The bicycle immigrant

So this is how it started. Approximately seven years ago, I packed up twenty-five years of my life in India in two suitcases and set sail for a new country, feeling both anxious and excited about what my future had in store for me. I always wanted to travel and see the world. So after finishing my undergraduate engineering degree and working as a planner for few years to save up, I decided to pursue higher education and applied to few universities in USA and Canada.

I got a partial scholarship to study at York University, Toronto, making the choice very easy. That was in 2006 and back then I had no idea what I would be doing, say, five years later. Also, I had very little knowledge of Canada, mostly clueless about why/if it was a different country than USA.

2013-12-18 canada d Bags packed, study permit in place, ready to embark upon a maiden journey to a foreign land.

Permanent Residence

Having crossed the metaphorical seven seas (as my grandma would put it), I arrived in Toronto on a snowy day – very symbolic of the fact that things around me were going to be quite different than what I was used to. One of the first things I did on arriving in Toronto was to apply for permanent residence. Why, you ask? Because it made me eligible to pay domestic tuition fee. (I’m “brown”, in case you forgot, apparently always looking for a deal.)

If you want my opinion, I think that the Canadian immigration process is very easy to access, logical and generally quite systematic. Of course there are occasional stories of nightmarish difficulties and failures, but on a policy level I really like the approach of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. I understand that the process back when I applied (2006) is significantly different and was much simpler compared to now, but I’m willing to accept that the ideals of freedom and democracy come at the cost of sometimes having a xenophobic right-wing conservative government in power. It’s part of the design; so lets accept it whether we like it or not.

Did you call me a FOB?

Meanwhile, each day was filled with FOBby (Fresh Off the Boat, or another not so appropriate anymore term for newcomers) experiences and discoveries. It took me years to get used to unlocking locks by turning keys the other way, upside-down light switches confused me, I looked to my right first before crossing a street, and I could never get used to the robotic greeting “Hi, how are you?” (did e-v-e-r-y one want to know how I really was?) or the overly liberal use of the words sorry, please and thankyou for routine situations. My vocabulary included words like ‘queue’ and I wondered why people claimed to be tired, busy or stressed all the time. (I mean, have you been to India?). That was until I caught myself saying that few months back on a gloomy November morning. Alright I get it!

Anyways back to the story. In about twenty months, after making me take the excruciating English language test (it really made me sleepy) and asking documents for other requirements, I received a letter stating that my immigration visa was ready and that I should send my passport to Buffalo, USA to get it. I was very excited.

The bicycle immigrant

So I decided to bike from Toronto to Buffalo and get the visa in person.

Returning with my papers, I biked across the Peace Bridge back to Canada and presented my immigration documents to the border officer.

“I’d like to land,” I announced excitedly. (FYI: To become a permanent resident, one has to legally enter Canada, or ‘land’, at one of the designated ports of entry. Upon entry, the immigrant’s passport will be stamped with the words ‘Immigrant Landed’ or it can just be some scribble, as in my case.)

Something seemed odd, and within moments it felt like the entire Canada Border Services Agency office had stopped whatever they were doing and instead gathered around the customs official who was looking at my papers.

Sweating profusely (I like to think it was from the bike ride), I took my helmet off and asked if everything was okay.

Son, in my twenty years of service here, I have never seen anyone trying to immigrate on a bicycle… It’s not even an option on our forms…! Anyways, congratulations and welcome to Canada. :-)

And that, folks, is how you make a smashing landing like a boss.

2013-12-18 canada e Landed immigrant. :) One of the more recent people to settle this wonderful land of immigrants.

With the acquisition of this document (and plenty of memories in the process), it became somewhat easier for me to travel across the border and to other countries.

Citizenship

2013-12-18 canada b I know many people who live in Canada as Permanent Residents; some of them being here for their entire lifetime. This status gets you many of the rights that citizens enjoy, including most responsibilities as well. For example, I could buy a house, work in the provincial government, and function pretty much as a person with equal status. What I couldn’t do was directly participate in the electoral process (which didn’t stop me from commenting on politics and policy anyways).

From dating to a relationship

It felt like I had been dating Canada for a few years, and one fine Spring morning, as I was going about my normal course of the day, I caught a glimpse of the CN tower hidden behind a building. This flash, this seemingly trivial moment, gave me goosebumps and the first thought that occurred to me was “ah, home.” Emotions are so irrational and fuzzy… I usually hate such nonsense.

But in my story, that particular incident clearly offered a profound cue. I decided to make my relationship with Canada formal, and sent my application for citizenship.

2013-12-18 canada c Oath of citizenship and a surprisingly sentimental swearing-in ceremony.

This was an emotional decision since as per Indian citizenship laws, I’d have to relinquish Indian citizenship on acquiring the citizenship of another country. After months of waiting, in vain, for the Indian government to allow dual citizenship, I gave in and signed up to affirm allegiance to the Queen and accept Canadian citizenship.

Just having a passport doesn’t make you Canadian

It’s no surprise that the process of becoming a Canadian has more to it than just getting a passport or a citizenship certificate. At the same time, just because I have lost the Indian passport doesn’t change the fact that I am and will remain Indian forever. At the end of the day, these are merely one of the symbols of one’s identity; not the identity itself.

I like to think that I started becoming Canadian the moment I stepped on this soil and the process will continue for a really really long time, if not, for ever. Superficially, I might have mostly lost my accent, become somewhat knowledgeable in the history and current events in Canada, (like maple syrup a lot,) etc., but having spent my formative years in India it is impossible to think like a person that was born here. I’ll never have the same cultural context, value system and perspective on issues – and I like this fact. I like that everyone around me has a story, a unique view that they bring from their place of origin, whether physically or culturally, from another country or another province or another family background. This is what makes our country beautiful.

2013-12-18 canada f Two passports, and sadly I have to give up one of them.

So now I officialy enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as any other citizen of this country. Canada has given me much love and respect, and I feel proud calling myself a Canadian.

5 thoughts on “The bicycle immigrant

  1. Hey Priyank !

    feeling nice reading your post after a long time. Very well written, as always.
    I am happy for you.

    Wish I could be bold as you and change my life.

    Love
    Raji

  2. Pingback: 2013 - Year in review | Final Transit

  3. Priyank,

    It was very interesting to read your story. Congratulations once again! I cannot wait to see you in person. Hopefully we can spend Canada Day together…

    Allison

  4. Pingback: 2013 – Year in review - Final Transit

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