Current location
Montréal, QC, Canada
Hi Stéphanie, can you introduce yourself?
I’m 37 years old and I’m French. I trained as a librarian and I’ve been living with my partner for about ten years.
You spent a few years in Canada. What brought you there?
In 2013, my partner was about to graduate and he was offered an internship (leading to a potential full-time position) in the video game industry in Montreal. Back then, we were living in two different cities—he was in Paris and I was in Bordeaux. We had no reason to pass up this internship. I didn’t like my job much, we didn’t have a place together, we had no kids, and there were few exciting short-term prospects. 

We thought about it for a few months. Meanwhile, we formalized our union through a PACS—a French civil agreement that carries most benefits of marriage—and submitted our profiles to apply for a Working Holiday work permit. His profile was drawn, mine wasn’t… it’s a long story. 

I was a civil servant so I took a leave of absence and we moved to Montreal in 2014.
What did you do once you got to Montreal?
My partner had a Working Holiday permit but I didn’t. So I had to find other options to come with him to Canada. 

First, I applied for an International Co-op work permit. I was eligible because I was working on my master’s degree in France and an internship was mandatory as part of the program. 

Then I applied for a study permit. I completed a second master’s degree at the University of Montreal. And it was in Canada that my career as a librarian really took off. Quebec gave me the chance to find meaningful work opportunities and reach my potential the field.

One thing led to another, we stayed in Montreal for two years, then three and ended up spending eight years in Canada. We moved several times within Montreal. I built a good social network and we were able to travel a bit in Canada and the United States, although not as much as I would have liked because we didn’t get much time off and we prioritized visiting relatives in France.

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Was it hard adapting to your new environment in Montreal?
Not at all. In fact, I never understood why people said it was difficult to “fit in” in Quebec. 

The fact that I was a university student must have helped. I was very involved in the student community and obviously, engaging with different committees helped me connect with people. Most of my friends are Quebecers I met at university or work. 

I’m rather shy by nature but I’m sociable and I found it easy to fit in.
What do you think are the biggest differences between France and Canada?
From my perspective, Canada gave me the opportunity to reach my full potential at work. Employers give you a chance. If you prove yourself, you can move up the ladder and get a better salary pretty quickly. Upon graduating, I got a short-term contract for a librarian position at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BanQ) and five months later, I was promoted to a project manager role. There is absolutely no chance I would have had the same career path in France.

To get the same position in France, I would have had to be hired through very tough competitive exams held every three years. And these exams have little to do with the realities of the job—this is the kind of exam where you have to write an essay based on a quote from an author, whereas, in real life, you’re mostly going to manage people and facilities…
What is your best memory from your time in Canada?
It’s hard to say. I loved my daily life in our apartment in the Petite Patrie, I have a lot of good memories related to our daily routine.

I’d say that welcoming summer in Montreal was a very happy time of the year—suddenly, patios are opening, trees are green again, and everybody is smiling!

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And what would be your worst memory?
Learning about my father’s health concerns in France in 2019—I feared the worst—and then when the pandemic started in 2020. My relatives were far away, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen, with the border closed… 

They are okay now but it’s definitely what triggered the decision to go back to France.
So you’re now back in France. How did it go?
My partner was working for an international company in Montreal and was able to transfer to another office in Bordeaux. He managed to negotiate a 100% telecommuting position and asked for a salary at least equivalent to his salary in Montreal. 

As for me, I applied to many jobs in France while I was still in Canada but without much success. We were lucky enough to be hosted in a family house in Dordogne, and then my partner’s organization helped us find a place to live!
From a practical side, was it hard to move back to France? And was it challenging to adapt to your new French life?
I was pleasantly surprised with the process of reestablishing residence in France again. The paperwork was done pretty quickly.

Adapting to France again was very difficult for me. 

Much like when we used to visit France on vacation, there was a 2-3 weeks “honeymoon” after we arrived. Then I experienced the famous downward spiral and I was depressed for six months—I felt lost, I missed my life in Montreal; plus I couldn’t find a job and I was bored in my new rural environment where I didn’t know anyone. We eventually moved from the Dordogne to a town near Bordeaux, but I don’t particularly like it.

I did find a job but the salary is 2.5 times less than what I was paid in Quebec and it’s 70 km from where I live. I don’t feel as depressed anymore but I still feel bitter when I think of what I lost professionally. I feel more dependent than ever on my partner, which was not the case in Canada.

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What do you miss the most from Canada?
My friends, the Quebec accent, our sweet life in our neighbourhood, the summer and fall, and how easy it was to get hired based on my skills and not through a competitive exam.
What makes you happy in France? And what annoys you?
My family, beautiful cities and towns, tasty fruit, diverse landscapes and shorter winters!

What I like less in France: the inflexible job market and the mindset executives have (I do have to mention that I work for the local government and it’s not exactly the most progressive type of management…).

I also discovered it’s apparently okay to be openly racist. I don’t remember French being like that when I left.

And with global warming, summers in the South-West region of France make me miss the harshness of Quebec winters!
Do you have any advice for future expatriates or anyone still wondering whether going abroad is the right move?
Seize opportunities when they arise. We embarked on this adventure in Canada almost on a whim but it literally changed my life. 

Still, it pays off to get as much info as possible on the destination you’re considering.

And I always told myself, “so what if it doesn’t work out as well as I imagined?” No choice is irreversible, even if the decision is terribly difficult. In the end, I was better prepared for expatriation than for going home and that was my mistake. After eight years, I had become a bit of a Quebecer and a bit of a foreigner in France.
And finally, what are your plans?
I am expecting a child who will be born in France. I still plan to take the famous competitive exams to try to grow in my job as I did in Canada.

We are not closing any doors—the Canadian adventure could start again, the three of us this time!

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En PVT au Canada de novembre 2021 à 2023, je répondrai à vos questions avec plaisir. Pour le premier trimestre 2024, direction l'Amérique latine !

I moved from France to Canada on a WHV from November 2021 to 2023, followed then by spending the first quarter of 2024 in Latin America! Happy to answer all your questions.

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