A Brit Abroad: Moving from the UK to Canada with a Little Music

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to tell the epic adventure tale that is my recent immigration to Canada.  Originally I thought it could take the style of a checklist or a barrel of hints and tips, but have since decided to embed those a bit.  I’m hoping that this will be a little more entertaining than: “Now you need to buy health insurance – don’t forget those winter sports!”

I’d like you to click play on the song below – not yet, I’ll tell you when. The piece is part of The Planets by Gustav Holst and is entitled ‘Jupiter: Bringer of Jollity”. Just so we all know where we’re going on this journey, I have no idea how to appropriately describe music – so if you’re the equivalent of a connoisseur in the classical department, one thousand sorry’s to you.   If you don’t like classical music, be assured that it’s not drone-y or full of scrapey strings.  It is the kind of song I listen to to get through the last 7 minutes on a treadmill, a song I have listened to at 4am while trying to complete my dissertation, and on reflection, it is a piece of music that completely sums up my move across the Atlantic. I’m going to somewhat attempt to walk with you while we go on my immigration story.  I think this piece of music might help with getting you to feel how I felt.  Maybe I’ve actually, finally cracked.  I get that this might be a bit experimental so please do let me know what you think!

I’ve tried to think of the best way to do this – and  have decided that every now and then I’ll give you a little time stamp of where we’re at in the music feathered with extra links. Huge apologies if you find there’s too much writing for the time or vice-versa.

Hit play now.

During the first minute and 10 seconds, we’re heading from that initial thought all the way to the Departure Lounge at Gatwick Airport.

It’s very exciting.  So exciting.  You have to make a list.  A very long list of what you need to do, including the purchase of insurance, closing all of your accounts in the UK, forwarding your mail, telling your landlord, quitting your job.  But right now, that’s just a thought.  It’s on the list. It can seem quite daunting.  You slowly start to think about this move in real terms, the logistics.

0:24 – Then, it suddenly becomes real and it’s happening. You’re actually packing up and cleaning your house (thanks mum) and headed back to your childhood home for two weeks of goodbyes, quality time and panicking.  There will definitely be a lot of panicking.

You will find yourself, at some point, sitting amongst a pile of stuff you have accumulated from so many years of not having to be worried about fitting your whole life into two large suitcases. You also begin to have existential ponderings about material possessions and their emotional ties – you decide to bring “Ducky” the little white duck with a blue nose that you received from a dear friend during a hard time, although there’s not really any room for him.

Eventually, the night before rolls around and you practice forcing your suitcases into your uncle’s car.  They squeeze in.  You get to the airport and are first in line for check in.  There’s time for a quick breakfast and then the most difficult part of all: saying goodbye to your mum, your dad and your sister. This is when you start blubbing.

1:11 – However, there isn’t much time for that right now as you need to get sorted and ready to head through security.  It’s quick and although you are seriously laden down with your most important life possessions, it’s still relatively smooth.

And now for the duty free. You walk past the vodka, the sunglasses, the perfumes, all of the British memorabilia you could ever dream to buy, but decide you cannot because the past few days have been an admission that you own too much already.

1:30 – Your attention turns now to the task at hand.  No-one is making sure you’re on that plane.  Except you.  Where is my gate?

1:40 – The gate information arrives. You meander through the fanciest airport shops in the general direction of where you are due to leave the UK for longest time you’ve ever left: Gate 25.

1:50 – At this point, you’ve been by yourself for about an hour and a half and you’re feeling pretty comfortable.  It is a confident walk toward the gate, as if you do this walk daily as part of the commute.  You’re still nervous, but the excitement level is definitely rising fast.

2:09 – You’re 10 minutes into walking and realise you’ve just now gone past Gate 4.  You increase speed in the fear that you are about to miss a flight that is still almost an hour and a half away.  Gate 25 feels like it’s half way to Toronto.

You finally find the gate, sit down and feel frantic.  Have I missed the plane? You keep checking out the large, glass window to make sure that the plane hasn’t left without you and the 300 other people you’re sharing this experience with.  You hear the announcement that boarding is slightly delayed, become convinced you’ve met Nikki Grahame from Big Brother and feel generally uncomfortable and nervous.

2:31 – Then they announce that there isn’t going to be any tea of coffee on the flight.  It is an 8 hour flight. -.-

2:40 – Boarding begins and you’re patiently waiting for your turn to jump on the giant hunk of metal that will take you across an enormous ocean.  Terrified.

2:52 – The queue is too long and disorganised and you think you’re going to miss the plane.  By some unearthly miracle, you don’t.  You board. That confidence from earlier is back.

