Family walking

Follow the Ma Family’s Big Move

28 April 2022

Three airplane flights, two car journeys and one family-sized hotel room. No, it’s not a Chevy Chase film from the 1980s, but our journey from Ireland to Canada. 

Last month I was writing from the midst of moving boxes; now, I’m surrounded by luggage cases. We’ve safely arrived in our new city, albeit a little jet lagged and a lot cold – temperatures are much lower here than we’re used to, so we’ve been busy buying new coats, scarves and boots to bundle the children up in. The three of them – aged eight, four and two – handled the flights brilliantly, happy to enjoy the in-flight entertainment and endless supply of snacks.

The same can’t quite be said for their parents, who struggled under the weight of the immigration process. Even though we had all our documentation in order, moving overseas in a time of global restrictions was always going to add an extra layer of complication. That meant proffering paperwork and repeating information to many officials, who’d already guessed our plans given all the luggage we were trailing behind us. By the time we’d cleared the last customs hurdle, we were exhausted, and ready to bed down for the night.

That meant staying in a hotel, just while we got our bearings. We had a family room, with pull-out beds and a cot for the kids. They thought it was great fun, like a big slumber party. Waking up the next day to see snow drifting down was a magical moment for them – it was a beautiful welcome to their new home.

Navigating the snow-packed roads was less fun for me, who’s used to driving in a much more temperate climate. We’ve rented an SUV, and for a European, it feels enormous, but reassuringly safe. Experiencing a polar vortex of -40°C and passing crashed cars on an icy highway was a poignant reminder of how important it is to have expat health insurance in place. That sort of peace of mind is invaluable for a family abroad. I’ve also had to get rapid-fire lessons in keeping a car running in cold weather. Who knew that using windscreen washer fluid in -20°C freezes your wipers to your screen? Not me!

The newly snow-booted children are very excited to meet their cousins again, after two years of restricted travel. There are football cards to compare, Barbies to be introduced and gifts to be exchanged, and that will no doubt keep thoughts of home at bay for now. We know they’ll miss their family and friends, but FaceTime and Whatsapp calls are keeping us all connected, even if it means chatting over breakfast cereal as we tackle the seven-hour time difference. As with all things in expat life, there are challenges, as well as joys, and they mostly balance each other out.

Now that we’ve caught up on some sleep and acclimated to the temperature difference, we’re looking forward to the next stage – finding somewhere to live. We’ve got a shortlist of locations and a tank full of gas, and our plan is to try to get a sense of the neighbourhood before we choose a house. As everyone knows, a home is about much more than four walls: it’s important that we find a friendly community, with good schools, and perhaps even a nice café if we get lucky. We’re about to embark on putting down real roots in this city, and making a life for ourselves in Canada. Something tells me I’ll need a few strong coffees along the way!