Immigrating: Living Your Dream, One Step at a Time
By Sabine Ehgoetz
So, here’s the scoop: all you may know upon arriving in a new and foreign country is that you know nothing – which is actually quite a lot, considering that it puts you on the same mental level as the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. It’s still a scary place to be!
Everything in your new environment seems unknown, unsafe and full of constant surprises – good and bad ones. I remember my first week in Canada when I ran into a guy wearing a balaclava at the grocery store (it was January!) and freaked out because I thought he was a robber about to pull out a gun.
Every trip on the subway felt like a journey through the Amazon. If I couldn’t even locate the nearest ministry of transportation office to get my Canadian driver’s license, how on earth was I ever supposed to find my place in this society, land a job and confidently walk into a new office? I left my home country as a successful business woman and arrived after a flight across the Atlantic as a confused, yet excited girl willing to take on the challenge and discover a new path for herself.
You may think opening your heart and mind to a new experience is going to guarantee you success. Sure, it does eventually, but fate tends to lead you around a bunch of corners, past some nasty hurdles and – since this is Canada we are talking about – some bloody heavy snowstorms. Reckoning I had spent enough years of my life in school and university, I was determined not to throw any more money or efforts into further formal education. At the same time, I was aware that neither an M.A. in politics and journalism, nor lots of German editing experience or proficiency in the English language would allow me to score an upper management position. Feeling stripped of what my brain had to offer, I remembered there was still the outer shell, and since I had been modelling in my student years, I thought I’d give it that try – after all, I didn’t even have to open my mouth for that. Needless to say, I threw out way too much of the little money we had into some dubious agency that secured me one half decent assignment and a gazillion time-consuming, completely pointless auditions. With my ego slightly shrunk, I applied for various retail jobs I had absolutely no qualification for or even desire to work at. I knew my way had to be out there – it just hadn’t been discovered yet.
That’s the funny thing about life, I find. It leads you and your pride to the very edge and down the valley and – since this is Canada we are talking about – through the endlessly frustrating plains of Saskatchewan (admittedly I have only heard about this and never been there to prove the point). It likes to test you and see how much you really believe in yourself, despite all the drawbacks.
Once in a while, opportunities pop up along the way. If you walk hunched over, despair heavy on your shoulders, you’ll most likely miss them. But if you keep your back straight and your eyes open, you have a good chance of spotting them. As long you haven’t begun to doubt your intuition, or – since this is Canada we are talking about – ruined your gut feeling with too much junk-food and beer, you will know when your time has come to shine.
Let’s face it, the tale of the dishwasher becoming a millionaire is a hopeful one, but it won’t happen this way for the majority of us. So why not take baby steps and work ourselves up to where we want to be, making good use of our strengths, our strong will, our passion and determination? All our experiences in the past, all the knowledge we have acquired still counts, regardless of the fact that we now live in a country where most of the stuff on our résumé isn’t worth a penny. It still shaped us into who we are right now, with all our spirit, wisdom and infinite mind. The possibilities are still endless if we dare to grasp them.
While my education impressed no one here, my mother tongue eventually came in handy and I was offered a translator position. There was my first job. I also kept my professional contacts back home and for some unexplainable reason they all of a sudden found it chic to have a writer in Toronto. Don’t ask me why, but there was my second job. If I can write a decent story in German, it can’t be impossible in English, I figured, and a lovely magazine for Canadian newcomers (guess which that may have been) gave me a chance. There was my third job.
My path is still windy, I sometimes get sidetracked (if you want call motherhood and parenting twins straying from the route), and often I feel so exhausted on an uphill stretch that I wonder whether I should have rather stayed home where everything was safe and easy. But that’s the other thing in life: whatever direction we choose on the crossroads, we’ll never know where the other one would have lead.
Maybe it would have been even bumpier, lonelier or – since this is Germany we are talking about – may have ended me in some deserted alpine gravel field. I chose Canada with all its uncertainties, and I’m happy I did. Let’s forget that I’m incredibly busy, fairly successful and even well paid in my job now. It’s not about that. It’s about what happened on the inside. As I slowly morphed back from the scared, freaked out little girl to the business woman I once was (and more importantly, a mother on top of that), I realized that it felt even better this time around. It feels like I really, really earned it now.