The challenges of immigration

We love sharing about how great life in Canada is – the beauty, the safety, the fun things to do, the adventure – but this doesn’t mean that things have always been perfect, or that they’ve been easy.

When it comes to immigration, we can often choose to see life through rose-tinted glasses. You want to see the good, you want to believe the grass is greener, and yes, it is, literally and figuratively – I’ve never seen such green grass as I have in Calgary in the spring. But I digress…

Today it’s time to get a bit more real, and to share some of the harder parts of this journey. It’s time to talk about the challenges of immigration.

The limbo

Once you make the decision to emigrate, one of the first things you may experience is the limbo. You find yourself living this split life – one foot in your home country and the other already wishing you were in your new country. It’s a long and tiring process and patience is one of the most important lessons you’ll learn. Immigration is often a game of hurry up and wait. There is so much admin and this all takes time – and often the wait for documents, appointments, and the submission process for your application will take a lot longer than you ever anticipated. It can be painful and frustrating, but you have to keep going, you can’t give up – you have to keep your end goal in mind, always.

Just because it’s hard and more challenging that you expected, doesn’t mean it’s not meant to be. Things may happen that will make you question the process and whether you’re making the right decision, but you just need to keep focused. I promise you, it will all be worth it!

Relationships

Perhaps the greatest toll on a person when it comes to immigration is on their relationships – whether this is with their partner, their kids, or family and friends back in their home country. Immigration is an emotional rollercoaster and this includes the ups and downs when it comes to relationships and you may find yourself having many more arguments as emotions are high as you face many fears, worries, and the unknown. You may lash out at those closest to you as you try to cope with all the changes. You’ll learn things you never knew about yourself and your partner – you may be shouting at each other one day and then be crying together the next. But through it all, you need to stay strong and never forget why you journeyed together in the first place.

Once you arrive in your new country, comes the challenge of building new relationships and perhaps, in some cases, letting go of old ones. It can be a lonely journey when your family and friends are so far away. Thankfully, with modern technology, it’s easy to see and speak to your loved ones as often as you like. It’s still hard, though, especially on those special occasions, like birthdays, weddings and Christmas, when everyone is together and you’re on the other side of the planet and feeling completely isolated from it all.

It’s so important to be mindful of your emotions and how you’re feeling. Discuss them openly with your partner and make sure you are there for each other. Most importantly, you need to ensure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to your expectations, hopes, and plans for your emigration – if you’re not on the same page, then this is when things can become very complicated.

The financial burden

There is no escaping it, immigration is a very expensive journey and it can set you back financially, leaving you to catch up when it comes to pensions, retirement, and just keeping up with the basic cost of living and rebuilding a comfortable lifestyle in Canada. You need to plan it all very carefully, and plan for many hidden costs that you may not have been expecting. It can become even more expensive when you arrive in your new country without a job and may have to start digging into your savings. If you think you’re saving enough, you probably aren’t.

Although you may find some things cheaper in Canada than back home, there are many things that are way more expensive, and this can be quite a shock to the system. It’s not only the actual visa and travel costs that will add up, but it’s also all the start-up costs you’ll have to factor in when arriving – temporary accommodation and transport, buying a car, paying a rental deposit, getting insurance (which is very expensive and may have to be paid a year in advance), buying new car seats for the kids, winter clothing, new furniture and household goods, driving lessons and new driver’s license. But then there is also the positive side in that, while your taxes are high, there is a much greater return of investment in the quality healthcare, education, and other benefits you’ll receive.

Finding work

Finding a job in Canada can be a huge stumbling block for many new immigrants, and while there are some who are lucky enough to land a job before they arrive in Canada, there are many more who may take weeks and even months to find a job once they land. Even though you may be highly qualified and experienced in a certain field back in your home country, it doesn’t mean that any potential employer will recognise this. The elusive “Canadian experience” requirement is something many immigrants talk about and what many companies are looking for. But this all depends on your industry, and sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw of whose desk your resume lands on and whether they are willing to give you a chance.

The job search can be quite a disheartening experience and one that can cause the most stress. You may have come from a high-level executive position and now may be forced to take a few steps back on the corporate ladder. There is absolutely no shame in that. It’s something you just have to keep at – get your name out there, ensure your resume is in the correct format for Canada, always have a great cover letter and keep applying for as many jobs as you can. Sometimes the interview will go really well, or at least that’s your impression, but then you are completely ghosted by the company, and then other times, it may go spectacularly badly, but you may be pleasantly surprised. The trick is to not give up – when you get knocked down, get back up again. Widen the search, lower your expectations and don’t give up.

