A new life in Canada

Four years ago, one of the greatest adventures of my life was just beginning. A beautiful and bumpy journey, full of highs and lows, discovery, wonderful landscapes, experiences, people, knowledge, LIFE! Today I look back on how I started a new life in Canada.

The beginning

2016 was a turning point in my life on so many levels. The beginning of the year was already rich in emotions and new energy, but then on February 15th, I got the news… I still remember the day: checking my emails, I suddenly see one from Canadian immigration, my breathing stops for a moment, I quickly log into my account, open the message, I’m overexcitedI read the overall but the first sentence is enough; I storm out of my room and yell “MUM! I got the answer!” lol. She says “So?!”, I’m like “I got it! I’m going to Canada!”, WOOHOO!
My Working Holiday Visa was accepted, it was happening!!

I knew I wanted to go back to Canada after my first immersion experience in 2012 (I’ll go back to this later 😉 ). This time it was different: it was just me, no obligation, just my travel plan and a whole new adventure to enjoy!

After some thinking, the date was set: departure on October 4th!

sky through the window of a plane
photo credit: Sarah Dessert

My travel plan

As I was born in France, I was lucky to get 2 years of open travel throughout Canada; I mean, how amazing that is!! For me, it was a pass to freedom and the way to answer this question: do I really want to live my life in Canada?

I loved getting ready for my trip, it was very exciting but kind of a lot of work. After research, saving money, buying everything I needed, my travel plan was almost ready: first year, Eastern Canada and second year, Western Canada!

I arrived in Ontario to see Grand Ma and then headed to Québec, stopping along the way to spend some time in Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and then settle in Québec city. Pretty much everybody in France thinks about Montréal when we start to talk about Québec (just like Canadians think of Paris, about France) but not for me: I’m team Québec city for sure!

street in Québec, Petit Champlain, at Christmas time
quartier du Petit Champlain, Québec (QC)
photo credit: Sarah Dessert

Québec

I left France as a young French teacher, but started my life in Québec working in a bakery; French lady selling croissants in Canada, how more cliché could that be lol!
Before I left, I had been asked so many times: “When are you coming back?”, “What are you going to do there?”, “So you’re not going to be a teacher?”… Some people don’t get that life is not about work, it’s about experiences that make you grow and become a better version of yourself.

I had decided to take a break in my teaching career (just beginning) because, yes, this trip was about life, not work. I had an amazing time in Québec: ate a lot of croissants and brioches, danced a lot, dived into my passion for country music (with my favorite band The Cajuns), took time for myself, spent Christmas in the most beautiful place in the world at that time of the year, had some of the best brunches of my life, snow like never before in my entire life, discovered some places beyond my imagination and made memories that will stay in my heart forever.

Funny (kind of) story: I met some French people there, who had decided to move to Canada as a couple or a family. I thought it would be nice to hear their stories but all evening long they were just complaining about everything and everyone… When I told them that I loved Canadian winter, they said (with the condescending and pessimistic French tone) that it wouldn’t last long and that after 4 or 5 years, I would hate winter here, just like them… #letsbringeverybodydown
Of course, this hasn’t happen because I’m NOT like them; that evening reminded me why I had decided to leave France and after, I just stayed away from French people in Québec… No wonder the Québécois don’t like them!

At the bakery, my trainer and coworker told me one day “you’re not like other French people”; that was the best compliment ever lol! Just like when people here tell me that I don’t have a French accent when I speak English (even if I do 😉 ), it’s the best thing, it makes me feel so Canadian! 😀 Like I say: my roots are in France but my heart is in Canada… 🙂

Québec was an intense experience on many levels, full of life! Leaving Eastern Canada, I had the answer to my first question: yes, I wanted to live my life in Canada. But now the question was: where?

