Once upon a time, I was naïve. I believed in the false rumour: If you lived in a place, you would gain fluency in a language. Without language barrier before in my life, I jumped at the opportunity. I moved to Alma, a small town in Québec, which is a French region in Canada in 2012 shortly after graduation. I was a language assistant there and I worked with secondary level students. I worked at a really good artsy school, people who loved music and art, and it was an academic school, one of the best in the region. But it was a puny and small city of 30,000 people.
Fast forward a month later when the sun no longer shone past 4pm, and the weather started freezing up, reality sunk in. I learned what it meant to be an immigrant and a minority, one who can be spotted out immediately anywhere I went.
So what kind of consequences do you face when you have a language and cultural barrier? I’m prepared to share what it was like living like an immigrant for over a year.
- Speak the Language or Do Not Speak at All: This period of my life was call the muted year. I basically did not speak much, and for those who knows me, I love to talk, so no doubt, it was difficult. As all my colleagues were Francophones and spoke French, no one was really interested in speaking with me in English. Going to the cafeteria during lunch hours was the proudest moment of the day where I can manage reading the menu, and when in doubt, could even ask in French for clarification. So yes, when you’re in survival mode, you would do whatever it takes.
- Language Classes with Foreigners: When my English friends and I arrived, we were offered French night classes to integrate us better. It was very generous and they were private lessons for the three of us. My teacher did not know much English, just like anyone in this tiny town, so we were forced to speak French. For those two hours each week, I was totally immersed and I was learning French using French. Then, at the end of the year, I studied it full time for a month. I was among other immigrants who spoke Spanish so the common language was not English, but rather French. Because of these classes, I became skilled in asking questions and finding answers using what, where, when, and why. This helped me in the long run.
- My Social Network: In short, I did not have a social network. Making friends was almost impossible and extremely difficult. The concept is really simple: Would you be friends with someone who did not speak your language? That was a big part of the puzzle but also the lack of places to go and a huge generation gap (no one lived there between 19 – 35 years old). It also depends on where you live and how welcoming are they to foreigners (or even if they have to build a network for expats).
In travel blogs, we all hear about the amazing things in moving to a new city, a new country and to experience a new culture. Sure, it can be amazing, but no one ever said it was easy. There is nothing in life that doesn’t come with a price. I wish someone told me about the difficulties that I could face, and possibly how hard it can be. But nothing could be compared than to experience it myself. Nothing could have prepared me for this.
If I had a chance to relive the experience, I’m not sure whether I would. But I am glad I did it and I’m glad it’s over.
Everyone has a story
This is mine.