Category Archives: Expat Issues

Expat Revelations – How I’ve Changed

The ability to adapt is, in my humble opinion, the single most important trait that any successful expat needs to possess. Being able to accept, or even embrace change on a daily basis is vital. It is, therefore, inevitable that in order to integrate into a new culture, regardless of how similar it may appear to be from your home country, you will change.

I don’t think I have changed dramatically although I know some of the personality traits I already had have become more pronounced. Who I am, my beliefs and core values remain the same but I have changed in subtle ways.

I am stronger, braver and more self-reliant than ever and although it is in my nature to be very cautious I find myself more willing to take risks, after all there is little in life as risky as upping sticks and moving to a different continent and if I can make a success of that then I can deal with pretty much anything else!

I think because I notice the difference between me those around me it has made me more self-aware, I am quieter and, truth be told, more withdrawn now and I have much less confidence because of those differences.   Although I do feel that I know myself better now as having to deal with new experiences all the time has made me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses.

I am without doubt more emotional than before and being an emotional person to begin with that probably isn’t a good thing! I am very quick to tears now and that I think is because I constantly feel the absence of my family and friends. I’m not sure that will ever change and I guess it is something that I will get used to in time.

 

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What makes me happy has changed, like taking a walk in a pretty spot, photographing a beautiful landscape, camping in the forest or canoeing at sunset and it doesn’t get better than hot chocolate and a roaring fire in the winter while the snow falls.

 

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Adapting to a different culture, landscape and weather patterns have all changed me but nothing has changed me more than learning to live without my loved ones.

Joining in with Expat Revelations – How I’ve changed since Expatriation hosted by the lovely Holly at English Girl Canadian Man

 

English Girl Canadian Man
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Expat Revelations – Self Esteem

The very lovely Holly at English Girl Canadian Man has come up with a range of themes for us to write about to help newbie expats, like us, get our heads around some of the issues we need to face on a daily basis. Our first topic is Self Esteem.

My self-esteem has been boosted and taken hits in equal measure since we began our expat journey but on balance my self-esteem issues seem to have worsened since we have been here in Canada.

The Hits.

Constantly being told you are saying things wrong or weird. Feeling different from everyone else, looking different and generally feeling unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable all contribute to a constant assault on my already fragile self-esteem.

Probably the worst feeling though is when I feel completely alone in a room full of people.   No one really gets me here, they don’t understand what our lives were like back in England and they don’t understand them now. I can’t join in conversations when they talk about their past, childhood experiences that I don’t share or even their work week, they assume I don’t have an opinion because I’m not working right now. As a result of feeling like I have nothing valuable to contribute to a conversation, when I’m in a group of people I barely speak at all anymore. I have become much more withdrawn since becoming an expat.

There is no normal anymore, no familiar safe place to retreat to and restore my depleted resources. I screw up all the time while I relearn everything I thought I knew. I often go to bed feeling annoyed, disappointed and frustrated. I’m an intelligent girl after all but I can be completely defeated by a simple trip to the shops.

The Boosts

There have been many times when I have confronted a fear head on and alone and survived it. I’ve put myself in situations so far out of my comfort zone I can’t see the boundary and lived to tell the tale.

The thing is when there is no one there to see my achievements or share these experiences with, somehow they don’t feel so important. Which leads me to wonder whether my self-esteem is entirely based of the opinion of others. Do I need someone to tell me that I’ve done a good job or recognize an accomplishment in order to feel it myself?   The truth is, I probably do.

The added bonus.

One major bonus about being, in effect, invisible to the outside world where no one knows me at all is that there is no one there to see me fail. I only have my own conscience to deal with when I screw up, unless I choose to share it on the World Wide Web of course! If I fall off my heels and go arse over head in a DIY store and get so bruised I look like I’ve done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson (yes…I did) who cares, no one will ever know or no one that matters anyway.

The solution

I’m still working on a solution although I have noticed that the more I put myself outside of my comfort zone the more my confidence grows, albeit slowly.

I have discovered staying at home by myself just makes me feel a whole lot worse so I need to make the effort to get out.

When it comes to being invisible in a group, I’m happy for other to take centre stage, I’ve never been one to hold court anyway and I have my blog to help me ‘speak’ about things I want to.

