Leaving your home country to start a new (hopefully better) life somewhere else is one of the hardest choices someone makes in a lifetime. For Gina (pseudonym) however, it was not a choice since she was only a 14-year-old-teenager when her mother decided to leave Hungary and move to Canada to provide better opportunities for the both of them. Gina has been living in Canada for 17 years, and she shares her thoughts on culture shock, integration, life in a foreign country, and she even gives advice to those who might consider living that expat life. This is her story.
When did you move to Canada, which cities have you lived in, and where are you currently living?
I moved to Canada in 2001 and landed in Vancouver, British Columbia first. I’ve lived there for about 13 years. I also lived in Edmonton, Alberta for 3 years and currently residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, West to the East of Canada.
When you first moved to Canada, did you experience culture shock or culture clash?
I was nearly 14 years old when I moved to Canada, and to me, it was just a complete excitement. At that age, it was all about meeting all these cool kids in class with different backgrounds. For the first couple of years, I was placed in an ESL class; which stands for English as a second language. I would say the culture shock appeared a couple of years later when I entered the culture of Canadian students. It was shocking for me to see how laid back Canadians are. It was a culture shock because I still didn’t speak English very well, I mean I knew the basics, but the accent and grammar issues were there. That part was a little challenging because I didn’t have my confidence to speak up in class or to make ‘Canadian’ friends.
Gina’s thoughts on cultural diversity…
It was definitely challenging to build friendships in a country where almost everyone had different cultures or traditions.
You have to be an open-minded person to live in Canada, which to me is an awesome way to live life in general. We are all unique in our own ways and that’s also what makes Canada such a peaceful country.
“Everyone is accepted here!” is a well-known quote Canada’s government often points out. I think the most challenging part of living in such a diverse country is to overcome the fear of getting to know another culture. A lot of times you’ll see Asian people sitting with only Asians, or South Americans with only South Americans.
Working in such a diverse environment is also really fun because you get to have pot lucks and try different types of meals from all over the world. In general, almost every second person has an accent of some kind, and so it’s almost natural that we all speak English with different accents.
What do you love most about living in Canada?
I think Canada has a great government system in place which provides a very comfortable lifestyle to most immigrants. The country allows immigrants to have nearly the same rights as Canadian citizens.
I also really enjoy the scenery and nature of the country, and how well it is taken care of. This peaceful view is just incredible.
Check out the following examples: Banff, Alberta / Peggy’s cove, Nova Scotia / Whistler, British Columbia / Vancouver, British Columbia. (just a few of many)
What is your general impression of Canadian people?
Canadian people are very polite and welcoming in general. I’ve had situations where Canadian couples would ask me so much about my ethnicity just to show their interest and make me feel more comfortable.
In what ways do Hungarian people differ from Canadian people?
In general, Canadians are definitely less critical and more hospitable. In general, people are pretty open-minded, but it does have a strict law in place to protect human rights. As a result of that, people are very cautious of others and how they are treated.
What do you miss most about Hungary besides your family and friends?
I really miss talking in Hungarian and making jokes that cannot be translated.
We do not have a huge Hungarian community in Eastern Canada, so it’s hard to socialise with Hungarian people.
What would you miss from Canada if you moved back to Hungary right now?
I would really miss the people with different backgrounds. It has grew into my life that I feel more comfortable when there is someone else who was once an immigrant. I can relate better.
Do you still speak Hungarian?
I still speak Hungarian with my mom. However, when it comes to formal words, I may not be as good at it. I think it’s extremely important to continue practising our mother tongue to ensure that it sticks around generations after generations.
What is your general impression of Hungarian people’s English?
I love how dramatically the statistics increased of the people in Hungary speaking English. I am so proud that people actually realise how important it is to know English, and you can always get around well if you speak it. The accent may be thick. However, that is a privilege to speak more than one languages.
Do you imagine yourself living in Canada for the rest of your life?
I love Canada and the opportunities that it offers. I also love where I come from and what traditions I was raised with. I would definitely say I will be retiring somewhere in Europe. To me, the beauty of this continent is incomparable to Canada.
Hungarian communities in Canada…
I used to know a lot of Hungarian people in Vancouver, BC. There is a huge Hungarian community there with their own cultural centre. I even met people from the hometown I grew up in. Because I, now, live on the East side of Canada, I can only keep in touch with fellow Hungarians through social media. There is no Hungarian community here in Halifax, NS. I often think about creating one. I feel confident that they do exist here, they are just not as open about their background.
How do people react when you tell them where you are from?
“Oh wow, gulyas must be very tasty!” 🙂
People, in general, are very curious about backgrounds. I have never really had a negative impression from anyone.
Do Canadian people know Hungary?
Yes, most Canadians I’ve met always knew a little of Hungary. Canadian people are familiar with our World War history. I did have a situation (maybe even two) where I was in the Seattle, WA and someone asked me where I originated from. When I said Hungary, they basically gave me that confused look waiting for me to specify where it is located. It happens.
What is the worst/best thing about living in a foreign country?
The worst thing is living away from your family, missing all the family gatherings on special occasions, and growing up without your loved ones.
The best part is that you get to expand your knowledge in multi-culturalism right in front of your eyes.
What advice would you give to someone who is now considering moving away from their home country?
- Do your research about the cost of living.
- Learn more about diversity.
- Learn the local language!
- Prepare for the difficulties of possibly creating a family without your loved ones around.