Immigration: a large word with many fascinating connotations. The lovely spouse to this word: immigrant which is something, someone that I have become without intention. When I imagined my life, I always remained Canadian. (Of course, not to live in my hometown, because what young person ever dreams of that?) I confess there were many times in my life when I looked at other Canadians living abroad with a sort of sadness. I wondered how they could leave all the wonderful things (family included, although that varies by case) about this country and start over. Before ever leaving the country for travel or otherwise, I had decided that no matter what happened, I would always come back home.
I grew up in a mining town in northern Manitoba, Canada. A tiny blip on the map with a population of around 13,000. Although the population is meagre, it is the biggest city for literally hundreds of kilometres. It is where the highway ends and gravel begins, and trains and planes take over for those living outside of this hub. Most of the people who live there are from somewhere else, like my father who moved there from Newfoundland when there were no jobs in his hometown and his stint in the Canadian Navy was over. A surprising thing about my hometown is that there is also a sizeable immigrant population, all of whom have varying jobs from doctor to business owner to the ever stereotypical cabbie.
I used to think immigration was a somewhat easy process, since I had grown up seeing so many different types of people. My mother was friends with a woman who had immigrated from Jamaica. I knew many African families who attended our church. In high school, my youth pastor was American, as was my choir teacher. My father worked with an Indian. Friends of mine had a Scottish mum. My dentist was Irish. I felt happy for them to be in Canada. I felt that they were lucky to leave their countries and that it must be so exciting for them to be living, and loving, somewhere new.
What I neglected to think of were the circumstances that bring someone from their home to the other side of the world. I neglected to think of the work or schooling qualifications they were potentially leaving behind. I didn’t think of the visa stipulations, of how different day to day life is and how all of their home comforts were somewhere too far to travel. These were lessons I would later learn.
In August 2015, I took a trip across Europe that would change my life, however cliche it sounds. It started in London, and we went through France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, etc. , until we ended up in Amsterdam. At the beginning of the tour, I felt an immense homesickness I didn’t expect; I had always dreamed of a European vacation. When the feeling passed after an emotional breakdown in Monaco, my eyes were opened to a whole new world. I saw all kinds of people, my tour manager included, who were working and living abroad and seemed genuinely happy. I had always considered doing something of the like, but thoughts never turned to action. Now, I was drawn in by the beautiful sceneries and the abundance of wonderful food and drink. I loved the visible history of Europe and the close proximity to the world’s best works of art. I loved how close the counties were and the romance of living abroad made my heart stir. The tipping point came near the end of the tour when I met a Canadian cook working in a beautiful Swiss resort that I began to think my life may not remain in Canada.
While on this tour, I met a young Aussie man who stole my heart. We went our separate ways after the tour, but opted to endure a long distance relationship with him in Perth, Australia and me in Manitoba, Canada. I felt deflated upon returning home, as everything suddenly felt small and lacking in culture and opportunity. I’d slowly but steadily outgrown the small mining town I’d known my whole life. I knew the only things keeping me there was my job, which was only ten months of the year, and my family: my mother, father and brother. The world was so much bigger than my small town, and I ached to see more of it.
The very same week I returned home in September 2015, I booked flights to see my Aussie boyfriend during Christmas holidays. After what seemed like hundreds of hours of Skype calls, it was a relief to be reunited with the man I loved. I fell in love with Perth and the idea of a life in Australia was a dream I never knew I had. By the end of that visit, I’d decided that my boyfriend and I would end our separation through me relocating to Australia.
I left Canada in July 2016 newly engaged to my Aussie. I left behind an educational assistant job that I loved. In Australia, I do not have the qualification to do this job, nor is it possible to get a working visa to do it. I know it isn’t glamorous or lucrative, but it is all I know. I have a bachelor of arts, but like many others, am having a hard time finding substantial work with an English degree. School isn’t a possibility due to finances, but also because there are study limitations with my visa. I can only work with an employer for a six month period. My working holiday visa is only valid for a year and can be extended to two if I do three months agricultural work, which sounds fine in theory, but sounds wild to me, as there aren’t any farms in my small mining town.
When you move to another country, you also leave behind the credit you may or may not have. If not for my fiancé adding me to his phone plan, I would have had to wait months to build up the proper credit. The bank draft I came over with took weeks to be processed, so I could not access my Aussie bank account. In many ways, I feel like I’m starting over again, like life at age eighteen, except that I’m twenty-five and ideally should be starting a career.
Through all of this, I am learning many things. I’m learning how to drive on the opposite side, how to use an Australian oven and how to hang the washing in the best way. I’m learning Australian lingo and to say “How are you going?” instead of “how are you?”. I’m figuring out my new cost of living and the cost of living so far away from everything you love. I have learned to live with the awkward feeling of knowing I can no longer live at home, but knowing I don’t have a place in my new home yet.
Now when I think of those immigrants in my small town, I feel empathy. I know that my journey to permanent residency with my fiancé is, has been and will be difficult, it has been worth every step. I know that without his support and the support of his family, this would have been infinitely harder. I feel lucky to have moved to an English speaking country with a culture similar to my own. I realise that my experience is easier in many ways than thousands of others, who immigrate to places where they don’t speak the language and lack the support. I think of those who are leaving their countries, not for love, but for fear, for the lack of opportunities, for reasons innumerable to name. I think of those who leave their home country knowing it’s impossible to return, or who always wanted to return but never got the chance. I think of those who are older and more qualified than I leaving everything behind and starting over. I never really knew the weight of the name immigrant until I bore it myself.
Only time will tell if Australia proves to be my forever home. What I’ve learned is that home is who you surround yourself with. I no longer try and predict where I will end up.
Immigration has always been a part of history, a part of most family trees, and always will be. We all came from somewhere else to become something, someone else. Immigration is an incredible form of rebirth and I’m taking this opportunity to become the best version of me.