I'm Melissa, born with a wandering heart under the sun of southern Finland. I've never really felt at home in one particular place, and my feet are restless, so I spend my life wandering around. Right now I live in Ireland with my spouse. I ...
Where are you come from, Melissa, and what are you doing nowadays?
I'm a 24-year old expat hailing from Helsinki, Finland. I was born and raised in the suburbs of the metropolitan area, and traveled a lot with my family since a young age. So I grew up to be hungry for new worlds and experiences in unfamiliar cultures. Before moving to Canada, I had just graduated as a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Helsinki, majoring in comparative literature, while working part-time in a book store. During my bachelor, I had a chance to spend a semester in Leicester, UK, which strengthened my enthusiasm to move abroad and experience something different for a change. Nowadays I live in Quebec City and love every moment. I work as an analyst in a big video game company.
Why did you choose to expatriate to Canada?
My story is very typical on this aspect: I fell in love with a Canadian while living in the UK. At first, the future of our relationship seemed a bit tricky, since I was supposed to return to Finland to finish my degree and he would have to live in Quebec for at least two more years. But luckily, I graduated on time and gladly welcomed the opportunity to take a little break from studying by immigrating to Canada and exploring the world for a bit.
I didn't know too much about life in Canada in advance, especially about the French-speaking part where I was about to immigrate. I wasn't too afraid of the cultural shock though, since I knew Finland and Canada to be relatively similar on many aspects - or that's what Finns often want to imagine, at least. But I have always been very keen on languages and experiencing a complete French immersion and learning the language from native speakers sounded like a great opportunity! In other words, I arrived here with an open mind and with absolutely no idea about what I'm doing, which made everything much more exciting in its own peculiar way.
As a Finnish national, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?
I'm in the country with a temporary open work permit provided by the SWAP Canada Working Holidays international mobility program, aimed at university students and recent graduates to come and work in Canada. The process consisted of many different stages: first, I had to apply for the program in Finland, and afterwards again on the international level. After I had got an acceptance letter from International Experience Canada (IEC), I had to do the actual work permit application through Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). 20 supporting documents, 5 months and 8 filled forms later, I was set up and ready to go. Finnish nationals don't need a visa to visit Canada. So getting a work permit was not as long of a process for me as it would have been for someone with a nationality that requires such a visa.
How long have you been in the country?
It's been five months since I arrived. So it's all still very recent for me. I arrived in Toronto in June and spent some time there before I traveled to Quebec through Montreal. The first two months, I spent taking a well-deserved holiday: it hadn't been many weeks since my graduation, and the last few months I had practically lived in the library working on my thesis. I finally decided to start applying for jobs in August, and it didn't take long until I got hired by my current employer. I've been happily working for them and living in Quebec since.
What has attracted you to Quebec?
If it wasn't for my partner, I don't think I would have exclusively thought of moving to Quebec, since my French skills are nothing to be proud of. But now that I have lived here for some time, I can say I have really fallen in love with the city and all its people. The old town is absolutely charming, there's a lot of nature all around and the streets are very clean.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
The summer in Quebec is really hot! I mean, it's so hot that it was almost hard for me to live with it. The temperature was close to + 40°C at times, and as a Finn, I'm really not used to that. I had lived in the belief that Canada is always cold. But it really is a country of extremes when it comes to seasons: the winters are extremely cold and the summers put many southern European countries to shame.
Was it difficult to find accommodation there?
I was lucky enough to have an apartment ready at my arrival, since I moved into a commune with my boyfriend and his two friends. But what I've seen by walking on the streets, there are countless of apartments and houses on sale or available for rent in all sizes and prices. It's very easy to find accommodation in Quebec.
Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?
I work in the field of arts and entertainment and am currently employed in the video game industry. It's quite hard to find employment on the field, especially as a recent graduate, regardless of the country. I feel really lucky and thankful to have got this opportunity as an expat, with no contacts or local work experience. In order to find a job in Quebec, it's almost mandatory to speak French. Since I'm still taking baby steps when it comes to learning the language, I'm really grateful to have a job where speaking and writing fluent English is part of the requirements.
How do you find the Canadian lifestyle?