The blogging community has been wonderful for empathizing with me, been a fabulous group of listeners, offered advice and they are very free with their compliments, which always makes me smile.

 

English Girl Canadian Man

Expat Experience – Spotlight on…Ontario Provincial Parks

I am delighted that Molly @ The Move to America has brought back the Expat Experience link up which gives us Expats bloggers a chance to share our thoughts and opinions on the country we now call home. This week our theme is the top places we have visited so I decided to share my favourite Provincial Parks… so far.

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We love camping as a family and it has been a fantastic way to get out and enjoy the ‘real Canada’. Every time we go we visit a different park and try to explore as much of the surrounding area as possible. Each park is different and has it’s own identity defined by the surrounding terrain, they are mainly in forests and alongside a body of water but are varied in their size and the facilities available. At this point I should mention that I always check Mycampsitereview.com for first hand experiences of a park and recommendations of the best sites.

 

No. 3 Fairbank Provincial Park

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Fairbank makes my number 3 spot because of its location.   Miles from anywhere it is ideally situated for stargazing, the night sky is breathtaking. The lake is also beautifully clear and warm and perfect for swimming and lazy days on the beach. Chutes provincial park is absolutely beautiful and well worth a visit, it’s just a short drive away.

Tip: Some of the campsites are very small, check the dimensions carefully before you book. The quieter sites are the ones alongside the lake away from the comfort station.

Chutes Provincial Park

Chutes Provincial Park

 

No. 2 Bon Echo Provincial Park.

I absolutely loved our stay in Bon Echo two weeks ago. Our site was huge and frequently visited by chipmunks, squirrels and deer, the lake was beautiful and perfect for trips out in the canoe. The native Indian pictographs are amazing to see. The beaches are gorgeous and hiking routes are plentiful.

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Tip; The forest here is quite dense so most campsites are in full shade making them mosquito heaven, don’t forget the bug spray!

 

No. 1 Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park

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We visited Samuel de Champlain at the end of August last year and it is my favourite park so far. The Horse Race Rapids run through the middle of the park which are tame enough for old and young alike to float down on any inflatable object they can get their hands on, it provides hours and hours of fun!

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The Mattawa River on the park offers stunning scenery and awesome canoe routes for a variety of abilities whether it’s a rented kayak to paddle just off the beach or taking your own canoe on a long trip with several portages.

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Tip; if you are going to ride the rapids carry a small waterproof container of salt just incase you need to rid yourself of a leech!

I’m sure this list will change as we discover more Provincial Parks and I wonder if Finlayson Point Provincial Park will make the list of my favourites when we visit there next week.

 

The Move to America

The Process of Moving Abroad

For this weeks Expat Experience link up we are sharing details of the visa process we went through in order to emigrate.

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Our Immigration Timeline

May 2007 First application submitted to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)

April 2010 CIC request for updated information, proof of eligibility, police checks and medicals.

July 2010 Visa’s granted

April 2011 Landed

July 2011 Moved

 

Following the emotional decision to emigrate ,the practical decisions on how to go about it began.

After careful research we decided that we would apply for permanent residency (PR) to Canada.  This method of application had a lengthy processing time of approximately 3 ½ years but the plus side was that we had more control of our future.  Unlike a work permit, which could have gotten us into Canada within a few short weeks, a permanent residency visa meant we would have PR status the minute we landed regardless of our employment situation.  We felt this method was more secure for us especially as the boys were 12 and 6 at the time.  If it wasn’t for them we may not have been so cautious but we didn’t want to move them if our future was uncertain.  Work permits are only temporary and there is a limit to how many times you can renew it, PR, by definition is permanent.

Our initial application was submitted in May 2007 and it was 2 years and 11 months until our application got to the top of the pile. Then it was time to prove that we were entitled to the points that we claimed back in 2007.

Points were given dependent on a number of criteria including your age, education, financial position and family situation.  We thought we had the points required to submit our application and now we had to produce the physical evidence to back it up and update the information we originally gave, after all a lot can change in 3 years.  We had three months to submit this and it took me almost that long to find, copy and collate it all.  We also had to include our police checks and attend medial examinations.

