Today’s interview is with Melissa, a Finnish expat who is living in Canada. Melissa’s life got turned upside down after she fell in love with a Canadian during her studies in the UK. A few years later she now finds herself in French-speaking Canada, without a plan and without really speaking French. Always looking for new adventures, Melissa blogs about her spontaneous travels across the globe as the writer stumbles upon the unpredictable reality of moving to another continent without speaking the language. Melissa’s expat blog is called Terra Incognita.
Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from southern Finland, Helsinki to be exact.
In which country and city are you living now?
I currently live in Québec City, in French-speaking Canada.
How long have you lived in Canada and how long are you planning to stay?
I have lived in Québec for a year now. I still have one month left before I continue my journey from Canada to Dublin, Ireland, where I will do my Master’s degree.
Why did you move to Canada and what do you do?
My expat story is very typical: I fell in love with a Canadian during my exchange semester in England a few years ago. After a long-distance relationship that seemed to last forever, we are finally able to live in the same country. I’m currently employed in a major video game company as an analyst. To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought of Canada as my first option for starting a life abroad, but now that I’ve seen it in all of its beauty, I wouldn’t change this experience to any other place.
Did you bring family with you?
No, I arrived alone. My family has visited me once during the time I’ve lived in Canada.
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I lived in England before moving to Québec, so adapting to live in yet another foreign country was surprisingly easy, despite the fact that the difference between North America and Europe is quite drastic. At first there were all these small things that confused me a lot, door knobs and mail boxes to mention a few. It was like living in alternative reality, where everything was slightly off. But after a few months you just don’t notice that stuff anymore, and it all becomes part of your routine.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I’ve made lots of new friends during my time in Québec, mostly at work. Quebeckers are generally speaking really open and social, so it’s easy to approach them. I haven’t met other expats during my year in Canada; all of my friends are locals.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Canada is all about nature and outdoor activities! There are multiple national parks with stunning views quite close to Québec: Vallée du Bras du Nord, Sentier des Caps, Parc National de Jacques Cartier and Charlevoix to mention a few. The surrounding big cities can surely be impressive too (Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto etc.), but hiking in the mountains and enjoying the breath-taking view from the top is what made me fall in love with this country.
What do you enjoy most about living in Canada?
I love how quebeckers always seem to find a way to adapt and enjoy their extreme weather conditions. During winter, in -40 conditions, they’re all stuffed inside their winter clothes, doing winter sports like skiing and ice skating. And in the summer, in +40, everyone’s sunbathing or having a picnic in the park. In other words, Québec offers so many things to do and see due to the drastic differences between seasons – and the locals really know how to make the most out of it.
How does the cost of living in Canada compare to home?
Finland, especially the capital Helsinki where I’m from, can be painfully expensive. That’s why I felt like a millionaire when I arrived here and converted my euros to Canadian dollars. The cost of living is much lower in Québec compared to Helsinki: food is cheaper, renting a flat is not as expensive. The only things that cost more here are phone operators and public transportation. However, the cost of living really depends on a city in Canada: Montréal and Vancouver are pretty close to the same price range of monthly expenses as Helsinki.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in Canada?
Sometimes people can be really mean if you don’t speak the language. I’ve been told off multiple times when I’ve struggled to express myself in French. Quebeckers are extremely passionate about their own culture and language, and defend it to extremes from the English majority. All you can do is to try and understand their point of view.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Canada, what would it be?
Learn the language and don’t be afraid to use it. L’accent quebecois sounds really different compared to French spoken in Europe, and it takes a while to get used to it even for native speakers. You might also want to familiarize yourself with the local social rules before moving to Québec, since the people here have much more French influence in their behaviour compared to English Canadians. Be prepared for kisses and asking “ça va” in every situation!
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Learning the language. Quebeckers are really fond of their own special branch of French, and can’t wait to hear you try and speak it. Sadly, the expectations are often set a little bit too high. I only had one beginner’s course of French before I arrived here, and the locals expected me to be fluent after a few months in Québec.
When you finally return home, how do you think you’ll cope with repatriation?
In my case the return to Finland is just a distant possibility, since I’m moving to Dublin for Master’s degree studies at the end of this summer. I don’t see myself returning to Finland anytime soon – there are too many things to see and experience out there. But who knows, maybe one day my homesickness will finally take over and I will be ready to go back.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Finding a job in Québec requires you to hit the streets and ask for work face to face from any shop or restaurant with a Now Hiring sign on the window. The same rule applies to most bureaucratic things too: online services are not always an option, so be ready to visit offices and fill papers instead of using electronic forms.
- Try to get in touch with the locals. Locals are able to help you get to know the city, their culture, and even the language. By spending time with quebeckers I’ve seen many things that no tourist guide book could show me.
- Learn the language – I can’t highlight this enough. Sadly it’s quite difficult to find French courses for employed immigrants in Québec City, which is why getting to know locals is important. They can teach you, and you will get accustomed to the quebeckers’ accent very easily.
- Leave the city once in a while and explore the nature. You haven’t really expeienced the best of Canada before you’ve stepped into one of its national parks. When it comes to outdoor recreation, Canadians really know what they’re doing.
- Stay open! Moving abroad is like a slap in the face at first, but staying curious to the local culture and its people will eventually make you feel at home. Cultural differences and dealing with them can also teach you a lot about yourself.
Published by “Expats Blog”