Natalia: From Colombia to Montreal… and Back to Colombia

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Not all immigrants have a great experience in Canada, and not everybody chooses to stay. Such stories have to be told because it’s important to stress that the grass in not always greener on the other side.

Natalia came to Canada from Colombia. She feared for her life back home, and quickly applied for refugee status in Canada. The paperwork took a long time—four years—but it wasn’t the main problem Natalia faced. A journalist in her home country, she struggled to find a paid position in Montreal. She stresses that she tried everything, from unpaid positions to job clearly below her skills. Eventually, she decided to go back to Colombia, where the political situation had gotten better.

In a way, like she said, immigrating in Canada met her expectations: she came as a refugee as asked for protection, and Canada did protect her. Nonetheless, she remains disappointed that fitting in the local job market proved to be much harder than she had thought.

1) What brought you to Canada?

I visited Canada a couple of times since 1996 and, unfortunately, my job as a journalist in Colombia forced me to remain in Canada for almost 5 years, from 2007 to 2010.

In 2006, I came to Canada and the U.S for a couple of months. While I was there, the situation in Colombia got worse for I decided to ask for protection. I applied for refugee status in Canada.

While I was in Canada, the Colombian government extradited a group of paramilitaries, including the one who was threatening my family. Members of my family who were in exile came back to Colombia. My exile was over, there was no reason for me to stay away of my family, relatives and friends if I could not get at least the same level of salary that I was used to having.

2) Did you find the immigration process difficult?

Canada is very organized in terms of immigration, no matter what kind of application you are dealing with. The immigration process is not difficult at all, especially if you speak English or French. And for those who don’t know the official languages, there is always a free translation service. My process took almost 4 years. I hired a lawyer, but I did most of the paperwork.

3) How long did it take you to find a job that you liked in Canada? What kind of obstacles did you face?

I never actually got a paying job in Canada and I faced a lot of issues.

I’m a journalist. I speak English and French, worked free-lance and I have a lot of experience. I even created a festival for the Latin Community, but I never got a chance to make money or to have a good salary.

The big issue in Quebec is that employers want prospective employees to have a previous “Canadian experience”. Meanwhile, to gain experience in Canada, you end up working very hard as a volunteer for free. I applied for positions at CTV, Radio Canada, CBC… but the market is closed, even for French-Canadian.

Meanwhile, Emploi-Quebec (note: the local employment centre) ask applicants to keep a low profile, regardless of their backgrounds, experiences, and opportunities available. They mean well though, and they want to help, but unfortunately they are discouraging applicants. They disregard the fact that the new generation of immigrants have better education, experience, language skills, and higher goals than before. For instance, I worked as a counsellor for the United Nations and the best job I found in Montreal was a position as a customer service agent for a telemarketing company!

So I decided to go on my own way, to learn as much as I could, to cover all the international festivals, to create my own festival and to leave a trace for the Latin-American artists and for the community. I have my own website,, where I published some of my work.

I am very grateful for the experience I got, but once my problems were solved, I left Montreal to find better opportunities outside Quebec.

4) Where did you learn French/ English? What was your second language level when you first came to Canada?

I learned English in Michigan. I studied French in Colombia and my French was very basic at first, so I took a three-month course to improve my writing skills.

5) What was your biggest culture shock?

First, the stereotypes. It’s not because someone is from Colombia that he/she isn’t educated, doesn’t have manners, experience etc. It was interesting to prove how much we can give as immigrants.

Second, conformity. The Canadian government is a “sugar daddy” and there are a lot of “losers” who have no dreams, no passion to do anything. People sometimes give up as soon as there is a problem, and they are not ready for change.

6) What haven’t you gotten used to yet in Canada?

To live away from my family. To have everything, except the spirit to enjoy!

7) Did immigrating to Canada match your expectations?

Yes, it did, because as a refugee, I need a place where I could be safe. Canada did that for me.

8) Do you find life expensive in Canada compared to your home country?

Everything is more expensive, except the access to the culture.

9)     Are you planning to apply for Canadian citizenship when you will meet the requirements?

I don’t think so. I’m back in Colombia and my priority now is to recover the time lost with my family and to make a living.

10) What advice would you give to someone from your home country interested in immigrating to Canada?

If you are a professional and decide to come live in Canada, weight the pros and cons before leaving your country. Most of the time, people have to learn new skills or start over. Be aware that it will take at least four years to get a good job. Choose your province based on your professional profile. Network, because you must have a first Canadian experience to get a job. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects, dentists etc. all need a special certification to work in their field.

Every case is different. However, it’s good to know other people experiences.

Si usted es profesional y decide vivir en Canadá, por favor piense bien en los pros y contras antes de dejar su país de origen. La mayoría de las personas deben reinventarse profesionalmente o comenzar desde ceros. Un inmigrante necesita como mínimo cuatro años para poder integrarse y conseguir un buen trabajo. Además, es obligatorio tener experiencia canadiense para poder trabajar en Canadá y para tener oportunidades debe crear una red de contactos. Los doctores, ingenieros, abogados, arquitectos, dentistas, todos necesitan pertenecer a las ordenes profesionales para poder ejercer su profesión. En Quebec, hay que estudiar mucho,  pagar los exámenes para poder ingresar a las órdenes, los médicos diplomados en el extranjero tienen que vencer muchísimos obstáculos.