I'm from a Western culture which is very similar to Canada's so when it comes to lifestyle. We're highly similar. I find Canadians more social though, and I've often had people come and talk to me on the street out of the blue. I mostly enjoy these random social encounters. Canadians are more open and stress less compared to Finns, which I also find pleasant.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
I thought of this the other day while walking back home from the bus stop. I have a job, a bank account, a phone number, a bus card, a fidelity card for my nearby grocery store and I even do volunteer work. I take the same bus to work every day at the same time, work from 8 am to 4.30 pm from Monday to Friday. Life has got really ordinary and I felt like I belong, I have a place and a purpose in this society. Sometimes I forget to give tip or ask "ça va?". But other than that, I have started to feel like a local.
What does your every day life look like in Quebec?
From far, I guess my life looks no different to the one of a Quebecker. I take the bus to work early in the morning, always at the same time. I often work for long hours since my job is deadline-based. In other words, I spent most of my time in the office. On some days, I rush into the English-speaking cultural center straight from work to lend a hand in organizing events. I'm good at keeping myself busy! During the weekend, I meet my local friends or try to find a suitable moment to Skype with my friends and family in Finland. The time difference is 7 hours, so it's sometimes hard to find time for that.
Any particular experience in Quebec you would like to share with us?
One of the biggest obstacles for me to find a job in Canada was the way it often happens. In Finland, we mostly send online applications since most of the job listings are on the internet. But in Canada, the employers just expect you to walk right in with a resume on your hand and ask for any open positions. This made it extremely hard for a reserved Finn to go and step in the job market. The interview might happen right on the spot.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Quebec? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
As a Finnish national, it's remotely easy for me to travel around the world and be happily surprised about the low price range of my destination, Finland being one of the most expensive countries in Europe. Canada is no different. I can buy 3 liters of milk with a few dollars, whereas in Finland just 1 liter is close to 2 euros. Most things in Canada are really cheap in my eyes, from groceries to clothes. On the contrary, my German flatmate finds Quebec really expensive to live in. So I guess it's all very relative.
One of the rare things that have really shocked me in terms of pricing is the public transportation. A monthly bus pass in Quebec is almost 80 dollars, whereas in Finland it's only 20 euros. Long-distance buses and trains are also really expensive, which is why I happily rely on Amigoexpress and other carpooling services if I need to travel further.
How do you spend your leisure time?
The absolutely breathtaking nature and outdoor facilities are one of my favorite features of Canada. That's why I like to take the chance to escape the city life and go hiking whenever possible. There are many opportunities around Quebec City to take a little break from the office for the week-end. I'm also working as a volunteer for the local English-speaking cultural center. They organize weekly cultural events such as concerts, literature evenings and panel discussions. Other than that, I like to take long walks around the city and just discover my surroundings since I'm still relatively new to the place. Sometimes, I get seriously lost and it might take me hours to find my way back home. But I guess it's all part of the adventure.
What do you like the most about Quebec?
The people! Canadians really live up to their stereotypes as an overly-polite nation. Wherever I go and whatever struggle I may have, there is always a helpful Quebecker ready lend a hand. Bus drivers are incredibly thoughtful and wait if they see someone running to the stop. People even offer me seats!
What do you miss the most about your home country?
Apart from friends and family, I have to say I miss the silence. My culture is very quiet and reserved, and we don't do small talk or speak with strangers. Sometimes answering the generic "How are you?" question makes me socially tired.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Canada?
Don't be afraid and don't be sorry for being in the country. Observe and learn from the locals, but don't forget to take your own space in the society. You're not inferior to them. Be active when looking for work, but don't get discouraged when your applications are ignored. Be curious, meet new people and build networks. Learn the language and speak it persistently, even when it feels like every word gets stuck in your mouth and nothing wants to come out, or when you feel like your pronunciation is so bad you're dishonoring the language in front of native speakers. Once you've found your place and fully integrated, make sure to help the ones who are still seeking.
What are your plans for the future?
Me and my boyfriend don't actually intend to stay in Canada. We have applied for Master's Degree programs in Ireland and plan on moving there next September. After my MA, the world is open and my plans are really vague. But I don't want to return to Finland at this point. Who knows, maybe we'll return to Canada and I could apply for a permanent residence, or go somewhere else.