Moving to Quebec amid the pandemic: Tales of an expat family

Expat interviews
  • expat in Quebec
Published on 2022-01-28 at 10:00 by Veedushi
Maëva has been in love with Quebec for nearly twenty years, but she only decided to take the leap of faith during the pandemic, looking for a better quality of life. She talks to us about her expat experience with her partner and their two children and the many opportunities available in this Canadian province for expatriates.

Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us about your background?

My name is Maeva, and I am 36 years old. I have been married for almost ten years, and we have two children aged 5 and 8. I am from the north of France, but I have moved around a lot. I lived in Lille, Troyes, Grenoble, in the mountains. But, before coming to Quebec, we lived ten years in Belgium. So I love travelling, good food and good wine.

What made you want to leave?

It has been nearly 20 years since we started thinking about living in Quebec. It all started when my husband came on a trip here and fell in love with the province. He spoke about it with stars in his eyes and made me want to discover this place. However, I wasn't ready to leave everything and live 5000km away from home without knowing what to expect. So I seized the opportunity to travel to Montreal and stayed there for three months. It was one of my best experiences. It was the first time I had gone this far, and I was doing it alone! I lived with a Montreal family, and I worked for a Canadian company. It was a real immersion! It was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to see what life, the mentality, the labour market, etc., looked like. I came back to France after my internship, and that's when I said to myself, "this is where I want to live!" ". Then I finished my studies, we got married, bought a house, had our children, and the comfortable routine settled in. However, we had always had Quebec in the back of our minds, and we talked about it very regularly. Then the Covid arrived. We had time to think about what we really wanted for our little family, and we told ourselves that it was high time to move. So we started to look for a job here. We registered in job fairs, we applied via websites and also recruitment firms specialising in international markets. Finally, we were both able to come here with jobs, which is very reassuring for us and also our loved ones.

How long have you lived in Canada?

We have been living in Canada for almost 9 months. I have an open work permit which allows me to change jobs if I wish, and my husband has a closed permit. He is "engaged" to the company for the term determined by immigration. We moved closer to Quebec City because it is just perfect for us. It's a big city with all the activities you want. After work, you can go skiing, or go to a good restaurant, have a drink, go to the cinema, etc. The choice is huge. But there is also this proximity to nature; hiking trails are just a few minutes away. And then the city's architecture is incredible with the small cobbled streets, the stone houses. During the Christmas holidays, it's so magical. It's like being in a movie.

Did you find it hard to adapt as expats?

When we came here, we took a container with souvenirs, children's toys, skis, musical instruments, in short, no furniture. We had taken about 5m3. And we had 12 suitcases on the plane (not very practical to lug around!). We had already found our house before arriving. But we arrived in the period when three days of hotel quarantine were required. It was pretty stressful, not to mention the additional costs. But when we arrived, we received a warm welcome. People came to meet us and welcome us with beers. Our neighbour helped us to set up the game module in the garden. We felt at home despite the circumstances. Before leaving, we said to ourselves that we wanted to avoid the French and only meet Quebecers. The reality is that we did the opposite. I don't know if it's due to the pandemic, but it's still hard to have real friendships with Quebecers. But apparently, it takes many years to build relationships here, so I guess we will leave it to time.

Tell us about your career. Has your job been affected by the crisis?

I have done a Masters in a Business School, and before leaving, I was a Management Controller in a credit company. I found a job before arriving thanks to a recruitment firm. Today, I am a Performance Analyst in a large insurance company. It was an opportunity for me to change sectors and jobs. We dare less to do this when we are in our comfort zone. The only impact of the crisis is that I am 100% remote working, and it is not great for integration! I can't wait to meet my colleagues in person and have a real social life. For me, this is the most significant negative and the most challenging part because we feel isolated.

How is the local labour market doing currently? Is the province as attractive as it used to be?

Here the labour market is another world! There are signs everywhere of companies looking for people. You might come across quite funny situations like companies offering poutines to new recruits, big hiring bonuses but also co-optation. People quit and then come back a few months later without being bothered. Faced with competition, companies try to retain their employees, making it possible to negotiate or have excellent benefits. For example, all salaries have been increased to keep as many hard-to-find employees as possible in my company.

What about social life? What restrictions are in place, and how are you coping with them?

