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The Wall

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?

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