 

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On July 29th 2010 a courier returned our passports with our entry visa’s printed inside, we had 12 months from that date of our medicals to make our official landing in Canada. It was always our plan that our Eldest son would finish secondary school in the UK before we left to go to Canada and he had a year remaining, the timing was perfect for us. We booked flights for April 2011 while the boys were having their easter holidays so we could make our landing in Canada this was when we activated our visa’a and narrowed down the area we were intending to live in.  We also used this visit to open bank accounts, get our S.I.N.(social insurance number, equivalent to the UK’s National Insurance number) visit schools and find a realtor to help us buy a house.

We returned to the UK for 3 months to close up our business and sell up before we emigrated in July 2011.

My Top Tips before you move abroad

Research

Read magazines, sign up to forums, visit an emigrate show if you can. There is plenty of information available out there for you to take advantage of, learn about the process from people who have done it before you decide which option is best for you.

 

Get organized.

Create files of all your information, use folders, post-it notes and spread sheets.  You will need to collate a massive amount of information during the emigration process and you will need to keep track of all your correspondence and deadlines.  You can reduce your stress levels if you can immediately put your hand on the information you need instead of having to hunt for it.

 

Don’t waste money on a lawyer

There may be instances when using an immigration lawyer is the best thing to do but for the Average Joe they are unnecessary and expensive. There is no reason why you cannot submit the information yourself, the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website details the process step by step along with everything you need to submit for each part.  Applicants that use lawyers do not get processed any quicker than those that apply in person.

If you would like more information on our emigration journey please click on the ‘Thinking of emigrating to Canada?’ tab at the top of the page or to read more expat experiences click on the button below.

The Move to America

The Reason I Left – Expat Experience

The Move to America

 

Molly @ The Move to America has asked us to share the reasons behind the move in this week’s Expat Experience.

There were many factors that influenced our decision to emigrate. None more than the loss of my mother-in-law who had so many plans for her future but was tragically taken from us before she could complete any of them. We learnt from her the importance of living for today.
Our business had become albeit successful, a bit of a monster. I could see Hubbie physically aging (I’m sure I did the same) as I watched him deal with the stresses, strains and long hours that was part and parcel of being a business owner. We wanted to live in a semi-rural setting but needed to be close to London for our work that resulted in hours of crazy commute everyday which began to take it’s toll on Hubbies health. Having visited Canada on several occasions before we realized it could offer what England couldn’t – an outdoorsy, relaxed lifestyle with easy commutes into a prosperous city, good prospects for our boys and millions of miles for us to explore.
Our biggest concern with staying in England was whether it was the right place for our Sons to be. We wanted them to be able to buy their own home and get a stable job. With the economy in such a volatile situation that seemed unlikely.

Canada has turned out exactly as we expected so far, and I say so far even though we have been here 3 years this summer. The expat lifestyle is a fluid, ever changing and I’m sure there are still many twists and turns still for us to experience. So far though our day to day life is much more relaxed than it ever was in England  and we have thoroughly enjoyed exploring this beautiful country,

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Can you make it as an expat?

There are many things to consider before you embark on a journey like this my top three tips to help you decide are this:

Are you adaptable?
Stuck in you ways? If you are then don’t do it. Successful immigrants need to be adaptable and able to change with their environment. Everything will be different food, language, climate, you need to think of yourself as a regular chameleon, if you can’t change to suit your surroundings, forget it. If you can then get that application in there’s a world of possibilities on your doorstep

Are you trying to escape?
If your reason for moving is to escape then you need to consider what you are escaping from. You will still be you in another country, your gremlins will be the same too and mundane activities such as washing your windows, grocery shopping and the school run will be there too. If you’re trying to escape reality then you need to emigrate with a millionaire with one foot in the grave and the other on a bar of soap!

Prioritize
You need to weigh the pros and cons of a life abroad. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement with it all. New experiences, meeting new people and new places to explore but your family and friends won’t be there to share that with you. Is that a sacrifice you are willing to make?

If your answers to these are yes then go for it, Expat life is tough at times but it is very rewarding.

Language Barrier

Expat Experience – The Unexpected Challenge

The Move to America

When moving from the UK to Canada the one thing I never expected was a language barrier English is the first language here after all but it’s there and is evident on a daily basis.

