Natalia: From Colombia to Montreal… and Back to Colombia. By Zhu. Correr es mi destino.
Not all immigrants have a great experience in Canada, and not everybody chooses to stay. Such stories have to be told because it’s important to stress that the grass in not always greener on the other side.
Natalia came to Canada from Colombia. She feared for her life back home, and quickly applied for refugee status in Canada. The paperwork took a long timefour yearsbut it wasn’t the main problem Natalia faced. A journalist in her home country, she struggled to find a paid position in Montreal. She stresses that she tried everything, from unpaid positions to job clearly below her skills. Eventually, she decided to go back to Colombia, where the political situation had gotten better.
In a way, like she said, immigrating in Canada met her expectations: she came as a refugee as asked for protection, and Canada did protect her. Nonetheess, she remains disappointed that fitting in the local job market proved to be much harder than she had thought.
What brought you to Canada?
I visited Canada a couple of times since 1996 and, unfortunately, my job as a journalist in Colombia forced me to remain in Canada for almost 5 years, from 2007 to 2010.
In 2006, I came to Canada and the U.S for a couple of months. While I was there, the situation in Colombia got worse for I decided to ask for protection. I applied for refugee status in Canada.
While I was in Canada, the Colombian government extradited a group of paramilitaries, includ¬ing the one who was threatening my family. Members of my family who were in exile came back to Colombia. My exile was over, there was no reason for me to stay away of my family, relatives and friends if I could not get at least the same level of salary that I was used to having.
Did you find the immi¬gra¬tion process difficult?
Canada is very organized in terms of immigration, no matter what kind of application you are dealing with. The immigration process is not difficult at all, especially if you speak English or French. And for those who don’t know the official languages, there is always a free translation service. My process took almost 4 years. I hired a lawyer, but I did most of the paperwork.
How long did it take you to find a job that you liked in Canada? What kind of obsta¬cles did you face?
I never actually got a pay¬ing job in Canada and I faced a lot of issues.
I’m a journalist. I speak English and French, worked free-lance and I have a lot of experience. I even created a festival for the Latin Community, but I never got a chance to make money or to have a good salary.
The big issue in Quebec is that employers want prospective employees to have a previous “Canadian experience”. Meanwhile, to gain experience in Canada, you end up working very hard as a volunteer for free. I applied for positions at CTV, Radio Canada, CBC… but the market is closed, even for French-Canadian.
Meanwhile, Emploi-Quebec (note: the local employment centre) ask applicants to keep a low profile, regardless of their backgrounds, experiences, and opportunities available. They mean well though, and they want to help, but unfortunately they are discouraging applicants. They disregard the fact that the new generation of immigrants have better education, experience, language skills, and higher goals than before. For instance, I worked as a counsellor for the United Nations and the best job I found in Montreal was a position as a customer service agent for a telemarketing company!
So I decided to go on my own way, to learn as much as I could, to cover all the interna-tional festivals, to create my own festival and to leave a trace for the Latin-American artists and for the community. I have my own web¬site, www.nataliagnecco.com, where I published some of my work.
I am very grateful for the experience I got, but once my problems were solved, I left Montreal to find better opportunities outside Quebec.
Where did you learn French/ English? What was your second language level when you first came to Canada?
I learned English in Michigan. I studied French in Colombia and my French was very basic at first, so I took a three-month course to improve my writing skills.
What was your biggest culture shock?
First, the stereotypes. It’s not because someone is from Colombia that he/she isn’t educated, doesn’t have manners, experience etc. It was interesting to prove how much we can give as immigrants.
Second, conformity. The Canadian government is a “sugar daddy” and there are a lot of “losers” who have no dreams, no passion to do anything. People sometimes give up as soon as there is a problem, and they are not ready for change.
What haven’t you gotten used to yet in Canada?
To live away from my family. To have everything, except the spirit to enjoy!
Did immigrating to Canada match your expectations?
Yes, it did, because as a refugee, I need a place where I could be safe. Canada did that for me.
Do you find life expensive in Canada compared to your home country?
Everything is more expensive, except the access to the culture.
Are you planning to apply for Canadian citizenship when you will meet the requirements?
I don’t think so. I’m back in Colombia and my priority now is to recover the time lost with my family and to make a living.
What advice would you give to someone from your home country interested in immigrating to Canada?
If you are a professional and decide to come live in Canada, weight the pros and cons before leaving your country. Most of the time, people have to learn new skills or start over. Be aware that it will take at least four years to get a good job. Choose your province based on your professional profile. Network, because you must have a first Canadian experience to get a job. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects, dentists etc. all need a special certification to work in their field.
Welcome to Correr Es Mi Destino! I hope you enjoy read¬ing, browsing and commenting. Get yourself a cup of tea (or cof¬fee) and let me tell you who I am. I promise, I’ll keep it short.
I’m Juliette, aka Zhu. Yes, I’m aware of the fact that I’m not even remotely Chinese. I do speak Mandarin though, but it’s a long story.
I’m French and I have been living full time in Canada’s national capital, Ottawa, since 2004. I first came in 2002 and lived between France and the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for a couple of years. In 2004, I got a Work¬ing Holiday Visa, and I applied for permanent residence in Canada in 2005… and it took only five months! I became a Canadian citizen on July 3rd, 2009 and now have both passports, French and Canadian. You can read my full immigration story here.
Immigrating to Canada has been a very good experience so far. I experienced culture shock for the first few months but recov¬ered quickly enough. Although I still don’t get how Cana¬di¬ans can walk around wear¬ing only shorts and tee-shirts when it’s barely above 0ºC.
I first worked as a French teacher in Ottawa for almost four years and I always found it ironic I ended up teach¬ing French after learn¬ng Chinese for 12 years. I am now an English to French translator, a job I also enjoy very much (but on Mon¬day morn¬ings, like every¬body else).
I love travel and street photography. And I keep on thinking I should do something with my real passions, writing and photography… and traveling. I’m also a back¬packer: once in a while, I just pack and go travel the world.
I chose to settle in Canada because I love this multicultural country, and because I wanted to belong somewhere I had never felt I was meant to stay in France. Yet, I still have the urge to travel and discover the world. Was I made to settle somewhere? A part of me enjoy “normal life”: a job, a place to live, I city I now know well, friends, lan-guages I master and a relatively steady income. But the other side of my brain just want to blow it all and pack. Pack and travel other continents, other oceans, sleep in long distance buses and trains and walk in a new city everyday.
Yeah, I’m not the easiest person to live with. I know.
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