If you know me or if you’ve taken the time to read more about me, then you know that I am from Europe. I was born and raised in Belgium. In 2016, I moved to Western Canada with the hope of starting something new. I had many expectations. I was very optimistic and willing for almost anything to make it work. Well, let me tell you, I learned a lot in my first year in Canada! At first I thought it was gonna be fine (and it did). I can do this (I could and I did!). But after a few months, I had to admit: it wasn’t gonna be as easy as I had thought. I got through my first year without too many struggles. Looking back, I realized what I had learned in that experience and how I managed this huge life changing decision! Although some days were harder, I never ever thought of going back or never did I think: “What on earth was I thinking? Moving half-way across the world alone without any family?! I’m crazy!” I was committed from the very beginning and I came here with a clear, defined goal in mind: to stay! I have never regretted this decision and today, I can tell you with a 100% conviction: it was meant to be! I now call Canada my home because this is where I belong and where my heart is.
So here are 10 things I’ve learned from moving continents.
1. Dare to take risks
The meaning of taking risks is to do something that may result in loss or failure. Aren’t we all afraid of losing something or failing at something? Courage is to move forward in spite of fear. So, if there is something this experience taught me is to have courage. To be courage! It takes courage to take a step forward in spite of fear with the risk of losing or failing. To be able to trample through that terror barrier, we need to focus on the benefits, not the risks. Sure, every decision in life comes with risks. But why do we ever choose anything? Because we can see the benefits of making that choice. We understand what we can gain from it. And we are willing to go ahead despite the risks it entails. It’s a gamble. I can tell you the risks of moving halfway across the world were nothing compared to the many benefits I have enjoyed from making this life changing choice.
Taking risks also means letting go. Letting go of the need to control everything and taking a leap of faith. Because you believe in the choice you are making and the chances you are taking.
Here is your take away: have faith and believe. Dare to live! It is all worth it in the end.
2. Get out of your comfort zone
Your comfort zone is a place of the predictable, the known, the stable, the safe. What keeps you in your comfort zone is your crippling fear of the unknown. But there can be no growth in that zone. Nothing exciting or new happens there!
Moving from Europe to North America completely threw me out of my comfort zone. I landed in a new country, on a new continent, with a different language and culture. I initially thought it wouldn’t be such a big deal. There can’t be a huge culture shock! Canada is a first world country, a western nation, just like Belgium right?!
It only took me about a year to finally find my marks and establish my roots. Like my father so eloquently said, this move was like being a plant plucked out of a garden to be replanted in a completely different garden. The adjustments to the new environment takes time. It’s a good thing that I was young and crazy then (and still kinda am…)!
3. Have a clear goal and purpose
What do you want? This is the most important question. What do you want to achieve? What is your vision for your future? What kind of life do you want to create for yourself? What are you looking for?
Having a clear goal will give you a direction that you can follow with purpose. My goal was clear: move to Canada and stay there! Make it work no matter what because I wasn’t going back! At the airport, my t-shirt read: “No reason to stay is a good reason to go”. I had no reason to stay in Europe because I knew my future wasn’t there. My purpose was to meet my future on the other side of the Atlantic. And I did.
Things to remember here: be determined no matter what. Don’t give up.
4. Don’t look back, you’re not going there.
Keep looking forward. Take one more step ahead. Take courage. Have faith. Remember why you took this leap of faith. Don’t look back, you’re not going there. This doesn’t mean you have to forget where you came from. It doesn’t mean your family and the people from back then don’t exist for you anymore and aren’t part of your life anymore. It simply means you are focusing on building a future for yourself that doesn’t look like your past. Something new that you choose to create however you want it.
Isn’t this exciting?!
5. Be willing to unlearn & relearn.
I had to relearn a lot of things! From how to drive according to the North American street system and rules, to the measurement system and what to eat!
You can’t rely on your previous habits to get by anymore. The things you are used doing in a certain way, well, you can forget them and start from scratch again! Not only do you have to unlearn habits, you have to relearn new ones. It’s an adjustment in all areas of your life.
What’s positive about this? You can reinvent yourself. You can transform yourself. It’s a great opportunity to start fresh. If there is anything from your previous way of living that you want to detach yourself from, now is the perfect moment to make a change. Now is the time to live the life you’ve always desired and dreamed of!
6. Learn to adapt to your new home.
This works like a relationship: both ways. Canada has been so welcoming! It accepted me with open arms, no questions asked (just a lot of administrative paperwork and fees!). It didn’t matter who I was or where I came from. I was welcome and they were happy to have me. Isn’t this heart warming?
What was my end of the bargain? Well, fit in. Adaptability is the quality to be able to adjust to new conditions. It is also defined as the capacity to be modified for a new purpose. And so, adapting, I did. At the beginning, I tried hard. Maybe too hard. I realized at some point that I was starting to lose sight of who I really was.
So here’s a good lesson: adapt but don’t change who you are. Stay your authentic self.
