For the past couple of days I’ve been busy writing a plan for my blog, which I intend to grow in the upcoming 2 years, and I realized that there was always this one topic I wanted to write about – Life of an Immigrant – and what it really means to be a new arrival in a foreign country.
A week ago, I was on the terrace in the back yard of my building, and it happened that 3 other neighbors came out to enjoy the weather too. One of them is a native Canadian, born and raised in Quebec, and the rest of us were all immigrants of a little over or less than 2 years. We were all talking and joking, having a wonderful time, and our Canadian neighbor decided to share his good news – that he’s getting promoted to a very high position. We all congratulated him and wished him luck, to which he replied with sincere “thank you” and said: “Yeah, that’s what you get when you work hard for 10 years and are committed to what you do!”
Oh man! How right he was. Yet, out of a sudden, a thought came to my mind that kept bothering me:
– We are 3 families of immigrants talking to him, we all have over 10 years of work experience, we all did something in our countries, but here we are, back at Square 0 (zero), starting life anew and growing from what we have brought with us: experience, life hacks, hopes and dreams!
If you’ve never left your country of origin, or you don’t want to, let me tell you from the start that the choice of immigrating is one of the hardest ever you’ll have to make in life. You conscientiously choose to leave your country, in order to look for better life opportunities. You go through unimaginable emotional stages before you make the big leap. You have at least several times when you want to give up on everything, then, you remind yourself of why you want to immigrate, and you grind your teeth, you pack your bags, you fly away, you settle in the new country, and couple months later you realize that you have left your HOME. And yes – it’s only after several months that you actually start to understand that you have immigrated to a new country.
You see, from afar, you look at pictures of your immigrant friends on social media, and you think: “Oh, how lucky they are! How wonderful life seems to them! How happy and fulfilled they look!” and so on and so forth. But what if I told you that every single step in their life is a struggle and pain?
The first year as an immigrant is the hardest one. Pretty much like the first year of marriage. It’s the trial and error period of new arrivals. Everything you have built during the 20-30 years in your home country, you must rebuild where you are in only 3-5 years. And this is one tough nut to crack, I dare say!
There’s a huge list of things that need to be done before you can feel yourself normally settled in the new country, and I won’t go through all of them, but to give you an idea of what life of an immigrant looks like during the new-phase, I’ll list some below:
– Find an apartment to rent. Know the boroughs or regions of the city, pricing scale, documentation required by the landlord, and some basic laws in order to not be taken advantage of as a new arrival.
– Know institutions and make appointments to have your local documents issued. This process can get very frustrating for many, especially because there are several documents you need to have locally, and all of them have different requirements before submitting your forms.
– Submit request to find a family doctor.
– Change your driving license to the local one. You need to pass 2 exams: theoretical and practical.
– Learn as much as you can about local public transportation (single fare, bundle of tickets, monthly passes, routes, means of transportation), because this will be your only way of moving around in the city for the first X months.
– Learn about all the organizationsyou might have to address to in order to request help for governmental programs, social help, networking, free health services, employment opportunities, career counselling services, free legal advisers, tax return specialists, etc.
– Apply to the Ministry of Immigration to have your higher education diploma equivalency done. You might also require some additional documents from your country’s embassy, so more money involved here, which is frustrating if you’re on a tight budget (and everyone is when they first arrive).
– Find a job. Learn about local websites for job postings. Adjust your CV and cover letter to the local requirements. Wait at least 3-6 months to get a better job opportunity. Start a job at the minimum wage. Work your way up, and be prepared to return to studies (at least 6 months at an intensive pace, with no sleep and weekends at all, no kidding!) if you aim at better position and salary.
– If you have children – Oh boy! This one is hard! The process usually needs to start from your country of origin. You need to find school and/or kindergarten first. Learn about their schooling system. Read reviews. Decide what you want for your kids. Register them at the chosen institution (in Canada, there’s a centralized website curated by the government, where you do everything necessary, and makes your life a little easier), because the waiting list is stretched to a minimum of 1 year. Then, upon arrival, find them a pediatrician, have their vaccine record updated to the local law and standards and expect to have one more vaccine administered to them (again – standards). Add here the everyday commutes to and from school/kindergarten, additional classes like swimming, dancing or karate. And the list goes on.
– Know your local grocery stores, or other stores to buy home goods and bulkier articles. Again, basically all stores have the same produce, but at different prices. If you know the market well, you can get great quality products at a lower price if you know the right store to go to. And, in Canada, if a competitor store sells an article at a slightly lower price, like eggs at 2,88$, and in the other store they are 2,98$, you can request the eggs at the lowest price by showing the store cashier that week’s flyer.
So, these are the biggest points an immigrant bases his life upon, and I can’t tell you enough how hard the integration process can be. Also, let’s not forget the new language and cultural differences the immigrants need to adjust to, the working standards and expectations they have to learn when starting a new job, which is typically lower than their position in their country of origin, the adjustment to the new system and life. It gets so draining and lonely at times, that you feel like you can’t do this anymore. But you keep moving forward, and each day makes you stronger than you were before.
As a conclusion to my post, I’d like to ask all of you to be a little kinder to anyone you meet in your life. Immigrants, non-immigrants, we all make choices in life that lead us to our dreams, and I believe that this fact deserves respect on its own. I’ve met so many brilliant immigrants who can do great things in life, yet, they are stuck where they were after university graduation, and it feels to them like life is turned upside-down. Their courage and determination, though, make their strengths shine so bright, that nothing seems impossible to them after a while.
Do not judge immigrants, but rather, give them a chance to flourish. Do not envy them, but rather, provide them your support. Do not laugh at them, but rather, show them your understanding. Because behind it all, there still stands a human being, with feelings and fears just like your own.