The Wall

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Chinese Ad, Chinatown Immigrant, tourist, visitor, citizen, foreign worker — administrative vocabulary, sticky notes on my face. But who am I?

Some days, I feel like I have been there forever. I left France when I was 18 and barely looked back. Going back was never really an option: call it innocence, naivety or pride, I wanted to see the world and to adopt a new country. I have been there forever. My first resumes, the interviews for jobs I was going to hate, being comfortable driving a car, learning to cook, to take care of myself, to make friends – friends who wouldn’t necessary look like me — to manage money, credit cards, taxes and overdrafts… Canada. Not France. It’s been forever in a way.

But on the other side, I still carry a French passport. I will only apply for citizenship this summer and it will take as long as 18 months to get the precious blue passport. I attended university in France, even though I was in Canada for most of my student years. My degrees are French. I can speak English just fine but please, don’t make me say “When a twister a-twisting will twist him a twist, For the twisting of his twist, he three twines doth intwist“.

Doors are closing as I’m listing these facts. Canada is an open-minded country, but I still feel I belong to the “them” group rather than the “us” group. No matter how I feel, what I may think, my citizenship, my education, my mother tongue and cultural background define me. Can’t erase, got to improve. But how?

Some weeks are frustrating. I have been working in my current job for for almost three years now and even though I love teaching, I’m thinking of a change. Money-wise, first of all: I have been paid by the hour all my work life and I’m dreaming of a relatively steady monthly salary which would do great to my budget. But here is the trick: I’m pretty confident I could quit tonight and start another job tomorrow, but unfortunately, it will be the same kind of job I did before when I was desperate for money. With my French degrees and my immigrant resume, I have trouble fitting in. Some jobs are mostly for Canadians citizens (government jobs) and others just don’t want to see my French degrees. On top of that, I’m “only” twenty five and my past experiences reflect my immigration. I barely worked in France and I worked all the minimum-wage jobs when I first came to Canada. Employers don’t seem to realize that it’s not because I worked for two call centers for a couple of months five years ago that it’s my dream job. As for teaching, the step above for me would be being hired by the Canadian government…and well “Mission Impossible” if you’re not a citizen.

Nevermind. Given that I wasn’t not too busy this summer, I had decided to sign up for a summer class at the local university. I was within the deadline, chose my class, showed up to register and… And it turned out that because I’m French, I needed to prove my English language proficiency. I speak English, I have been living in Canada for a few years now, I took English in university, but all that doesn’t count. I’m French. Back to square one. The person at the registrar office was nice and she was sorry for me. I wasn’t angry. Just disappointed. I feel like I’m getting nowhere.

Note that it’s not my first attempt to go back to university. I’m a lifelong student and I’d love to get an higher degree. I visited the U. of Ottawa quite a few time and discovered that my French degree didn’t really count and that I would need to start all over again. Plus, because grades are different in France (papers are graded out of 20 and trust me, at university, it’s rare to score over 15/20, except maybe in science) I was way behind the rest of the students. Basically, if you convert my grades, I’m barely above average, even though I studied my ass off. Good luck getting into an high-demand program.

I may sound bitter but I’m not. I’m looking for a way out, I’m looking for solutions, I know I will eventually find a way. I did it before. I remember how sick of Canada I was after I had spent over a year on a tourist visa: I couldn’t do anything then because, well, officially I was a tourist, even tough I was starting to settle off the record. I don’t know if I would have come back if I hadn’t gotten the working visa afterwards. I remember how discouraged I had felt when I learned about the immigration process. It had seemed that my life was in the hands of a bored office worker, somewhere between Vegreville Alberta (where I had sent the fist part of my application) and the Canadian Enbassy in Paris (where the second part eventually ended up). And I was here, literally stuck in the middle (I was flying back and forth) and hoping for the best: the best processing time, the best outcome. Eventually, it got better. Eventually.

But am I ever gonna be as good as the locals? Am I ever going to be able to apply for a position and not being questioned about my English or my French? Not being asked for my immigrant status? For my passport? Am I ever going to speak and write in English as well as I used to in French? Am I ever gonna be at home?

I adopted Canada — but has Canada adopted me yet?


