I recently found out that my great-grandparents, with their entire extended family, were en route to Germany, fleeing the Soviets, when a Russian torpedo sank the ship, killing everyone on board. Their eventual destination was Canada. I am still trying to process this information, and the fact that I completed their dream.
I came to Canada for the film industry, to be an actor. That was and is my dream. Funnily enough, the reason I ended up here was because my American visa was denied. Since I worked in television in Estonia, I applied for a Media Visa. It was something that was not my goal or my dream, but I thought that’s what I had to do to get here.
Now I'm realizing that maybe the gentle hands of my ancestors were guiding me towards Canada instead. This was supposed to be a stopover on my way back to LA. This brief stop is now nine years in. I remember the foggy January afternoon in 2013 when we landed in Vancouver and I felt this unfamiliar feeling of being truly welcome. On a soul level. Like I was finally HOME.
So I stayed.
However, wanting to stay in a foreign country is not enough of a reason for the authorities, as we all know. Although immigrating to Canada is much easier than to the US, it’s still a process. And oh boy, did I go through it all. From statuses expiring due to lawyer errors, to having to leave the country and sitting in secondary inspection upon my return. The company who was initially sponsoring my second year visa went bankrupt right before I was supposed to go to the border to activate it, so I had to scramble and actually landed a job at CTV News Vancouver. Another newsroom where I felt comfortable, but one I did not want to be in. It was not my dream, but it was necessary. Or so I thought.
There is a pattern here, and now that I work as an immigration consultant, I have discovered I am not the only Estonian living it. Going for something other than what you want, thinking this is the sacrifice you have to make in order to get what you truly dream of—why do we do it? I have asked myself that question many times, after seeing this play out time and time again with my immigration clients.
I have now trained myself to stop them and ask: “What is it that you really want to do?” This usually takes them by surprise. One might be able to attribute the lack of confidence in our true self to everything our parents (and by extension, us) went through during the Soviet occupation. Your dreams were not important, meeting the quota was. Putting up a good facade was. And this mentality has carried onto the free capitalist world of independent Estonia, whether we like to admit it or not.
Am I not the perfect example of that? An immigration consultant, who came here to be an actor. Ironic, isn’t it?
I was thrust into immigration due to everything going wrong with my case before I got it sorted, receiving the much coveted Permanent Residency in 2016. Even then, I was arguing with my lawyer and educating myself to be on top of things. To the point where I was trying to help every Estonian that came my way or posted on the Facebook forums. When one of my friends said I could charge for my advice I took him quite literally and enrolled in the Immigration Law program at UBC. And here I am.
If I had to answer what my niche is, it’s Estonians. Interestingly enough, helping them towards achieving their dreams is teaching me more than I had anticipated. About myself, about being an actor, about being an Estonian in Canada. I have started to see the patterns that we as a nation carry in our subconscious, which unwittingly direct our choices here in Canada. The self-loathing passive-aggressive jokes sprinkled with unbelievable tenacity in the face of adversity. The search for self-confidence in following your heart while shedding the extreme need for external validation. Falling down and getting back up again. And again. And again. Plus a little more self-loathing.
I love being an Estonian. I love having been born in Estonia. And I love being an Estonian in Canada.
When I started my country-hopping, having lived in the UK, US, Denmark, and now Canada, my mom said very wisely: “You know, you don’t have to be living in Estonia to be an Estonian patriot,” and I wholeheartedly agree.
For me, it has been a journey of happiness and heartbreak and everything in between. I have learnt to stand on my two feet and come to know what healthy friendships look like. Canada helped me grow up. In a good way. I have come into myself here. And oddly enough, that has made me want to connect with my roots and Estonia—something I did not think would happen.
After going through a period of trying to befriend every local Estonian I hear about (I know you’ve been there) I swung the other way and started to avoid them altogether. Until I started my business and they started to seek me out. I have come to appreciate my unique perspective a lot, because these Estonians are sharing their dreams with me. They expect my help and I can actually make a difference in their lives. A lasting one, for that matter. A difference which will change generations and their fate. What a privilege!
I can’t wait to share with you the different stages of integration every Estonian goes through when coming to live in Canada; the most common mistakes our people make when looking for their first home, car, job – everything! And the keys to success in finding a home away from home.
I am also excited for you to learn more about my story as I keep peeling off the layers of my own ancestry and their unfinished dreams that I am now living.
To all new Estonians in Canada I say: “Welcome, you’re in the right place. Let the journey begin.”