When I moved to Toronto, I rented a room in a small Chinese family’s home. The family lived on the second floor, and my room was on the first floor, where I shared a washroom and kitchen with another roommate. Within a week of moving there, I noticed my food would go missing from the kitchen day after day. This continued for a few weeks until I realized that my roommate was the one that was eating all my food. I was fed up of this, since I was already on a very tight budget, and could not afford to keep buying groceries, just to have them eaten without my permission. So I spoke to him politely about my concerns. And what did he say? He made an offensive remark about me being a Colombian drug-dealer. I decided to ignore it. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of a string of dangerous events. From that day on, my roommate decided to make my life a nightmare. He would inject himself with heroin, and would leave the syringes lying around the floor. Then he would spread his blood on the walls of the washroom. It was extremely disgusting, but I did not say anything to him about it. One night, I was sitting in my room, working on my assignment, and I heard stomping in the common area. This was unusual, because I knew that my roommate did not stomp his feet on the ground when he walked. But this time, he was. Then, suddenly, it stopped. I heard the utensils drawer being opened in the kitchen, and all the blood in my body drained out when I heard him pulling out what I knew was a large knife. I put my ear to the door and heard him slowly walking towards the direction of my room. I will never forget the next 30 minutes, as they were the scariest moments of my life. I heard my roommate quietly trying to open my locked door. I knew that he was coming for me. Shivering, I worked up the courage to call 911, and whispered to them that if they did not arrive within the next 5 minutes, my roommate would kill me. I could barely speak English then, and somehow explained to the dispatcher that the police could enter my room through the balcony in the back. I hung up and hid behind the furniture, my clothes stuck to sweating body, and my heart pounding in my throat. Then, after what seemed like forever, I heard something in the back window, and moved the curtain aside to see eight police officers standing in the balcony. I quickly let them in, and felt like I could finally breathe again. The officers searched my belongings and asked me a lot of questions, then told me that I could not live here anymore. They arrested my roommate and took him with them to the police station. The next morning, I told my class about what had happened to me. One student, a lady named Teresa, offered me a room at her house until I could figure something out. She was my angel during that time, and she truly showed me the meaning of being a Canadian. I went from living in a filthy apartment with a dangerous roommate who was about to kill me, to a large room in a spacious house of a loving couple who treated me like family. They helped me get back on my feet, and never charged me anything for it. I will never forget their kindness.
The first thing I did when I landed in Canada, (before I even applied for my health card) was apply for my university equivalence so I could transfer my course credits from Colombia. Education was one of the main reasons why I came to Canada, and I did not want to delay the process even a little bit. I remember walking around downtown, and stumbling onto university of Toronto’s campus. It was love at first sight. The buildings, the people, the beautiful architecture – it appealed to me right away, and I told myself, ‘Ivan, you will come to this university, no matter what.”
I arrived at the Molson Ampitheatre, eight hours before the start of the concert. I spent this time backstage, meeting many different producers, directors, and other celebrities, and got a chance to get to know everyone. I even met Jennifer Lopez’s campaign manager! When I finally met Gwen Stefani, I noticed that it just felt like meeting any other regular person. But when I looked at her face and took a step back, I couldn’t believe it! I was standing right next to GWEN STEFANI – the same woman who had sung in all my favorite songs while I was growing up! I always carry my Colombian flag with me to every concert I attend, and asked Gwen Stefani to look at my camera during her performance, so I could take pictures of her while she performed. And guess what? She actually did, and I got some amazing shots!
One day, I was sitting in my room and reflecting on my goals, when I realized that although I enjoyed studying, I wanted to do more, and get a job. Like I mentioned earlier, I like to knock on opportunity’s door, and I needed to do the same in order to find a place where I would enjoy working.
I talked to friends and acquaintances, visited many people, and sent hundreds of emails without any luck – until one day, when the director of Latino’s magazine decided to meet me. He told me, “Ivan, start your career by working in different public events.” He liked my work, and offered me an amazing opportunity to photograph a cover for his magazine at the PanAmerican Food Festival on Yonge and Dundas Square. I was so excited! The cover featured three of the top Latin American chefs in Toronto, and I had a great time shooting.
My new boss loved my work, and soon I landed another cover in November, where I’ll be photographing a famous Latin American singer Chantel Collado.
Although I am very happy with how far I have come, I want to go even further, and want to expand my personal brand ‘Ivan Montoya Fotografia’ to Ontario, under the name “Ivan Montoya Photography.”
When I was became more comfortable with my living situation and had gotten more used to Toronto, I started looking for different opportunities. I visited various colleges and Universities because I wanted to further my career in photography, and needed to find a place that would help me learn and grow in a positive environment. That is how I stumbled upon Ryerson University – and it was like falling in love at first sight. In the process of finding out what I needed and how I should proceed, people would make me go back and forth between different offices, which was specially difficult because I couldn’t speak English. There was one particular secretary that me a really hard time, and bluntly told me that I shouldn’t be applying if I I couldn’t speak english. Fortunately enough, there were 2 Mexican ladies behind me ,who overheard what was going on ,and helped me communicate with the secretary.
I then enrolled, and after 4 months, I finally started going to classes. I felt very happy but at the same time, a bit overwhelmed, because my English language skills weren’t good enough at the time. Being a student at Ryerson University has been such an amazing experience for me; from the teachers, the student body, the subjects,to the wonderful photography sessions. It has all greatly exceeded my expectations. Currently, I am in the process of completing my last course before I can receive my Photography certification.
I called my friend Sebastian to see if I could spend a few days at his place. I told him, “Take my suitcase and 60 dollars.” I then told my friend Sandra that I would be back in 2 days. I took a bus from downtown Montreal that headed to Toronto. During the 7h bus ride, all I could think of was what I was going to end up doing with my life in Canada. I did not know where to begin, and did not even know how to speak English. At that point, I left my future in God’s hands. As I was approaching the city, the first thing I saw was the CN tower ,bright and imposing in the horizon. I could not believe my eyes. As I was getting closer to downtown, I could see all the lights and signs in English, which made me really excited.
When I finally arrived at the bus terminal, my friend Sebastian was waiting for me, and he invited me to grab dinner along with another friend of his. That night, they told me all about Toronto, and what I could do there for a living. The next day, my friend drove me around the city, and it all looked so different and new to me. I told him I wanted to stay for good, and that I needed help in getting a job. He helped me find a job at a Colombian bakery, and eventually I was able to move out of my friend’s house and get my own room. I also found a great school to study English, where they gave me great advice on my future projects.