Goodbye France

I came back to France for a few months in 2017, before heading to Western Canada. I arrived in Paris with 2 suitcases, a tee-shirt with a wolf on it and “Québec” written under it, my French was tainted with an accent from Québec and when I asked for a phone at the airport, the guy told me “Sure, always for our cousins from Canada.”. I was like “No, I’m from France actually…”; he answered “How long are you staying?”. It just made me smile because again, I felt so Canadian. My heart was still there

This was a life-changing time for me. I can sum up what I experienced during these couple months by saying that it hit me hard: one thing after the other, everything was suddenly clear for meI needed to leave France to get away from things (and people, let’s be honest), I couldn’t find my place there anymore; I came here to have a new life, a new breath

I just couldn’t wait to go back to Canada. I checked the last details, packed my stuff, grabbed my cowboy hat and my country playlist and here I was, ready for another trip! I still remember when I was at the airport, walking to get to the plane that would take me across the ocean, determined, excited, thinking “No turning back, goodbye France! Alberta, here I come!“.
(Yep, that’s me right there! 😀 First time in the Rockies!)

Lake Louise, Banff National Park (AB)
photo credit: Sarah Dessert

Alberta

I knew that Western Canada would be a different experience. I didn’t have the same goals this time; I knew I would settle in Calgary and find a job as a teacher. I was going to start fresh for real!

In France, we say that Alberta is the province of cowboys; well, it’s true! I couldn’t wait to see the famous Ranchman’s, hear every country song and be surrounded by the magnificent nature!!
I arrived in July 2017 and I think it was the first or second day of the Calgary Stampede. I didn’t know what it really was at that time (yea, remember? I was born and raised across the ocean!); I grabbed a program at the hotel and when I saw that Alabama was playing, I was like “WHAT? Noooooo, I have to go; why?” lol. I promised myself that I wouldn’t miss the next one!

I started with volunteering in a tree nursery, 2 hours away from Edmonton, in the middle of nowhere! It was an interesting experience but not really what I expected: we didn’t learn to ride or share big family meals together. It was all about work, even when we went camping (as we had to earn our days off…).
But it was my first steps in the Alberta lifestyle: lakes, camping, cowboys, country music. When I told people we were camping with, that I was going to Calgary next, they started to teach me a few things. First, the right way to pronounce “Calgary” (that was funny lol), then some country basis: “Fishing in the dark” and the Dixie Chicks! Loved it right away! 😀

This experience was too harsh on my body though; we didn’t eat properly, I injured my neck in a pretty bad way, so at some point, I decided to make it short. Instead of 2 months, I only stayed 3 weeks.
A nice lady, friend of the couple I was staying with, gave me a ride to Calgary. I met her in Edmonton, I saw the famous Mall and then we left for the city where my Canadian life would take place!

Calgary tower rising in the blue sky with the sun
Calgary Tower (AB)
photo credit: Sarah Dessert

It was a great ride: we talked, she gave me some advice, she played Long time gone and I looked at the Alberta landscape flying by outside… A smile on my face, I was thinking “I’m happy, I’m exactly where I want to be…”.

To sum up, after that it was: new place to live, discovering the wonderful Rocky Mountains, starting dancing at Ranchman’s, new job as a teacher, winter in Alberta, see and feel the Chinooks, learn every single dance as they are different from Eastern Canada, many hours in buses and Ctrains, big work projects, first Stampede, first Country Thunder, country music over and over again, super busy life, too busy…

After a few months, my decision is made: I’m staying here! At the end of my visa in 2018, I came back to France for a couple months, while waiting for the answer regarding my new work permit. Well, I won’t get into the details regarding immigration, but let’s just say I could probably write a book about itAfter being stuck in France, I can finally come back to the country I call home.

