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Why Life in Canada is Both Exhausting and Full of Opportunities

Ottawa, November 2021
Ottawa, November 2021

Sometimes, it feels like living in Canada is just too much work. It’s a big place, getting around is neither easy nor cheap, plus harsh winter weather for at least four or five months. An individualistic culture prevails, so don’t expect to rely on various government levels or the community in general for support. It can get very lonely for immigrants because trusted long-distance relatives and friends are clueless about new challenges faced in a foreign culture. Healthcare and childcare are hard to access. Post-secondary education is expensive. Employee benefits are pretty basic. You’re on your own for many aspects of life.

On bad days, it’s freaking exhausting.

On good days, anything is possible.

For immigrants, the first constant dilemma that will never truly be resolved is who and what to trust—your culture and acquired common sense (possibly irrelevant in a completely different environment) or seemingly strange new ways of doing things. It takes a lot of trial and error to figure it out, a lot of energy to gain a new perspective on life. Eventually, you may end up embracing parts of Canadian culture and making peace with the fact some aspects of it are great but just not for you—I know I did.

Regardless, at one point or another, we all need help in life.

It took me ten years to need something from Canada. In our twenties, Feng and I had no money but no debt, a lot of freedom and few responsibilities. We weren’t irresponsible, mind you—we were working through life the North American way, from a series of minimum-wage jobs to careers we enjoy.

I was first introduced to the Canadian healthcare system in 2006 when Feng started complaining of back pain. He was barely able to stand up straight when we started going from walk-in clinic to walk-in clinic—“you’re young, just take Advil and walk it off!” was invariably the five-minute consultation final diagnosis. It took six months for a doctor to take him seriously and another six months wait for herniated disc surgery. He’s fine now, but he lost a year trying to access healthcare.

My turn to need help came in 2012 when I was pregnant. To put it bluntly, my experience with the Canadian healthcare system is disastrous. On the plus side, unlike our Southern neighbours, we don’t have to worry about medical debt. On the downside… well, where do I start? Waiting for years for a family doctor (we found one after 10 years, she quit, we’re back to square one), for months for referrals, for hours at walk-in clinics. Five-minute consultations and the “one issue per visit” rule. Not being taken seriously and not being listened to. No follow-up, you’ll never see the same doctor twice. I blame the system, not healthcare professionals, by the way—they looked completely burned out long before the plague.

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of healthcare in Canada.

Childcare was also a major hassle and it’s a big issue for immigrants who don’t have relatives around. We finally found a daycare centre for Mark when he turned two. The first one ($1500/month) declared bankruptcy a month later. The second one ($1000/month) closed before he even started. Third time’s a charm, but still, $800/month until kindergarten…

I find the education system exhausting as well. Mark’s public school feels like a mismanaged charity with inconsistent guidelines that reluctantly welcome kids for a few hours every day—no structure, no books, no homework and occasionally no teacher, but we do get tons of emails asking us to support reconciliation, racialized and minoritized individuals, anti-bullying policies, transgender identity, coffee fundraisers, virtual (!!) bake sales… Count me in (except for bake sales), but none of this feels particularly genuine, it’s just a script being followed.

The size of the country, the distribution of powers and the many jurisdictions are always a bit confusing and mind-boggling to me because France is still a very centralized state—smaller place, for sure, but one time zone, one legal system, a relatively consistent experience throughout the country.

Honestly, sometimes I feel there’s no adult in charge in Canada, that we’re all just making it up as we go along.

But what makes Canada at times so exhausting to me—this individualistic, “take care of yourself” society—is also why there are so many opportunities to seize.

This is the good side of Canada.

Far from your culture and support system, you tend to be bolder, more willing to take risks and try something new. This attitude is generally encouraged by a “whatever works for you” mindset. It’s okay to start your own business, change career, move around the country, be whoever you want to be, live the life you choose and change your mind along the way.

Canada is a country where you can meet people from all over the world and discover dozens of cultures just walking down the street.

You can fit in, in Canada.

My own experience is purely anecdotal, of course—and for the record, I don’t regret a thing. I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities and life in France.

I learned a lot in Canada, including being self-reliant, trusting my instinct, trying new ways of life…

But yeah, it’s exhausting.

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