Children

Children are resilient and often adjust to their new surroundings surprisingly quickly. But don’t underestimate the effect moving will have on them. At the end of the day, they have been taken away from everything that they know and love, and they may not understand why. When they are used to their school and friends, and used to seeing grandparents and other family on a regular basis and now they don’t, this can have a negative impact. They may also see mom and dad being emotional and struggling with the adjustments, and this can also rub off on them. We found that it was good to keep busy and to explore all the fun things there were to do in our new city – to show them all the great things there are to enjoy, especially in the new climate of snowy winters. Which also brings about a whole new challenge of dressing and new routines of boots, coats, hats – something many of our kids aren’t used to. We tried to integrate them into the every-day routine of life in Canada as soon as possible.

Perhaps one day they will see it and understand why you brought them here, but at first, they may struggle with all the adjustments, and act out. We have had quite a struggle with our one little girl who really doesn’t cope well with change, and we have had to be very patient with her and with ourselves. The school teachers have also been amazing in helping her adjust and as they have become more settled in school and made friends, it has become somewhat easier. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – there are so many great resources for families when it comes to coping with all the changes and getting settled into Canada.

Culture shock

You see a lot of Canada in the media and it’s an English-speaking country, and obviously you would have done your research about the country before arriving, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t face some element of culture shock when you arrive. The reality is that there are many things that are going to seem completely foreign to you, and some days you’re going to feel completely overwhelmed with it all.

There may be days where you do or say something odd and get a negative reaction from a local, or you drive up the wrong side of the road, or you just feel somewhat lost, and you’re going to want to just crawl into a hole for the day, or worse, want to go “home” to the familiar – to the people and places you know, where you understand how things work, you understand the language and what to expect. Back to a place where you belong. A place where you don’t feel overwhelmed and like a complete stranger to everything and everyone around you. But, over time, you’ll soon learn how to say or do things and it will become second nature. You just need to be patient with yourself, and also be patient with your new community.

Get involved at your kids’ school, find a church, explore the shops, enjoy the activities and cultural experiences to try to integrate into your new community as much as possible. Don’t just stick with people from your home country. At first this may be the easiest and most comfortable thing to do – but you need to get out there and become a part of your new community and figure out your place within it. Step out of your comfort zone and create meaningful connections with those around you. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative when it comes to social interactions and inviting new friends over.

The admin

When you emigrate, there is a ton of admin that goes along with the journey – not only before you leave your home country, but especially after you arrive in your new country. You’re basically restarting your whole life from scratch and this means having to change or redo certain things such as your driver’s license, finding a rental, getting insurance, buying a car, getting health insurance, getting an ID (SIN number), sorting out utilities, finding a school for your kids, buying furniture, and in many cases, even finding a job. You’re basically going to be cramming the last twenty years of life’s admin into a few short days and weeks, and it’s exhausting. It can take an emotional and mental toll on you when you’re trying to sort this all out in a foreign country where you don’t always understand the culture or how things are done, and all the while you may have little kids in tow as you don’t have anyone to watch them for you, so they end up getting carted all over the place – and we all know how much little kids like this…

You need to be organized and take it one step at a time. Do your research, have your list, and work your way down it. Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice – there are plenty of people who have all been through this process and are willing to share their insights.

Shopping, brands and all things new

It can be overwhelming the first time you walk into a shop in Canada. Supermarkets are often so massive, and the variety of products can be quite incredible. It can be quite a challenge to find the brands you were used to or to find new substitutes, especially when it comes to snacks that your kids may have been used to – but you have to just let this go and realise you’re in a new country and you have to embrace all the new options. Of course, it’s lovely to have a taste of “home” once in a while, but I really find it quite interesting when I see South Africans come to Canada and only buy certain South African products, particularly when it comes to wine. There is such an amazing variety of wine and other options of craft beers and ciders here from all over the world and we are so spoilt for choice that every day we could try something new. The same goes for clothing and other household goods – there are so many options and we are spoilt for choice with the different products. It may take you a while to find everything, but this is all part of the adventure. We have actually loved this aspect of life here.

There is no doubt about it, immigration is hard work – it’s certainly not the easy way out. There will be many challenges and obstacles along the way, but it’s how you deal with them, and your attitude, that will make all the difference. While you can dream about the future and how wonderful it may be, you also need to keep your expectations in check – be realistic about the process, what it involves, and what you’re prepared to do to make it happen.

If you keep your end goal in mind and keep remembering why you’re doing this, you will get through it, and it will be so be worth it!

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