We all grew up watching American TV shows and you soon pick up on the odd words that are different rubbish/garbage lift/elevator pavement/sidewalk but I have discovered the language barrier is subtler than that, many words that you would use every day in the UK aren’t used at all.  My husband uses ‘reckon’ frequently and this is one of those words that is never used here, in fact as we are from East London/Essex and occasionally use slang words several people thought it not a real word at all.

 

Simple every day interactions, such as discussing the time, highlight differences in language, Canadians will use ‘after’ instead of ‘past’ (eg. it’s 10 after 6) and although if you said it was 10 past 6 they would know what you meant it just sounds odd.

 

My accent, even though I have been told is not particularly strong, is regularly a source of frustration when people don’t understand what I’m saying and I find myself dreading having to make phone calls as I know it will be painfully difficult to make myself understood.  I have totally given up using the drive thru option if I want to grab a coffee at my local Tims because yelling my order fifteen times at the top of my lungs emphasizing a different part of the word each time is extremely irritating!

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Fancy a Double Double or a Medium Regular? Tim Hortons has a language all of it’s own

Being the ‘woman with the British accent’ singles me out from others, it makes me feel different and draws unwanted attention to myself which I don’t like but and it’s a big but I don’t want to change who I am or lose my identity which can come as a result of moving to a different culture.

 

3 Tips to help you cope with an unexpected language barrier

 

Learn the lingo – if the locals call it a cell phone then you call it a cell phone, saying mobile phone may make you feel frightfully British but it will always make you seem like an outsider.  Listen to the words the locals use and use them but don’t try to say them like they do as that comes across as sounding fake.

 

Enunciate – we all have a tendency to mumble at times, especially when we get comfortable in our surroundings, we use colloquialisms and speak too fast. Try no to do that, slow down and speak clearly.

 

Ask questions – if someone says something you don’t understand or uses a phrase you’ve never heard just ask them to clarify it.  Don’t try to pretend you understand if you don’t to try to save face, it could lead you into all sorts of trouble if you have misunderstood.

 

 

The Expat Experience – Everyday Experiences

Everyday life is completely different since our move to Toronto, which is pretty good really as that was exactly what we were aiming for.  Long gone are the days of juggling work and home life and being torn in several different directions at once.  Our business in England turned out to be a bit of a monster, lucrative and successful but a monster nonetheless, it consumed our free time, our patience and was a huge source of stress.

Life couldn’t be more different now, calm and mostly stress-free.  We spend more time together as a family during the week and at the weekend and this is what I love most about our new life. No longer are we consumed with work and we can spend time doing fun things.

 

Like weekends camping

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An evening bike ride along the lake

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Chilling out on the deck during the warm summer evenings

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Or around the fire in the winter

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All this free time has certainly given me time to think and I have learnt a lot about myself.  I haven’t had a paid job since our move, which ultimately means I spend the vast majority of my time alone which it turns out is actually ok, even though I never thought it would be.  I am much braver than I ever imagined and my courage to enter into new experiences without the support of my friends and family surprises me.

My top tips to making the most of everyday life as an expat

Be realistic – You may be able to spend the first few months acting like a tourist but eventually reality will catch up with you and the mundane part of everyday life like the school run, grocery shopping and laundry is still there regardless of what country you live in. However, make time to do things you wouldn’t normally do, take timeout to enjoy the differences between your old and new countries

Never stop exploring – It’s easy to get stuck in the familiar but it’s important to keep exploring, finding a new route home, a new hiking trail or a new place to visit on the weekend.

Don’t fight it – Accept the differences and try to appreciate them, it’s so easy to be consumed with frustration because something that should be so easy, like finding your way around a supermarket, takes three times as long.  A favourite saying over here is “it is what it is”, in other words things are different don’t waste your time wishing they were the same because they aren’t, accept it and enjoy it.

The Move to America

The Expat Experience – Thoughts of Home

For this week’s Expat Link Up Molly has asked us to talk about how we deal with homesickness.  Time to get out the Kleenex, I’m in for a bumpy ride!

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I’d go as far to say that homesickness is the only big draw back of the expat lifestyle.

The trouble is that it is a pretty big draw back and one that can consume you completely if left unattended.

