Why Immigration is a Heartbreaking Experience even for the Most Fortunate

It’s not easy to quit your job, sell your furniture, give away your books, your clothes and other personal belongings, empty your house from all your memories and rent it to someone you don’t know, stuff your whole life into three small suitcases and leave your country.

I am from Turkey. I immigrated to Canada with my husband, our son and our two dogs in September 2016. My husband is a Canadian citizen. This automatically made our son a citizen too which leaves me as the only person in the family to have an immigrant status. I am perfectly fine with it, because as it is globally acknowledged, Canadians are the nicest people, — seriously, all the people I’ve ever met since I came here were very kind and polite, I haven’t met a single person who is unkind or rude here- and they are equally nice to everyone: to the citizens, to the immigrants, to the refugees, to the international students, to the people who are just visiting… This makes me feel safe and accepted in Canada.

Feeling accepted is very important when you move away from your home to go live with people you don’t know. Being there, as an adult person from another culture, with all your memories and world view, all the ways that you communicate, all your knowledge and experiences that belong to that other culture makes you a little awkward in the first weeks as an immigrant. That awkwardness is inevitable. It is intrinsic to the experience of immigration. It is not easy to quit your job, sell your furniture, give away your books, your clothes and other personal belongings, empty your house from all your memories and rent it to someone you don’t know, stuff your whole life into three small suitcases and leave your country. You come to your new country after you’ve been through all those difficult deeds. You just said goodbye to the people you love and you raised with and came to a place you barely know anyone. You are pretty sure the next week is going to be pretty different from the last.

On my first week as an immigrant even a simple thing like going to a supermarket to buy laundry detergent was an adventure for me. First you have to find the aisle because it’s not the supermarket you went for a thousand times in your country and memorized every aisle, every shelf. Then you have to determine which bottles are the detergent and which are the softener. Since the shapes and colors of the bottles don’t make any sense to you, you have to read all the small things on every bottle until you are lucky to find one bottle that finally says it’s a laundry detergent so that you know it’s not softener, not stain remover or any of the other products that are associated with laundry. When you find what you are looking for, another challenge will be waiting for you at the cash register. The challenge of identifying money, especially coins. The cashier will tell you the price: “It’s 6,85 CAD” and if you don’t have 10 $ or bigger money, you are like “OK, now can you give me a few minutes until I figure out which of these coins is 1 $, which one is 50 cents and which ones are 10 and 5 cents.” You have to browse quickly through your coins, bring 6,85 together before people in the line start giving you bad looks -which never happened in Canada but you feel bad for making them wait anyways.

First few weeks were very awkward not only for me, but also for my son. We never spoke English to him back when we were in Turkey. We wanted him to learn as much Turkish as he could so that he wouldn’t forget his native language when we would moved to Canada. This left him outside of any conversation we had with other people, including my husband’s family who have been living in Canada for more than 30 years and therefore mostly speak English. My 3 year old was so upset and confused, partly because he missed grandma and grandpa in Turkey so much and mostly because this new language didn’t make any sense to him. Now he had to forget all about the first language he started speaking after much effort, a little more that a year ago and start learning to speak a completely different language. To speed things up a bit, we enrolled him to the local daycare. We thought that being around native speakers would motivate him better to start speaking the target language than it would while at home with Turkish speaking mom and dad.

The first weeks were like nightmare for him, thus, for us. It is never easy to see your child suffer insecurity and frustration. He would cry every morning when we dropped him off. We would call the daycare to see if he was OK or still upset. We would wonder if he was able to tell the teachers that he had to go pee, that he wanted water, that he was cold or hot, that he needed something. When he came home from the daycare, he would be extremely frustrated with us, particularly with me.

This awkwardness for my son lasted until the first snow fell in the County and created that special bond between people -I notice these things because I was born and raised in a place where it never snowed. Everybody, who has a warm place to watch and time to enjoy it likes snow. So all the kids were very happy throwing snowballs at each other, shoveling snow and making big piles, making snowmen with their teachers and having lots of fun. It also made a huge difference in my child’s perception of Canada. I think the Christmas spirit helped a great deal, too. Suddenly, he felt like he was a part of it. In the long run, we weren’t wrong. He started speaking English at the end of his second month at the daycare. His teachers and his friends were so nice and kind to him that he made an effort to learn and communicate with them. He started speaking English at home as well, telling us his friends’ names, telling little stories from school and telling us that he liked school. I am so sorry for all the stress we put him through in the first place and I am also very proud of him that he figured things out by himself and turned out fine.

Being an immigrant is a heartbreaking experience even for the most fortunate like me. I left a huge part of me in Turkey: My parents, my best friends and most of my memories. However, the government’s and community’s approach to immigrants, their effort to make us feel welcome help me a lot to build up a new life here.

When people around you simply smile and say hello even though they don’t know you, and ask how you are today, make small conversation with you, it makes you feel like you are a part of the community. It takes away a huge part of the awkwardness you feel in the beginning. Surrounded by nice and kind people, I call myself fortunate in my experience as an immigrant in Canada.