French Expat Zhu: My New Life In Canada Under The Snow

Zhu, who is originally from France, lives in Ottawa, Canada, with her husband. Find out some of the challenges she had to face when she moved to Canada, her thoughts about the people, and how she enjoys both the French and Canadian parts of her life.


-Where were you born?
I was born in Nantes, France.

-In which country and city are you living now?
I'm currently living in Ottawa (Ontario), Canada's national capital.

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I'm living with my husband.

-How long have you been living In Canada?
I first came in Canada in 2002 and stayed there on and off because of visa limitations. I've been here full-time since 2004.

-What is your age?
I'm 24 years old.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Canada?
I had never really thought of staying in France after high school. Not sure why... I didn't have anything against it, but I needed something fresh, something new. Europe is a nice continent, lot of history, lot of culture, but it has its drawbacks. I felt like we carried the weight of history on our shoulders and at the time and I hated the narrow-mindedness.

I had nothing to lose. I was fresh out of high school, I had arranged distance-study with my university, didn't have a job or an apartment so... I packed and I left.

To be honest, I had always thought I'd be living in China. I've been learning Chinese for 12 years now and my major in University was in Chinese history and language.

Right after high school, I first worked in Hong Kong for a while and realized living in China as a foreigner was a bit harder than I had expected. So once again, I packed and went to Latin America.

After traveling a lot, Feng and I decided to "settle" in Canada. It was an obvious choice since Feng is Canadian - at least, one of us would be legal ! I wanted my "Breakfast in America" too : North America was an unknown continent for me and I thought it would be fun to live something new.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
I spent almost two years on tourist visa, temporary visa, work visa, extended visa... you name it!

I enter Canada with a 6 months visitor visa. Since I have a French passport, I was automatically granted the 6 months stay. But I couldn't work under the visitor visa.

So after 7 months (I got a visa extension in-between), I came back to France and applied for a working holiday visa, which I got right away. I came back to Canada with it and a few months later, I applied for permanent residence.

I had expected it to take at least 6 months, but I received my visa only 4 months later, two days before my working holidays visa expired. And... voilà ! I'm now a full-time Canadian!

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
As a tourist, I didn't have any insurance per se. I did have French student insurance though, so some costs would have been covered because there are numerous agreements between the two countries.

When I got the WHV, I was required to buy private insurance. I chose the ISIC student insurance (roughly 400 euro/year) and I found it good.

When I received the permanent residence, I had to wait for three months before being covered by OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan). I didn't have any insurance in between.

-How do you make your living in Canada? Do you have any type of income generated?
When I first came to Canada, I was still a student. I had arranged distance study with my university before I left France. As a post-graduate student, I received a 400 euro/month allowance, which I managed to live on. I couldn't work in Canada since I only had a visitor visa anyway.

As soon as I got my WHV, I got a job through a staffing agency. I worked in a call-center for a while, then in various customer service positions.

After I got my permanent residence, I applied for a teaching job and was hired right away.

I'm now working for a private school, teaching federal government employees French. According to the law in Canada, federal government employees must have some knowledge of French. There are three levels of exams : A (minimum knowledge), B (pretty fluent) and C (bilingual). I mostly teach B and C levels although I do teach a few beginners as well.

Since I left France when I was 18, I started building up my resume abroad, so I guess it was somewhat easier for me. I didn't mind starting at the bottom and I learned as I went.

The only thing which held me back for a while was the fact that a security clearance is often required to work with the government (and in Ottawa, everyone work with the government...!). As a temporary worker, I couldn't get it so I had to wait to get my permanent residence for better positions.

-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I first learned English when I was in junior high and practiced when I backpacked, although my English was far from being perfect... it took my a few years to feel comfortable with it.

However, my French really helped me in Canada: being bilingual here is a true chance and I feel it every day.

Canada has a language program for newcomers who want to learn French or English for free when they arrive: LINC Program

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I don't miss France at all. When I first came to Canada, I compared everything to France, then realized these were two different countries and cultures and I just had to deal with it. As a result, I don't really miss anything anymore. I left France when I was 18 so I started my adult life abroad. I couldn't compare a lot of things. I don't miss food much cause I never really ate frogs legs and snails. Seriously. I do buy great cheese from Lebanese shops though.

I'm lucky to live with a Canadian who also have two cultures, plus whatever we picked up when traveling. I was never forced into abandoning my culture but I naturally adapted to Canada and it somewhat took over my French culture.

The only thing which is somewhat difficult - and it must be the same for expats all over the world - is to feel like you belong in your new home.

-What is the cost of living in Canada?
Compared to Europe, I find Canada pretty cheap - affordable at least. Gas, food, restaurants, housing & utilities, clothes are much cheaper. Occasionally, some items are more expensive (books, some food) but there's always a way around (discounts etc.).

-What do you think about the Canadians?
Canadians are nice people. The country is very multicultural and I work and live with people from very different backgrounds.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Canada?
There are so many positive aspects for me, I wouldn't even know where to start. I have good work opportunities, the country is pretty open-minded and easy-going. I guess these are the main advantages.

The thing that bugs me the most is the constant struggle between the French communities (espcially the province of Quebec) and the rest of Canada. This is especially true in Ottawa because of its location. As a Francophone living outside Quebec and who enjoys living in an English world, it's sometimes difficult to relate. I enjoy speaking both French and English and I don't really want to be part of the battle just because I was born as a French. I like teaching French but I wouldn't live in Quebec because I don't feel close to the culture. I like being French in an English world! But language is a political issue in Canada...

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Canada?

  • Canadian Life: anything related to my new life under the snow... From bitching about the weather to hockey games and the Stanley Cup, from culture shock to shocking culture, from old Europe to the New Continent, whatever is in my immigrant's mind.
  • Immigration: the whole immigration process to Canada, tips, newcomer's first steps... Come on enjoy the Maple Leaf country!
  • Society: sometimes, I read the paper and I just don't get it. Why ? WHY ??? And don't tell me I'm overreacting okay, I'm a former anarchist-communist turned left-wing.
  • On The Road: "I traveled the world and the seven seas...". Well, maybe not the seven seas, but over twenty countries. I miss it. Really.
  • Working Girl: I'm a young office worker and the world is mine. Well, most of time. The rest of time, I just bitch about work, like everyone else.

I also read Wapentake, a British expat in Toronto, Ontario.

To find a job in Canada or simply have a look at the job market, Jobbank is the place to start.