My first real bout of homesickness was in September 2012, 14 months into our journey and the honeymoon period was well and truly over.  During our first year Hubbie wasn’t working so when the boys were at school we were busy making the house our own and finding our way around and exploring our surroundings.  But when September came around he found a job he was excited about and the boys went back to school after the long summer off and suddenly I discovered what our new life would be like with the men in the house out doing there thing and me left behind on my own.  Homesickness hit me like a sledgehammer.

I can’t say truthfully that I missed England that much, I miss old buildings and the history and familiar food but that is all really. I love where I live Canada is an amazing, beautiful country and absolutely the right place for our boys to be but nothing can ever replace our family and friends and missing them is what makes me feel terribly homesick.  I miss Sunday lunch with my Mum, Dad and Grandad, meeting up with my Sister in the school holidays, walking to school everyday with my friends our kids and their crazy dogs and those moments when the doorbell rings and it’s a friend popping in for a coffee.  When I feel homesick it’s more of a longing to spend time with those people I left behind rather that a need to be back in England.

 

Homesickness was the reason I got into blogging in the first place, thanks to the advice of my lovely sister-in-law Mama Syder.  It has given me an outlet for my emotions, allows me to share my new experiences with my Family and friends and through it I have discovered many fabulous people from all walks of life all over the world.

My top tips for overcoming homesickness:

Communicate

No one really understands the expat life style like other expats so whether it’s in ‘real life’ via an expat group or online via social media communicate with people that have been through it and know where you are coming from.  Use social media to keep in touch with your family and friends too, they don’t seem so far away when you can post a photo of where you are or what you are doing and get an immediate response.

 

A walk along the lake is good for the soul

A walk along the lake is good for the soul

Remind yourself why you moved in the first place.

For me, a stroll along the lake shore and taking 5 minutes to reflect on how little stress is in our lives now and how happy the boys are is usually enough to make me glad that I am here.

Treat Yourself

So what if you have to drive 10 miles for a pack of custard creams or a pay $6 for some oxo cubes, sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants (or stomach for that matter!) and a taste of the familiar can be a great morale boost.

 

The Move to America

The Expat Experience – Feeling at Home.

Feeling at home isn’t an easy task when you move countries and it’s difficult to balance your new and old lives.  When everything single thing in your life changes I think it is important to have some familiar things to help with the transition, whether it is familiar possessions or a familiar routine.  There is a fine balance between wanting to keep some things normal without replicating your old life and wanting to embrace your new surroundings without losing your identity completely.

Culture shock is something many expats experience and although it can manifest itself in many ways it is often a feeling of being completely overwhelmed by your unfamiliar surroundings, which results in feelings of extreme tiredness and anxiety.  Making our home a haven and surrounding ourselves with familiar things was my way to help us feel at home.  I allowed myself two boxes in the container for things I wanted to bring with us rather than things we needed to bring with us such as my collection of candleholders. None of them were particularly valuable in a monetary sense but many of them were gifts and I love them this one is my favourite, bought for me by my dear friend E.

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It was amazing how our house began to feel like a home the minute our container arrived and we began to hang our pictures and put our ‘things’ around the house.

 

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My favourite photo on the wall in my dining room

So here are my top three suggestions to help you feel at home.

1. Routine – There are certain parts of our daily routine that I continued when we moved that helped to give our new lives a sense of normalcy.  For example, we try as much as possible to have dinner together every night, I do my housework on a Friday so the house is clean for the weekend and I drove the kids to school. Although change is often a good thing it is comforting to everyone involved especially young children when you keep a few things the same.

2. When you plan for your move allow some space for your favourite possessions to put about your new home.  Outside the home everything you hear, see, smell and taste will be different to what you are used to so a few familiar things in your home gives you familiar place to retreat to.

3.  Remember your other senses too and enjoy familiar food, sounds and smells.  I like to burn vanilla candles and always have so that fragrance makes me feel at home.

 

Those that don’t embrace and accept their new culture and surroundings will ultimately never feel truly at home in their new country.  A few creature comforts will help in the meantime, like a meal made to the same recipe, or a old blanket to curl up in but at the end of the day only time will make you feel completely at home.

 

I am linking this up with a new Molly’s new Meme The Expat Experience over at The Move to America.  Click on the badge below to check out how other expats made themselves feel at home.

The Move to America