Tag Archives: Immigration

The Gallery – Into the Archives

Tara at Sticky Fingers has asked us to delve into the archives for our old photos this week.  So as we are celebrating the two-year anniversary since our arrival in Canada on Saturday, I thought I’d share the 30 year old photos that started this whole journey.

1979 – Hubbie at the Niagara Gorge, aged 7



Hubbie & Sister in law carving pumpkins

This is my Husband and Sister-In-law on their first family holiday to Canada back in 1979. Who knew that this holiday would have such a profound effect on the life of that little 7 year old boy? As my Sister-in-law tells it they stood together looking out over the Niagara Falls when her younger brother announced that he would live in Canada one day and here we are some 34 years later about to celebrate 2 years as permanent residents.

Rainbow at Niagara Falls, 1979

The dream he had back then has now become a reality for our family, although it took the rest of us about 30 years to catch up.  We had our own trip to Toronto in 2006 that acted as a catalyst for the rest of us to decide that we also wanted to give the expat life a go.  I often wonder what would have happened if he never went on this holiday, where would we be now and would we have had the desire to move continents….?  Who knows? I aced my Geography A level due to a natural curiosity for people and places so maybe we would.

Niagara Gorge

What I do know with an absolute certainty that comes from my very core is that I am where I am supposed to be right now, for whatever reason fate has up her sleeve, this always was my destiny.



Buying our first Canadian home – Magic Moments #4

Sold sign outside our new house

It was two years ago this month that I took a blind leap of faith and packed off my husband to go solo to Canada and buy us a house.  We had built a trusted relationship with our Realtor during our fact-finding trip a few months before and together they had a set of strict instructions.

Our wish list was this:

The house had to be in the catchment for the good school

It must have an open fire

It must have a guest bedroom and bathroom in the basement for our overseas visitors

The basement must be accessible from outside to allow hubbie to get his airplanes, tools and all manner of random crap his prized possessions in and out without going through the house.


I’d made viewing appointments for the houses I wanted him to see and was in constant contact via email and skype and when he thought he’d found ‘the one’ he filmed the house and posted a video to YouTube for my approval.


This was that magic moment


Next came the negotiations, which unlike the UK happens at an office with both parties present and in reality only took an hour.  What an amazing moment when my husband called to say the deal was done and we could move in a little over  5 weeks later. Finally we could book our flights, enroll the boys in school and visualize our new lives.  This was our reality check that it was all really happening. We had an address, an exact destination and we were raring to go.

The Container Arrived! – Magic Moment #3

My first two magic moments posts have been about things that have recently happened but I came across this picture which reminded me of a magic moment in our emigration journey.  This was the day our container arrived.

On July 19th 2011 we packed all of our worldly goods except 6 suitcases, three shotguns and two tortoises (but that’s a story for another day!) in a container, bid our loved ones a tearful goodbye and set off for pastures new in Canada.  We had booked ourselves into a hotel for a few days while we rushed around like crazy people sorting the last few technicalities before our house purchase completed on July 25th  and buying a few essentials like beds. We moved into our house with just the 6 suitcases we brought on the plane plus a car full of things we had bought in the previous few days.  We  had a couple of sofas, some kitchen stuff and a TV and that was pretty much all while we waited for our container to cross the Atlantic.  It was a pretty nerve wracking time, I’d heard stories of containers falling off ships never to be seen again so we waited nervously for some news.

We were pleasantly surprised to hear from the shipping company after about three weeks but our joy was short lived when they told us our container had been taken off the ship in Montreal by customs and was being ripped apart as we speak.  We cringed as we thought of our carefully packed container with our methodically numbered and packed boxes being unpacked by uncaring strangers.  Not only did this delay our container by weeks as they cleaned everything that had already been disinfected we also had to pay $1400 for the privilege! After days of stress, delivering paperwork to customs making phone calls and trips across the city we got the call that the container had been released, then we had to wait while it was loaded on a truck and transported to us by road.  Finally on 29th August our container arrived at our new home. Our contents had been battered, some things had been broken, a few bits went missing but nothing could dampen our spirits at finally having all our things in our new home.











The Gallery – New

I’m kind of spoilt for choice with Tara’s theme this week for The Gallery but nevertheless I still spent the best part of two days deciding what photo I would use or what new thing I would talk about.