3:02 – You find your seat, sit down and meet your fellow passenger.  Unfortunately I don’t remember Keith’s actual name, but he was friendly and from Hamilton.  You give him your headphones because he didn’t have any.

3:12 – Take off.  You feel an overwhelming sense of achievement.  Who really knows why, all you’ve done is successfully boarded a plane. But I think it’s a culmination of the crippling fear, the leaving behind of almost everything and everyone you know and you really just feel brave. When we pass the coast you are brought back to road trips with your parents and leaving the county and saying “Goodbye Gloucestershire, Hello Worcestershire” except this time it is “Goodbye Britain, hello Atlantic Ocean”.  After this touching moment you remember your crippling fear of sharks and look down at all of that water.  You quickly decide to forget this fear, and not to worry about dealing with any potential shark situations until they arrive.  The flig2013-12-27 17.36.53ht is mostly uneventful, with the exception of Keith sleeping for 5 of the 8 hours and the experience of a desperately full bladder.  The food is as always enjoyable and although looks like rice, tastes exactly like the potato style meal you had on your last flight. The man in front of you keeps putting his seat back but the anger of this is quelled by the discovery that you too can put your seat back.  This is acceptable because you are at the very back of the plane. Occasionally, during the 8 hours you are brought back to the gravity of what you are doing.  The only way I can really describe this is how brave you feel and how proud of yourself you are.  You are so excited at the prospect of the unknown.  No, Canada isn’t really much different from the UK, but the distance is huge and who knows what opportunity is waiting there for you.  Even though you’ve visited before, it didn’t feel like this.  It didn’t feel so monumental.  You finally have the opportunity to watch The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and, as was expected, it is excellent.

4:42 – We start to land, and what has just been a big white expanse becomes trees and bigger sections of white where lakes and rivers are.  As you descend further you can see the CN Tower and the Toronto Skyline.  Take some deep breaths and don’t forget to suck on those soft mints you bought so your ears don’t hurt and pop horribly.

5:02 – TOUCH DOWN. You’ve moved.  You live in Canada now. You can’t help but beam from ear to ear.

5:13 – Here, begins a series of lines.  The first one is at the spot check for passports.  Keith and I chat about the dangling ice (whose name escapes me at this moment). Then you lose Keith and jump in the visitor’s line.  Have that blue folder with your life in it handy.  The border guard is nice and directs you to yet another line.  The 3rd line is quick and small.  You get to be processed by the jolly sounding lady, who takes a look at your landing letter and although you were told to have numerous bank statements and proof of insurance ready, she does not ask to see it.  She issues your visa and tells you it’ll be $30 to replace. Written on your visa you are reminded not to work in the sex industry – all right.

Now comes the 4th and final line.  Service Canada to get my SIN (the equivalent of a National Insurance Number in the UK) This line is again, relatively quick, but the process is a little slow because the computer of the gentleman who’s helping you keeps deciding to crash.  He passes the time by making some light hearted jokes about you being a witch.

6:10 – You pass through into arrivals and your bags are not on the conveyor belt.  My whole life was in those.

6:22 – This becomes a great success because some other poor schmuck has had to lift the 50kg of possessions off the conveyor belt and in a pile near other neglected bags (puts weight lifting chalk away).

You pick up your bags, try to determine some kind of method for carrying two suitcases, two handbags and a life folder.  A final border guard asks to see the passport you have already efficiently put in your life folder.  Some awkward shuffling and dropping of bags ensues. You crinkle your newly printed visa at some point during this process.  The gentleman takes a passing glance at your passport and you are free to go.

7:00 – You’re through the door into arrivals.   You give the wonderful Canadian you’ve been sweeting up for a couple of years a quick kiss and all of your luggage before making a beeline for the Tim Horton’s line where you order your first French Vanilla. Typically, it burns your face off, but is worth it after 8 hours of no caffeine.

7:14 – Your luggage, your Canadian, your shiny new visa, your French Vanilla and you head out of the airport and into the car park, there is lots of snow on the ground and it’s very very cold.  But you’ve made it.

7:25  It feels pretty amazing, the excitement of a new home, a new job and new friends is on the horizon and you just feel epic.


How to be Unemployed

Being unemployed has led me to seek the opinion of and take comfort in the experiences of others who are also unemployed.  I wanted to add to that, so this post is about how my experience has gone thus far, how I’m coping and how I think you should try to cope if you’re in this situation.  

For me, my experience can be summed up into a circular process consisting of three stages:

  1. Living the dream
  2. Momentum and Applications
  3. The Sky is Falling

People will tell you there is a fourth stage; acceptance. I don’t think you ever accept being unemployed.  Maybe at 2pm on a Saturday when you can justify the 8 episodes of ‘The Good Wife’ you just watched because this is what employed people do too.  But that feeling never stays long.

