Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Looked lovely on the telly

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In 2004, as parents of two girls aged 12 and 17 living in London, England, my husband and I decided we wanted a brighter future for our family.

Europe was out because there weren't a lot of opportunities for work. Australia was too far away and the United States wasn't a place in which we could see ourselves living. So, Canada it was.

After completing a whole raft of applications, paying out lots and lots of money to consultants and government for fees, and two major research trips to Ontario and then B.C., my husband in 2007 was finally offered a job as a tool and die maker in Kelowna.

Yay. We were on our way... not!

Getting the job offer meant we needed a favourable labour market opinion from the federal government. Although we thought this would happen, it didn't, and the job fell through.

By this time, we'd sold our house, had our container booked for moving but had nowhere to go -- we couldn't come to Canada without a letter of employment.

It was suggested we might want to consider Manitoba.

"Mani-where?" I responded.

"Do you know Winnipeg?"

Aha! I had seen Winnipeg featured on Antiques Roadshow.

"I know the place. Looked lovely on the telly," I replied.

All systems go, my husband and I came to Winnipeg for three days in May 2007 and he got offered a job. Fantastic! Everything was in place, and on Sept. 10, 2007, we left the U.K. Our youngest daughter, now 15, came, too. Our eldest daughter, now 20, followed in December.

It was, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. We didn't know anybody in Canada, let alone Winnipeg. My daughter started her new school two days after we arrived. At the end of the day she came home and cried and cried.

Oh dear. Has this been a mistake? We moved into our house on Nov. 4.

I'd never heard of a "sump pump" and didn't know what it was to "winterize your house." Furnace rooms? Central vacs?

Still, we're Londoners. We are used to coping. And, hey, Canada is part of the Commonwealth. We all speak the same language. Can't be that different?

My husband was going to work and struggling to fit in. I was job-searching and finding it impossible to work out where I fit in the job market. I couldn't even get an interview.

Then winter hit and, jeez, it was damn cold. After that I never really saw anybody much. I went from having a great career as a management and training consultant in London with a master's in psychology to being a housewife with no job, no social life and no friends.

By March, we'd had enough. My eldest decided to go back to London -- Winnipeg was far too small and far too lonely for a 20-year-old London girl. We decided to send our youngest back to her old school in the U.K. in April. Canadian secondary education wasn't matching up to what we were used to.

We put the house up for sale and I booked my ticket back to the U.K. for July as I knew I could get work there. My husband was still not being treated as well at the company he was working for, so we were off.

Meanwhile, we managed to meet medical requirements and permanent status was about to be confirmed. We thought, well, we can always come back and maybe try another province.

So, it was my husband and I rattling around in a big house on our own, both daughters back in the U.K. I was depressed and longing to go back home.

Then I found myself at the hairdresser where I was introduced to an English woman who worked with immigration. I spent hours speaking to her on the phone and then socializing with her and her family. She invited me to a business event about immigration and I spoke about my experience, my problems trying to get work.

And suddenly, after months of being told I wouldn't find work and that I should take a job in McDonald's or Tim Hortons, I realized I could and should be able to get work.

I handed out resumés, collected business cards and headed back to the U.K. in July.

There I received an email from the Information Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba, looking for a project manager to develop a program to help internationally educated professionals connect with employment in the ICT sector. I was offered the job! Now I had two daughters settled in the U.K. and didn't know what to do. They both told me to go for it. So I did.

We've been here almost five years now. I'm now the director of diversity at ICTAM. Both my daughters are back and both have boyfriends from the U.K. here with them.

The eldest sponsored her boyfriend, although he couldn't work for a year while the application was in process. She went to a photography school in Winnipeg and runs her own business as a commercial photographer.

My youngest, having completed her U.K. schooling, came back and completed Grade 12 at the Winnipeg Collegiate and is now at the U of W studying psychology. Her U.K. boyfriend is here and in the process of getting permanent residency.

My husband was laid off last year from his not-so-great employer, and now is working as an instructor for Winnipeg Technical College connecting aboriginals to manufacturing.

We still have our days when we miss friends, family and the familiarity of the U.K. We still joke about the rather small city of Winnipeg versus the CITY of London.

I don't think our journey could have been any harder if we had gone to a country where everyone spoke a completely different language with a completely different culture. At least we would have expected it to be tough.

We are now in the process of applying for our citizenship and we are proud to say we have two homes and probably always will have one in England and one in Canada. Although there is that saying: "Home is where the heart is."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 J1

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