So I chose this photo of a new shoot that was taken last week when my husband was giving me some instruction on the use of my camera.  I thought it represents us perfectly.

Part and parcel of expat life is the newness of it all.  New experiences and new discoveries are still everyday occurrences: driving down a new street, finding something new in the grocery store or meeting a new person.  As we rapidly approach the two-year mark since our move we still have that feeling of being brand new immigrants and we’re still trying to find our feet in many respects.  The upcoming summer months promise to continue on this trend of newness.  My husband is unhappy in his job so is looking for a change either he’ll change his role at work or we’ll go ahead with our own business again.  Eldest son leaves high school and is off to College and we’re planning on exploring some more of this amazing country we live in.  So that new little green shoot represents our family who are just at the beginning of our expat journey with the promise of it blossoming into something amazing.

The Gallery – The Letter C

This is my first time joining in with The Gallery linky, as soon as I saw the theme this week I knew it was for me because: C is for Canada


This is my absolute favourite photograph taken in Canada, in fact I have an enlarged version hanging in my dining room.  It was taken during our second holiday here during the Christmas holidays in 2006. We were visiting Banff, Alberta for the first time and were totally awestruck by the beauty of the place.

During the fortnight away we began to reassess our lives and we looked at where we wanted to be in the future.  2006 was a really tough year, which culminated in the loss of my Mother-In-Law. I also had a major fall out with a close friend so life in general had been pretty awful.  This holiday was an ideal opportunity for us to reconnect as a family, to re-evaluate our lifestyle and marked a turning point in our lives, within a few months of returning from this trip we made the decision to emigrate to Canada.




Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System Part 2

Following on from my last post the Newcomers guide to the Ontario School System here is my 2nd installment.  Just to reiterate these are simply my observations as a Mum.

Transportation to school

Here in Canada the vast majority of children travel to school on the school bus.  You know those big yellow ones you see in films?


Here in the suburbs they drive around the streets picking the kids up and driving them to school.  For little ones in daycare they can often pick the kids up from daycare take them to school and drop them back there in the evening. Canada really likes to help the working work mum!  Once your child is registered in school you get issued a student number, this is all you need to book a place on the school bus.



The Structure of the School Day

Like most schools in the UK the school day is usually around 9am-3.30pm give or take.  Some schools provide before and after school care (another thing to help those working mums).  The amount of lessons and the length of them vary from school to school but a few things stay the same; Canadians like to snack so ‘snack time’ is part usually part of morning recess.  They also love their fresh air, so children go outside unless it’s raining hard or below -20C so kids must be dressed appropriately for the weather, whether it’s sun hats and sun screen or snow boots and thick coats.

Schools are equipped with PA systems, they announce important news in the morning, so very rarely send home letters.  They also play the national anthem every morning and have the children stand to listen to it.

Generally, Elementary schools don’t have a canteen so kids need to take a packed lunch and their snack.

It is usually only the Catholic schools that have a school uniform. Students dress casually, younger kids don’t always get changed for PE (Phys Ed/gym) so they need to wear suitable clothing.  They will also need a pair of indoor shoes that are left at school and are worn whilst inside the building. Trainers are ideal for this.

In Elementary schools homework is rarely given unless it is for a specific project and never given in the holidays, as ‘family time’ is deemed extremely important.



School Holidays

The school year starts in September on the Tuesday following the Labour day weekend and goes through to the end of June (around 27th). The year is divided into 2 semesters September to January and February to June.  At the end of January reports are issued and there are usually subject changes.

There are long weekends in October for Thanksgiving, February for Family day, Easter and Victoria Day in May.  There are two weeks holiday at Christmas and 10 days for March Break.

My boys really struggled with the change in the school year, they were so used to a break from school every 6 weeks when it came to several months between breaks they were exhausted.  9 weeks off in the summer really makes up for it though!


