As I explained before, unlike many immigrants, I hadn’t really planned to immigrate to Canada. It sort of happened: I came here and I decided to stay. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision though. I was in Canada for almost a year on a tourist visa I had extended, and then I got a working holiday visa. Only then I felt ready to apply for permanent residence.
Canada welcomes about 250,000 new immigrants a year. I doubt all of them eventually stay and make Canada their permanent home. Life isn’t always easy at first and immigrating is much more than getting a residence permit. After the honeymoon period, the hugeness of the task ahead can be scary: learning to live in a new language, adapting to new traditions, social norms and visions, recreating a network of friends… I really don’t blame those who go back home.
Yet I chose to stay. Living in Canada was difficult at first for all the reasons I just mentioned. But little by little, things got easier. Looking back, I think five reasons made me stay in Canada.
Because I can find work: The situation in France was turning quite depressing around the time I graduated from high school. “C’est la crise”: in all aspect of life, it felt like a permanent competition because there just weren’t enough jobs, apartments etc. for everybody. The whole country was stuck: those who should have retired couldn’t because they hadn’t saved enough and faced increasingly higher cost of living, those who should have moved up the corporate ladder (thus freeing entry-level positions) didn’t etc. As students, we couldn’t even get hired at McDonald’s because there was a waiting list of skilled professionals who needed the money. It looked like I would spend the next 6 or 7 years of my life studying, living off my university scholarship money and hopefully find some kind of minimum-wage position. I feel more optimistic in Canada: I find it much easier to find jobs here and people gave me a chance even though I was young.
Because Canada has an immigration program: this reason can be quite obvious but the fact that Canada has an official immigration program made my life much easier. I hated being on a tourist visa for the first few months in Canada because I felt I couldn’t do anything. This is logic after all: I was a tourist. Temporary work visa are another story. While they are great to allow you work in a specific position in a foreign country, you are still an expat. I didn’t want to feel like an expat and I didn’t want to have to deal with visa extension, renewal etc. I like the fact that all I had to do was to apply for permanent residence. It was stressful and a bit difficult but at least, once I landed, I had a permanent status.
Because I knew I would be able to become a Canadian citizen: Not all countries give immigrants the option of becoming a citizen of their adoptive country. I appreciate the fact Canada does. I didn’t want to be an expat or a foreign worker forever – I wanted to belong somewhere, to have a real status in Canada. I know I will always be an immigrant to a certain extend and I don’t mind it. But I’m also Canadian, which gives me the right to vote and to participate fully in this country’s life. I’m proud of the fact that I have a second home, a second identity and a second passport.
Because life is affordable: I left France in 2001 when the housing bubble started. Each time I go visit my family, I’m amazed at how expensive life has become. Gas, housing, food, clothes… everything costs more. I remember when I was in high school (that is only ten years ago!), a movie ticket was 30 francs (4.50 €). It’s now over 10 €. A nice pair of jeans was 200 francs (30 €) but these same jeans cost today between 100-200 €. And I saw my beloved 500 francs (75 €) Doc Martens shoes priced at over 200 euro last year. In Canada, if you don’t buy expensive imported products such as cheese and wine, food is pretty cheap. Lodging is more expensive in Vancouver, Toronto and Montréal but it’s definitely not as bad as in London or Paris. Buying a house is going to be expensive anywhere although you can even find good deals on Ottawa real estate since it’s the capital and housing there is quite pricey. When I first came to Canada, I have very little money, yet I could afford eating out once in a while and buying clothes on sale, two things I hadn’t done in a while in France.
Because relatively speaking, things work out fine: A year ago, one of my students asked me what I liked best in Canada. I paused for a minute and said just that: “Because overall, things work out fine”. French people love to rebel and there is always a strike or some kind of demonstration going on. I sometimes think it’s better than political apathy, yet it gets tiring because it feels like France is against everything and going nowhere. Canadians are more balanced. Sure, there are serious issues here, it’s not like the country is perfect. But people tend to trust each other and it looks like they want to make things work and live in harmony.
As I wrote three years ago, “Canada gave me a future, hope and the ability to choose the life I wanted. Little by little, the jigsaw fell into place. Today, I can’t really imagine what would have been my life if I had stayed in France. Maybe better, maybe worse, who knows. But I’m glad I took a chance. “