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Holly Nelson, Hamilton (Ontario)

Who are you?

Hi there! Thank you so much for reading my interview with Expat Focus, it means a lot to me to be able to share my story because I love the thought of being able to provide the help and support that I so desperately needed when I was starting out! I am Holly, 30 years old, a great lover of reading, cake and knitting. I was pretty set in my ways in the year before I made this decision to move overseas, so I still find it astounding that I am here!

Where, when and why did you move abroad?I live in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) and I often write about this city in my blog because I have such a love-hate relationship with it. From what I hear, that is how most people feel about it. I fill my time with the best of my new city though and with my new country! I actually moved here for love. Not much else could have made me leave the safety of my home country England. I rekindled a love with my boyfriend Luke, who had been my boyfriend more than ten years before and, after a year of living through a long distance relationship, finally came here to stay Jan 11th 2013

What challenges did you face during the move?

Oh so so so many challenges! My first challenge was ignorance. I thought it would be easy to fly to a new country and then just stay there. I thought it would be easy to just walk into a new teaching job. As it was, I failed to get my visa when I planned on getting it, leaving me stuck in England, having already handed my notice in at my job through blind optimism! I thought that lawyers would be wonderful people who would just get a job done. I thought that it wouldn’t be too hard leaving my family and friends and that once I was teaching I would be jetting home all the time. Little did I know that there is no such thing as just walking into a teaching job here and that instead I would be left in a poorly paid job missing my family so desperately it feels like physical pain.

How did you find somewhere to live?

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Fortunately, I moved straight in with my boyfriend. We are currently renting and I find this a very different process to back home. Here, if you are renting, you are the person with most of the rights, not the landlord. Wonderful if you are a tenant, not so good if you are a landlord with a beautiful house that is trashed with little you can do about it like one nice lady I know.

Are there many other expats in your area?

So many! On average I see one English person a day on the weekly commute to work. Not just English people though, I work with a lady from Turkey and one from Nigeria, both teachers in their home countries, both unable to teach here. Even Canadian people usually have grandparents or parents from different countries. Ontario is incredibly multi-cultural; in fact, Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the World, with 12% of its inhabitants coming from England!

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Marvellous! Most people want to know about my accent – asking if I am English, Australian or South African! Life here is so multi-cultural, that no one bats an eyelid at me being here! It can get a little tiring being asked a billion times a day if you are English though. People are so welcoming and accepting though, I am greatly appreciative of it!

What do you like about life where you are?

I adore the snow at Christmas time, followed by the bright colours and sheer volume of flowers in spring, bringing a marvellous reprieve from a very long-feeling February, the red hot summers and the rich hues of fall. I love learning new traditions and making them a part of my life, like I have now done with Thanksgiving. I love exploring wild territories and have had the breath knocked out of me by wild waterfalls, vast lakes, strange animals, giant trees. I love shopping! I hated not knowing where to buy my clothes to begin with, but now it is so exciting to discover new stores, theatres, bowling alleys, you name it…everywhere is new to me!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I hate how much I miss my family. It is a constant ache in my chest and tears prick at my eyes every time I think of them and of home. I can’t tell you what it is like to miss almost every single person that you love. I have one of the closest families that I know. It ain’t perfect, but it is the imperfection of my family that make it so special to me. I wish I could find a way to meld these two lives together.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Everything! But primarily the biggest struggle I have had, in terms of cultural differences, has been with the people here. They are so wonderful and I learn a lot from them, however, I don’t understand their references to history, popular culture, music, places, stores, and it can be exhausting trying to follow the conversations! Not to mention the language barrier, this may be small, but is still difficult to contend with on an everyday basis. Initially, these differences were interesting and washed over me, but now I find them mentally tiring and I find myself hating it, wishing for a conversation with an English person, seeking English people out whenever I hear an accent on the bus or across a street or in a bar etc.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

I recently read a book called ‘The Immigrant’ by Manju Kapur about an Indian lady who came to Canada. In it, the main character describes walking down the aisles of Shoppers Drugs Mart, picking things up randomly and wasting hours of her time. That is me. To begin with, I found it very disorientating, not knowing where to buy what I needed, before resorting to the internet. Now, though, I peruse shops for hours sometimes, picking everything up and imagining how much better my life would be with that product I have never seen before! It is dangerous. Back home, items are pretty similarly priced, but here in Canada pasta in Fortinos can cost $3, but go to Food Basics and it costs $1. I have definitely learned how to shop more cheaply now!

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

I adore poutine! It is basically just chips (fries), covered in gravy, cheese curds and then all manner of other toppings. I love Tim Hortons. There isn’t a day that goes by in which I do not drink a coffee from Tims! I love cooking with spices now – chipotle mango, Montreal chicken mmmmmm…food definitely tastes better! Sadly, my waist line matches my new love of food! I am also happy there are plenty of English stores here, though, so that I can still get my hob nobs for my cups of tea and my wispas!

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

To take your time. Long distance relationships are so so so difficult, but you need to make sure you always do things right, set aside a LOT of money for the process – more than you think that you will need, and just try not to rush yourself. I would also say that you have to be absolutely sure that the expat life is what you want because, as rewarding as it is, it is filled with goodbyes to loved ones and heart ache.

What are your plans for the future?

I would love to teach again! Once I have saved up the money needed for my sponsorship, I will get my qualifications transferred and see how I fare with the school boards! Hopefully Luke and I will then finally be able to get our house with a garden for the dog and have a billion babies!

Holly shares more information about life in Canada through her popular blog English Girl Canadian Man.

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