In my final part I will cover which subjects are taught and information particular to High schools

Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System



Like many immigrants moving with kids I had a thousand questions on the school system prior to arriving in Canada and unfortunately I struggled to find answers anywhere.  The Internet is full of practical information to help newcomers settle but there was little on the workings of schools, the routine, the everyday experiences that your children will encounter.  How are you supposed to calm a child who’s nervous about a new school when you are armed with such little information?  Over the next few posts I am going to attempt to share my knowledge of the Ontario school system, it is worth noting that I am writing this not as an educator or anyone in authority but simply as a Mum.  Eldest son is now in the final semester in High school and youngest son is in Grade 6 in an elementary school.



Ontario is divided into 83 publically funded school boards, which are one of the following four types; English public, English Catholic, French public and French Catholic.  As I am neither French nor Catholic I will only be writing about the English public school system. Some elementary schools run a French Immersion programme where the children are taught all subjects mainly in French, usually French Immersion programmes need to be started by Grade 1. Compulsory education begins when children turn 6 and continues until grade 12 when they turn 18.  The school year runs from September to June



School starts with Junior Kindergarten (JK) and Senior Kindergarten (SK) and then it moves onto grades 1 -12.  Elementary schools are usually JK – Grade 8 and High schools are grades 9-12.  Some areas have middle schools, which cater for grade 7 and 8 only.  Kindergarten education is not compulsory although the vast majority of children do attend.  Kindergarten is usually part time, however, it is in the process of becoming full time in all schools across Ontario. The structure of the grade is somewhat different to the UK.  Children attend school with those born in the same calendar year, for example, grade 6 students will all turn 12 between January 1st and December 31st whereas in the UK the year 7 students will all turn 12 between September 1st and August 31st.


Admission Requirements

In England getting your child a place in a particular school is difficult and stressful to say the least, deadlines for application and then putting your fate in the lap of the Gods while you await the decision is enough to cause sleepless night for parents and kids alike.  In Ontario it could not be more different.  I remember visiting the schools that we hoped the boys would be attending when we were on our fact-finding visit.  I was desperate (with my English head on) to get the boys names put down but we couldn’t do it.  We kept being told that we needed to be living there first, I just didn’t understand. When my husband then made his solo trio over to buy the house I armed him with all the necessary forms and paperwork to register the boys in school and followed up with emails to the schools explaining our situation.  In hindsight I must have looked like a complete lunatic.  He was able to register youngest son at Elementary school but Eldest son needed to be present in order to register him in high school.  I tried to explain that we would be arriving in the summer holidays when school was closed so they told me to phone when the staff was back to school during the last week in August some 7 days before the school year started!  The point I was totally missing was that here kids go to their ‘home school’. Each school is given a specific area (which can be checked on the Internet) EVERY child who lives in their particular area goes to that school, end of story. There is no such thing as changing boundaries depending on numbers, priority to siblings or schools being full. Wherever you live you have a designated school that you will attend.  I wish someone had told me that earlier so I that needn’t of worried about the boys getting in to our chosen schools.  You can register a kid one day and have them start the next, easy peasy!

You will need certain paperwork in order to register you child in school namely, a birth certificate, proof of your emigration status, proof of your residence (rental agreement or mortgage) & immunisation records.  That is it, so simple.  There seems to be much less of a gap here between good schools and bad schools so going out of catchment to find a good school is pretty much unheard of.



Coming up in my next installment;

Transportation to school

The Structure of the School Day

School Holidays

The 5 Worst Things About Being an Expat



To follow on from my last post the best things about being an expat inspired by Maria over at Iwasanexpatwife here is the altogether sadder worst things. Just so you know the weather isn’t one of them!


1.Homesickness, Isolation and Loneliness.

Without a doubt the worst thing about being an expat is that your family and friends are so far away. There is probably nothing like the feeling of being alone, when there is no one around who knows you or knows anything about you or has any kind of shared experience or history with you.  You are isolated from anything familiar and the comfort blanket of your nearest and dearest is miles away. No one pops in for a coffee, no one sends you a text to see if you’re free for lunch, there’s no one to moan to about the kids or the weather.   You stop looking around you when you’re out and about because there’s no chance of you seeing anyone you recognize, no chance of bumping into someone you know in the supermarket and having a quick chat.  There’s a gaping whole in your life that used to be filled with your loved ones and now they aren’t nearby anymore.  Thank goodness for skype, facebook and twitter for helping us to keep connected, at the end of the day it is a poor substitute but it will have to do.