For the moment, I am mainly in touch with French and Belgian people. The health situation is complicated, and that does not help human contact. We cannot receive visitors at home, and remote working is compulsory. Restaurants, bars, cinemas are closed. It is pretty hard. So we are taking advantage of the season to go skiing, sliding and creating memories with the kids. Sometimes it's morally hard.

What is your daily life like as an expat in Quebec?

A typical mom's day! The only difference is in preparing the lunches. There are no canteens here. There are caterers who can deliver to schools, but it's expensive. So I registered on websites to get ideas, now it has become a routine, and from time to time, we use the caterer. Otherwise, the big positive point is my time with my children. Before, I was often the last running to the daycare to pick up the children at around 6 pm. By the time we got home, it was already time to shower/read/meal and bedtime. In Quebec, I pick up my children at 4.30 pm – 5 pm, or my husband does at 4 pm. So in the evening we have time to do lots of activities without running. Here, we start work earlier (often around 8–8.30 am), we have a 1-hour lunch break, which allows us to finish early. Dinner is around 5:30–6 pm, but this is still not possible for us.

Moving abroad with young children required proper planning. Tell us about it, particularly in terms of education and integration.

The children were our biggest concern in this project, especially for the eldest, who was only 7 years old when we arrived. He is very sensitive and likes to be in his comfort zone. We had started preparing them for our new life. We had been watching videos together, we explained to them what activities we were going to do there, and they reacted very well. My eldest started school almost immediately because we wanted him to pick up the pace quickly. On the first day, my heart cracked. I was so stressed. I couldn't wait for him to come back to find out how it went. And in the evening he arrived in his yellow bus, very happy, and he had already arranged with some classmates to play at home. Phew! For the little one, it was very different. She was 4 at that time, and schooling here starts at the age of 5 (it's possible to join preschool at the age of 4, but the places are limited). So we had to hire a nanny, and she didn't like it at all! She had started schooling when she was two and a half and was in an advanced class. So she didn't understand that she had to go back to "babies". But fortunately, the nanny adapted, and she was able to do activities related to her age. Now they are both in school, which was a big relief! School starts early, at 7.50 am (each school has its own schedule) and finishes at 3.05 pm. There are, of course, paid childcare services. The school they attend is brand new, the equipment too. They do a mix of notebook/Ipad/computer work. There is a robotics committee for older children. It's good to see that the school is following the global trend because, concretely, digitalisation is omnipresent. The teachers have a very different approach. It is, above all, based on benevolence and encouragement. Children are told that they can do everything to give them confidence in themselves. It's confusing at first because we weren't used to it. We were like, "they're overdoing it there". But the children are motivated, without pressure, so it's a real opportunity for them. At work, you get congratulated for your successes. There is no "you did that wrong", but "I would have done it differently". You see the difference!

Is there one thing you miss from your home country, especially in the pandemic context?

Lack of family and friends! It's not very original, I know. But yes, it is not easy all the time, especially when there is a birthday, family celebration, death. I do get the blues. Besides, the health situation is not helping. Fortunately, we can do video calls whenever we want. But it's not the same. For my part, I would need to return regularly to France for a good dose of love and hugs! You have to find your balance. Some do not feel the need; others do. The most important thing is to listen to oneself.

What are your plans for the future?

Our initial plan is to live here for the long term, but we don't want to pressure ourselves. So we decided to let it go. We will try to get stable and find a routine first. We enjoy living our dream, sharing these moments with our children, creating family memories. As long as we are happy, we are staying, and so much the better. If we no longer feel happy here, we will go elsewhere, and so much the better. It will not be a failure but a great experience!

Is there any advice you would like to give to people considering relocating to Canada?

A word that comes to mind right away: patience. Making a move to Canada or any other country takes time, whether it's about finding a job, doing the paperwork, settling in and finding your bearings. Take this in a positive way. It allows you to think thoroughly and prepare yourself and your loved ones. There are so many things to do and think about that everything seems to be going too fast in the end. We must also keep in mind that everything is not going to be perfect. Many are disappointed because they expected an ideal world. Some things are going to be better, and some will be worse. It's all about knowing your desires and priorities. Do not hesitate to register on expatriate websites, where you will find plenty of information on everyday life, the procedures, etc. Personally, I created an Instagram account to talk about all this and answer people's questions and stress. Expatriates are very supportive because we know what we have been through, and we want to help in turn. The most important thing is to listen to yourself. Trust yourself, live your own dream and have no regrets.

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