Out and about: an e-mail from Vancouver, Canada

In Out and about we talk to people who currently live abroad or have lived and worked there. This week, we talk to Cathy Kotzé, who lives in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Hello, Cathy. Where in South Africa are you from, and why did you move to Canada?

We lived all over South Africa: the Vaal Triangle, Pretoria, and the Karoo. In the end, we retired to the idyllic Sedgefield.

Our children had moved to Canada and the USA a few years before, and our daughter decided to sponsor us. We were admitted to Canada as regular “Permanent Residents” with all the benefits, but our daughter had to undertake to meet our needs for ten years. It’s not a problem for most South African parents, who are usually financially independent.

Tell us more about your family.

Our daughter is a medical doctor. She handled a delivery where the baby was available for adoption. It was love at first sight, and when the biological mother asked if she was willing to adopt the baby, she immediately agreed.

The adoption procedure was completed the day we landed in Canada. We were an instant grandfather and grandmother. Our daughter’s family grew overnight from a single person to a household of four.

Adapting to a new country can be challenging. What was the strangest you had to get used to in Canada?

The weather, of course. After the coldest winter in South Africa, we ended up in one of Canada’s wettest and coldest winters. A year-long winter is not for sissies.

We missed our life in South Africa, our longtime friends and the family with a passion. I constantly wanted to move back for the first few months. Luckily, the little one kept us busy. We cared for her while our daughter was on duty almost all day as one of only three doctors in town.

What is the most interesting thing about Canada you can tell us?

The Canadians’ inherent friendliness and courtesy. The “honour system” is a given. You know you will most likely get your wallet and cell phone back if you lose them.

However, they still cannot always understand my South African accent.

I don’t understand why they are so attached to coffee and always go everywhere with a cup of coffee.

It seems commonplace for them to get all their meals from restaurants – breakfast at one of Tim Hortons or McDonald’s drive-through restaurants, lunch at a fast-food place, and dinner in a restaurant or home delivery.

There are quite a few South Africans in Canada. Do you sometimes get together?

All the time. Most of our friends are South Africans. We braai together and make biltong, boerewors, rusks and cookies. Every now and then, my girlfriends and I enjoy a classy morning tea.

How did you experience the emigration process?

It’s always difficult. There is so much red tape: medical approval, criminal background, recognition of qualifications, language skills, finances …

We were fortunate. Because our daughter sponsored us, the whole process was completed in less than six months. Nowadays, it can take years.

What is your favourite memory of South Africa?

There are so many. Flavours and colours. It’s the country with the best climate in the whole world.

The call of the Burchell’s coucal and the fish eagle. Tortoises in our garden. Hang out with loved ones.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to emigrate?

It’s traumatic. You have to make sacrifices. Make a list of the pros and cons for your family.

Connect with the community through the church, children’s school, sports institutions and voluntary work.

Your favourite sports are most likely going to be unknown.

You will soon discover that walking barefoot in public is not an option and that you must always remove your shoes if someone invites you.

Be prepared for the sadness. It does disappear over time.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

We’ve been in Canada for 22 years and know it’s our best decision ever. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are five lakes within our town and numerous beaches around us. Deer graze in our garden.

We have close family ties. Our safety is important for our children. They would always have been worried if we were still in South Africa. We live with our daughter but in our own apartment, and we are the proud grandparents of the most beautiful Indian grandchild in the whole world.

I like to share our emigration experience because I realise how traumatic it is. It isn’t easy to start from scratch. My husband and I were lucky because our daughter helped us through the most challenging times.

I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in two years and am recovering from a recent mastectomy. I don’t know how I would survive without my family’s support. It would have been night if my husband and I were still in South Africa.

Considering your diagnosis, how does healthcare in Canada differ from that in South Africa?

Canada has no private medical care. All medical services are provided by the state, and the state employs all medical personnel.

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Unfortunately, the medical system is completely overwhelmed. There is a huge shortage of doctors and long waiting times for operations. Currently, around 20 000 medical doctors and 33 000 nurses with overseas qualifications are not allowed to practice; they must first be approved by the Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC). This often means further studies and repeating their final year exams.

I recommend South African doctors think twice before emigrating to Canada in the current climate.

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As for myself, my surgery and treatment were completely free and great. Empathy and excellent care by nursing staff is a given. My surgery was scheduled for 12:00, and I was back home by 16:30. Nursing staff visited me regularly at home, and the surgeon was telephonically in contact.

The Canadian Cancer Society is great. They arrange and facilitate all further treatment. An oncologist is assigned and is in charge of radiation and chemotherapy. Every patient has direct access to a nurse.

Were there any particular blogs, organisations, websites, magazine articles or people who were particularly helpful with support and/or information?

Support groups get involved and are available 24 hours a day for physical and mental support.

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ALSO READ: Out and about: an email from the Netherlands

Write to us

Do you live abroad, or have you recently returned from abroad? Then you too can write us an Out and about column. Send an e-mail to wereldwyd@afriforum.co.za and we will send you questions to answer.

Photo: stephen-h-unsplash

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