2.Culture Shock

I thought culture shock was the feeling I had when we first crossed the strait of Gibraltar from Spain into Tangier, Morocco on our first visit to Africa.  When your senses are bombarded with the sights, sound and smells of a completely different culture.  To a certain extent it is but it can also be subtler than that, it can be a feeling that something’s just not right and you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that’s wrong.  A surprising percentage of expats suffer from some form of culture shock even when moving between relatively similar cultures.  It can manifest itself in many ways but generally it is a feeling of being overwhelmed by unfamiliar surroundings, disorientation and feeling totally alone.  Fortunately the Internet is full of information to assist expats with the adjustments needed to combat the effects of culture shock

3. Guilt

This is another tough one.  In our first year or so of being in Canada several members of my immediate family and closest friends experienced some real traumas, accidents, illnesses and bereavements and the feeling of being too far away to help is awful.  Missing out on family gatherings, significant events and not being there for your loved ones when they need you most are all sources of guilt, there’s nothing you can do about it.  Part and parcel of expat life is learning to be self reliant and accepting that you will need to deal with anything that life throws your way by yourself but that does not prepare you for the guilty feeling of not being able to help others that may need you.


4. Starting from Scratch

A fresh start can be good but starting from scratch has many drawbacks. No credit rating and no insurance ‘no claims’ discount for example, result in endless red tape and paying a fortune for things that can be really frustrating.  It feels like taking a massive step back when you go from being quite comfortable financially to having to pay a huge deposit to get a mobile phone or accounts with the utility companies.  You need to constantly prove your reliability and trustworthiness.


5. Language Barriers

I’m English and I moved to a country whose first language is English, so it should be easy but it’s not.  I’ve been told I don’t have a particularly strong accent but sometimes making myself understood is beyond frustrating.  Phone calls are worse and I usually have to repeat everything I say at least twice and I find myself dreading having to call someone and putting it off for a day or two.  Canadians don’t seem to understand when I say ‘a’ or ‘i’ so spelling things out doesn’t help at all, it can be a very irritating daily occurrence. You can learn to say the words that are different like closet instead of cupboard and elevator for lift but it’s more difficult to change how you say it.  For me it’s a constant reminder that I am different and it draws attention to me, which I really don’t like.  They only amusing part of having an accent is that all the kids I work with in school are learning new words from me so I have a whole group who say some words with an Essex twang!



To end on a positive note although the bad things seem really bad sometimes the good things about being an expat are good all the time.  Expat life is hard but it sure is an interesting journey.

5 Best Things About Being an Expat

I was inspired by Maria over at Iwasanexpatwife (who is a true expert of all things expat) to write a personal list of the best and worst parts about being an expat.


1. You learn something new everyday.

I know this is an old saying but when you start a new life abroad it becomes true.  In the first few weeks it’s a bit of information overload when every sense is bombarded with new things.  The learning curve it at it steepest as you learn huge life altering lessons like how to drive on the other side of the road or where the best schools are.  After a while they become smaller and less significant like discovering some new restaurant or finding a little pharmacy that stocks your favourite shampoo but the learning is constant.  My husband and I would often start our conversation when he comes home from work with “you won’t believe what I discovered today…”

2. You find out who you really are

I’m brave! Who knew? Certainly not me but moving overseas is a sure way to find out about your character.  It was more of a surprise to me than anyone that I didn’t have a complete panic on the way to the airport or lose my marbles during the emigration process. I have discovered that I can actually handle an awful lot of stress and more importantly get through it relatively unscathed.  In our first 18 months in Canada I have discovered all kinds of character traits that I had never acknowledged.  I wouldn’t go as far to say I didn’t know they were there but I just hadn’t taken the time to really think about who I was.

3. You can change everything and reinvent yourself

We you first arrive in a new country no one has any preconceptions of who you are and what you are like, no one there will be expecting you to be the same old person you always were so you have the freedom to be exactly who you want.  I have learned that I being the reliable ‘yes’ person was draining me, I had a tendency to do anything for anyone even if it meant I didn’t have time to do what I really wanted or needed to do, not anymore.  I can say no if something doesn’t suit me and I don’t want to do it.  You can change everything about yourself, what you do for a living and how you live. You have the perfect opportunity to start afresh, put aside what doesn’t serve you and move on.  Forget bad experiences and fear and embrace a fresh start and a new way of life.


