Thursday, September 22, 2011
I am (reluctantly, at times) Canadian
Don't get me wrong. I love my home and native land. Living in a foreign country was the wake-up call my dormant patriotism needed, as I learned to look at my country through the eyes of others. I was often surprised and gratified to hear what my students thought of Canada - "you are the best at hockey" "your country is beautiful and Canadians are so friendly!" "I want my daughter to study at a Canadian university because there are so many more opportunities for her there" "You Canadians know how to drink almost as well as us Russians" - and being the only Canadian amongst American, British, and Irish teachers made me more of a fervent Canuck than ever (I may have purposely started ending my sentences with "eh", although I never admitted to being from the same country as Justin Bieber and I never will).
But even though there are great things about being Canadian, there are definite downsides, too. I mean, the rest of the world thinks we don't know how to pronounce the word "about". And we were number four in the "Top 5 Least Cool Nationalities" poll - that's just embarrassing. We're more uncool than, say, Iraq?! I demand a recount.
In all seriousness though, I love being Canadian and my only real gripe with my nationality is that it makes living and working in other countries a pain in the you-know-what. Because we're not a part of the European Union, visas are necessary in order to spend longer than 90 days in most European countries and to work while you're there. With Russia, I was lucky that my employer took care of all my visa issues and even refunded the $135 cost! But to live and work in the UK, I had to take matters into my own hands.
Luckily, Canada is part of a Youth Mobility Scheme with the United Kingdom, whereby people ages 18-30 from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan can apply for a 2 year "working holiday" multiple entry visa. This was EXACTLY what I needed to work as an au pair in England, so I was ecstatic when I heard about it. However, its not as simple as "Hey, I'm Katie, I'm a 23-year old Canadian, can I have a visa now please?"
You need to have the equivalent of 1600 pounds in your bank account, because this visa does not allow you recourse to public funds while you're over there, so they want to make sure you can support yourself in the time it takes to get a job. You also have to fill out a long, seven-page form where, amongst other declarations, you promise you've never been convicted of crimes against humanity or genocide.
Then you have to take the form, your passport, a statement from your bank, and specially-sized photographs of yourself to the UK Home Office or, in my case, the agency in Toronto that forwards everything to Ottawa. After watching the "Welcome to the UK" promo video in the waiting room approximately seventeen times while I waited for my name to be called (I was beginning to feel like there was no point in me even going to England anymore as I had now seen everything it had to offer) I handed over my papers, got my fingerprints electronically scanned, and...that was it.
A week later, I got an email saying that my application had been approved and my visa had been issued and was ready for pick-up. Two weeks later, I paid my credit card bill (you need to pay for your visa online; they don't accept any other form of payment) and nearly fainted. A cool $315. Her Majesty the Queen REALLY must be in need of renovations to Windsor Castle or something if a youth visa to her kingdom costs that much! I thought us Canadians were still loyal subjects, anyhow. Not like those colonials who threw off the yoke of British rule back in 1776. I think we deserve a little something-something in gratitude, don't you?
So this is where the whole "I wish I had dual citizenship in some EU country" thing comes into play. My friend Iain is Irish, and can flit around Europe hassle-free because of his Golden Ticket - aka his Irish, EU-member passport. Contrast this with my former roommate in Russia, American-born Colleen. She's studied and worked in Scotland, fallen in love with a Scotsman (my other roommate, Stu...and they are truly a match made in death metal, beer-swilling heaven) and now she's facing deportation because her visa time is running out. She is actually considering marrying Stu so she can stay in the country...
I know I shouldn't complain - the grass is always greener on the other side, right? And my understanding of visas and citizenship and the inner workings of the EU is most definitely rudimentary and naive. But sometimes I really, really wish I could be Canadian AND Irish/British/German/Italian/French, etc etc...the best of both worlds!
Posted by KStarr at 10:34 AM