Yasmine: From Former Yugoslavia To Québec


Wel­come to my new series, Ten Immi­grants, Ten Inter­views.

You guys all know my story by now, and you have a pretty good idea of what my life in Canada looks like. I thought it was time to let other immi­grants and new Cana­di­ans speak. I con­tacted ten of them, who each have their own story, their own rea­sons to come to Canada, their own point of view on how life is up North in the igloos. They all answered ten ques­tions, bring­ing a new per­spec­tive on immigration.

A new post will be pub­lished every Saturday.

Por­trait de Famille: Yas­mine and Her Family

Unlike many immi­grants to Canada, Yas­mine and her fam­ily hadn’t thought of immi­grat­ing any­where. They hadn’t really cho­sen Canada either: they came as refugees after leav­ing their war-torn coun­try. Their story is truly mov­ing, from a per­fect life in for­mer Yugoslavia to com­ing as refugees in Ger­many and then Canada, where they even­tu­ally settled.

From her blog, I had the idea that Yas­mine would be an inter­est­ing per­son to inter­view. I found the lit­tle note in the side­bar very cute: “I learned my Eng­lish from movies, so I’m sorry if there are any errors. Feel free to mail me cor­rec­tions!”. Her Eng­lish is great and I was amazed to see that her French was flaw­less as well — this is not an easy lan­guage to master.

After reply­ing to my ques­tions, Yas­mine admit­ted it was harder than she would have thought because it still stirred up old mem­o­ries. After learn­ing the whole story, I have a lot of admi­ra­tion for this strong women and what her and her fam­ily have overcome.

What brought you to Canada?

I never ever in my life thought of immi­grat­ing to Canada or any­where else for that mat­ter. In the early nineties, I was liv­ing peace­fully with my hus­band and my two lit­tle chil­dren in a small town of the for­mer Yugoslavia. The eco­nom­i­cal and polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions were shaky at this point but I was not overly wor­ried. We lived in a beau­ti­ful, peace­ful coun­try with every­thing we needed. We both had a job we loved and the edu­ca­tion and health sys­tems were great (and almost free of charge). We were one young happy family.

Noth­ing pre­pared us for the war that started slowly in 1991 in the North and spread like a bush­fire all over the coun­try. Sud­denly there were bombs destroy­ing every­thing, fear and killings…unimaginable things started to invade our lives. I finally decided to flee the coun­try early 1992 with my two chil­dren and go to join my sis­ter who lived in Ger­many. My hus­band decided to stay. At that point, I thought I was going to stay in Ger­many for 3 or 4 weeks but we stayed for 14 years. It was the begin­ning of a life I would have never imag­ined, full of sur­prises, changes and chal­lenges. I there­fore often feel like For­rest Gump from the famous movie: “Life is like a box of choco­lates. You never know what you’re gonna get”. The six years we spent in Ger­many as refugees are an immi­gra­tion story by them­selves, it was a strug­gle to sur­vive and rebuild a life up from zero while bring­ing up our children.

Long story short: after six years, we weren’t allowed to stay longer in Ger­many and we had to go back to our coun­try, where we had lost lit­er­ally every­thing, or we could immi­grate to another coun­try where they would accept us and start again. This was the most dif­fi­cult deci­sion to make, one of the dark­est moments of our lives. We had to choose between the USA, Canada and Aus­tralia. After some research, we decided Canada was the best place for our chil­dren. The paper­work was done fast because we were accepted as refugees. Our des­ti­na­tion in Canada was imposed by the Cana­dian embassy, we had no choice, we were head­ing for Que­bec. We didn’t speak French at all, not one word.

Did you find the immi­gra­tion process dif­fi­cult?

The whole process was accel­er­ated by the agree­ment between Ger­many and Canada and we had help from an human­i­tar­ian orga­ni­za­tion. It took us only 5 months from the begin­ning to land­ing in Mon­tréal in Sep­tem­ber 1998. Nev­er­the­less, we had to pay the fees like any immigrant.

How long did it take you to find a job that you liked in Canada?

We had to learn French lan­guage first in order to find a job. Our chil­dren attended lan­guage classes at school and my hus­band and I took a French lan­guage course for immi­grants. Then fol­lowed some job search­ing and com­puter train­ing. A year later, I found my first job, although not in my line of work. Actu­ally the job found me: I was offered a posi­tion while par­tic­i­pat­ing in the com­puter training!

It was dif­fi­cult in the begin­ning but I even­tu­ally grew to like this job as I worked with immi­grants and were able to help them through the process of set­tling here. I have been work­ing there for 9 years. Cur­rently I’m look­ing for another job with bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions. My hus­band was able to find only sea­sonal jobs in the first 3 years but then he found a decent job in a good com­pany (not in his field though) and is still work­ing there.

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

When we first came to Canada, no one in the fam­ily spoke French. And even if I was able to com­mu­ni­cate in Eng­lish at the inter­me­di­ate level, that didn’t help us a lot – Que­bec is a VERY fran­coph­one city. We then fol­lowed the lan­guage courses for immi­grants and after a year we were all able to com­mu­ni­cate in French well enough to find a job or to study. At the same time, my chil­dren were able to learn Eng­lish trough the tele­vi­sion by watch­ing The Simp­sons, imagine!

I con­tin­ued to learn and to improve my “movie Eng­lish” as I like to call it. I was even coura­geous enough to start my own blog in Eng­lish called Love Live Sur­vive Home.

What was your biggest cul­ture shock?

My whole story is bit­ter­sweet and I would like to apol­o­gize if I come over as a neg­a­tive per­son (I hope not!). The immi­gra­tion expe­ri­ence was very painful for me and my fam­ily for many dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Sim­pli­fied, it would look like this: the first year, I cried every day; the sec­ond year, I cried once a week and the third once a month. After that, the things started to look bet­ter and I cried less often.