Stage 1: Living the Dream

Common thoughts that occur during this stage:

“I’m not that worried, something will come along.”

“I have enough money to survive many winters – I’m going to be fine.”

“I can get in shape!!”

“I can FINALLY do that juice cleanse”

This is a nice position to be in and a really positive way to feel.  Cling to this.  You can normally churn out 3-4 quality applications daily and you don’t mind taking a day or two off.  You tend to get to the gym easily and you’re feeling confident that this time is like a holiday that won’t last long.  Wasn’t everyone unemployed at some point?  Maybe this is your artistic awakening.  You finally have time to paint!

If only it lasted, because I feel that if you stayed in this stage you’d be all right – you’d probably rock your juice cleanse.  It’s also a nice state to be in because the steely silence of your inbox just rolls off your back. You know it’s going to be all right.


Stage 2: Momentum and Applications

There’s no wasting time, you have to treat unemployment like a full-time job.  You will get a job today that will be your sole focus.  You’re having a little less fun and the guilt is starting to slowly build. You miss a day of applications and lay awake thinking that you could’ve missed the ultimate opportunity that appeared for one day only.  You’ve probably stopped shelling out on the pair of jeans your bank balance says you can afford, but the threat of long-term unemployment knows you can’t. You’re also setting yourself mini-targets like:

“I’m going to have a job by Thursday”

Unfortunately, save for sending out more applications this isn’t something you can control.

For the most part however, you’re still feeling positive. You’re going outside and delivering CV’s and it’s great.  You’re going to fix this situation.

And you might fix it during this phase – in which case, AWESOME!

If not, then eventually, like a tidal wave, stage 3 hits. And it hurts.


Stage 3: The Sky is Falling

I woke up at 7am.  I checked my emails once before 9am and again at 9:01am in the hope of some communication from a potential employer. Nothing.  I conducted my daily trawl of Indeed.ca in the hopes of finding a new opportunity and I made some toast.  Then at midday, I cracked.  I physically couldn’t complete any more applications because thus far it felt like every hour I’d slaved over sending out cover letters and every second I’d spent perfecting my CV had been for nothing.  I was useless and worthless and hopeless.

So I did what any reasonable, grown-up, individual does when a hard time hits. I went to bed.

I also ate a litre of ice cream and watched 10 episodes of Friends, and wept.

At this point there is next to no joy gained from doing anything because you either feel too guilty to enjoy it or you feel like you’re letting those around you down by enjoying yourself when you should’ve been considering your situation.  It’s getting difficult to justify the purchase of anything, even milk.  You get to the point where you feel you don’t deserve coffee with milk; you’re unemployed! You’ve decided there is little need to get dressed because you’ve got no interviews or anywhere to go and sometimes, you get up just to go back to bed.

Here’s why it’s okay for the above to happen to you.

It’s really difficult to be unemployed.

It is an emotional rollercoaster, that isn’t always rational – OF COURSE YOU CAN HAVE MILK IN YOUR COFFEE! It’s really hard to maintain a sense of identity and determination and momentum when all you get in return is silence.

The two fundamentally, above all, most important things you need to do to get through these times are:

  1. Take good care of yourself and your mental health
  2. Ensure that any application you send out is of the absolute highest quality.

A few additional notes on point 1:

DO NOT DO A JUICE CLEANSE.  You will get upset, angry and you won’t be able to write any kind of quality job application because all you will be thinking about is the amount of cheese in your fridge and the biscuits in your cupboards.

Don’t panic if you have a mini-emotional breakdown.  Take an afternoon and cry it out. The combo of guilt, lack of purpose and fear of wasting time is a huge burden to bear.  So yeah, cry.  Afterward, or the next day, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going.  To quote, what I consider the single most under-quoted movie of all time:

“Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right it’s not the end” – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Even if it’s not all right next week, or next month, eventually, with hard work and determination it will be.  You have to make it all right and you can and you will.  But don’t worry if it’s not tomorrow.

Finally, try and exercise and do try to give yourself some kind of routine.  Setting an alarm to avoid the guilt of a wasted morning helps a lot!

Exercise also helps.

So, okay, I don’t have a job but I’m lifting heavier weights than ever and running a lot faster. It’s a small sense of accomplishment in a time where you can be very quickly convinced that you will never accomplish anything.

Take care of number 1. Power on through.  Get help if you need to.  There is no shame in asking.

