Lifestyle & Relationships

My Immigration Story: France to Canada

Country of Origin: France & Canada

(Audio recording by Julianna Wages)

I was born in eastern France near the German border, into a large family of modest origin, all raised by a single mother working as a cleaning lady. We are Algerian, Berber and Muslim, and have been educated in this double French-Algerian culture, which was so unique because of its history.

Despite a socially-valued job, my day-to-day life was sorely lacking in meaning. I was no longer interested in it. I had achieved a dream and I was aware of it and grateful for it, but boredom was getting to me more and more. I kept asking myself: what would the next step in my life be? What new chapter could I write?

Following my dismissal and a romantic breakup, I had the opportunity to travel for a few months, which allowed me to think about what I really wanted to do. 

Back in Paris, I tried to apply for jobs, but to no avail. I was mostly turned down or didn’t get any response. The frustrating thing about France is that you never know if the rejections or lack of a response is due to you, your profile not matching the criteria, mistakes in your application, the availability of another more suitable candidate, or due to the discrimination faced by non-white people.

According to a 2021 study conducted by DARES (i.e. Research, Studies and Statistics Institute – “Direction de l’Animation, de la Recherche, des Études et Statistiques”): “On average, for comparable quality, applications whose identity suggests a North African origin are 31.5% less likely to be contacted by recruiters than those with a first and last name of French origin.”

Frustrated and losing confidence because of these rejections and the lack of responses, I continued my applications to resume my studies. I was convinced that this would give me an extra asset to distinguish my profile and get a job.

After many ups and downs, I got an offer from a prestigious American university, UC Berkeley. However, I couldn’t accept it because I couldn’t afford the tuition fees and cost of living in the San Francisco region, which was crazy expensive, nor did I have solid guarantees to apply for a loan. But looking back, I think that deep down, I didn’t want to do it then. I wasn’t ready. I had more personal things to accomplish, other adventures to live, and all things considered, I told myself that I would probably do it later. I decided not to because I preferred to defer the pursuit of my studies for when I will be ready personally and financially.

“To my great surprise, although I no longer expected it (…) I was randomly selected to apply for a visa to Canada.”

When I was no longer expecting it and had resigned myself to continuing my fruitless search for a job I wouldn’t like, I was drawn to apply for a visa to Canada.

Hope surfaced again when I saw a goal ahead of me. It was as if an angel was guiding me towards another path, my path, the one on which I would finally find myself and experience fulfillment.

I was deeply happy to move towards a purpose, to have a new challenge, to seek and renew myself elsewhere, despite the many worries about the distance from my friends, the precariousness of my situation, and the uncertainty of such a project.

What was I looking for in Canada? What would I find there? Would I find anything? Would I be happy? I asked myself countless questions, but those questions didn’t stop me from smiling broadly when I talked about it.

The application process went well as there are tutorials for french applicants. As French citizens, we have a specific advantage, the working holiday visa is a two-year visa, unlike for other Europeans.

I wanted to live in a North American and English speaking environment, and Canada was a good compromise between European and North American cultures. I heard that Canada was a more open society in terms of gender and identity, unlike France, which follows a logic of assimilation. 

“Despite the odds, all these people continue to move forward, to dream, to dare, to live.”

A few months later, I arrived in Canada. Everything is different here; the buildings, the people, the language, even the air I breathe. I feel full of energy, overflowing with enthusiasm, surfing on a wave that brings a radical change to my person. The excitement is immense, I want to try many things, to meet people, to experiment, to enjoy life even more. I have real curiosity that needs to be quenched. 

However, I must admit that the pressure is strong. The imperative to find a job and a place to live in order to integrate quickly and to be autonomous is not easy when you arrive in a new country where you don’t know anyone and where you haven’t yet mastered the culture. I was in Toronto for two months, planning to move to Montreal in the future, and I felt that it was very hard to connect with people here. I noticed that everyone seemed to be in their bubble and I noticed the lack of interaction between people. 

Toronto is a career-driven city where people seem to pursue personal goals whatever they are without connecting with others, which is really different from Paris and France in general, where things are going on in the streets and where people interact with each other. Although even that seems to be mostly arguments! The most I could get from others was small talk without learning their opinions and perspectives on things, whereas French people have an opinion on everything which I admit can be exhausting sometimes.

The thing I love here is the openness of people and that they care about mental health. They won’t judge you based on your identity or your appearance which is very freeing. The work culture is different and seems to care about people’s well-being, or at least more than in France.

Then I met a group of French people who also recently immigrated along with others who have been in my adopted country for longer. Many of the stories I have collected are inspiring. 

Some of them made a real impression on me, like the account of a 30-year-old young man who was selected to immigrate here last spring and had left everything, even sold his house, in order to come and live in Canada. He told me about his dream of becoming a pilot, which was simply born after taking an airplane flight course that his relatives had given him for his birthday. Today, he is going to Alberta to work at a ski resort for a while and wants to train to soar in his chosen field.

Then, there are two girls who left Montreal to move to Toronto to pursue their Canadian dream and improve their English. I also met a girl from Liège in Belgium who came to be a teacher in Canada and had to change her plans because of the pandemic. She is now an au pair and seems happy.

As I continue to live in Canada and explore more, I aim to discover more about myself and who I want to be, and this doesn’t go without the career pursuit which will come later. I will also keep in contact with the people I meet. As I am moving to Montreal soon and will be meeting a lot of other immigrants and locals, I will nurture and inspire myself with their stories to create mine. In the meantime, even if I do connect with others, I want to write my own story and I need to reflect on all of that to pursue my quest of self accomplishment.

It is all these stories of immigration experiences that are different from mine, and which may seem more classic, that sustain my hope. Behind each person is a story. Despite the odds, all these people continue to move forward, to dream, to dare, to live. They have a thirst for life and experiences that make me say to myself that everything will be fine, and that despite the setbacks, I will land on my feet. Because of them, I now feel that I don’t need to stress myself out trying to achieve an ideal immigration experience, or accomplish a specific ambition, but that I can just live this new adventure more humbly and simply.

I’d like to conclude by sharing that I wrote a list of 30 things to do before and during the year of my 30th birthday, when I had written that I wished to live abroad and especially in North America. I don’t know if it’s a manifestation or a twist of fate, but I think I’m about to realize a dream!

Thank you to Johana Htwe, Jullia Joson and Julianna Wages for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Lifestyle & Relationships team.

If you are interested in submitting a piece to the DG Sentinel, please visit our submissions page here.

Bonjour, my name is Malik, I am 29 and come directly from the Baguette and Croissant country. Born and raised in France and with Algerian and Berber roots, I have always had curiosity for diversity. I'm queer and I don't conform to or perform gender norms, which I don't think are suitable for me. I have a strong interest in social studies, other cultures, arts and underground music and emerging subcultures that contributed to my openness and connectedness with the world.

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