Everyone has got it wrong about Canada

Map of Van Dusen Gardens
Is your map helping?

Sue and I were discussing how people’s expectations and experience of Canada differ so much. We were wondering why that was and what we could do to help.

As we have both trained in NLP, we were reminded of  Alfred Korzybski‘s phrase “The map is not the territory”. This phrase was adopted as an NLP presupposition because it is a useful reminder that we all look at the world through our own maps.

The map is not the territory is a quick way of saying that reality (e.g. life in Canada) is not the same as our expectations or experience of it. Our maps are built up from our own personal histories, our experience, values, beliefs and decisions. The map is like a lens through which we see the world. Because everyone’s experience is different, their maps are different.

Your map of what to expect when moving to Canada will be built up on the basis of your own life. It will, I hope, include real visits to Canada. It will also include things you’ve heard, read or seen about Canada. These experiences are the basis of judgements you’ve then made and ultimately helped you make the decision to move.

At some level the map can never be the territory. That would be like expecting the restaurant menu to taste like the food it describes.

So if your map can never be the territory, what might you expect to come from that?

When you get to Canada, my guess is that you will be in a honeymoon period at first. This is when your brain is running around congratulating itself on making such a good decision. Whenever you see, do or hear something that fits with your map of what Canada would be like, you put a big tick in the box and a big smile on your face. The process is natural. A bit like when you’ve bought a new car and suddenly notice how many other people were smart enough to buy the same model! You want to find validation for your decision.

After a while though, you will probably begin to notice things that differ from your map. These can be small things or big ones.

I am really hoping that you don’t find any really big differences. Chances are that you’ve done a research trip and seen Canada for yourself. This is a good way to confirm that your map is at least close enough to reality! Vacations are not always so useful. You are not there deliberately testing your map against reality – on a vacation you are there to enjoy yourself.

Smaller differences will inevitably show up. And this is where the subtle differences in people’s maps comes into play.

For instance, many people have maps that say Canadians are friendly. When you visited it is likely that you got talking to a few Canadians, perhaps in the coffee bar or at the checkout. But does that mean Canadians are friendly?

It depends on your map. For you friendliness might be just getting the occasional smile from a passerby. For others, whose experience is of neighbours dropping in unannounced at all hours of the day, the occasional smile might be darn right unfriendly. So whether or not you find Canadians friendly may well depend on where your past experience (your map) sits on this friendliness scale.

The longer you are in Canada, the more your maps can change. Your experience of life in Canada will serve to update the map. If it does, and you still enjoy that life, then your move is going to work out. If not, then you might want to review your maps and see if your expectations were unrealistic.

As any explorer will tell you, it is better to set out with the best maps you can get – or make for yourself!



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4 thoughts on “Everyone has got it wrong about Canada

  1. Thank you Frank and Sue for this article’s theme. Yes indeed the ‘map’ of one’s new chosen land can only be initially described as experiences based on previous short visits, TV shows/news and meeting the Canadian’s themselves. Landing here, living here is when a new map is activity being drawn out and more details entered.

    We have been in Nova Scotia as residents since mid July and were meant to be having a holiday to Newfoundland for a few weeks. It does not feel at all like a holiday as although we have been visiting some tourist sights we also have one eye on what to sort out and plan for the coming months, eg income, setting up the home, weather. So while relaxing in a Tim Hortons we are also discussing our future and our likes/dislikes of our new map.
    We have a travel blog for those that are interested: http://www.marklinzi.blogspot.com

    Note: for those that like to chat and pass the time of day. Visit Newfoundland. Here they can chat and chat and chat.

  2. Thanks Linzi and Mark. I have enjoyed following your progress on your blog. Reading about the experience of others is one way of ensuring your map is a little more accurate. It helps you imagine what your move might be like.

    Hope your map stretches out to Vancouver eventually. We’d love to chat with you in person about your experiences.

  3. The research trip is a vital piece of the move, but you really need to plan it well and consulting with someone like Frank and Sue who are THERE can make all the difference. I made a short trip out in advance of our emigration, but with hindsight I didn’t cover enough ground, or even come out with the right questions. I viewed several different areas that we were considering moving to, and with Frank’s help, spoke to some realtors in those areas. But visiting isn’t the same as living, and it’s hard to tell from an afternoon’s drop in how close the schools are, where the best shopping area is, how good the public trasport links are.
    Make use of networks of ex-pats already living out here, and folks like Frank and Sue who have been through the process themselves and answered the important questions many times over. You can avoid a lot of grief and stress by making use of other people’s experience.

  4. Damian,
    Thanks for your endorsement both of my message and our service. Our research trip service is often as much about answering questions that you didn’t even know you had. And if you can connect with other ex-pats, that can be both enlightening, and fun too!

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