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. You didn’t think it was going to be easy, did you?
    We all want a sense of place. We want to be accepted
    not only as family, but also as ourselves. We want.
    Maybe that’s part of the problem, our expectations.

    Things you can’t even imagine today are going to
    happen to you tomorrow. Continue to be you. Because
    you’ll change. The world around you will change. The
    degrees you’ve earned are your tools to make better
    choices. Not everyone gets to have choices. Keep
    yourself open to opportunity, you’ll find the way, Zhu.

    Seraphines last great read…Best Wishes

  2. I feel like I’ve been in the U.S. forever. But that’s probably because I was born here and haven’t ever left.

    diesels last great read…Stumble THIS!

  3. Welcome to the club. No matter how integrated you have become, you’ll never been considered as Canadian. I tried my best and I behave, talk, think like a Canadian. I even love hockey to death…I think as long as one is not born in Canada the dream of being a real Canadian, is merely impossible. I often get asked about my nationality and when I replied I’m Canadian, people didn’t want to believe that. They wanted to know the real me.

    Don’t be discouraged because I’m sure you’ll find a way to get your dream job and improve the sentiment of an outcast. If that’s the feeling you’re going through. You said you speak Mandarin then I’m sure it’s a plus when there’s a huge population of Asians in Ontario. You can use your language skill because people barely speak French over there. I’m sure there’s plenty of opitions.

    Thus, I often write angry posts about what I feel towards the dominant society and its citizens. I, too, have a lot of anger because I have been personally attacked by ignorants, simply because I was not born in Canada. I wish you all the best and good luck.

    bluefishs last great read…Blackout

  4. I completely understand how you are feeling. I am an immigrant too. From what I know of you, you writer better than a lot of native speakers I know. It’s sad that you will be asked to prove your proficiency in English!

    But 18 month is not too far… Canada will officially adopt you 🙂

    Twisted DNAs last great read…Gynecological amusement

  5. Oh that sense of belonging and hey Zhu, you are so qualified and your life at 25 years old are so enriching don’t worry so much. You can speak so many languages I’m sure you can survive anywhere.

    Canada didn’t realise what they miss in you if ever you choose to leave.

  6. Zhu,
    I can relate in many ways for the job part. Eh oui !!
    My Uni diplomas looks like nothing here. I also began taking a class from the job office & finishing, going out a getting banged up more than once.
    I was not one of yours either,and how to fit a square peg in a round hole??
    That is true; we can obtain the nationality and be proud of where we live. But culture is something different.It is where we were born & how we were raised.I can’t “think” French & “act” French.

    You will see; after the long,long wait until your citizenship…You will be really ripe for new job oppurtunities. I would just keep the teaching job for now.

    Big Hugs.

    barbaras last great read…A poem for my sister

  7. Well, I love to say I’m Venezuelan here, and even like that I feel part of them, but maybe it’s just because I work with 99% immigrants in my office.

    Why do you have to show them you know english? I took classes in Ryerson University and never asked for something like that, is there an special rule or something?

    And what kind of job do you want to find? That’s important to set a goal 😉

  8. Wait for the time & things will work the way you want. I am sure Canada would be obliged to have you 🙂

  9. Hang on there! While we are more globalized than ever before, I guess we still have a way to go before anyone can easily fit in when they migrate to other countries. Hope things get better quickly.

  10. @Seraphine – Well, for a second here, yeah, I kinda did 😉 (Uma Thurman in Kill Bill). I didn’t know what to expect, for sure. Who knows…

    @diesel – It somehow makes sense.

    @bluefish – I’m not bitter and I don’t resent Canada at all. I just wish I could fit better. I’m more angry at myself I guess, not all the time though. Because Europe is so conservative when it comes to immigration, change etc. I still think Canada is nice and open. We will see…

    @Twisted DNA – It,s frustrating to be caught in between sometimes, isn’t it!

    @shionge – Thank you for your kind words! I’m certainly not thinking of leaving. I’m a fighter (alright, stubborn!).

    @barbara – Thanks for sharing your experience! I’m sure you felt (feel?) this way in France, especially Europe tends to be a bit more homogeneous and well, not as open as North America. But you sound very smart and I’m sure you found a way to enjoy your two sides: French madame and American woman!

