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Four Years, Already...

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Exactly four years ago, I got up very early. Feng and I got in the car still half asleep. It was a big day for me: I was cross­ing the bor­der to the U.S.A only to come back to Canada a few min­utes later, to val­i­date my per­ma­nent res­i­dent visa and to become a landed immigrant.

It all went very smoothly. We drove to Prescott, an hour from Ottawa. We exited Canada, stepped into the U.S.A, and then showed up again at the Cana­dian cus­toms. I had noth­ing to declare but a box of Tim Hor­tons donuts, my papers were in order and I already had an address in Canada to receive my per­ma­nent res­i­dent card.

The immi­gra­tion offi­cer tore my one year work­ing hol­i­day visa from my pass­port, say­ing I wouldn’t need it any­more. He wished me luck and informed me that three years from now, I would be eli­gi­ble to apply for cit­i­zen­ship. It had seemed like a long time back then, and it was pretty much the last of my wor­ries — becom­ing a land­ing immi­grant was already a huge accom­plish­ment for me. We drove away, back to Ottawa.

Four years ago already.

A lot hap­pened dur­ing the last four years. After gain­ing some work expe­ri­ence here and there, I found a job as a French teacher and taught gov­ern­ment work­ers for a few years. I started a new job that I love last Octo­ber in a whole dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ment: it’s chal­leng­ing and pretty reward­ing. For the first time since I’m in Canada, I feel that I found a “nor­mal” job, not one immi­grants take because they don’t really have the choice.

My Eng­lish got bet­ter too. When I first arrived in Canada, I could speak some Eng­lish but I was far from being flu­ent. First, I had trou­ble under­stand­ing North Amer­i­can accent: in France, French teach­ers teach British Eng­lish. I could under­stand writ­ten Eng­lish fine, but writ­ing was a painfully long process. And I was miss­ing a lot of cul­tural clues to under­stand what was going on around me. Eng­lish is not a dif­fi­cult lan­guage but it does rely a lot on pop cul­ture, slang and idiomatic expres­sions. Learn­ing from a book isn’t very help­ful but for the basics. If you want to speak like a Cana­dian (or an Amer­i­can for that mat­ters), you have to be famil­iar with the culture.

I remem­ber that when I first met Feng, I asked him once how long it took him to be flu­ent in Eng­lish. I was impressed because he didn’t have any accent. He replied some­thing like ten years. “You gotta be kid­ding”, I thought. But I can see what he meant now. Com­mu­ni­cat­ing in Eng­lish isn’t dif­fi­cult: after a few months in an English-speaking coun­try, any­body can pick up enough lan­guage skills to get by with­out any prob­lems. But if you really want to be flu­ent, it takes much longer. It always makes me laugh when I hear peo­ple say­ing: “oh, I spent a month in the U.S.A, I’m flu­ent in Eng­lish now”. Yeah, right.

I learned a lot about Canada these last few years. I learned so much about it that I feel I’m more com­fort­able liv­ing in Canada than in France. Indeed, I’m almost lost when I visit my birth coun­try. I can still relate to the edu­ca­tion sys­tem and a few social val­ues because after all, this is where I grew up. I can find my way around my home­town, even though dur­ing the eight years I have been gone for, a lot of busi­nesses changed. But I no longer fol­low pol­i­tics, eco­nomic or social news. If I had to go back to France tomor­row, I wouldn’t know where to start — hell, I can’t even write a proper French resume! I bet I would use “tu” with every­one as well, instead of the polite “vous”. Yes, French lan­guage has two way of say­ing “you”: a for­mal one, “vous”, and a famil­iar one, “tu”. Like “tú” and “usted” in Span­ish, or “你” and “您” in Man­darin. And among fran­coph­one in Canada, the rule is very flex­i­ble and using “tu” most of the timeis com­mon, whereas France has less flex­i­ble social rules.

I mostly real­ized how much I changed when I speak with other French peo­ple. I know longer feel an instant com­mon bond and I can’t relate if they are really into French cul­ture. I have dif­fer­ence cul­tural ref­er­ences now.

Immi­grat­ing to Canada wasn’t a life-long dream for me. It wasn’t a strate­gic or eco­nomic choice either. I sort of ended up here, up North, and decided to stay.

I was a chal­lenge at first but I don’t regret it.

Thanks Canada for adopt­ing me.


  1. Sorry I am late, but I still want to say: Happy Anniver­sary! It have been great to fol­low you in the last years and I have learned a lot new things about Canada through your process and posts — thanks for your will­ing­ness to share your knowl­edge, expe­ri­ence and adven­tures!
    .-= RennyBA’s Terella´s last blog ..Blog­ger from Nor­way visit Brus­sels in Bel­gium =-.

  2. Thats awe­some Zhu, Con­grat­u­la­tions!! I am only 1.1 years old that way… LOL :) I remem­ber at the bor­der the offi­cer gave me per­ma­nent res­i­dence form and tore my stu­dent ID — I was almost in tears… That was the one doc­u­ment I used all the time in Canada and she was sim­ply rip­ping it off. I asked if I can keep it for mem­o­ries and she said “sure”. :)

    Oh in Marathi (my native lan­guage), we have “tu” and “tumhi” (infor­mal and for­mal) too! Tran­si­tion to Eng­lish is also tricky because most Indian lan­guages do not often use polite words (sorry, thankyou, please, etc) in infor­mal speak, we sim­ply change the verb to for­mal to make it polite.

    I hope you don’t lose your French accent, I find it very sexy. LOL.
    .-= Priyank´s last blog ..Gajar Halva: Car­rot dessert =-.

  3. 4 years of being a loser in canada!!!

    indeed a good rea­son to cel­e­brate.
    hope you would have read this some 4 years ago:


    read through as it still be of some value … I hope.

    • Actu­ally, make it 6 years. And I’m extremely proud of being a Cana­dian loser, as you said.

      Believe it or not, I like this coun­try. It is very easy to hate a place, but to ques­tion one­self… not so much. Go ahead and hate Canada if it can solve your problems!

      Good luck buddy!

  4. Hello! I came across your blog on Red­dit… and I keep see­ing you throw dif­fer­ent lan­guages around. So what all lan­guages do you know, and to what extent?

    You stud­ied Man­darin for 12 years.. you are native in French, and I assume nearly so in Eng­lish. And you make ref­er­ences to Span­ish some­time. Is that all? I am just curious!

    I am enjoy­ing read­ing your story. Thanks for sharing!

    • So… I speak French flu­ently (well, I’m a native speaker), I’m also flu­ent in Eng­lish although I’m pretty sure I have an accent. My Man­darin is still pretty good, I can read, write and speak (it was my major at uni­ver­sity) although I don’t get to prac­tice as much as I want to. And I picked up Span­ish when trav­el­ing in Latin Amer­ica. I have no prob­lem under­stand Span­ish speak­ers and I can speak with­out too much trou­ble but my gram­mar isn’t great. I did an inter­view in Span­ish not long ago, if you want to laugh you’ll find it on the “fame!” page in the menu bar. I also under­stand basic Por­tuguese, same, I picked it up when trav­el­ing in Brazil.

      And that’s it! :lol:

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