Cada caso es diferente. Sin embargo hay que conocer las experiencias ajenas y aprender de ellas.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. It is great that you are presenting different perspectives about immigrating to Canada. Coming to Canada is not for everyone, we are all different and what can be a great experience for some people, it can be not so nice for others. It is very important for new immigrants to come with their eyes wide open and not to expect a perfect experience. The “Canadian experience”job requirement sometimes is like a Catch-22 situation and it can be a frustrating process. I would recommend to new immigrants to read all of our experiences, make their decision to come for themselves and be extremely flexible and patient the first few years. If you do that, Canada is a wonderful place to live.

    • I agree, I think immigration is a mix of luck, preparation and good timing. Sometimes is doesn’t work. But I like Natalia’s point of view because she is not bitter about her experience, I think she actually learned something.

    • I wish I could interview more people who left Canada, but they are hard to find. There is always something to learn from these experiences!

      Your interview is scheduled for next Saturday 🙂

      • I know an Argentinian guy who lived in Canada for 23 years and is now back. Both his brothers are also back -one of them was born in Canada-, and his mom is back too. Let me know if you’d like me to put you through them!

        • Sure, why not? It could be interesting to hear their story! It must be hard to come back after spending so much time abroad though.

          • It is a very interesting story, trust me. I’ll e-mail you one of the brother’s e-mails. I talked to him and he’ll be happy to share his story.

  2. You know it’s only recently there seem to have been any official criteria for people wanting to enter the UK. Just anybody seemed to get let in and no checks were made to ensure they’d left once their “holiday” was over..!

    I saw a telly prog about customs and immigration where they were turning back poor South African backpacker for having CVs and resumes “concealed” in his suitcase (in other words he was considering a working holiday rather than a straight backpacking trip)… and yet Nigerians galore seem to get in. I remember being at a cashpoint where a pair of Africans entered 10 identical cashcards, each with an identical PIN, and withdrew £10 from each account. (Why it was so low I’ve no idea; maybe they repeated this procedure several times each day.) I remember them glancing back suspiciously once they realized I was there. But I didn’t care. I’d love to have known precisely what they were up to because it was something sinister, that’s for sure…!

    A friend of mine was naive enough to apply to be a nanny in America aged 18 and just turned up at JFK airport with employer’s letter in tow, only to be told she needed a work permit and be sent packing! She since met and fell in love with an American, who she married. The American government are absolutely convinced she’s a would-be illegal immigrant now and have done all they can to make life as difficult as possible. But she’s out there. And still in love. Serves those nasty immigration bastards right!

    How ARE you Zhu? LONG time no see. Since we last spoke I went raving mad and kicked the heroin. I’m still on methadone though.

    • Hey,

      Glad to hear from you! It’s been a while indeed. Keep strong 🙂

      Lots of people don’t know much about immigration. It’s true that in most countries, if you enter as a visitor, you are expected to be just that and not having travel plans makes you suspicious. Having resumes and too many contacts in that countries can pose serious problems at the border because officers can assume you won’t leave and will try to work illegally.

  3. Hey Zhu… you should know by now that I feel it’s great to show both sides of a story. People need to hear ( and see ) everything. I talk to new Canadians all the time and to me the key thing is that they can’t easily transfer their skills and education to Canada. That’s sad when you think of things like the shortage of doctors here. Jobs are little quirkier though. I can’t even find one. I might be too old. Who knows? Anyhow… Have a great weekend,


    • I came there in my very early twenties so I didn’t have much experience in France, I basically started working in Canada. So the experience thing wasn’t too much of an issue for me.

      Degrees, however… I have a French university degree but universities here don’t recognize it, which is pretty stupid because most employers do! I even had to take French as a second language classes 😆

  4. Maria Luisa Gomez on

    It is very interesting this story about living in Canada and coming back home. In a way it shows that immigrants just need an opportunity!!! an I can’t believe Canadians and Americans that are high skill professionals come to South America to work and they are treating like “kings” while is not the same treatment for us!

    • Yes, I agree with you, it’s really unfair. Especially considering skills are fairly easy to transfer in theory. I mean, I understand when immigrants are asked to take languages classes or specific classes relevant to their field because of local differences, but too many people are asked to just retrain altogether.

  5. Great stuff, Zhu. It’s very nice that you show (as Rick said) the two sides of the coin. I always say it, immigration is not for everybody. Things can go bad, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be one’s fault. Sometimes things are just not meant to be…

    Excellent series.

    • Yes, I think it meant a lot to her. Plus she came as a refugee, which is a bit different than coming as a “regular” immigrant.

  6. Hi Zhu,

    I agree totally with you, Zhu. Expatriation always includes the chance of failure.It is good to show someone that tried but, didn’t make it.
    I felt bad for Nathalia that she could not find a suitable job in Quebec. But, she shows also that with imagination and determination, she created her own work experience.

    We often forget that we learn from failure.I am sure that this was a valuable life experience for Nathalia.

  7. waiting four years to get a job is a deal breaker unless one is independently wealthy or has family to live with. that’s tough.
    great interview, zhu!

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