Through soccer, a newcomer finds success on—and off—the field

For Alexander Baryshev, volunteering on the soccer field after arriving in Calgary ultimately led to a league championship for his team—and a foot in the door of corporate Calgary.

Alex was still in Moscow with his family when he received an important piece of advice from his Calgary mentor over Skype.

“After you arrive in Canada, don’t focus all your time and energy on looking for a job. Finding work in your profession could take up to a year or even more, so think of a different opportunity for yourself, too.”

The advice came through SmartPathways, a pre-arrival mentorship program run in partnership between CRIEC and Bow Valley College. Launched in 2016, the program links internationally trained professionals with Calgary mentors via Skype, helping them better understand the Canadian job market and workplace culture before they arrive.

Through SmartPathways, the Bow Valley College team urged Alex to consider volunteering once he arrived in Calgary.

“They asked me, ‘What do you like to do that you can help people with?’” he recalls. Alex’s mind immediately went to sports, particularly soccer. He’d played in an amateur league in Russia for a decade. “I thought to myself, ‘I can offer some experience and I’d love to share that.’”

After moving to northwest Calgary, Alex went to his local community centre to see how he could get involved in community soccer. Soon he was coaching a BU16 team of teenage boys and taking soccer referee courses.

For Alexander, it was a learning experience. “Soccer here is completely different from what I used to play,” he says. “Arena soccer is kind of a mixture between hockey and soccer, which I’d never seen or even thought before.” He’d also never coached before, so was learning as he went, supported by parents and his players.

Back in Moscow, he’d worked for a utility company as a purchasing manager. In Calgary he applied for jobs, but heard nothing back—a frustrating experience. “It was like I was applying into a black hole,” he says. “And I came to understand that if they don’t know anything about you, they just do not contact you.”

So he continued to network at soccer. Catching a ride to or from a game with parents, he would use the time to ask questions about work culture and job search strategies in Calgary, familiarizing himself with the landscape.

On the field, his leadership as a coach paid off. The Spartans won their division, clinching gold. They also won a Family Day tournament, and got bronze in provincials. “The guys always did their best and I’m really proud of them,” he says.

Alex found success off the field too — as a direct result of volunteering. As parents got to know Alex, they helped him keep an eye out for opportunities, and started making referrals on his behalf or introducing him to their peers, even after the soccer season ended.

One connection led to another, eventually leading to a contract role in his field. “It was pure networking,” he says. “You never know who you’ll meet and who they’ll be referring you to.”

He credits volunteering with helping him get his foot in the door—and giving him something positive to do as he looked for work.

“Volunteering is what helped me to survive,” he says. “Because when you sit at home and don’t do anything, you are troubled inside. But if you know you have to go here and there and help people with something you like to do yourself, it really takes your thoughts away from being depressed and keeps you happy.”

“Today I’m a happy and confident, a settled newcomer who contributes my professional experience to a Calgary-based company. I’m also a fully trained community soccer coach and referee. I’m happy to coach and share my passion with kids and the community.”

“My advice to those planning a move to this great place is to think of your passions. Think of what you can share with your new community. Sometimes volunteering seems like something unusual, or an obstacle. But it can be a nice stone to direct your flow in the right direction—and help you find yourself at home.”


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