Living Abroad | Why Barrhead, Alberta?

So this isn’t the usual exciting post about a holiday itinerary. It’s real talk about how  moving abroad has completely turned my life upside down. Having moved away from home at barely-eighteen, I thought I could easily do the move again, forgetting that the first year and a half of being at University without my parents and close friends was reeeally tough. I have always been open to change and never shied away from a new adventure, but a year down the line, sitting in Canada while pining for South Africa,  I never knew what I was actually in for.

Why did we leave SA?

There were so many reasons why Craig and I had decided to make the move and leave South Africa. For one, my husband, a doctor, was fed up with the lack of resources in government-run hospitals and didn’t see a future in terms of his career in SA. We’re also avid travellers (obviously) and that is no easy task on the South African Rand (exchange rate). The way buying a 4 pound coffee in England hurts your bank account was enough to convince us, staying in South Africa would mean living a life that we didn’t want – that’s not even considering the crime, lack of job opportunities and general daily stressors.

Why Canada?

Um, good question. I don’t think I would have ever considered moving to Canada had Craig not suggested it. I guess you could say it’s a trend amongst young South African doctors to go work in Canada. Most rural towns have at least one South African doctor in their local clinics. In our particular town, we have six, including Craig. We had other doctor friends considering the move too, and one night I came home to some very tipsy doctors proclaiming that we were all moving to Canada. And that’s basically how it all started.

The admin & longwinded process of immigrating:

It took us two full years to actually get to Canada, and it was not easy – even for us, with my husband being a doctor, a professional extremely needed in many parts of the country. We had to jump through so many administrative hoops before anything could happen – medical tests, conversion exams, police clearances, professional association checks, etc. We also did a site visit in October 2014 to Northern Alberta, and saw 3 separate towns – none of which we ended up choosing – and yet, still, I wasn’t fully prepared for the life change that moving to Barrhead, Alberta, Canada, would have on me.

So, why Barrhead?

Well, that wasn’t really up to us. It’s always laugh every time someone asks me this same question. And almost everyone does, followed by some version of: “Will you move from there or stay there?”. As a foreigner/immigrant, you don’t really have many choices, even as a doctor. The health care systems recruits several doctors from South Africa but they still determine where you go – and it’s usually rural. That’s, after all, where the foreign doctors are needed.

Nonetheless, we’re pretty luck we didn’t end up further North, further away from a main city and further away from our friends who did the move at the same time and landed up in Edmonton.

Dunvegan Bridge, Near Fairview, Alberta.
Reflecting on the move:

While there are probably many factors as to why I’m feeling so out of sorts here, I think people often take for granted how different people really are when they have grown up in a different culture in a different country surrounded by different lifestyles to what you have known. By no means should that ever stop you from travelling or moving, because this is life, and you will encounter different types of people throughout your life – even in your home country! But, boy, does it feel lonely when you’re surrounded by people who have grown up in Canada and you feel like the odd one out.

We often arrive here with big ideas and expectations of what life could be. And it’s often the “grass will be greener” kind of dream. But most of the people in my shoes that have also done this move have all felt a bit duped. I’ve also found myself wondering why we ever left Cape Town yet I would (and still do) advocate to all my friends that they should move, travel and try new things.

That being said, we got very lucky being in Barrhead. We are surrounded by other South African couples, an extremely supportive Canadian community and a city only an hour drive away. While it’s still a daily struggle to settle in, we would feel much worse without all these added bonuses in our sweet little rural town.

If you’re a South African moving to Canada, don’t hesitate to give me a shout – whether by commenting or emailing me directly. I am always happy to help.  

You might also want to read my blog post where I give my advice before moving abroad, here

Still adjusting,




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