From Ontario to Sacremento: Melanie a la maison
Hello! My name is Melanie. I’m a French Canadian born and raised in Quebec City, Canada. I left my hometown for Milton, Ontario in 2010 and I’m now living in the Sacramento area since 2012. I started a French only blog in 2010 called “De visu” to document our journey and started my bilingual blog “Melanie a la maison” in 2011.
1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband and I traveled quite a bit together and at one point, we knew we would love to experience a professional life abroad. Both our professions are ‘international’; my husband is an engineer and me an industrial designer. That being said, we were not bohemian enough to sell our stuff and just leave. My husband moved up the corporate ladder and built his experience having in mind a company transfer. But things didn’t go as planned and so in 2010 he got a job in the Greater Toronto Area. At that point, our second son was only 4 week-old and my older son only spoke French.
2. How do you make a living?
Our first move to Ontario, Canada, was relatively easy professionally speaking. I was at first on a paid maternity leave—we have up to an entire year in Canada and the maternity leave followed me even if I wasn’t living in Quebec. Then I free-lanced and designed an entire line of handmade products based on my photography that I sold online. This project was meant to follow me wherever we would be moving next. When we moved to California, unfortunately, we learned that the type of business I had couldn’t fit in any working US visa category. My husband is on his own work visa, which doesn’t allow me to have any earnings here. I have worked my entire adult life as an entrepreneur and independent woman. I admit losing all of this made me struggle a lot. We based our family expenses on my husband’s salary only and we manage on a tight budget but we have a wonderful quality of life. The stay-at-home-mom status doesn’t suit me well, but I know a lot of women would love to switch with me, so I enjoy it while it lasts because I know it’s temporary. Either my husband’s status will eventually change, or either I will find an employer here to hire me—I’m allowed to ask for my own work visa status.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Grand-parents find it hard to not see their grandchildren—so there is a lot of Facetime/Skype/Facebook/emails over here! I think at one point it was daily with my mom. And it was still not enough for them probably ;) Now it depends on our busier family schedule and the 3 hours difference that sometimes come into play. I’m not a good phone person though…it will happen but once in a while. Emails are going strong to keep in touch with my network of friends, and I use Facetime/Skype to chat with my closest friends.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in California?
The lifestyle here is awesome, we find it so easy. We love the weather like we couldn’t stress it enough! And there are so many places around to visit and discover. We are located in NorCal; Tahoe at our fingertips, San Francisco and the ocean 2 hours from here, Napa, Sonoma and all the other wine regions so close! Not to mention SoCal. It was our first winter here and I loved it so much. I would go ski and come back home to a 15C/59F…indeed, no more shoveling for us ;) Also, the wonderful parks and playgrounds for the boys, the good and tasteful food. The house that we bought that is backing my son’s elementary school. The affordable drop-in daycare that is 3 minutes from home that you don’t have to book in advance. The baby-sitters that live in front and 2 houses down. The ease of shopping and ordering online. We enjoy a lot of things here!
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in California?
I would say the immigration law regarding the spouses that are following their partner for professional reasons. It should be up to date to 2013 realities. Otherwise, there are no big hassles really, but small things you have to deal with, like wherever you’d be moving abroad. Here in California I would say: having to pass your driver’s license all over again—the written and behind-the-wheel one too. I have to say; it baffles us every time to witness spectacular accidents during perfect driving conditions, by what we suspect, Californians. Maybe they should learn to drive during winter in Quebec, ha! ;)
6. What do you miss most?
Without a doubt, my friends and my career.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I discover meetup.com when we moved in California. Because I’m a SAHM I’ve naturally joined mom’s groups. Then I met new people through a photography group, then friends of friend’s connections, through volunteering in a project at my son’s school and then neighbors.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The American love of guns. My husband and I can’t wrap our head around this one, really. My son is still shocked to read on the back of the newspaper pictures of guns for sale. The heavy presence of religion does feel out-of-place at times. On a lighter note; 90% of the people from our neighborhood own at least one dog. We’ve been told it was sometimes to feel safer—this “fear factor” also feels strange to us. And there is this habit of asking “Hey, how are you” as a polite way to just say “Hi”. In my French Canadian culture, if you ask someone how is he/she, you’re likely to have an honest answer ;)
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That most American eats poorly and don’t exercise. We are fortunate to be living in a wealthy place, but from what I know, here on the West coast, people are very healthy and in very good shape! My local grocery stores offer so many local, organic, gluten-free options; you would have to work hard to eat junk.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living here is lower. We benefited from a slow real estate market and bought a house in 2012 that is way more comfortable than what we owned back home. And all of this on a lower family income. Overall, our quality of life almost doubled.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
To put things in perspective; we are an expat family, which is a different context than if I were to be 20 something and moved to experience pure adventure. The adventure we’re experiencing involves the children emotions as well, which could be hard at times. Focus on all the positives and take this opportunity to bond as a family. In the meanwhile, be open to discover what’s around and meet local people even if the language could be a barrier at first. Persistence and patience,—yeah I’m still working on this one—enjoy the process not the result, and have a long-term vision while being in the now. Your life WILL be different and you most probably will face bureaucracy tribulations; try to laugh at it as much as you can! Humor has done well for me.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started a French only blog in 2010 called “De visu” to document our journey in Ontario and frankly, this blog revealed to be therapeutic. Lots of laughing at myself!
Then I started my bilingual blog “Melanie a la maison” in 2011 when I got back at work and launched my online boutique. The blog was to support my business. The name Melanie a la maison is the French term for “Melanie at home”. I picked this name because me+being at home = pretty laughable. My family and friends thought I would go crazy—I almost did haha! I think I’m out of the woods on this one, but the struggle is not over ;) When we moved to California, I started using my blog as a way to share, in pictures mostly—I’m an image lover—what I discover. I offer free wallpaper for desktops, iPads and iPhones every Friday, come grab yours!
Melanie's blog, Melanie a la maison
Find out more about being an expat in California with Easy Expat's