4. You learn what’s really important in life.

Any contact I have with my family and friends back in England is so precious now, a simple email, skype call or Facebook message means so much more than it did two years ago.   The last 18 months has taught me to really value the relationships that I used to take for granted.

I have learnt how important time is: we have a family dinner together every night now because we’re not inundated with work or commuting for hours. I am more aware of what is happening in the life of our boys more than ever before.

Exploring the city with family

5. You have a whole new part of the world to explore

It starts with learning your immediate area, where the shops are, where the school is and then your horizons broaden into the nearest city and what it has to offer.  Next you begin to explore further afield as you discover new places to drive to on a sunny day or for a weekend break and eventually you are exploring neighbouring countries and new holiday destinations.  Every trip is a brand new exciting experience and if you’re lucky enough to get visitors you get to explore these places with family and friends too.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta

So there you have it, my top 5 things about expat life.  Coming up next the five worst things…get the Kleenex ready!

The Decision to Emigrate

My Mother-in-Law was the catalyst in our decision to immigrate to Canada.  She arrived at our house on our youngest sons 5th birthday, she had been ill for a while and although she wouldn’t admit it we knew it was serious and she mentioned how she thought we ought to attend her nephew’s wedding in Toronto a few weeks later. She also told us how a friend of hers, also in her 50’s, had cancer.  It got us to thinking about a trip, we’d been planning to visit Toronto at some point, I always wanted to see Niagara Falls, but we were waiting for the ‘right time’, my mother-in-laws illness and our conversation that night made me wonder ‘what we were waiting for’???? My Sister-in-Law, on the other hand, tells the story differently, she would tell you that as my husband stood at Niagara Falls while on holiday visiting relatives the summer of 1979 at just seven years of age he declared that one day he would live in Canada, so I suppose you could say he was a few steps ahead of me, the decision was made long before we even met I just had to catch up!

We arrived in Toronto for the Wedding at the end of March, we were only there for a few days and every day was full, we visited the usual tourist spots, the CN Tower, Niagara Falls, attended the Wedding and a house warming party and spent time in the homes of hubby’s family and surrounded by their friends.  This kind of trip was unlike a normal holiday where you see the place through ‘rose coloured glasses’ we saw how normal Canadians lived and played and it was quite an eye opening experience.  What became apparent immediately was the ‘work to live’ attitude whereas in the UK it was ‘live to work’.  The trip was great and gave us some real food for thought.

The following 6 months went by in a flash, the summer was always hectic for us and this one was made worse as mum-in-law’s illness worsened. The summer went by in a blur of work and hospital visits.  We lost her in September.  As we said goodbye to her in the hospice she talked about how she expected to end her days sitting by the sea, surrounded by her playing grandchildren but fate had other ideas and decided to take her aged just 56.

My husband had made no secret of the fact that he was ready to sell up and emigrate but I was not so sure.  Our lives were very busy, we had a successful air conditioning business, and worked crazy hours and although we were doing well financially we had little time to enjoy it. But we had a good life and were surrounded by friends and family and I loved where I lived, however, always in the back of my mind was my mum-in-law how she planned a retirement that she never saw and how she spent her last few years working fruitlessly for her future.  It taught me to look at things differently, not to put off the things we wanted to do and to try to enjoy each day as it comes, this totally contradicted our busy lifestyle. My Husband worked long hours everyday, all of our business was in London and he would leave home by 4.30 am, he was often on site late into the evening and we would be doing paperwork during the nights and at weekends, the business took over our lives and grew year after year.   It took me another six months of soul searching before I finally agreed begin the visa application process.  We owned some land close to where we lived where we would camp at the weekends and get the peace and quiet we desperately needed.  I remember spending a Sunday there in late March burning some scrub we had cleared, it had been a busy time at work despite being the winter which, traditionally, was our quiet time but we were up to our neck in work and completely exhausted, the realization that our lifestyle had to change hit me straight in the face. Hubby physically couldn’t carry on working as he did and with the economy on a downward spiral our boys had little hope of a secure future in the UK.  Canada was the way to go.  I turned to my Husband and muttered those immortal words “Let’s go for it”