Welcome to my new “How To… Canada” series! In this series, I’ll try to put my knowledge to good use and shed some light on my new country: Canada. You will learn how some immigration tips and tricks, how to improve your proficiency in both official languages, how to find a job, how to settle in Canada etc. I’ll publish a new “How To… Canada” post every Saturday.
Your first year in Canada will most likely be one of the most interesting year in your life. You made it, after all! Yet, adapting to a new culture and to a new country takes patience and time. Here are my tips to survive your first year in Canada.
Surviving your first Canadian winter:
- Buy warm clothes and dress in layers: save your money, buy winter clothes in Canada. A French jacket will never be as warm as a Canadian one… The best way to keep warm is to dress in layers: outdoor is freezing but indoor is often very well heated. The most important thing to remember when you go out is to trap the body heat: forget about these low-rise pants and invest in long shirts, sweaters, gloves, good socks etc.
- Do check the forecast: the weather can change very fast in Canada. The first thing I do in the morning is often to check the thermometer outside, as I quickly learned that sunny days in winter can be extremely cold (we’re talking below –20C here!). You will also want to know if it’s likely to snow during the day, and if it does, how many inches are forecasted. Trust me, 30cm of snow can make a huge difference in your day.
- Plan transportation ahead: if you drive, you may need to plug your car (block heater) in the morning to warm it up. If you take the bus, you may have to allow allow extra time to get to the bus stop during a snow storm. If there is freezing rain, you don’t want to be caught on the freeway as roads are extremely slippery.
- Must buy winter accessories: a shovel (if you live in a house) to dig your way out. If you don’t trust me, check out Blizzard… Checked or The Weather! Keep a snow brush and an ice scraper in your car as well, because just between us, a credit card isn’t that great to scrape the ice from your windshield… no matter how good your credit is! As for clothes, gloves and a hat are indispensable. I also like large scarves that can cover your mouth in your nose..
- Read more: on Seven Canadian Winter Facts!
If you’re homesick…
- Read, watch TV, listen to the radio in your mother tongue: check out your local library which will probably have books in your mother tongue. You can also pick up a community newspaper, most of them are free in big cities. Alternatively, you can watch OMNITV, a channel that has a diversity programming with news, movies and documentaries in almost every language.
- Connect with other immigrants: Canada is a very multicultural nation and chances are, you’re not alone! Some communities have their own district (like Chinatown or Little Italy). You can also visit a newcomer center (such as the YMCA) or a community center in your neighborhood… even libraries in big cities have an info desk for immigrants! You’re also likely to meet people attending a language class or a training.
- Blog about your experience: it’s always fun to share with families and friends back home! Plus, you can interact with other immigrants in Canada. I have been virtually in touch that way with Aiglee (who is from Venezuela and lives in Toronto), with Expat Traveler (who is from Switzerland and lives in Vancouver), a US family living in Saskatchewan, Johnada (who is American and lives in Toronto)… and I also exchange with expats around the world!
Living up to your expectations:
- Culture shock is to be expected: most people — including me — though that because Canada is a first world country, the culture shock won’t be as bad as if, let’s say, you were to move to India or China from Western Europe or the U.S.A. Truth is, Canada won’t make you “wow” right away. But this doesn’t mean you know everything about it! The culture, the people, the etiquette etc. will be new to you and you may find yourself clueless in social settings. Food is different, and so is the weather, the transportation system etc. Even English speaker may need to adjust their vocabulary to “speak Canadian”! For more details, read my Canadian Mindset, or Stuffs Canadians Like Part I and Part II article.
- You will find your dream job: most immigrants, no matter how qualified they are, find themselves starting from zero. If you manage to find a position in your field when you arrive, you may have less responsibilities than before and a smaller paycheck. You may also have to work a “McJob” to pay the bills while looking for a better position. Don’t take it personally. We have all been there and it will get better.
- It takes time to improve your language skills: if French or English isn’t your mother tongue, fear not: you’re not alone (see Canadian Multiculturalism). There are some great programs to help you with your language skills, but you need to be patient. It takes time to be comfortable speaking a foreign language! I had been living with an English man for five years when I started this blog and I still wasn’t confident enough to write in English (Do You Speak English). It does improve overtime though and you will swear perfectly in English soon enough!