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Gagan & Shikha, From India to Landing in Ottawa

Gagan & Shikha on Parliament Hill in Ottawa
Gagan & Shikha on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Occasionally, some people make a lasting impression. Gagan did when he first contacted me through the blog. He didn’t say much at first. He had something to ask and he apologized profusely for bothering me. His question was interesting and specific, it wasn’t one of the generic I-want-go-immigrate-to-Canada-fast-help-me kind of emails I often get.

We started talking and little by little, he shared more about his life. He was living in New Delhi with his wife, Shikha, and they were both in the immigration process. I found it funny that even though we were thousands of kilometers away, we shared a few cultural references (including the series Friends). I liked how much he cared for his wife, how dedicated they both were to learn more about Canada.

In May, they emailed me to share big news: they had just being granted permanent resident status. They would be landing in August and settling in Ottawa.

For a few weeks after they landed, we exchanged emails and texts. We were both busy and they were dealing with the emotional and practical aspects of settling in a new country.

We finally met on a hot day in September, downtown Ottawa. We explored the Byward Market together and I tried to give them a few more tips without being too patronizing or annoying. They were funny and engaging and they already seemed comfortable with their new environment.

Canada, you picked these two very well!

  1. What first sparked your interest in Canada?

Well, we have had our eyes set Canada for quite some time mainly because it fit the description of a place where we wanted to live. During the initial days of our immigration process, we researched the country, the weather, the people. The more we learned about Canada, the more our interest grew for the country.

  1. What immigration category did you apply in? How long was the process from end to end?

We applied in the Federal Skilled Worker category in September 2014 and we got the visa in our passports in May 2015. Now that I look back it seems that all happened rather quickly, however those months went by painfully slowly, probably because we checked our application status on ECAS almost twice a week.

  1. Why did you choose to settle in Ottawa?

Initially we wanted to settle in Toronto. But we knew it was one of the biggies and we were living in one of the biggest cities already, New Delhi—and frankly, we hated it. So we looked for a better option: a smaller city that offered bilingual employment opportunities (Shikha is a translator) yet had a decent playroom for English-only jobs as well, and some place that was truly beautiful.

  1. What were you worrying about before you landed?

Two things: first, we were worried about not finding a decent living space before our friend’s hospitality ran out. Thankfully we did find a nice apartment, although it didn’t happen as fast as we wanted it to be. We can never thank our friend and his family enough, it would have been quite difficult without them. Second, we were, and still are, worried about not finding employment in our fields of expertise before our savings run out. This is a scary one, we believe almost every newcomer experience the same fear.

  1. What part of the immigration and landing process turned out more difficult than planned? And what turned out easier?

We find that waiting for the immigration officer’s decision is quite difficult, it is something that makes you put everything else on hold, one doesn’t know how long it is going to be, before it is a “Yes” or a “No”. We were putting big career decisions on hold without knowing if we would eventually be granted permanent residence status. However all that is behind us, and now we are back to making career decisions, different ones though.

The part that was rather easier was the one with the border security officers at the airport. As Indians, we are used to lengthy official procedures. But the landing process at McDonald airport was quite unceremonious and surprisingly easy.

  1. Indian cuisine and North American food are very different. What did you discover here that you enjoyed? What do you find just weird?

We are foodies, without reservations or prejudices. Our hunt for an authentic poutine is still on since we were naïve (I cannot stress how naïve) enough to try our first poutine at New York Fries (Note from Zhu: a generic fast food chain). We did enjoy our adventure at BeaverTails (Note from Zhu: fried dough topped with Nutella, sugar, ice cream or whatever you want, much like waffles). We have been to a lovely authentic barbecue and it was awesome. We have much to explore, and not just North American food, last week we went to a nice little Chinese restaurant in Chinatown and we loved the rice noodles over there.

Now, the interesting part, since we cook most of our meals from scratch, is that we can find almost all of the ingredients needed for Indian cuisine. We were absolutely stunned to find Haldiram’s Soan Papdi, Chikki, Gol Gappas and so many other rarities in generic supermarkets. However, we were shocked that we had to pay for green chilies and coriander; in all the shopping we have done in our lives we have almost never paid for them, it is traditionally complimentary when you buy the rest of the produce. You are only charged if this is the only thing you get, We must confess we were not prepared for this, we wonder why there isn’t a popular blog article on this. (Note from Zhu: I guess I feel the same way when I have to pay from bread with my meals in restaurants, it’s always complimentary in France! And I find it strange to pay for ketchup or mayonnaise at MacDonald’s but in Australia, these little pouches aren’t free.)

  1. How do you find the atmosphere in Ottawa compared to back home?

About two months ago, we were totally taken by surprise by the intensity at which the sun shines here, especially in August. Now the famous colorful Canadian fall is upon us and we would like to share that this time of the year is almost like a north Indian winter, all that we need to add is loads of fog to reduce the visibility to about a couple of feet and it is pretty much what our winters have been so far!

We are looking forward to experiencing snow. We have read how Juliette complains about the Canadian winter, maybe we will too eventually. However, there is always a wide grin on our faces when we think about it. We ran out to our balcony yesterday, like two little kids, when we saw little snow flurries—and by the way this is how you spot a couple of new, fresh off-the-boat Indians in Canada!

  1. How do you deal with the higher cost of living?

In our overall experience of past two months, this is the one fact that is rather unsettling. We must factor in that we are using Indian money in Canadian shops, our savings, so everything costs us about fifty times more considering the currency exchange rate. The upside is what we get in return.

  1. Are you experiencing any culture shock? Anything that people do here that feels weird?

Apart from the green chilies and coriander anecdote, nothing really. It has been wonderful so far, mainly because of the people; we would like to take this opportunity and thank Juliette, for being so wonderful and for her so informative blog, it helped us prepare so much, and thanks to our dear friend and to the loveliest couple from Gatineau.

  1. What are your plans for the future?

We love Ottawa already, we will try to make it our home. However we are in the process of seeking employment and working on our professional lives, so if that takes us someplace else, we will embrace the adventure. More importantly, during all this, we really hope to get to know this land well and its people too, they seem like a wonderful bunch.

You can follow Gagan on Twitter or read his articles at The Learning Exchange on Essential Skills (the last one just came out!).

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