From Cape Town to Calgary: Moving abroad with kids

Expat interviews
  • Calgary
    Cape Town to Calgary
Published on 2021-01-20 at 09:00 by Anne-Lise Mty
Catherine is originally from South Africa. In 2019, she was one of the lucky few to be admitted to Calgary through the Express Entry System, along with her husband and their twin daughters. Catherine talks to us about the challenges of raising expat kinds in Canada.

Tell us a little bit about you. What brings your family to Calgary?

I'm a South African expat living in Calgary with my husband and twin daughters. We moved over here via the express entry system, a skills-based visa that grants permanent residency. We have loved the adventure of living in Calgary, which is close to the Rocky Mountains and has a wonderful lifestyle. Despite the harsh winters, there is still so much to do and enjoy here - camping, hiking, skiing, skating, snowshoeing - all things we have enjoyed as a family.

Settling abroad when you have children is never an easy feat. What pushed you to make the move?

We moved to Calgary in 2019 in search of a better and more secure future for our family. Unfortunately, the unstable political and economic situation in South Africa was a big catalyst for our move, and Canada seemed like a great prospect for us. Canada offers an excellent education system, great healthcare, and a stable, safe environment.

How was the process of moving abroad for your kids?

It has been very challenging with children, but each day gets easier as they settle more and more. My one little girl really doesn't cope well with change, so it has been a tough journey, but in recent months as she has become more settled, life has got much easier. Moving from sunny South Africa to snowy winters was one of the biggest adjustments for my kids - having to wear all the boots, warm socks, jackets and snow pants was a significant change for them. Schooling is quite different here too, so they have had quite a bit of catching up to do as they started grade 1 a bit earlier than they would have back in South Africa, but they are enjoying school and have made such lovely little friends, which has helped a lot.

What was the best thing about moving abroad with them? And what was the hardest?

Children in Canada, at least in my experience, seem so much more mature and confident, and in many ways more respectful of others, and this has been such a great experience for my kids. We walk to the park, and I walk to fetch them from school - it’s so wonderful feeling safe and being able to do this. They have been enriched with such a culturally diverse class and have made friends with children from all over the world. It has been wonderful for them to have these experiences.

The hardest part has been coping with all the changes in general, including the culture, climate and general lifestyle here. Being away from family, especially their grandparents, has been very hard.

How do they keep in touch with family back home?

We are in contact with family back home via FaceTime and Whatsapp and the girls love phoning their grandparents for a chat.

What has expatriation taught you as a mother?

Children are generally very adaptable and resilient - they will likely cope better with the changes better than their parents, but we still can't underestimate how challenging immigration is for our kids. As adults, we understand why we moved away from our home and our friends and family, but our children don't fully understand, and they have given up so much - their friends, family, their way of life and every aspect of life has changed for them. As a parent, I need to keep reminding myself of this and need to keep showing them grace and being patient. We all have bad days, our children included, and that's okay - at the end of the day, we can't hide our emotions and need to keep being honest with ourselves and keep the channels of communication open with our children through this journey.

What advice would you give to a couple hesitant to move abroad because of children?

When it comes to making a decision to emigrate, don't only do it for your children, do it for yourselves as well. Sometimes it will turn out better than you ever imagined. It is challenging, there is no doubt about that, but your lives will be so enriched by the new experiences, the new challenges and the adventures you will have. Through our journey, we have also learned to be so grateful for what we had and grateful for what we have now. Children adapt, and with modern technology, family and old friends are just a quick video call away. You really have nothing to lose, but so much more to gain.

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