisor. The college’s student body includes a significant number of international students like she once was, so in this new role allows her to fulfil her passion of helping other immigrants and newcomers start their professional careers in Canada.
“I could help students by guiding them to find a career and employment, because to me it is very important newcomers focus on having a professional career here. Canada offers a lot of opportunities to everyone, particularly to those who come with higher education degrees from their home countries. It’s difficult, it’s not easy to overcome all the barriers, but it is worth it in the long run,” she says.
Fast forward to the end of 2019, Ramirez is now found a career for herself as a real estate agent, which she combines with her role as career advisor. It was while going through the process of buying her own home (a condo) that Ramirez discovered the challenges newcomers can find buying a home in Canada.
“I was struggling to understand some of the things they were telling me,” she says, but there were also the many cultural differences that come with it, as the process of buying a home in Canada can be very different than in the countries newcomers come from.
“(The process of buying a condo) opened my eyes to start helping more people, people like me who didn’t know there are opportunities, like programs from the government, that support first-home buyers. Rather than continue paying rent, I think it is better to find a place you can call your own,” Ramirez says.
Owning her own home isn’t a dream Ramirez brought with her from Cuba.
“I only thought about it once I was here,” she says. The goal of having enough savings to buy a condo was what motivated her. “I was one of these people who struggles to save money. I could have some savings, but they were never a large figure.”
The concerns of newcomers looking to buy a home are familiar to Ramirez. She has friends in Spain who rent and are hesitant to make the investment of buying because of the crisis during the past decade. But she points out to her client things are different in Canada.
“For example, when the pandemic started, the government deferred mortgages for up to six months. I think we are very lucky to live in Canada because not many countries do that,” she says.
Ramirez passed her real estate exam in February 2020 and got her license in early March 2020. Since then she hasn’t spent a lot of money on advertising since most of her clients come from referrals. Most of her clients are newcomers looking for a home in Halifax and looking for sell their home because they’re moving to another province.
“Having the shared experience of a newcomer is really important,” she says. A shared language is also key, with a lot of her clients coming from Spanish-speaking countries. “The fact I’m fluent in Spanish has been a blessing, because all my Spanish-speaking clients feel very happy I can explain everything in Spanish,” Ramirez says while laughing at the fact that her Spanish is slowly turning into ‘Spanglish’ as she spends more and more time speaking English.
“Canada offers a lot of opportunities to everyone, particularly to those who come with higher education degrees from their home countries. It’s difficult, it’s not easy to overcome all the barriers, but it is worth it in the long run.”
Unfortunately, Ramirez early steps as a real estate agent were crashed by the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I had many clients… while I was waiting to get my license. Everyone was really excited to buy their home. Then the lockdown arrived and we had to stop everything,” she says.
Ramirez took this time to continue training herself, learning how to serve her clients better or learn the basics of video marketing to share her services on YouTube. During the time of confinement, Ramirez was thankful to be able to continue her work from home as a career advisor for the Academy of Learning Career College.
After July, restrictions were eased and she re-started her real estate business. She now has high hopes for the future of Halifax.
“We are growing so much! Last year we were the second fastest growing municipality in Canada and the situation is going to continue. Estimates are to continue growing our immigrant population in 2021,” she says.