Last month marked my two year anniversary of moving to Canada or my “Canniversary” if you will.
Two years! It’s been an incredible ride!
“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”
Sometimes I have to pinch myself just to make sure that I imagine, I didn’t dream it; to make sure that I am really here. My time in Canada has been phenomenal, incredible, amazing, challenging, invigorating, terrifying, frustrating, emotional, exhausting and everything in between. There aren’t enough single words that can sum up my experience to date.
Although I can say that it is without a shadow of doubt – the best decision I have ever made; I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that there have been times when it has also been the worst decision I ever made.
This may sound like a contradiction in terms – how can something be both the best and the worst decision that I’ve made at the same time? I can explain……
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
When I initially decided to move to Canada, it was a bit of an experiment. My inspiration came predominantly from a then friend of mine, who was in the process of embarking on her own expat adventure to get married. (Sadly, we are no longer in touch but you can read more about her experience(s) through her blog).
I’d worked for the same global company for four and half years. During that time, I met some amazing friends, friends-of-friends and co-workers who would share stories about having made similar moves (albeit to, rather than from, the UK) and it made me think about having my own adventure. What that looked like, I couldn’t tell you….all I knew was that I needed a change, and that it needed to be a big one.
I felt that I had fallen into a rut from a professional perspective and had always wanted to live and work internationally but had never really had the chance before. A change in circumstances (predominantly the possibility of losing my job through redundancy and finding myself to be in a financially stable position) finally meant that if I was ever going to seriously explore this as an option it was going to be “now or never”.
I started exploring many possible destinations, slowly narrowing them down based on location, flying time to and from the UK, time zone difference, language(s) spoken, whether or not there were poisonous critters or creepy-crawlies to contend with (don’t want to be jumping out of my skin every time I leave the house) and many other factors. I also spent some considerable time trying to get an understanding of both the visa options available to me and immigration process(es) themselves – particularly in terms of complexity and processing times.
I wanted a new life experience; which for me meant immersing myself completely in a new city, country and culture (taking an extended holiday and visiting as a tourist wasn’t going to cut it) but I wasn’t quite ready to commit to anywhere for “forever” at that point, nor was I particularly keen to embark on a complex, expensive and very lengthy immigration process to emigrate somewhere if I wasn’t absolutely sure that I was going to like it.
Somewhere along the line, I found out about the “International Experience” or Working Holiday programs that the UK has with a number of countries that allow British Citizens aged between 18 and 30 years old to travel, live and work for up to 12 months at a time (some offer the option of applying for a second year if I decided I wanted to stay longer).
Through a process of elimination, I finally settled on Canada and decided to apply for a working holiday visa under the International Experience Canada initiative (more about that in another post).
The main reasons that I chose Canada included:
- They speak (for the most part) English, so I would be able to communicate fairly easily,
- There are several direct flights to and from Heathrow, so I wouldn’t have an overwhelming travel itinerary, and could easily (if I needed) get back home,
- The east-coast is only 5 hours behind the UK, so staying in touch with friends and family would be relatively painless,
- Canada is technologically savvy, so I would be able to utilise Skype, FaceTime and other technologies to keep the cost of keeping in touch within a manageable range,
- I had only ever visited once before, and only for a few days so I would definitely get the chance to explore new territory,
- Proximity to the USA and many of my friends, who I had been promising to visit for years but not been able to due to time, money, etc.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
I moved because I wanted change, new challenges, new things to see and experience and a chance to live my life in a totally different way. Sure, I could have moved somewhere else in the UK, but that would have given me an easy way out – I could always have gone home. No, that would be too easy. I needed an option that would really force me out of my comfort zone so that I had no choice but to look at things differently.
I was taking a leap of faith; a very big one.
I was leaving behind everything and everyone that I had known for my entire life, for something that was totally unknown. It would either be the greatest experience or the biggest disaster of my life.
Luckily everything has worked out; and what has happened since then has been an adventure more exciting than I could have ever imagined or hoped for.
Over the last twenty four months, I’ve turned my entire world, upside-down, inside-out and back again. I am not the same woman that arrived in Toronto two years ago and that’s a really good thing. I feel happier, stronger, more confident, much more resilient, more tolerant and ready to take on whatever the day throws at me (well, most of the time anyway).
