Who are you?
My name is Sarah Mouton. I’m a freelance writer living in Paris, France.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved to Montreal in the Province of Quebec in Canada, in 2003. After I graduated from University I wanted to experience life abroad and it was fairly easy to get a visa for Canada as a French person. I knew the country had a very favorable immigration policy in the recent years due to their diminishing demography. It took me 9 months to obtain the permanent residency permit which allowed me to stay indefinitely in Canada. I had never visited the country before but I previously travelled through the USA and I had a feeling there would be similarities.What challenges did you face during the move?
In practical ways, the move was easy. I packed two luggage, knowing that I would find anything I needed there, especially the winter’s gear. The hardest part is always the stress of the unknown and I was about to move indefinitely to a country I had never been before! I was helped by the Quebec center for immigration in Paris to set up a clear plan of actions once there. They had reassured me that in my field (communication), there were good opportunities to find work in Montreal. Saying goodbyes was hard but I was ready for the new challenge coming.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I looked in the local paper for apartments to share in the city. Because I didn’t know anyone there, I was hoping I could make some friends that way and it worked. I wasn’t worried about finding a place in the “good” neighborhood; I was just worried about finding roommates I could get along with. Soon enough I moved in with a Quebecois and an Anglophone from Ontario and they open their worlds to me. Sharing apartments is a very common thing all around North America, and not just for students, people do it at all ages.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Canada is a land of immigration. Multiculturalism is the norm and you can blend in effortlessly. You meet a large amount of Canadians who were born elsewhere. It is less common to see foreigners moving there for a limited job contract. People generally settle for the long haul. Quebec tends to lure francophone immigrants, whether France or North Africa. Other provinces have different immigration policies. But overall there might not be a need to gather in an expat community, like in some other countries. Expats, or immigrants can be found at every corners and they are mixing with the locals, used to seeing regular waves of newcomers.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
There is a specific relationship between the “French from France” and the “French Quebecois” that other nationalities don’t deal with. It is a delicate topic as some Quebecois have obvious hostility towards the French, caused by years of “arrogant” French immigration to the Province. Nevertheless, Quebec has a strong sense of “national” pride, being a francophone territory surrounded by a sea of Anglophones. The province stands out by its uniqueness in Canada. More generally, Canadians are accepting of new immigrants and understand the prerogative of maintaining a steady flow of them to favor the declining demography. The face of the country has been drastically changing over the last decades because of it.
What do you like about life where you are?
Montreal is a vibrant, human sized city, easy to get around. It has a good transportation system (on North American standards). This is a pretty green city and Montrealers are very sensitive to the environment. The city is culturally very active and holds some major music festivals in the summertime. It also offers an eclectic artistic program all year long. Renting is cheap compared to similar cities in Europe and North America. It’s easy to get out of the city on the weekend and be in the countryside skiing in the wintertime or renting a beach house in the summer. People are easy to talk to and non-judgmental.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The winter is the hardest part about life in Canada. It is really hard to get used to it and feels very long when used to more tempered weather. At the end of an amazing summertime, you tend to get depressed to the idea of winter starting again. Because of the climate, it is also difficult to find good fruits and vegetables (outside of the brief summer season), other than high priced products from the South of the Continent. Also, Montreal feels pretty remote from larger cities. Toronto is 4 hours away by car and New-York is 6. Also, as a French person it felt sometimes unfair to have to deal with Quebecois’s hostility towards you, simply because you are French…
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Get ready for the wintertime, invest in some good winter clothing designed for the Canadian climate. This will make the experience more bearable. And get out of the city as often as you can in the winter. The piles of snow in the city can be quite depressing especially when it turn all brown on the roads but once you are in nature, it is truly beautiful and there are a lot of winter activities to pick from. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to your neighbors, the shops owners around your block,… people appreciate it and it will make for a very nice weekly routine.
What are your plans for the future?
I acquired the Canadian citizenship after living there for 5 years. I moved back to France for various reasons but Canada, and Quebec, hold a special place in my heart. I go back once in a while and I always feel welcomed. I have kept close friendships there. I certainly the quality of life there and the peacefulness (compared to Paris). I might move back there one day, but maybe try the west coast next time. A whole different world I hear…