Memoir: Immigrating to Canada, 2009

In September 2009, I moved from Tehran, Iran, to Waterloo, Canada, to start a graduate program at the University of Waterloo. I was 23 and had been living with my parents. This move brought two major changes to my life: first, moving from a large middle eastern city to a small western city; second, transitioning from living with parents to living with a roommate. That meant I had to do half of the cooking and cleaning in the house. I had done negligible housework before.

Was I terrified? Not at all. Now that I think about it, I find it strange that I had no concerns at that time. Quite the contrary, I was extremely happy and excited by the move. Perhaps I saw the largest increase in my happiness during the first year after the move. It was as if I am cutting all chains constraining me and starting a free life in a free country. I felt relieved. I had this ideal dream of the west, where everything is in order, people are friendly to one another, the government is there to help you and it’s easy to have a decent life. In retrospect, I think these were true compared to Iran.

And I thought that living alone means I am the master of my life. I can schedule my life perfectly and sleep, eat, read, and clean at the times I choose. I felt liberated from family constraints. In retrospect, I think this belief was also correct, although the amount of housework one has to do was more than what I had imagined.

In those first years in Waterloo, life was peaceful and I was happy. I had the best roommate (we knew each other from Iran and both went to Canada to start graduate programs, he in computer science and I in mathematics), I found a couple of supportive friends, I absolutely loved my courses at university which also paid me generous funding. And I believed that finding a job is straightforward with a Canadian degree. What else does one want from life? When I hear stories of friends who did a similar move but didn’t receive funding or had problems with their supervisors or roommates or family, I realize how lucky I was. My biggest concern in those years was that the winters are long and cold, and so I spent most of my first Canadian winters indoors.

Today, when I looked at the pictures and videos of the first days after the move, I observed two things. First, how green it was around our building! This delighted me immensely since I had moved from a dry metropolis with considerably fewer trees. Second, I realized what an arrogant and annoying person I was then, claiming I know everything about housework and social relationships and telling my roommate what to do and what not to do. Today, I appreciated how kind and understanding he was.

Among my major life events, that move has had the largest influence on my character and way of thinking. I lived in Waterloo for five years but changed places three times. During those years, I visited Melbourne, Australia, twice for about 5 months each. In September 2014, I left Waterloo for good.



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Abbas Mehrabian

A freelance journalist and a Google DeepMind AI researcher, an Iranian-Canadian living in Montreal with a journalism degree from Concordia University.