    @Aiglee – Nope, no special rule. I’m really surprised they didn’t ask you for the TOEFL or similar… it’s standard. In my case, I just thought I could do without because when I studied Chinese in France all the classes were in English (few material in French!) and I was just taking a class, not enrolling for full time. Mystery to me!

    @Annie – Thank you! Well, I guess it’s part of the immigration challenge. It’s interesting though. You will see 😉

    @Shantanu – I’m sure they will 😉

  11. Froggywoogie on

    As you said, you’re “only” 25 and still lots of time in front of you to realize your goals. Your feelings are what most immigrants’ are I suppose as I’m not in your shoes but if I remember well, you said once (I won’t check all of your blog to check out lol) you didn’t really feel French in your birth country: you’re a runaway girl in heart with all its advantages and disadvantages but your mind is much more free than many people who have a solid citizenship and a steady life. Enjoy the moments 🙂

  12. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about how she and her siblings were outcasts when they came to America from Italy. Somehow, they adapted and made lives for themselves. Times are different now, and immigration seems to be a big issue all over the world. I just read a story about France denying citizenship to an Arab woman, who’s married to a Frenchman and has children, because the government deemed her too submissive and not inline with the French ideals of equality among the sexes. That’s screwed up. If she wants to wear a hood, whose business is that?

    John J Savo, the Authoring Auctioneers last great read…Applying the F-Word

  13. I never said you’re bitter…I just said that I understand what you’re going through. It is difficult to define Canadian nowadays since we’re all mixed up with different cultures and ethnicities. I regard anybody who is Canadian citizen, a Canadian.

    bluefishs last great read…Quiz time

  14. Living in different countries is much easier these days in many ways, but there are still many trade-offs. I think job is one of the main ones – even when you can get past the bureaucratic hurdles it still seems there are some other more subtle barriers. Then other people end up living in places they don’t really want to be, just because their job sent them there!

    I am sure you will find your place though, with perseverence. The right attitude is one of the most important things!

    Lizs last great read…Darfur horse festival

  15. The bureaucracy can be a right pain. I completely understand your university/grade problem, it sucks how everything has to be on the same scale or all grades are converted the same way, regardless of the merit one deserves.

    I hope everything works out for you soon.

  16. Max Coutinho on

    Hey Zhu!

    “I have adopted Canada – but has Canada adopted me?” this is an excellent question!! My answer to it is: Canada is a damn fool if it doesn’t adopt you (there is still time)!! You are a major asset for that country (any country, d’ailleurs)!

    I also believe that after acquiring your citizenship, you will be able to get a better job. What you are experiencing is what governments, all over, do: protectionism. They are protecting national citizens’ interests.

    There is one thing you said that is quite interesting: one can’t erase his past, his origins! Indeed, we can’t! It is part of our ID, it is part of whom we are…and girl, the French in you is what makes you unique in the middle of that nation. Your travelling, your experience, your birth country and now your adopted one…all that is Zhu!

    I am sure somebody will notice your CV soon. Hey, have you thought about working for a publisher (reviewing texts)? They always need people who speak languages…even if you start as an assistant (it’s not bad, trust me; I am one lol)!

    You don’t sound bitter to me, you are just sharing your thoughts and feelings, and I am glad you trusted us to do it :D! Thank you for the honour *bowing*!

    I know you don’t have a spiritual belief, but from the heart I say: may God bless you, my friend! You are a splendid soul!


    Max Coutinhos last great read…The Vaticinators

  17. Hey Zhu, I’ve read with interest your last post becuse I was also seriously thinking of moving to Canada in the short term. You can’t imagine how valuable are your thoughts of living there, for other people who’s about to get a ticket to Canada like me, .

    I’m totally aware how nice Canadians are: Some time ago, found myself driving into a part of my city I didn’t know too well, and decided to ask for directions to the first dude I came across. She turned out to be a Canadian tourist (yeah, with the red maple leaf sticker included), who came up with a map and did her best to give me directions…in Chile!. Not sure if other tourists would mind losing time on that. It was funny to be guided by a foreigner in your own city, but it was also my first sense of the ‘Canadian kindness’.

    Have you thought of doing online freelance jobs? I feel that your French/English skills may be much valued for foreigners.

    Best luck!

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