December 2018, I’m in Calgary and ready to get back to my life! I’m so happy to be surrounded by English again, snow again (yes I’m a winter lover! 😛 ), go back to work with a new position in the team, meet the students again…

2019 was rich in emotions; I applied for permanent residence (PR), but an episode of burn out in October made me question everything… Is it the right decision for me to stay here? Is it the right job for me? Do I have the right people in my life?
After thinking about it and understanding what caused this burn out, I started to make new decisionsOne was for sure though: yes, I’m staying here. 🙂

the Bow river in Calgary in the Fall
Bow river in Calgary (AB)
photo credit: Sarah Dessert

2020

As I look back on these past few years, what I can see is this: after so much waiting, stress, tears, excitement, paperwork, thousands of dollars spent, this dream of living a new life in Canada has finally come trueAnd it led me to the most beautiful thing: the person I was meant to be, my best, true and authentic self!

2020 has been another turning point in my life (not only mine…) and even with all the challenges, today I’m proud and happy to say that I’m now a PR of Canada, I’m building my own business, I’ve been in 4 provinces, I’ve found more peace, more joy, more warmth (yes even during winter time!), more safety, more Nature, more English, more friends, more maturity, more self-confidence, more knowledge, more compassion, more opportunities and most of all, a new home that actually feels like home

Once again, I’m the living proof that if you make the decision, you can live the life you want! It may not be easy but remember this: the only person who can stop you is yourself… So dream big and then go for it! Go step by step towards this life you want because yes, you can make it happen!

In these tormented times, I want to finish with a quote that I love from One Tree Hill (my favorite show when I was younger):

Take a look at yourself in a mirror; who do you see looking back? Is it the person you wanna be? Or is there someone else you were meant to be? The person you should have been but fell short of…
Is someone telling you you can’t or you won’t? Because you can…
Believe that love is out there, believe that dreams come true every day, because they do…
Sometimes happiness doesn’t come from money or fame or power, sometimes happiness comes from good friends and family and from the quiet nobility of leading a good life…
Believe that dreams come true every day, because they do; so take a look in that mirror and remind yourself to be happy, because you deserve to be, believe that, and believe that dreams come true every day, because they do
…”

So what are your dreams? What is your inner voice telling you? Where does your heart want to go? Who is your true happy self?
Tell us in the comments! 🙂

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5 Comments

  • fortinelizabeth

    OOOOHHHHHHHHHHH! I feel so much nostalgia reading your article. I miss Canada so much, especially Ontario and Manitoba. I love the passage where the person at the airport thought you were from Quebec. My brother moved to Canada 21 years ago and he lost most of his French because he speaks English all the time. Canada is a big country but thank you because you gave me the will to visit Alberta and Quebec.

    • Sarah Dessert

      thank you for sharing Elizabeth! 🙂
      Well, if your brother wants to get back to French, feel free to share my contact! 😉
      I’m glad it makes you want to travel here; Alberta and Québec are 2 great provinces! Very different but that’s the great thing about Canada! 😉

  • rgeipel

    Really nice story Sarah! In short, my Canadian life has been similar. It started off in Quebec where I enjoyed the snow and winter and I still do. My love for winter made me improve skiing and in Germany I wouldn’t have thought teaching the same now (as a side-line activity so far). Kind of funny too when I attended a training course to learn how to teach French and my performance as a French teacher on training wasn’t bad and I was the only non-Francophone in this course. Otherwise, I realized that once you keep pushing yourself enough, you’ll get where you want to be. Hope to get my CSIA L3 some day. Self-discipline seems to me important here since I haven’t seen so much support in achieving my goals. I often felt on my own which made me even more determined. My inner-voice tells me to pursue this new life and build on the good things I’ve achieved here. I also feel attracted by Computer Science and that makes me thing of moving back to Germany where companies treat you better and support your professional career a bit more. Kind of difficult to make a good decision since Canada is a cool country but not with respect to everything. I believe Canada should work more on managing diversity so that it’s not just a feature. Sometime, I see more diversity than inclusion which is a fairly natural challenge given our so different background. So, not easy to find common ground. What my inner-voice also tells me is to work on that here to make Canada a better place for everyone.

Hey! You have questions or would like to share your opinion? Leave a comment!

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