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“Mrs. Gaou”, From Togo to Toronto

Le Blog des Gaous, "Made in Africa, Living Ailleurs"
Le Blog des Gaous, “Made in Africa, Living Ailleurs”

Meet “Mrs. Gaou” (her penname, “Gaou” means “a naive person” in Ivory Coast slang), a thirty-something immigrant to Canada who recently settled in Toronto with her husband and her four-year-old. “Mrs. Gaou” is originally from Togo. She lived in Senegal and then moved to France. After working there for a decade (and meeting her French husband), she decided it was time for a new adventure… in Canada, this time.

You can follow the “Gaou family” on Le Blog des Gaous (in French).

1)    Why did you decide to immi­grate to Canada?

I decided to immigrate for various reasons. I lived in Paris for several years and I had the feeling it was time for me to move away. I love this city, it will always be my hometown, but after working in France for a decade, I felt like it was time for a pro­fes­sional change. I wasn’t (too) old and had enough energy (and money) to try something else. It was now or never.

I decided to go for an international experience. My husband did not want to move to Africa. Canada became a natural choice as I had spent a year in Montreal 10 years earlier as an exchange student and I really liked it. So I decided to come back and give Canada another try, with my family this time. s

2)    Did you find the immi­gra­tion process difficult? Which immigration category did you apply in, and how long did it take for you to get permanent residence status?

I immigrated from West Africa (Senegal) to France, so immigrating to Canada was comparatively quite easy.

Canada has the same immigration rules for everyone. It doesn’t discriminate based on your country of origin (processing times vary depending on the visa office, though).

I apply in the skilled worker category. As I was coming with a little one, I wanted a permanent residency status. It took me 18 months for my application to be processed and to be granted PR status.

3)    You moved from Senegal to France. How would you compare your French immigration experience to your Canadian immigration experience?

There is one major difference right from the start: Canada has an immigration policy and France does not. So it is really difficult to compare the two.

In Canada, there are very clear rules and requirements. If you meet them, you are pretty much guaranteed to get your visa. From my point of view, the French immigration process feels like a lottery. You never know if and when you will win. The rules change according to the people you talk to, and once you are in the country, you never know when you will be kicked out. I spent 14 years in France and from one year to another, even if I was working, I was never 100% sure my visa would be renewed.

Moreover, African people have a very bad reputation in France and you can feel the impact of these negative stereotypes when you are going through the immigration process. A few years ago, I went to renew my visa (I had to do it very year) and the agent in front of me was very polite and nice because she believed I was American. I was with a friend and we were speaking English. Once she saw my Togolese passport*, she became very rude, she said African people were lazy and that I was going to destroy the country. Then she decided she was done for the day and asked me to come back later.

I never had such negative experience when I was going through the immigration process in Canada. So to answer your question, I would say I find the Canadian immigration process very fair compare to the French one. But this is just my opinion.

* I am from Togo, not Tonga or Congo as people always say, and I lived in Senegal before moving to France.

4)    Where did you learn English?

I learn as a child in my home country, Togo. My English is not perfect but I’m working on it.

5)    How do you find the cost of living compared to France?

I can’t compare, the countries are too different.  Cost of living vary a lot depending on the city you are coming from and the city you are living in.

For example I find daycare services and car insurance very expensive in Toronto compared to Paris, but rent is cheaper. In France, people always say living cost in Canada is very cheap, I do not agree with that statement, I think it is very expensive.

6)    What has been your biggest culture shock so far?

Changing my shoes in the office during winter. I love shoes and wearing Ugg boots is very difficult for me.

7)    What aspect of life in Canada did you adopt right away?

Changing my shoes in the office in the winter. I love heels but during the winter you can’t walk around in heels. I tried and it did not end well…

8)     What’s one thing you don’t like in Canada?

Travelling costs an arm and leg. It is very frustrating for me as I love travelling.

8)    What’s the best part about living in Toronto?

Being able to see live NBA matches. I am a basketball fan!

10)  What advice would you give to someone starting the immigration process?

Do not rely on other immigrants stories, each experience is unique. Immigration is a long and very tough road. You have to be prepared for the worst. Getting the visa is not the hardest part. Be strong and take as much information as possible.

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