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Interview with Karen – A South African expat living in Toronto

Updated 2 Aug 2018

Karen R is a South African expat who moved to Canada in 1993 with her husband and children. In search of a better future for their family, they settled in Toronto, and after 25 years are now proud Canadian citizens and happy to call Canada their home. In her interview with Expat Arrivals, Karen offers some valuable advice to those thinking of making the move to Canada.

Karen R - a South African expat in TorontoAbout Karen

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Johannesburg, South Africa
Q: Where are you living now?

A: Markham, Ontario, Canada
Q: When did you move to Canada?

Q: Did you move to Toronto alone or with a spouse/family?

A: With my spouse and children.

Q: Why did you move to Canada; what do you do?

A: I saw no future in South Africa for my own children. I’m a secondary school teacher

Living in Toronto

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?

A: I don’t consider this a host city. It’s home for the past 25 years. 
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about South Africa?

A: The good weather and close family.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Canada? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?

A: Everything is different in the beginning. It takes a few years to become used to it all. Schooling and the medical system were big adjustments 
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: Can’t say. Been here too long. I think Toronto is an expensive city. Housing is exorbitant.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Toronto? Do you need to own a car?

A: It’s pretty decent. You can manage without a car. You may need one in the suburbs. 
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Toronto? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals?

A: It could be better, but it’s also not terrible. Waits for specialists and surgeries etc. can be way too long. It’s a universal health system. The same for all with no private medicine. Not all treatments are fully covered. Private top up insurance is recommended. 
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Toronto? Are there any areas expats should avoid?

A: Gang violence is an issue in the GTA of late. Too many illegal guns around. Most places, however, remain very safe. 
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Toronto? What different options are available for expats?

A: Housing is built for our weather conditions. Not pretty on the outside, but warm, functional and comfortable. Everything from apartments to townhouses and freehold homes are available.

Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in Toronto?

A: I love Markham, which is 30 minutes from downtown Toronto, but there are many other wonderful areas, too. Oakville is popular with expats, but most areas are just fine.

Meeting people and making friends in Toronto

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?

A: We are a country of immigrants. More than 50 percent in the GTA come from somewhere else. This is a very accepting and tolerant place, on the whole. 

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?

A: It all depends on where you live and work and how much effort you are prepared to put into making friends with locals. Most find it a challenge, especially in the early days. 

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends?

A: I work in the public school system, I am very involved in my community. I have friends across the spectrum. I don’t just stick with expats.                       

Working in Toronto

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?

A: I applied myself for permanent residency. We had no problems getting a visa back then.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in Toronto? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?

A: Work depends on what you do and if it is needed here. There are many highly qualified people competing with you for work. Adapt your resume to the correct Canadian format and include a covering letter.

Q: How does the work culture differ from South Africa? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Canada?

A: It’s very different. Listen, learn and adapt. Don’t compare with things back home.

Family and children in Toronto

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?

A: It always takes time to settle in properly. Give yourself the gift of time and patience. Keep a sense of humour.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?

A: The younger they are, the quicker they will settle. Kids really do miss their family members and old friends.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?

A: This is a huge question, which would take pages to answer. Accept the system and be supportive, even if it’s not what you are accustomed to.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Be patient, be determined, don’t compare and maintain a sense of humour and positive attitude. Always remember why you came.

Interviewed July 2018

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