Expat. A word that is been part of my life for 5 years since I set foot in Canada. Sometimes, 2014 feels like yesterday, but most of the time it feels like an eternity. It’s been 5 years of experiences, changes, personal discovery, and growth; good and unforgettable moments, but also very bad ones, which are part of any immigrant journey. Now, looking back, and after everything that I’ve lived during this time, I don’t really have a feeling of joy. I spend more time feeling drained, and just tired, than embracing what I’ve achieved.
I have to admit that it has taken me long enough to finally write this piece. Perhaps I just want to share a glimpse of my experience, perhaps I just wanna write, or perhaps I reached my limit and I have to let it out. I must say, this could be a long read, and of course, only based on my own experience.
I might have started this post with some negativity, but I really need to admit something; during all this time I have received hundreds of encouragement messages, congratulating me for any of my successes, and I’m so thankful for all of them because they really filled me up with good energy. But what people never see is the real struggle, and the hustle to get out of it. What people don’t see is the stress waiting for every one of the Work Visas; and especially the amount of pride, ego, and self-respect that you need to leave aside because you don’t want to complicate what you have already earned. And of course, all the countless unexpected surprises that come with the Expat life, those unfair situations that can throw everything away and sent you back home with absolutely NOTHING.
In 5 years I have held a Work Permit; a Student Visa for a Post-Graduate; an extension of this Student Visa; a 2nd Student visa for a 2nd Post-Graduate; another Work Visa; and by the time I’m typing all these thoughts, waiting for another Work Permit, that would extend my stay in Canada for another 2 years, but most importantly, would allow me to keep paying bills and survive, like I’ve been trying to do since October 13th, 2014. I think it’s been enough, don’t you think?
For 5 years, my patience is been tested almost every single day. Of course patience is a good thing, and it is extremely necessary when you are outside your own country, but every human being has its limits, and lately, I’ve been more tired than ever of being patient, because uncertainty really ends up taking you down. I have thought about giving up more times than I’ve thought the contrary, but there’s something in me that always keeps me going and moving forward. And more importantly, my heart (MB) knows that it’s a matter of time to reach the end of this uncertain path.
Frustration and Blame.
As an EXPAT you’ll have to get used to seeing other people achieving what you’re pursuing; sometimes faster, easier, and with way fewer worries. It will frustrate you, and it has frustrated me many times, but it is extremely important to remember this: Every time you feel frustration, don’t blame others. Don’t compare yourself with other people who, for example, broke the immigration rules on purpose; they didn’t care, and they still ended up getting what you’re fairly still fighting for. It is very frustrating but there are different situations, different lives.
Rules are the rules and they exist for everybody. Perhaps I am just a bit more unlucky than others, or I just suffered more of those ‘unexpected surprises’ that I mentioned at the beginning. Let’s blame it to that; let’s blame it to those who put other’s future in jeopardy, because I know I can, because I have suffered those surprises, but don’t blame it to other unknown people who just took better advantage of the system… But, at the end of the day, it is what it is, and frustration won’t help anybody to move forward; It will just help people to write a post like this one, and nothing else. So write it, and move on.
Achievements. The key to avoiding sinking.
Too many visas, almost exhausted patience, frustration, and anger. It is funny and sad at the same time how negativity is able to stand out against the best professional years of my life, and with more achievements than ever before. As a Journalist just arriving in Toronto, I didn’t hesitate even for one second to take a full-time job as a dishwasher; I was new to the country, I had to start the path to the greater goal, and basically, pay rent and bills.
A little bit more than 1 year later, the first ‘unexpected surprised’ was one of the lowest moments of my life, it got me broke and almost killed my dream, but at the same time I must be thankful for it, because it was my biggest motivation (at that moment) to keep going and aiming for more and better. At that time I was enrolled in my 1st Post-Graduate, within the finance industry, with the only idea of starting a career in banking. So I got out of my misery, and I went for it. I knew which bank I wanted to work for, and I just went to a branch, asked to speak with the Manager, and I asked her, literally: “What do I have to do to work for this bank? This is the company where I wanna start my career in finance, and I’m going to work here”. I guess she was in a really good mood, or she really liked my drive, so she only said: “I love it! Let me call a good colleague who I know is hiring”.
She did, and got me an interview for the following week, where I met someone who changed my life, Ara. It is funny because when I first exchanged emails with him, I thought ‘Ara’ was a woman because of the name and because he would always add a smiley emoji after his email signature, but he was a big man, and way bigger in the inside. I had an interview with his 2nd in charge, who really liked me, and he must have said something via mail while the interview was happening, because Ara entered the office to keep knowing about me, and what my life goals were, and after a few minutes they offered me the job on the spot, which it wasn’t supposed to happen. We clicked instantly, and I could really write a full post about how much this person made an impact in my life. He made me realize how worse everything could be, so we must be thankful and keep going and moving forward. Ara is one of the 2 human beings who I would work with/for at any job with no hesitation (the 2nd comes later). That afternoon, after I got the job, I came back home crying; perhaps because of all that I was going through at that time, but especially feeling proud of myself like never before. That was probably one of the biggest achievements of my entire life.
