From dream to reality. In the spring of 2022, Canada welcomed 4 extra inhabitants. Katrien and Nick moved to Ottawa with their two children. 'One life, live it’. ‘That's our motto. We don't want to have any regrets in our lives. And certainly not about how things might have turned out differently.' The couple wanted to live closer to nature and in a country with good schools, decent healthcare and without too much of a language barrier. 'We had doubts, but we were fully aware of what we were doing when we took the leap.' Nick and Katrien tell their personal story and we assure you: after reading this expat adventure, you’ll be convinced that 'if you can dream it, you can do it'.
An adventure abroad has always appealed the two engineers. 'Things fell into place in autumn 2019 during an info day of Flemings in the World, when we took the decision to take the leap. In our minds, there really is a period before and after that day. We were given a lot of information about the emigration process and ended up throwing our lot in with just about every partner present.' They like to roll up their sleeves themselves, but sometimes a nudge really gets you moving. The message for Katrien and Nick became clear: 'If it's what you want, can and have the guts to do, there’s really no reason not to do it.'
They left without setting a return date, propelled forward by each other's energy without burning bridges on the home front. 'There were some things we wanted to change in our lives. Nick longed for an environment where you literally don’t see a human being for hundreds of kilometres. He needs that peace and quiet to recharge his batteries.’ 'Looking at the horizon and hearing the crickets with every step you take outside makes me very happy,’ completes Nick.
In Belgium, Katrien had also struggled with an uneasy feeling for a long time, but without being able to put her finger on it specifically. She longed for a different life, perhaps even outside Belgium, but doubt sometimes paralysed her from making the move. But she stuck to a quote she came across at the age of 17: 'One life, live it'. 'It hung on the wall in my teenage room for a long time and moved with me to all the places we lived.'
It was only when Nick and Katrien had children that their dream started to become more concrete. 'Then it’s easier to take stock and ask yourself what’s really important in life,' says Katrien. Their eldest son was hospitalised regularly in his early years, which made them increasingly ask themselves: 'What are we actually doing?' The uneasy feeling grew and they came to realise that something was wrong. 'We wanted to get more out of life.' Their life in Belgium felt like a coat that didn't fit properly, although at the time they didn't know why and certainly not what coat they wanted to put on. Moreover, a cousin who died far too young of breast cancer made Katrien realise that life can be over very quickly. 'You take stock of your life and ask yourself what you really want.'
From 2001, Nick regularly spent time in Canada and on his first trip he immediately fell in love with the country. 'It was what I was looking for, western life combined with all that space.' After returning to Belgium in 2004, the dream of an expat adventure in Canada briefly faded. 'The idea disappeared into the background until I asked my father in 2010, in one of the last days of his life, if he had any regrets.' His father only really regretted one thing: that he had never realised his dream of going to live in the US. 'He had the opportunity in the 1950s, but he never took it. For me, this came as a wake-up call. ‘If you don't want to have regrets when you reach your nineties, just do it.' Gradually, it became clear to Katrien and Nick that they held the key to their happiness themselves. 'In the end, we agreed, we would never know if somewhere else suited us better if we didn't take the plunge.'
Emigrating to another country seems easier if you get a job offer from a company, where everything is arranged for you and you have the security of a salary from the start. 'Then perhaps the threshold is lower and you let yourself be guided by the offer. We made every consideration and decision ourselves.' As engineers are often analytical creatures, they found themselves in front of their computers one evening. 'We ranked our five favourite countries according to certain criteria in an Excel sheet, but very quickly we realised that you don't decide something like this analytically, but with your heart.'
After they decided on Canada, they shared their relocation plans with the people around them. 'People congratulated us when we announced it. People talked about our courage.' But actually, they didn’t have the nerve to do it right away. 'But in some way or another, we just did it.' They both stepped out of their comfort zone.
Canada became their emigration destination. They chose Ottawa because of its bilingualism. Their knowledge of French gave them a huge advantage. 'Canada operates a point system for obtaining a visa.' Before they could leave for their expat country, the couple had to go through an intensive immigration procedure. Nick took the lead in the immigration process including the language test. 'He scored well, but his age threatened our chances.' There is a 12-year age difference between Nick and Katrien. To ensure their entry into Canada, Katrien also took the tests. 'The point system is advantageous for those who speak two languages really well, without scoring top marks.' Katrien worked in Brussels for quite some time, so she was more or less bilingual. 'That's why I got bonus points.' The first mission was successful because if one of the two partners completes the process favourably, the family is allowed in on the visa obtained. The second action they had to take was to find a job.
In the first year of the pandemic, Nick had decided on a new job in IT, and this greatly increased his chances in the Canadian job market. Although his career prospects in Belgium were very good, they still went ahead with their dream. 'Everything revolved around that one goal.'
The time needed to work through the immigration process had its ups and downs. No one had counted on the corona crisis. Their immigration journey, which normally took six months, was suddenly extended by two years. After a while, they starting thinking about a plan B. 'That we were going to move was certain by now. The final decision about our emigration to Canada was taking too long and we signed up for a language course in Swedish.' Sweden was also on the list in addition to Canada. After the language course, the family was planning to take a holiday in Sweden. They were going to spend a week in Sweden during the Christmas holidays in 2021, but they hadn’t counted on hearing good news from Canada. 'A week before our departure, good news from Canada arrived in our mailbox. From that moment, we had three months to settle permanently on Canadian soil. The administration, which all along had seemed like a slow-moving glacier, suddenly became a rapid avalanche. So our trip to Sweden became a trip to Canada, where we started looking for somewhere to live.'
After the good news, Katrien and Nick were faced with Murphy's Law. For weeks, everything that could go wrong went wrong. 'But as soon as we set foot on Canadian soil in early April, everything changed.’ For the expat couple, the turn of the year 2021-2022 and the months that followed were a rollercoaster of emotions. 'When our eldest went to school after the Christmas holidays to tell about his trip to Canada and that we had bought a house there, the teacher thought he had been watching a movie. But that was exactly what happened.' Now, some eight months later, Nick and Katrien still feel that happiness. 'That same energy still flows through our veins.'
Nick and Katrien are busy building their social and professional lives in Canada. But they also took something of Belgium with them to their new expat country. 'We deliberately joined the Overseas Social Security. In theory, we are also covered here, but for us it wasn’t enough. Living abroad, you realise just how good our social security is. I’m rather cautious by nature and keep in mind that we may return one day. So we’re providing a safety net.' Currently, the expat family has permanent resident status, but this status can still be revoked if they don’t live in Canada long enough. 'We’re aiming for full citizenship and thus dual nationality for ourselves and our children. From then on, everything will be back in play. We’ll review the situation every three to five years. If it doesn't feel right for any of the four of us, we’ll act accordingly and, if necessary, consider returning.'
The last question we ask them is whether the children are happy with their parents' decision. 'Our children were never negative about the process. In any case, you’re are offering them a great lesson in life by giving them the chance to live in another country. It's an experience you can't simulate in any other way.'
How the children adapted to a new language was an area of concern. 'It was amazing to experience how quickly a four-year-old toddler's English develops just by playing with the little boy next door. My anxiety evaporated and instead I had this great feeling about being able to experience all this. We live here now with all our senses and are more awake than ever.'
And what was the main lesson they learnt? ‘That people should not underestimate their adaptability. Those facing a major change mainly take into account what could go wrong, and not what could unexpectedly turn out right. In retrospect, it often turns out that it was all for the best.'
"This article came about in collaboration with Vlamingen in de Wereld (in Dutch)(New window)."
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