When Do You Stop Being An Immigrant?


Cana­dian Beaver, Ottawa, Octo­ber 2011

For the first two years I was in Canada, it was fairly obvi­ous I was new to the coun­try. Not only I didn’t speak Eng­lish very well but the North Amer­i­can way of life was a nov­elty to me. I didn’t know the local cus­toms, prod­ucts and cul­ture. I never really researched Canada the way a lot of prospec­tive immi­grants do because I just hap­pened to land in the Great North Strong and Free by chance.

At first, I con­sid­ered myself a trav­eler. I explored the area, the city and the cul­ture like back­pack­ers do. I drew com­par­isons with France and chat­ted a lot with my friends back home. I lived like a French, tak­ing advan­tage of Ottawa’s sta­tus as a some­what fran­coph­one city: I only read French books, spent a for­tune in Euro­pean shops and looked for famil­iar brands, famil­iar TV shows, famil­iar faces and accents. Canada’s lit­tle quirks amused me and I saw them through the eyes of an outsider.

But being a per­ma­nent tourist gets tir­ing. At one point, you either have to inte­grate or be a life­long expatriate—and the lat­ter wasn’t an option for me.

I got my first job in Canada after obtain­ing a Work­ing Hol­i­day Visa. I worked in an inbound call cen­tre as a bilin­gual agent and my Eng­lish quickly improved. Being on the phone all day with cus­tomers and sur­rounded by English-speakers, I didn’t have the choice. Besides, I was more com­fort­able tak­ing Eng­lish calls then deal­ing with French calls from New-Brunswick and North­ern Que­bec because I couldn’t under­stand local accents.

By the time I decided to apply for per­ma­nent res­i­dence, I moved from being a trav­eler to being a prospec­tive immi­grant. Sud­denly, I cared about all kinds of prac­ti­cal mat­ters. I started won­der­ing whether I had a future here and how I could make the coun­try work for me. I wor­ried about a lot of things. What if I wasn’t able to adapt to life in Canada? Would France take me back? I was 22, I had just grad­u­ated from uni­ver­sity but I only had a Bac­calau­re­ate and vir­tu­ally no work expe­ri­ence back home. Most of my friends in France were mov­ing on to grad­u­ate stud­ies. Mean­while, I was fill­ing in immi­gra­tion papers and work­ing odd jobs. I had reached the point of not turn­ing back. I had to start my adult life some­where and hope­fully not regret it later. Worse, no one could really advise me. I was caught between two cul­tures, two ways of life. I cried a lot that year, and even­tu­ally hoped for the best.

When I was granted the per­ma­nent res­i­dence, I decided to embrace my new sta­tus. After the ordeal of deal­ing with CIC, I knew my rights and my duties and I was well-versed into immi­gra­tion mat­ters. Once in a while, my immi­grant sta­tus back­fired at me. Some places refused to hire me because: sup­pos­edly they couldn’t do a back­ground check because I hadn’t lived in Canada long enough. When­ever I was inter­viewed, I always made a point of men­tion­ing I did have a legal sta­tus and a valid SIN num­ber. Peo­ple always asked me how long I had been in Canada for, gaug­ing the chances of me bail­ing out and going home or try­ing to fig­ure out whether I could say “eh” properly.

The per­ma­nent res­i­dence was a short-lived vic­tory. At first, I was over­joyed by the thought of being a full-time immi­grant with the right to live, work and study in Canada indef­i­nitely. But I still had to explain my sta­tus. To a lot of peo­ple, I was still a French in Canada, merely a Cana­dian in train­ing. Some jobs were off-limit, includ­ing gov­ern­ment posi­tions, which rep­re­sent a large chunk of the job mar­ket in Ottawa.

I couldn’t wait to apply for cit­i­zen­ship. By the time I was eli­gi­ble, I had out­grown my per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus and I wanted to belong fully, if only on paper. After tak­ing the oath, I wanted to hug Canada, kiss the ground and shout “it’s mine too!” I’ve never been the patri­otic kind to boot.

And now I real­ize I haven’t been asked where I’m from in a long time now. I prob­a­bly still have an accent in both Eng­lish and French but again, so do a lot of Cana­di­ans. Peo­ple aren’t that curi­ous about my back­ground or maybe I just don’t look so exotic any­more. I also feel Cana­dian. I don’t receive notices from Cit­i­zen­ship & Immi­gra­tion but vot­ing cards from Elec­tions Canada. I travel with my Cana­dian pass­port, I under­stand cul­tural jokes and have friends from all walks of life.

I adopted Canada and it adopted me. Most of the time, we get on well.

Look­ing back, it hap­pened just like that. I had become Canadian.


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. Pingback: Shocking: I Discovered That I am Still French | Correr Es Mi Destino

  2. jonsing phoenix on

    Hey ZHU
    What a great post. I enjoyed read­ing your arti­cle; it high­lighted the migra­tion process pretty well. I admire how you picked up the lan­guage and puns quickly as it reflects in your expe­ri­en­tial writ­ing. After read­ing this won­der­ful arti­cle it made me appre­ci­ate and embrace my Cana­dian cit­i­zen sta­tus to a high agree. Thanks for re-educating me on what’s like to be a Cana­dian again.

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