Gina, from HowtoStepMom, moved from Rotterdam (Holland) to British Columbia (Canada) to live with her then boyfriend/now husband and his 2 kids. Not only did she need to adjust to expat life, but she also became a step-mom in the process!! Gina is a lover of design (without the funds), an amateur first-time gardener (hoping not to kill all her vegetables) and aspiring world traveler.
Imagine your life as a 21-year-old girl living in one of the largest cities in Holland, Rotterdam. You’re fresh out of university, have landed a job you love and are surrounded by great friends.
One day you’re at your go-to bar, a glass of wine in hand, talking to your friends about your busy week at work, and there he is, walking through the door. You don’t know it yet but this person is going to change your life forever.
You two hit it off. It is a little complicated because he is Canadian and you are Dutch. Luckily he’s in Rotterdam often on a 4 weeks on, 4 weeks off rotation.
You do the long distance thing for a while. Fast-forward 2 years, 1 trip to France and 2 trips to Canada later, and you’re boarding a plane to Canada with your Working Holiday Visa in hand.
That is me in a nutshell about 5 years ago.
Hmmm.. I guess I haven’t mentioned the part where he is divorced and has two kids.
I left my comfortable life in Rotterdam behind and moved halfway across the world to a tiny town in British Columbia, with a mere population of 1800. Not only did I have to adjust to my new life, I had to learn how to be a stepmom.
Looking back I had no idea what I was getting myself into. When it comes to being a stepmom, I don’t think any woman fully understands what that life is like until she’s living it. The stories you hear about step-family life are all over the map. From dealing with a high conflict ex-wife, possible court cases to having an amicable relationship with the ex.
Fortunately, I fall into the second category and I think much of this can be attributed to how my time was focused on being a stepmom AND an immigrant.
The initial culture shock came when I was left home alone. My then boyfriend went back to work and the kids went back to their moms’ place. I guess technically speaking we still are in a long distance relationship — even though I moved to his home country, he still works abroad! There I was, home alone for 4 weeks in a small community starting from scratch.
I didn’t know anyone besides his friends and family. It was a struggle meeting new people and building strong relationships. It’s a very small community and I’ve noticed that it can be clicky at times.
What I love about British Columbia is the landscape, it is nothing like Holland. Mountains and valleys surround you everywhere you look and it’s absolutely stunning! It became very clear to me why people are not out on bicycles while I was cycling UPHILL one sunny afternoon (I miss the special red bicycle paths we have in Holland and the flat landscape.).
Canada is the second largest country in the world and has amazing scenery. What I still can’t wrap my head around is all the driving! My husband has looked me in the eye and said ‘Yes, you can drive to Vancouver and back in a day’ without batting an eye. Meanwhile, I’m thinking: what are you talking about?! That’s like 10 hours of driving in 1 day. He must be crazy!
Back home I could get in a car in Rotterdam, drive through Belgium and arrive in Paris 5 hours later. Spend a full weekend there and then drive back. This was a planned weekend away with friends, driving through 3 different countries. Not a fast road trip to Paris and back in the same day.
I would consider an hour drive in Holland to visit family a long way away. I might do it once or twice a year. In Canada, I don’t even think twice about it anymore. Driving 45 minutes to his parents a few times a month? No big deal! let’s go.
Being the second largest country in the world also means A LOT of open space! Holland is jam-packed with people, in Canada there is space and we go ‘bush camping’ and I love it. We pull our trailer into the mountains with friends and family, set up for the long weekend and fish, swim and socialize. The boys dirtbike, everyone sits around the campfire and shares stories and relaxes. The best part? No cell service. Now, I just need to get that kayak I’ve been talking about, and I’m set.
The person I met in that bar on a busy Friday night has changed my world completely. After 3 years of being here, I’ve fully embraced my Canadian life, stepmom life, and role as a wife.
No longer do I pine for a lively downtown scene or the typical Dutch / city life. Now I look forward to BBQ nights with a group of friends (FYI, BYOB! So North-American), camping in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trees and lakes, going to the ski hill which is basically in our backyard or taking a walk down to the lake which is 5 minutes from our new home (Yup, we moved from a tiny town of 1800 to a ‘large’ city with a population of 40.000).
It has been a great adventure (how cliche…) and I look forward to exploring the world now that I have my Canadian Permanent Residency, I just need to figure out how we are going to do this financially with 2 adults and 2 stepkids.