Sometimes, I feel like I’m pitching Canada to the world. See how cool life is here! See how nice this country is! See how friendly people are, and how easy the immigration process is! You can be one of us too! Canada—the country where you will succeed!
It makes me cringe.
I don’t want to “sell” Canada.
I have been chronicling my life as an immigrant and a traveller for ten years. I dissect cultural differences here and elsewhere because they amuse me, but I’m rarely bluntly negative, although I’m often sarcastic. I conduct my own very unscientific sociological studies to understand the world better. But this blog remains my story: one adventure, the path of a twenty-something-now-thirty-something woman.
Unlike many prospective immigrants, settling in Canada wasn’t a lifelong dream for me. I came as a naive 20-year-old who had nothing to lose and zero expectations—some call it the “best-case scenario.” My immigration process was stressful but extremely fast. I am married to a Canadian who introduced me to the culture, and Feng is also an immigrant and a traveller with a global perspective beyond Canada.
In short, my story—or parts of it—is unique yet common, personal yet relatable.
I don’t want to “advertise” Canada. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s the best place on earth. My articles are usually reasonably positive because overall, immigrating to Canada worked out for me. However, I feel like I obliterated my struggles and fast-tracked to “success,” whatever that is. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Like most people, I don’t dwell on tough times. I get through and move on.
I can name a hundred of things I hate in Canada, ranging from the innocuous to the borderline deal breakers. Do you want examples? Okay. I can’t stand winter—that’s almost a deal breaker. I hate the fact people value personal space so much that we are all a bunch of robots who never interact, and never touch each other. I can’t stand political correctness. It annoys me that cities are built for cars, not people. I will never eat dinner at 6 p.m. I find North American-style parenting overprotects kids and fusses too much around them. I think too much emphasis is put on spending money and achieving a lifestyle promoted by media, as if the only way to be happy was to have a giant house in the suburb. Food is meh. I find Canadian society a tad too conservative and consensual. I hate Tim Hortons coffee.
Phew. Sorry, eh.
My life in Canada isn’t perfect. I chose to stay because I think I’m doing better here than I would in France or elsewhere in the world.
Yet, I often heard the Clash song playing in my head—“should I stay or should I go?”
Does it surprise you?
I clearly remember the first time such a thought crossed my mind, on a summer night in 2004. Feng was at work and I was smoking a cigarette on the porch. I was bored. I wasn’t working (I would apply for a work visa a few months later) and I felt lonely. Yet, it was bearable, because I was discovering a new culture, living with Feng and kind of making long-term plans.
I took a last drag on the Lucky Strike, looked up at the sky, sighed and considered dinner options. And suddenly, my heart started beating very fast. I felt nauseous and I started to shake. I sat on the porch, dizzy, heart still racing, and tried to take a few deep breaths. I had no idea what was going on. I don’t know how long I stayed there, trying to regain control of my body and my mind. Eventually, I stepped in and went through the motions, shower, and dinner, but I was strangely detached from my surroundings. I chalked it up to the cigarette or to too little sleep—Feng and I were night owls.
A few days later, it happened again. I felt I was going crazy. I mentioned it to my mother over the phone. “It sounds like a panic attack,” she said softly.
I started to cry uncontrollably. My body was expressing what I wasn’t saying out loud. I wasn’t doing great. I wanted to go home.
I had lived the first few months in Canada on a constant high, exhilarated to discover the country and to be with Feng. The reality was catching up. I was lonely, far from my family, trying to smooth out the inevitable bumps of a cross-cultural relationship and worrying about the future.
The panic attacks lasted for a while. Then I went back to France for a few weeks, sorted out a work visa and returned to Canada for round two of the adventure.
I hit another low in 2008-2009. I was tired of my job as a French teacher but I had no idea what to do with my life. I resented to the fact I didn’t have a Canadian degree, I thought I was being unfairly penalized for that. I tried to go back to university but I lack guidance. A few months later, life got better again, and in an unexpected plot twist, I found a new career as a translator.
The latest low was probably after Mark was born. I hadn’t expected to feel so tired, too lonely, so overwhelmed. I had underestimated the challenges of raising a kid without a strong support network, stuck between several cultures—French, Canadian and Chinese. This low lasted for a long time. I think we are doing better now, but every now and then, I dream of another life, somewhere else.
Why do I stay in Canada? The answer is both simple and complicated. Because at this stage, Canada offers me—offers us—the basic tenets of a happy life: a safe uncomplicated country with an okay economy. Because I also strongly suspect that I would eventually find flaws in any place in the world. Because at one point, you have to live somewhere and make the best of it.
Immigrating is a bit like getting into a new relationship. Does he look normal? He is kind? Does have a sense of humour? Yeah, makes sense to go for a second date—why not? Only time will tell if he is right for you.
Canada is a hell of a lot better than many countries on earth that are facing wars, terror, dictatorships or deep economic struggle. Canada is safe, the healthcare system is reliable (and free at the point of use), the justice system is fair and people usually leave you alone—you are free to live the life you want. If you live in a developing country, Canada may offer you better material opportunities. If you are from a first-world country, you may find yourself constantly comparing the two countries to get the best of both worlds.
I don’t know if Canada is right for you. I don’t even know if it’s right for me. I chose to live here at one point in my life because it was an option and I picked it. Would I move for a better opportunity? Maybe. I don’t know.
This is life, not a rehearsal. Decisions have to be made and chances are, a trade-off is involved. I am familiar with the trade-offs I made to stay in Canada, and I accepted them.
Some days, it hit me. I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Maybe the answer is very simple, after all. I came to Canada because I could. I stayed because it was an option and it sounded alright. And I make the best of my life here because I chose to.