From an interview with Carla Salazar.
Carla and her husband lived in Lima, Peru. Carla was born and raised there; her husband is Canadian. After living there for seventeen years, he wanted to return to Canada, and Carla thought it would be for a year, maybe two at most. On New Year’s Eve, 2017, Carla, her husband and three daughters arrived in Ottawa in the heart of a harsh Canadian winter, leaving the Peruvian summer behind. Carla shares her story of coming to Canada, dealing with winters, overcoming culture shock, and falling in love with our nation’s capital.
Moving to Canada was an adventure. I thought that it was going to be a one year or maybe two-year adventure at most. I didn’t think I could get used to Canadian life. I was not confident about staying in Canada, so far from family, friends, and the Peruvian food that I love. I was not very optimistic and was very open to the idea of moving back to Lima.
Our life in Peru was good, but my husband was not happy. Lima can be a very stressful city. It’s very chaotic. Driving in Lima is really wild. The traffic jams are a nightmare, and they get worse each year. We lived outside the city in a district with only two roads in and out of a city of 10 million people. My husband is Canadian and had gotten used to it, but after 17 years, he was fed up.
“When you have low expectations, the reality is much better.
My husband told me I was going to be miserable for the first three months. He said I would cry every single day, and I was going to ask to move back to Lima. So, I had this idea that life was going to be terrible. I think he did a good thing because when I finally arrived here, I didn’t feel any of those things.”
Choosing a Canadian city
We were talking about moving to Canada, but we hadn’t decided which city. We had travelled to Canada a number of times on vacation. We had been to Toronto twice, Vancouver, Montreal. I knew about those cities, and I loved Toronto the first time we came. We were newlywed, so I didn’t have kids, and Toronto seemed fantastic to me. But when you have a family — it’s different. Besides, I was also fed up with the traffic in Lima and preferred a smaller city.
My husband asked me, “Would you like to live in Vancouver? It’s on the Pacific coast like Lima, and you have the beaches right there.” He thought that maybe Vancouver would be good for me in terms of not feeling homesick. But I knew how bad the traffic was in Vancouver and didn’t want anything to do with traffic in big cities.
We had also been to Ottawa. My first time was in 2015. My husband knew Ottawa because he had lived there for four years in the ‘90s, and he knew about the quality of life in a smaller city – the work-life balance that you can enjoy in Ottawa. That’s why I chose Ottawa. I also love that the city has a historic centre as Lima does and that the Gatineau lakes are so close, just a half-hour from downtown.
Embrace the new environment – especially the Canadian winter
I was very concerned about my ability to deal with winter and the cold. But the first time we saw snow falling outside our window, it was so beautiful. I thought, “Wow, this is good, this is wild, this is snow!” It was a completely different world for us, and we were thrilled!
Every single weekend we did something outdoors – even in winter with temperatures as low as -20ºC, when the snow is too cold to make a snowman! I remember I made videos and sent them to my family in Peru, saying, “Look at the snow! We’re doing this; we’re doing that, skating, sledding, all these fun winter activities!” That was the best thing we could have done because the next winter was easier, and the third one was much easier.
Read more about Carla’s journey on her blog Ottawa is not boring.
Adjusting your career goals in Canada
I am a journalist, but I was not expecting to find a job as a journalist here in Canada. Because I hadn’t written professionally in English (my blog is my first time writing in English), I was not confident that I would be able to do so in a fast-paced environment like journalism. So I decided that I would find a job as a Spanish teacher and set about looking for a position.
I started to study French at a language school, and I was a good student. One of my teachers suggested that I could be a substitute Spanish teacher. When I inquired at the office, I was told that I didn’t have the necessary certification necessary for the language school but that I should try applying at an elementary school. So I did.
I was connected to the principal of a local school via my network, and she answered my email right away. I completed a police background check and started the following week. It was just a part-time job, but it was a way to get Canadian experience.
Last September, another teacher I met recommended me for a job teaching Spanish to Canadian volunteers who do humanitarian service in Latin American countries. So, now I’m teaching Spanish to children and adults. It’s all online at the moment because of the pandemic, but it works well with the kids. In class, children are so playful and can become wild, but now their parents are sitting nearby listening to the lesson.
No need to fear: you can find the food you love here
We Peruvians are very passionate about our food. We like to mix and experiment with food, and there is a lot of fusion in Peru. We believe that we improve on other countries’ food. When we moved to Canada, I was very worried that I would end up just eating sandwiches.
But I found everything I needed to make Peruvian food in Ottawa. There are Latin American markets where I can find the special chili we use in Peruvian food: Aji Panca, Aji Amarillo and Aji Mirasol! Peruvian chili is not hot like Mexican chili, but it adds flavour – it’s perfect. I cook Peruvian food all the time.
I didn’t cook back home because we had domestic help – to cook, to clean, to do laundry – which is common in some countries. That was a big change for me. But when I started cooking, my daughters were so happy, and they’re always complimenting me, which motivated me. It’s so rewarding to see their happy faces. My husband jokes that before coming here, I had only cooked twice during our entire marriage. Now even he has taken up preparing some Peruvian dishes!
Making friends in Canada takes patience
Some immigrants say that it’s hard to make new friends here, but it just takes time and understanding. There’s a difference in the attitude, in the way people interact with others. Latin people are very open, very warm and outgoing. When we meet a new person, we can talk about our personal lives immediately. Many times I just start telling my life story to strangers – parents from my daughter’s schools, for example. But Canadians don’t do that. They might talk about work or the kids. Compared to Latin people, Canadians are more reserved, and because of their reserved nature, it might seem difficult to make friends. However, I think Canadians are very respectful people and that they are very genuinely friendly. I love that.
Remember to focus on the positives of Canada
I received very valuable advice from a couple of friends in Lima before coming to Canada. One was an immigrant from Venezuela to Peru, and the other was the wife of a diplomat, who had travelled a lot, moved many times and lived in many countries. They told me to focus on the positive things and not the negative things.
I don’t know if it’s in my nature per se, but I feel that I focus on the positive things, and I really can’t think of any bad things about Ottawa and Canada. When talking to my parents, they asked me, “Is there anything that you don’t like about Canada?” I tell them the only bad thing is that they are not here.
Now I see myself living in Ottawa for many years. I didn’t imagine how good I was going to feel about living here in terms of feeling secure. That’s the main thing. I have peace of mind. I don’t feel stressed at all. I will begin the process of becoming a Canadian citizen this year. As I continue on my path to teaching Spanish, I am positive and optimistic. I’ll get the certification I need, but I’m not rushing. I’m patient.
Maybe one day, when my daughters leave home, I can enjoy both worlds, living half of the year in Canada and the other in Peru. This would mean spending the Canadian winter in Peru because it’s summer there and it’s so beautiful. I will get two summers, but I don’t want to give up on winter in Canada. Winter is nice.