I moved from Ecuador to Canada for a tech career—and found community in salsa dancing

“You can never be sad or mad when you’re dancing”

Daniela Castro
Content image

(Illustration by Lauren Tamaki)

(Illustration by Lauren Tamaki)

In my senior year of high school in my hometown of Quito, Ecuador, I fell in love with computer science. It was like a puzzle. For each assignment, I had to look at the different pieces and use my creativity to figure out how they fit together. My mentor said I should study computer programming at university, and my boyfriend, who was at the University of Toronto, encouraged me to apply to Canadian universities. When I was accepted by the University of Waterloo, I had no idea what to expect from Canada.

I flew to Toronto in August of 2016 with my mom, two weeks before the beginning of my first semester. When we passed by the suburbs, I thought they looked so safe, just like the movies. My roommate was a Canadian whose parents were from India. She asked me about Ecuador, our food and how long the flight was. We bonded over a shared love of pop music.

A few days after I moved in, my mom went back to Ecuador. “You’re going to be fine. It’s going to be okay,” she kept telling me. It felt more like she was saying it to herself.

I didn’t feel homesick until two weeks later. I missed the mountains of Ecuador. Ontario is so flat. And I missed the food, too, especially green plantains and seafood, like ceviche. Some days I’d go to the cafeteria and couldn’t find anything I wanted to eat. I called my family every other day to ease my homesickness. My brother’s baby teeth were falling out, and he sent me a Snapchat about his front tooth being loose. I felt sad that I was missing it.

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I struggled at first, juggling my classes with extracurriculars, like the university tennis team. After I failed a math course, I realized I needed to focus on my studies, so I quit tennis. My grades improved soon after.

To settle in at Waterloo, I found friends from Colombia. I wasn’t able to express myself as well in English, so it was comforting to connect with them in Spanish. I joined a salsa dancing club and became more involved with the Latin American community. You can never be sad or mad when you’re dancing.

I never had to look at the weather report when I was living in Ecuador. I didn’t know what a windchill was or that it could make the temperature feel colder. My first Canadian winter was pretty awful, but the snow was beautiful. I remember, after the first heavy snowfall, I looked out the window and everything was covered in white. I also started spending more time in Toronto over weekends and school breaks, where there was a bigger Latin community. We’d make food together, like ceviche, and play Latin music.

When the pandemic hit, I was living in New York City, doing a co-op placement with a tech company. The borders to Ecuador were closing, so I booked a flight home and finished my co-op and university studies remotely. It was comforting to spend time with my family again. My brother, father and I would play tennis, and I taught them how to salsa. My mom cooked a lot. She’d make green plantains, crab and locro—a cheese and potato soup.

I stayed in Ecuador from March of 2020 until April of this year. I found a job in Toronto as a software engineer with a tech company called Intuit, and rented an apartment near the office.

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I’m a big city person. I love living in Toronto. There are always so many events happening like the Caribbean Festival, Salsa on St. Clair and picnics by the harbourfront. While exploring the different neighbourhoods, I even found places in Kensington Market that sell Latino food, like chilaquiles, and a grocery store with staples from back home. Seeing the CN Tower, especially when the lights change colour, feels symbolic of everything I like about Canada. When there was a big earthquake in Ecuador, they lit the tower with the colours of our flag. They’ve done it with the Ukrainian flag, too. It says to me, “We care for you.”

It’s hard to say whether I’ll stay in Canada forever. But I’m focused on building my career, and Toronto is a great place to work in tech. With so many new companies and investments in the industry, I know this is where I want to be right now.