My immigration story is by no means as astonishing as many other immigrants' who are welcomed into Canada. We were not refugees, nor were we investors purchasing a company. No, my family was invited to live in Canada based on family size and education. We earned a spot to plug the declining population leak, and we were more than happy to assume that role. Although we did face significant hardship before and throughout our journey, immigrating to Canada changed my life.
"We're going to apply for immigration to Canada." When my parents first sat myself and my two brothers down, we were 11 years old. It was a scorching summer day in Pretoria, South Africa, and we had just climbed out of the pool, not expecting our lives to change that day. Our parents hoped to move us abroad to a more stable country, with far less crime and more opportunity.
"Where is Canada?" I had asked. It wasn't a country I had been familiar with, but it was a country I was about to enter into a long and complicated relationship with.
On February 1st, 2009 the wheels of our Boeing 737 met the Vancouver tarmac. The day we arrived we visited the local Safeway to fill up the empty fridge in our furnished rental. We spent over an hour marveling at the selection of chocolate chip cookies (and entire aisle?!) and glossy fruit. It would be a year of Canadian ‘firsts’ and the following day, we approached our second. 48 hours as a landed immigrant, I was standing in front of a large, light-blue cement building with metallic red doors. Claremont Secondary. Every movie with a North American high school had led me to this moment. We didn't have to wear a uniform. There were lockers. They call it Grad here, but it's basically The Prom, right? Imagining my Canadian high school experience as a Hollywood movie wasn't quite realistic, but the familiarity calmed my nerves. After meeting with a counsellor, I was escorted to my first class: Math 11, with Mr Spoor. My new life was about to begin.
When the door swung open, something peculiar happened... half of the students didn't raise an eyebrow. A couple smiled. Others kept writing. You see, where I'm from - any new student - especially one from another country - sparked a wave of curiosity across the school.
I spent the following few years making friends the normal way, meeting, greeting, it was casual. The Hollywood high school experience I had imagined delivered in some ways (we had actually had a school mascot) and didn’t in others.
Throughout my highschool experience and into university, something dawned on me. I was living in a country with a swinging door of international interest. International students visited and left while some stayed. Families immigrated. Aussies/Kiwis worked in Whistler. This country was a true melting pot for the world. Diversity, here, was the norm. It was nothing surprising, shocking, or out of the ordinary for Canadians. It was just the way it was. Unquestioned. From that point forward, I felt that I had truly found a new home: a home where “where are you from” is frequent (I’m a firm believer in hanging onto what’s left of my accent) but the why and how, isn’t required. It’s obvious: Canada is a great place to live. Eight years on, I am dumbfounded by the unquestioned acceptance from those around me. It humbles me to be the best Canadian I can be. Who needs Canada? I need Canada, my family needs Canada, immigrants need Canada.