I landed in Vancouver a little over a year ago. Coming to Canada is not an obstacle course for a Frenchman. If you are under 35, you can apply for a Working Holiday Permit, which allows you to stay and work on Canadian soil for up to two years, although you do still have to win a lottery. I tried my luck and, surprisingly, a few weeks later, I had the precious ticket in hand. At that point nothing could stop me. I wasn’t going to have second thoughts.
What first struck me when I arrived was the ease of setting up shop. It’s possible to open a bank account in minutes, to get a phone plan in even less time, to exchange your French driver’s licence for a Canadian one and even to sign a lease without having any income.
The next logical step was looking for a job. It is difficult to find a job directly from abroad without references, knowledge of the city and without a local telephone number. Once here, finding an equivalent job in Canada, with similar responsibilities and salary, was tricky for several reasons –
even while working in IT! First, a diploma and foreign experience do not carry the same weight in Canada. Second, while networking counts for a lot, it requires years to build up and
I finally secured the holy grail of a job offer by lowering my expectations and starting at a more junior level. Patience, being productive and the pressure of a tight job market will often do the rest for you. On the other hand, what is great here is the ease with which it is possible to reinvent yourself professionally. There will always be an employer to give you a chance, even without a degree or experience. Then it’s up to you!
I was really counting on the professional side of things to integrate myself socially in Vancouver. In Europe, work is often the key to meeting locals and forming friendly relationships. Even though the corporate culture in Canada emphasizes team spirit and convivial moments, socializing beyond the office setting is difficult. Many “we should” moments, but few results.
Fortunately, there are other ways, such as joining associations or registering for a sporting activity. There we make acquaintances and create relationships, but these are often limited to what brought us together. Sports teammates only see each other during the activity and members of an association interact through telephone meetings. It’s hard to make a breakthrough there too. All of this was corroborated during a visit to a professional francophone organization in Vancouver, where a counselor told me, “You know, I’ve lived here for 20 years and most of my friends are French.”
Finding connection is certainly the most complicated aspect of integration. Here in Vancouver this is unfortunately the case for many newcomers. Too many separate communities exist, though they ought to join together. It is easy to succumb and to stick to one’s community. Yet I don’t despair. After all, we have the same culture, the same habits, the same tastes and sometimes even a similar past.
I am now thinking of staying in Canada. After a year of working here and with French being my native language, permanent residence reaches out to me.
That is the paradox here: a streamlined immigration, but an integration process that could be improved. Canada is a country that opens its doors to you. Vancouver aims to be an international and multicultural city, but in the end the city is mostly cosmopolitan, where intersecting communities live in each neighbourhood yet seldom mix.