Some additional notes on point 2:

There is nothing worse than reviewing your CV after sending it out to 30+ people and finding that it has confused tenses and a couple of grammatical errors.  You want to send out best version of yourself to the workplace (even if you’re doing so in your PJs). It’s also tempting to have written a cover letter and be so tired from writing about yourself that you just hit send.  You’ll feel better for taking a minute away and then coming back to read it refreshed.  Take it from someone who learned the hard way, you HAVE to proof read. AHHH.

Exciting websites I would direct you to for some interesting employment reading are:

  • Askamanager.org – there’s tips for CVs and cover letters here as well as interesting questions from readers, e.g. “My co-worker clipped his nails during an interview, should I have said something?”
  • Your local university careers service. Even if you’re not a student, this is a great spot for cover letter and CV tips. If you’re at the University of Leicester, I cannot tell you how much they want to help and how capable and opportunity-ridden the service is.  I’m sure that this is pretty standard in all universities.


Ultimately please remember the following:

  • Unemployment is hard, you can be upset and you can ask for help.
  • You do need to continue to apply to positions, even if it’s entry level shovelling, just try and fill your time, you’ll feel better.
  • Take the best care of yourself, even mini achievements go a long way to boosting your morale at this time

It will be okay.  You are important and valuable and useful and you will find something.

Just. Keep. Going.

Me, Eyebrows and the Benefit Lady

Occasionally, maybe it’s when there’s to be a full moon, I have some horrendously awkward experience with a customer service/ sales associate.  Here’s one for your enjoyment.

It was Christmastime in Nottingham.  The leaves had fallen from the trees and as I stepped off the bus into the city centre the place was heaving.  My two aims of the trip were:

  1. Buy some presents
  1. Have a look at some make-up and maybe go for some kind of contour palette or get an eyebrow pencil or something. I don’t really know what I was looking for specifically, but I knew I wanted to do something about my face.

I end up in Boots, browsing the brands, not super high end, but your Maybelline, Bourgeois, Rimmel priced stuff.   I was also having a look at some brushes.  So basically I was wandering through 6 aisles of products occasionally picking items up, deciding “yes, this is the product that will help me with my face” then walking about some more before changing my mind to “I don’t know how to use this item on my face” and hurriedly putting it back.

This process continued for quite some time.

On reflection it definitely looked like I was going to steal something.  Maybe that’s why she approached.

“Hi, can I help you with anything today?”

Okay – it’s a Benefit lady.  Benefit is far too high end for my face.  Financially I mean. This could mean trouble.

“Um…maybe, I don’t really know what to do with my face” – this is exactly what I said, and I remember because as soon as I said it I knew that this was going to be the start of an adventure.

She starts talking about my face – I don’t wear lots of makeup to work and what I do wear is put on at 7am, it is now 5pm. I’m not looking that great.

“Okay so do you ever put anything on your eyebrows?”

“No.  I’m a bit scared to do that”

“Well you have to put something on your eyebrows – *adds something about drawing the eye down the face – I am terrified and confused*”

Please don’t offer to put me in a chair and apply some product to my face.

“Why don’t we go over to the chair and try a product  or two?”

All-righty, here we go.

Make-up lovers this is where I get SUPER amateur.

Her opener was “you’ve got lovely eyebrows, do you pluck them yourself?” I do – in fact, I had recently done them. “Yeah, thanks” I say, she quickly adds “make sure you don’t over pluck them”.  Oh.

She puts this fancy paste on my eyebrows.  Eyebrow paste is not for me, and when I look in the mirror, I can’t hide how horrible I think I look, coupled with the uncontrollable “wow” that flies out of my mouth before I can catch it, this is not good.  She notices and says “this mascara stuff will do something extra to it” – okay that’s not what she said, but I don’t remember her words. Regardless,   she’s now putting some mascara style stuff on my face.


These brows are dark.  It’s December and I skipped a tropical summer holiday so I am ghostly white.  It looks horrible.  I have virtually no other makeup on than my now super dark eyebrows.   It’s just terrible and then to top it off here comes the sales pitch.

This is a serious problem; I could end up with these products.  Just to describe them, they are thumb-length, little finger wide tiny pots of goo. I don’t want them but tactfully decide that I will consider buying one if it is a fiver – although there is a tinge of guilt considering the whole 15 minutes she’s spent painting the little hairs above my eyes.

“So they’re £20 each, not huge costs for great eyebrows like these”

Hell no.  I’m out.

I don’t feel that bad for wasting her time any more.  I stumble through some crappy line about seeing what Santa brings me and run out of the shop.  I spent almost an hour and a half in Boots, purchased nothing and now have the most ridiculous eyebrow/ghost face situation going on.  I decide to forgo any present shopping and run to the bus to get home; hand and hair strategically placed to try to cover the eyebrow disaster.