Now I don’t cry any more but I do feel nos­tal­gic. When we arrived to Que­bec, I was very sur­prised to see poor and home­less peo­ple. I guess my source of infor­ma­tion embell­ished the sit­u­a­tion and was actu­ally aim­ing tourists. I didn’t have an inter­net con­nec­tion in the nineties so my research was lim­ited to books, mag­a­zines and video tapes. Val­ues impor­tant to me were also very dif­fer­ent, peo­ple and fam­i­lies are not so close to each other, gen­er­a­tions are very inde­pen­dent. Money and mate­r­ial pos­ses­sions have a greater value here than they had in the other places I lived. On the pos­i­tive side, I was very pleas­antly sur­prised with the place of women in society.

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

Do you know the saying:“You can’t replant an old tree”? Well, I was almost 40 when I arrive in Canada and I guess the envi­ron­ment was too dif­fer­ent to grow new roots. That’s why I have a list of things that I’m still work­ing on, but I can accept the fact that this is the way things are.

I find it hard to accept the work­ing con­di­tions: I went from 6 weeks vaca­tion annu­ally to only 2 in Canada and than had to work for five years in order to have 3 weeks vaca­tion. Other things on my list: food, cli­mate and human rela­tion­ships. Peo­ple here are very friendly but in a super­fi­cial and dis­tant way. It’s very dif­fi­cult to find friends – I’m still search­ing. But then again, it could be my age, peo­ple of my gen­er­a­tion have already well estab­lished friend­ships. There is a song called “Exile”  from the album “Iden­tités” of an Alger­ian song­writer Idir that describes per­fectly the state of my (immi­grant) mind and soul.

Did immi­grat­ing to Canada match your expectations?

The cir­cum­stances of my immi­gra­tion to Canada were spe­cial, I didn’t wake up one day with the desire to immi­grate to this coun­try. That being said, I’m very grate­ful for all the sup­port and the oppor­tu­ni­ties we had to rebuild our life and even to get to a very com­fort­able level. I’m very happy for my chil­dren who are now young adults and have a chance to live in a free, polit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally safe coun­try with so many pos­si­bil­i­ties. I think we made the right decision.

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

My motto: you can’t have every­thing! In some coun­tries food is cheap but the hous­ing is expen­sive, some­times the edu­ca­tion is free, but the salaries aren’t so great, etc. In the begin­ning you have to be fru­gal, after that you have to watch how you spend what you earn because spend­ing the “invis­i­ble” money is so easy.

Why did you apply for Cana­dian citizenship?

We applied for the Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship after 3 years of liv­ing in Canada. We wanted to be able to par­tic­i­pate in the life of our new coun­try. We also wanted to be able to travel freely as Cana­di­ans – this was not pos­si­ble with our old passports.

What advice would you give to some­one inter­ested in immi­grat­ing to Canada?

Research, research, research, before and after. Learn to speak one or both of the offi­cial lan­guages very well, start in your own coun­try if pos­si­ble. Get to know all the local resources that can help you with every­thing in the begin­ning – priceless!

Take your time: the immi­grants, myself included, would like to accom­plish every­thing and to set­tle in the first 6 to 12 months. Some peo­ple are lucky, but most immi­grants need from 3 to 5 years to achieve the “cruis­ing speed”. This is the best advice some­body gave me in the begin­ning and it’s true. Even if you speak the lan­guage and have a job, trust me, you’ll need that time.

Another advice: don’t lose your time and energy com­par­ing things with your coun­try. I know some things can be shock­ing at first, but the sooner you ACCEPT the way things work around here the bet­ter and more suc­cess­ful your immi­gra­tion will be. And I’m talk­ing from my expe­ri­ence: if I could, I would go back and slap my silly old self for los­ing pre­cious time by whin­ing over my des­tiny. Don’t be around neg­a­tive peo­ple and don’t lis­ten to the (immi­grant) hor­ror sto­ries – go out and make your own expe­ri­ence, every­thing is pos­si­ble. Be open to new things – you might dis­cover a new you that you never knew existed. Go out, get to know your new home coun­try, there are so many places and events and most of them are even free. Try to develop or inte­grate a net­work of peo­ple, not only from your coun­try. Be pre­pared to work hard so noth­ing can sur­prise you. Wel­come and good luck!


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. @Nigel — I know, I was truly impressed with her life.

    @Beth — On behalf of Yas­mine, thank you! Nice peo­ple like you are the rea­son why we come to Canada.

    @Agnes — Her story is amazing.

    @Lizz — I agree!

    @Seraphine — Thank you for all your kind words, on behind of Yas­mine! I like to think that trees can remem­ber their home soil, they just chose to grow some­where else.

    @Sidney — I agree, it’s good to put a face on these immi­gra­tion stories.

    @micki — And trust me, her French is perfect!

    @expatraveler — They did really well even­tu­ally, and I’m happy they found a home in Canada, even though I under­stand it was difficult.

    @Celine — I agree!

    @London Caller — I guess it’s always hard to immi­grate per­ma­nently in Europe, and I think Aus­tria is no exception.

  2. Hey Zhu,

    Loved it! I am really enjoy­ing this series!

    The expe­ri­ence of this fam­ily is quite com­pelling and this is exactly what I am look­ing for when learn­ing more about immi­gra­tion.
    I can only imag­ine what they have gone through (the war in their coun­try was a hor­ri­ble thing, sim­ply hor­ri­ble: worse than any of the wars we hear of today) *nodding*.

    But I am glad they are doing well: may God Bless them!

    .-= Max Coutinho´s last blog ..The Miss­ing Link Between Cre­ation & Evo­lu­tion? =-.

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