Paco Plaza and his wife are originally from Colombia. They moved to Barcelona, Spain, in 2000, and have been living there for the past 12 years. They started the Canadian immigration process in 2008, and finally, in 2012, after a long waiting period, they were granted permanent residence in the self-employed persons category.
Paco, his wife and their son are getting ready for the big move: they will be settling in Ottawa this summer. These two self-employed designers are bringing their skills and experience to Canada, and have an amazing positive outlook on life in general.
1. Why did you decide to immigrate to Canada?
My grandparents lived in Canada (in Calgary, AB) for about 30 years. I visited them in the summer of 1987—it was then that I decided I wanted to live in Canada. I really liked the country or at least what I knew of it at the moment. I felt I would fit in perfectly! But I was just a teenager and I couldn’t immigrate by myself. So my goal became to attend university in Vancouver, which offered some of the best visual effects and animation training back then. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out this way.
By the end of 1996, I was finishing my graphic design degree in Colombia and coincidentally found out a Canadian college had opened a branch locally, offering 3D animation and multimedia college classes. Once again, Canada was in my mind. Two years later, after completing college in 1999, my wife and I decided to give immigration a try and applied as skilled workers, but our application was denied. We were young and lacked professional experience and didn’t meet the requirements.
We moved to Spain in 2000, where we opened our design studio, Totem Studio. We couldn’t find enough clients locally so we looked elsewhere in the world. We both speak English and it helped us build the portfolio of clients we’ve been working for the past 10 years. Basically, we live in Spain but we are working with Canadian, American, British and Australian clients.
Since our business was doing fine, we decided to give Canada another try—yes, I’m stubborn! This time, though, we did an extensive research about all the possibilities available and found a category that was a perfect fit: the self-employed persons category.
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 didn’t find the process difficult but it was slow.
We applied in the Self-Employed Persons category. What we’ve found pretty difficult was to find similar stories or experiences we could relate to: most people apply in the skilled worker category. Besides, there are few applicants from Spain, all the info in Spanish we found was for South American immigrants.
The other blogs and experiences we found in English were from people in the UK, and some from Eastern Europe, the rest where immigrants from French-speaking countries, but even with those resources, we couldn’t find anyone who had applied in the Self-Employed Persons category. And we really tried to find first-hand info to find out more about our immigration category!
It took us exactly five years from the moment we sent our application to the letter granting us permanent resident status. We had no news during first three years. But eventually, during the fourth years, things started to move quite fast—and it was a completely surprise!
3. What did you family think of your decision to move to Canada?
They seem to be pretty happy about our decision. They knew moving to Canada had been my goal since I was a teenager! And it is finally happening, 25 years later, now that I am married and have a 3 years old toddler! I guess it’s nice for my parents to see me reach my goal.
However, my only sister also lives here, in Spain, and she will be far from us now. But she is also about to move—in France, actually.
4. Do you speak French? Where did you learn English?
I can read French and understand the basics but my language skills are limited.
I’ve been learning English since I was a kid: my father studied in a bilingual college and shared his love for the language. I’ve never learned the language formally but for following a BBC course at home and taking a two-month course “This-is-a-pencil” back in the 1980.
I strongly believe in self-education, and fortunately, when I was a kid, my parents’ home was filled with plenty of English books and magazines. I read and translated as much as I could, and these magazines were also part of my decision to become an illustrator and graphic designer. I developed both skills, art and language, thanks to a pile of old books and magazines!
Music also played a big role in strengthening my language skills. My father had an incredible collection of 1970s rock and jazz records by British and American bands and artists. I started to try to translate the lyrics to figure out what they were singing about!
I am still learning. The industry I work for is changing at an incredible pace, so you have to stay up to date with technology and techniques. To sharpen my skills, I begun to train myself in art and business with English-language reference material. Besides, the international art community communicates and shares tips and experiences in English as well.
Communicating with my former English-speaking clients through chat, email and video conferencing for the last 10 years really helped me to substantially improve my vocabulary.
5. How did you decide where you would settle in Canada?
Over the years, we did extensive research. I’ve been into Canada since I was young, and I read many books, blogs, and websites through all these years.
We wanted to settle the city with the right amenities and perks: not too big, not too small, with plenty of nature around, affordable, family friendly, with a cultural life and with work opportunities for us. Ottawa is definitely the right place for us. And it’s bilingual!
Most recently, I coincidentally found out that Ottawa is the heart of many interactive game studios all over Canada. Just as well: we are planning to move towards toddlers and kids educational games and applications design and development. I also must admit we’ve seen many pictures of the city and I think it’s really cozy and beautiful.
6. What culture shocks do you expect to face?
I’m used to Europe and its culture, so I guess the move will bring some level of culture shock. However I do know there are people from many countries and cultures in Canada which in fact, makes it even more interesting for us, so I feel it will be a nurturing experience more than a shock. This is my second immigration adventure, and even though our first move was to a Spanish-speaking country, the cultural differences with Colombia were obvious.
Sometimes I think I simply don’t belong to anywhere—I have been uprooted and it probably gave me the chance to embrace new cultures without much hassle. I adapt easily, and so do my wife and my son.
7. What do you think you will miss from Spain?
Even though I’m not original from Spain, I adopted the culture and its food culture—I guess that will be something I’m really going to miss! But there will be new food to taste, new culinary experiences.
I will also miss the wonderful people we’ve met, the beautiful places we’ve visited and the marvelous sea—after living by the seaside for 12 years, I’m going to miss it a lot.
I will definitely miss how easy cheap and convenient it is to travel around Europe. But Canada is huge and there will be wonderful places to visit!
8. How are you preparing for the big move?
We are trying to find and collect as much information as we can—all that to save some money and time when we get there.
9. What would be the first “Canadian thing” you are looking forward to experience or to try?
Extreme winter weather conditions. We’ve seen snow in some northern European countries but we have yet to experience Canadian weather conditions, the daily life in winter. And even though people complaint about it, it is still is something we want to experiment!
Barcelona is multicultural to a certain extent, but multiculturalism here probably is not as evident, perceptible, mixed and large as in Canada. This is something I want to be part of—after all, I’m an immigrant and my family will add to the cultural diversity!
10. What advice would you give to someone starting the immigration process?
Research and read as much as possible before making any decision! But even before you start doing research, try to learn English and French since the more complete information is found in these two languages.
Beyond Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, there are many other interesting cities to live in!
For the sake of your finances, never ever hire any company or lawyer to do the immigration process. You can really do it on your own. Hiring someone will not make the process any faster and it doesn’t give you priority.
Last but not least, I strongly believe employment and financial considerations must be a second priority in your decision to move abroad. If you plan to immigrate, enjoy the opportunities and experiences it brings you. People who are eager to embrace a new culture, a new environment, new weather conditions are more likely to adapt better. Been an immigrant ain’t easy—you start your life all over again. But it can get better with time, a lot of patience and a positive attitude.