This was a delicate balance to find. Being myself, a Frenchie from Europe in an Anglophone country with a North American mentality, was at best challenging. I had to adapt to the culture, the language, the people, the work etiquette, the food, the climate, the landscape,…
Just to give you an idea: oftentimes (especially during my first year here), when I would find myself in a group of people cracking jokes in a casual conversation, I would see everybody laugh but would have no idea what’s going on! So then you find yourself laughing with them but you’re actually laughing at the situation…
Or the day at the office, when everyone is beating to a song you never heard before. Or going to a sports game, like football (which, for us Europeans, is soccer, we have no idea about american football) with no one really explaining the rules. So you really have no idea what’s happening and the highlight of the game for you is the cheerleader part!
There is no adaptation without integration. It’s a 2 step process. Where adaptation is the process of making terms with your new surroundings, integration is to acquire more traits of your host society, but at the same time being accepted as part of it. It’s a two-way street. The terms are kinda similar but with a nuance. In the end, you need to do both to completely fit in and feel like you belong.
Note: I am still working on some aspects of my integration. I suppose, like they say, you can take me out of Belgium but you can’t take Belgium out of me! No matter how well integrated I will become, I will always keep a part of me that is not Canadian and very much European. That little French/European twist! And you know what? It doesn’t matter! Because that makes me who I am.
7. Connect with people. Find your tribe.
Connections are so important. Finding the right people to connect with is so important.
At the beginning, you might gravitate towards people that are in the same boat as you: strangers. They are going through the same challenges and might help you navigate your start. Eventually, the ideal scenario is to meet people of all ages and experience. Opening up to a variety of people makes us richer. Going to a local gym, engaging in voluntary work, joining groups in your community,… can all help to connect and find your tribe.
Profound relationships are not built overnight. Be patient with the process, but do not lower your standards, ever. Your tribe is out there. People you will connect and feel comfortable with, people you will love to be with and that will feel like family to you. Do not settle for less.
Canadians are very friendly people, they are smiley and kind. And some of the most polite people I’ve ever met! What I have discovered is that in spite of being well mannered, they do not all wish to make you part of their life; and that’s OK. You will always find people to connect, laugh and share special moments with. And in time they will become your tribe.
8. Embrace change. Be flexible.
Changing, you will. So no point resisting. Just be flexible.
Moving to Canada, I had to change many things. The first big change I made was my diet. I realized I couldn’t eat the same way and the same things I had been eating all my life at home. So I rediscovered what good nutrition is about and what my body needs to be healthy.
Being in Canada also meant a change in lifestyle. And I was willing for it. I became more enthusiastic about the outdoors and started to hike and camp more. Something that is not much of an option in Belgium.
And all the little changes in my daily life. Moving abroad came with having to change a lot of things to be able to adapt to my new life.
TIP: Saying YES and embracing the novelty is the best way to get past the comfort zone. Don’t be scared to take a leap. Just jump in the water, even in cold water, and jump deep. Be willing to try new things and have fun with it. Broaden your horizon and expand your views. We often have expectations when we try new things. But they can hold us back. So be flexible with others and yourself, experiment and enjoy!
9. Let go of control, expectations and go with the flow. Trust.
I came to Canada with a pretty clear plan of what I wanted to do and how things would happen. Let me tell you that it didn’t take long for me to realize there was no point in wanting to control everything! Things would unfold as they should, in their own timing and I had to learn to just go with the flow. Letting go of control was destabilizing. Not having expectations, good or bad, was freeing. Trusting the process and going with the flow was rewarding. Learning to trust is a big step! It’s all part of establishing yourself and building a new life that is fulfilling.
10. Be grateful!
Living in gratitude is the best gift you can give yourself. It will lift your spirit up and it will attract more of what you desire in your life. Always be thankful for who you are and what you have in your life. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude will make you a happier person. And who doesn’t want to be around someone happy?!
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”
I am beyond grateful for the life I have created here. It has been quite the journey so far but I have loved every part of it. Life is a wonderful adventure. My life in Canada has been the best adventure I have embarked on! I have found the place where I feel most at home and free to bloom and express my true self. I’m sure the journey ahead holds many more adventures and I’m ready for them! When you have established strong roots and a stable foundation in life, you can find your balance and this is the best start to a fulfilling life! You now are free to enjoy your life to the fullest. It is a deeply satisfying feeling to wake up every morning to the life you have created and love.
Thank you to my dear friend Mag for her contribution to this blog post. Mag is also a Frenchie from Europe and like me, she moved to Western Canada recently. Although her situation and circumstances differ a little, she can relate with me on some (if not most) of these points. It has been encouraging to share our challenges from moving continents, starting over, far from everything and everyone we’ve known while being Francophones in an Anglophone world. Immigration can be a touchy subject sometimes but stories can bring us closer together. We’ve both known what it feels like to be considered “an illegal alien” in a land we cannot call home yet and have no rights to. We both understand the challenges of integrating into a new culture and society. And we’ve also experienced the support and care of loving people who have become like family to us.
We hope this post has given you a new perspective on what it is like to immigrate to a new country. Please share your experience with us, if you are like us, a product of immigration. We’d love to hear from you!