Actually, life is actually funny sometimes, because at the same time that I was experiencing a big personal change, I got the new job at the bank, and my friend Antonio (in Spain), offered me to go back to journalism, covering the Toronto Raptors home games for a Spanish basketball website. He literally offered one of the jobs that I was aiming for when I decided to study Journalism, NBA Journalist, and exactly when I had decided to step away from Journalism… So in a matter of days, I switched dirty aprons, and rough hands cleaning dirt, for a nice suit & tie, plus the opportunity to make an impact in banking, and I also was an NBA Journalist, creating lasting memories with some of the best basketball players ever. Well, I guess it is really an achievement to be positive about.
Thanks to a promise I made to myself during my lowest days, I fulfilled a dream of being an NBA Journalist, and I also spent more than 2 amazing years in banking, including a promotion within not even a year, that gave me a more important position, my own office, and the chance of making even a bigger impact. Canadians, more used to have access to these jobs, wouldn’t get this excited, but for me, it was life-changing and I’ll always be proud of it. Actually, that 2nd year could’ve been even better, and I was really close of another promotion if I wouldn’t have had to deal again with more visas, the mess caused by that 1st unexpected surprise, and the need of more income to keep living in an extremely expensive city like Toronto.
Those financial needs and a soon to expire visa were draining me emotionally once again, but I was lucky at that time to have a friend who offered me a way out. He knew my whole story very well, and all the stress I was going through, plus he was knowledgeable of my extensive past in the Hospitality Industry back in Spain. He offered me to go back to the Service life, where I could make way more money, that I really needed, a possible work visa, and a great opportunity to progress within the industry. So I had to take it, and It changed my situation completely.
No matter what I’ve done in my work life, any job where my people skills are required, appreciated, or a way to success, is always a perfect fit for me; that’s why I really love Retail Banking or Hospitality. So it didn’t take long for me to get used to the Canadian restaurant ways. Actually, someone told me after 2 days seeing me working that I was “rusty”, and it was gonna take me long to fit. A week later I was already feeling in my zone, and 4 months later I was getting promoted to Supervisor by the 2nd person that I mentioned before that I could work with anywhere, anytime, Ricardo.
Same as what happened with Ara, I had an instant connection with Rico. We have the same age, same ideas, he could even speak some Spanish, and most importantly, the same way to look at Hospitality; we knew what we needed from each other almost instantly. From him, I learned patience, and how not to waste time worrying about something that can’t be changed. He trusted and relied on me without showing a ‘bossy’ attitude, which I really have trouble dealing with, and I paid him back working as hard as possible for the well being of the restaurant, even after he left months later, and I ended up holding even a more important position. At the restaurant, I recovered my financials up to the best level of my life, and I felt important, which gave me a lot of pride, because as I said before, this place was very special for me, and I wanted anything but the best success possible for it. It is just the way I work.
With some ups and downs, my work life was moving in the right direction. But, when I was not even 2 months away from accumulating enough work experience asked by the government to achieve the Canadian permanent residency, my greater goal, and finally being FREE to take my own direction, the 2nd unexpected and very disappointing surprise happened, and everything that I had achieved until that moment was left to sink when I was almost reaching the shore. I won’t say more about it; it was premeditated, and I was left with nothing, again, when I was so close.
At that time, this last June, I was so lucky to have my partner, my biggest supporter, and my biggest motivation, and I can’t be thankful enough for that; she kept me going and standing, literally. But I also was lucky that my hard work paid off; and I say this because when somebody knew about my situation, he quickly wanted me to work for him as a manager for his new place, as his equal even if he would be one position higher. ‘El Jefe’ Rico. He put me in front of the big bosses for an interview, they loved that I was what they were looking for in a hospitality manager, and they offered me the job, plus their support to sponsor me with the work visa that I so desperately needed, which is not an easy nor guaranteed process, but that would give me enough push to get to the shore once and for all.
As I just said, this is not an easy visa. You basically need to prove that you really are adding value to the country for that specific position, more than any other Canadian interested in the same job. And the waiting time is really exhausting because you find yourself in a tough situation; you can’t work, but you could be working in a matter of weeks, so there’s no income and the bills keep coming. That is what unexpected and unnecessary surprises do to somebody who just worked hard to make a decent living in a country where he has shown he can succeed. You should see after reading this ‘book’ how frustrating being an EXPAT can be.
What I’ve earned during these 5 years, I’ve done it mostly by myself, with my hard work, dedication, and also with my loved one’s help, which kept me going during low moments. Typing all this I feel a little bit like Jerry Maguire after writing his manifesto ‘The Things We Think and Do Not Say”. I’m not trying to make a point here, I’m not looking for pity or anything like that; I just needed to let it out. OF COURSE, I have amazing memories of these years, and at times I enjoyed the life I always wanted when I came here, but I’m just very tired of all these EXPAT worries. I just want to work not thinking about any visas anymore. I’ve given everything I got to make a living in this country, but I reached my limit, so if nothing good happens, and very fast, it might be time to start saying good-bye. Happy 5th anniversary in Canada to myself.