Friday 6th May was a big day for us. It marked our 1 year anniversary with Montreal, a whole year since we got on a plane and left everything we knew behind to give a new life in Montreal a shot. A year from the scariest yet most exciting day of our lives. What a year it’s been. Did we do the right thing? Absolutely. Is there days when it’s hard to live almost 3000 miles across an ocean in a whole other continent? Absolutely.
I remember sitting on that plane looking down as the UK got smaller and smaller below us, with a thousand questions running through my head. What was waiting for us on the other side? Would we be happy? Would we be homesick? Would we make friends? Would we like it? Had we made the worst decision of our lives? A year on and thankfully the majority of my worries were unfounded.
The first few weeks after we arrived we were put up by my husband’s work in a serviced apartment, to give us time to find our own place, and while this time was exciting as we began to explore the city we would now call home, it also became apparent very quickly that this was no holiday. 24 hours after we arrived in Montreal my husband started work and I was left alone, just me and the dog. I didn’t know a soul and I had nothing to do to fill my time and calm my overactive brain. So I walked, and walked and walked. And as I did so I realised what a beautiful and cosmopolitan city I was in. I had that feeling, you know the one where you think “I really like this place”, the “I could live here” feeling. This was a relief as by this point we had both given up our jobs, rented our house and moved ourselves and our worldly belongings across an ocean. But as ridiculous as it may sound we had never visited Montreal before we moved here. I had never even been to Canada before. So why did we agree to come? I don’t know to be honest, a naïve hopefulness perhaps that everything would be alright? Maybe the thought that it added to the adventure? Whatever our reasoning we were very lucky in how it has turned out.
We love Montreal, truly love it, much more than I ever expected to. Despite it’s quirks, of which there is indeed plenty, it is genuinely one of the most beautiful, dynamic and exciting cities I have ever been to and our quality of life has improved dramatically by moving here. We spend so much of our time outdoors here and we are never short of something new to do, if anything we struggle to find a weekend where there isn’t something on that we want to attend. The city is bursting at the seams with museums and parks, has a year round plethora of festivals, sporting activities and events that leave you wondering how they can possibly fit anything else in. But the thing that has had the biggest imact on our happiness is just that we get to be together (cheesy but true). Prior to coming to Canada we were living apart 5 days a week because of work commitments which for some couples might be perfect but not for us. Simple pleasures like having dinner together and walking the dog together at night mean so much when you’ve previously not had that luxury.
Living in Montreal has also given us so many opportunities to travel. It is an excellent hub from which to easily visit many Canadian and North American destinations and already we can tick New York, Boston, Niagara Falls, Quebec City, and in approximately three hours Toronto, (as I write this on the train journey there) as well as more local destinations such as Mont Tremblant and Sutton off our ever growing to do list.
One of my biggest fears before we left was whether we would make friends. Whilst we love each others company we both had large social circles at home and I firmly believe that no matter how good your relationship you also need a group of friends. Thankfully this was another area where my worries were unfounded as we were very fortunate to quickly find a group of people, many of whom were in the same situation as us, who quickly became great friends. This has been so important, especially for me. With not working I’m sure I would have been incredibly lonely if it weren’t for the great group of girls I’ve met here. Although not all, many of us are in the same situation – ex pats who have came here for their husband or partners job and due to either visa restrictions or the language barrier have been unable to work. Knowing you’re not alone and having someone who understands your frustrations definitely makes things easier and I’m sure these girls have saved my sanity on numerous occasions.
Because not everything is rosy, this is real life and real life isn’t perfect. I gave up my career to come here and that has at times been challenging to wrap my head around. I can technically work while I’m here though restrictions on my Canadian visa mean I can’t work in the field I did at home and my lack of French means that finding work in a customer facing role is pretty much impossible. I have taken French lessons while here, though my French still leaves a lot to be desired. High school French does not prepare you for living in a largely French speaking city. Some people have a natural aptitude for languages but I’m afraid I am not one of those people. I get by and at the moment that’s good enough but becoming a housewife has taken some getting used to and I’m definitely still adapting to this role.
Not working has been both a blessing and a curse. Obviously I love not having the ‘Sunday night dread’ but not having a focus can make things difficult and I struggled with this a lot initially. I over analyse every purchase that I make now. This is no reflection on my husband, he tells me to buy whatever I want (within reason obviously) but personally I can’t do that, not when I know I’m not contributing. So this avid shopper has put away her credit cards and started tightening the purse strings. I’m not being ungrateful by any means I know I’m in a very fortunate position but giving up my job, which had always been a huge part of my life was difficult. Exhilarating, but difficult. Your work is your identity and when you don’t have that it can force you to look hard at yourself and there are definitely still days when I find the fact that I don’t have a job difficult to stomach. To go from being so ambitious and career focussed, progressing quickly in my career to suddenly not having that to identify myself by has been hard. But this experience has also shown me that a career is not a life, something far too many people mistake it for and back home I was definitely guilty of this.
My life, in so many ways, is very different from it was at home, and this has inevitably changed me as a person. I am much more laidback now, which is lucky as you need to be laidback to be able to laugh off the many idiosyncrasies of life in Quebec. I am also much more happy for the most part. I hadn’t realised before we moved here quite how unhappy I had became in the last few years and how much this was affecting not only my mental health but also my physical health, something which has improved dramatically since we arrived here. I do things here, some of which I’ve always loved but just didn’t get a lot of time to do at home, like reading and writing and some things which I didn’t even know I enjoyed- I cook, and I have learnt that I actually really enjoy this. A busy work life at home meant I lived on a lot of microwave meals and takeaways. The next Nigella Lawson I am not but I can certainly throw together a nice home cooked meal these days, much to my husband’s delight (and I’m sure shock).
I suppose the things we thought would be hard, are indeed hard. I miss my family terribly, as I knew I would, and for me this is definitely the hardest part of being away (Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on homesickness) but I now appreciate every single minute I have with them, and the same can be said with my best friends.
The language barrier can certainly make life interesting, even just daily tasks can sometimes seem impossible, though do definitely often add some humour to my days. An incident last summer when I tried to ask a French speaking shopkeeper for kitchen scales, resulting in a horrifyingly embarrassing (on my part) game of charades will haunt me forever. And the night a local man asked us what type of dog Max was (He’s a Lhasa Apso) but somehow this got lost in translation and left him very confused asking “He’s a Velociraptor??”definitely added some laughs to an evening dog walk. For the record Max is most definitely not a dinosaur!
So if it all ended tomorrow what would I have learned from this last year? Moving to Montreal has changed my outlook on life. Love, family and good friends are the most important things in life, this I have always known, but I perhaps previously let work deadlines and pressures distract me from this. But life is also about adventure, throwing yourself into new challenges and learning how to be the happiest, best possible version of yourself. So whatever you hold for us in the future Montreal, and however long we call you home, for making me realise this I will always be thankful.