“Be careful what you wish for”
Inevitably, with the good times, sometimes comes the bad; I have definitely had my fair share of ups and downs, and whilst I am by no means complaining, it hasn’t been easy.
I’m told that the challenges and frustrations that I’ve faced are fairly typical among expats, and although I’ve seen this to be true (even within my own circle of friends) it doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve felt at times that I’m fighting an uphill struggle; desperately trying to move past being “the newbie” and just “be me”. At the same time, I want to “fit in”.
Toronto genuinely welcomes newcomers and embraces diversity, but it is a city that can be very reluctant to change, or trying something new. As a Brit here (even after two years), whilst I’m still somewhat of a “novelty” (read: new, shiny and exciting), the minute I open my mouth to speak, it’s immediately obvious that I’m different – this difference can be unsettling especially in a work context.
“If hard work matters, you’re going to make it”
I was always taught that you get what you earn in life. Sure, luck, being in the right place at the right time (and knowing the right people) definitely helps – but for the most part you get out what you put in, plain and simple. You make your own luck. If you work hard and do a good job people will want to work with you.
The Toronto job market is fairly fluid, there are always new opportunities (assuming you’ve got the right skills and credentials), finding a job can be comparatively easier than it is in the UK. For me, the biggest challenge has been finding a role that is the right (mutual) fit. There doesn’t seem to a one-size-fits-all-magic-formula to this (or at least, I haven’t found it yet) and that can be incredibly frustrating.
The Canadian workplace is in many ways very different to the UK. As an employee you have few(er) rights, and very little security or stability – you are in many ways disposable and that can lead to feeling vulnerable and exposed. It becomes a lot more about who you know and survival of the fittest, rather than doing the job, and doing it well. This has been very eye opening for me; and in a weird twist of fate this culture opened a new door for me – the opportunity to establish myself in Canada through building my own business. For the first time ever, I could choose the work I wanted to do, who I wanted to work with and the way I wanted to work. It has been scary as hell, but I found myself doing work that I loved, doing it on my own terms and that people were willing to pay me to do it. I found my own way to survive in the Toronto workforce – something that I would never have had the courage to do, had I stayed in the UK.
It’s a little ironic that I’m now craving routine and stability (two things that I had in the UK). I’m told this will come with time and that I have to be patient (not my strongest suit). I fully intend to keep building up my business, but I am also actively exploring opportunities to join a company on a longer term basis, or as a friend of mine recently put it: I’m defecting back to the dark side. Right now, I need the security of a regular pay check and the feeling of belonging that comes from being part of a defined team.
Whilst there are many similarities with life in the UK; something that I truly believe has made it easier for me to settle in Toronto than some of my counterparts from around the world – I do have to keep reminding myself that it’s not the same and I need to stop expecting (or wanting) it to be the same. It wasn’t, it isn’t and it won’t be.
“Fake it, till you make it”
I’m the first one to admit that I’ve been incredibly lucky, I am incredibly lucky; I’m out in the real world without a safety net, and I’m on my own. I can’t just “be” – I have to survive and that means working harder than everyone else, keeping my head high, a smile on face and my mouth shut. Someone recently told me that if hard work matters, I’m going to make it – I hope they are right.
“You can’t (always) go home again”
I am regularly asked if I like it here – the answer is (and should always be) yes. After all, I chose to be here, and Toronto is starting to feel like home.
Last year, I applied for Permanent Residency (more details in another post). Two years ago, I chose to be here, now I am choosing to stay here. I love living in Canada, and I love Toronto, but I hate that so much is still new.
In the year ahead, I hope that I can continue to (slowly but surely) find my way around, find my feet and find my “fit”. There are times when I feel totally settled and embedded yet equally disconnected from Toronto and life here at the same time; add to that the “need” to seem ever positive and it’s definitely a roller-coaster ride from an emotional perspective.
The option to go home to the UK was (and will) always there if I choose that’s what I want to do – but it’s not as easy as it sounds, and will inevitably get more difficult the longer I am away.
My friend Rachel recently wrote a similar post in which she explained a similar emotion: “I already feel too Canadian to move back to Britain but I am also too British to feel completely settled here….yet.” (Well said, Rachel!)