I Moved to Québec: Interview with Dan Vargas

I Moved to Québec: Interview with Dan Vargas

LiQ_Mag_Abonnez-vousThis article first appeared in the print edition of Life in Québec Magazine.

You can read the magazine in full here:

Life in Québec Magazine – March to June 2013

Article by Simon Jacobs

This is the second of a series of articles that we will be presenting on the experiences of people coming to Quebec and making a go of it.

Dan Vargas moved to Quebec City about three years ago with his wife, Rowena and their three kids. He was born in Toronto after his parents immigrated to Canada from the Philippines.  His family soon moved to Vancouver where he went to school and college.  At first he began to study the sciences and engineering but midway through college he discovered art as well as meeting his wife Rowena. 

In 1999 he went to the Vancouver film school to study 3-D animation and digital effects and after leaving immediately got a job in the gaming industry.  Although he wasn’t a hard-core gamer he had known about and played games and loved fantasy and science fiction films and all the graphics that goes along with them. “My school notebooks had 50/50 notes and art doodles and what-have-you, so it has always been at my core.” Left-brain science skills are a must in the world of 3D animation, where a solid understanding of geometry and volume is required alongside the creative and artistic approach to things.

Even before accepting the job with UBI Soft, Dan and Rowena had talked about moving to Europe with the kids, so when the opportunity arose to move to Quebec City, they grabbed it. Since his two girls, now 17 and 15, had already studied in a French immersion school in Vancouver they were able to integrate with the other kids at the Collège Jesus-Marie de Sillery. They quickly picked up the Quebecois accent and lingo just to the point that a teacher commented that their English was very good for Francophones. 

Dan and his wife, on the other hand, did not find the transition quite as easy as they were not able to easily speak French.  Dan basically socialised with the other Anglophone employees at Ubi Soft, who make up roughly 6% of the 300 employees. He was also offered French lessons by the company, a necessity since all meetings are held in French, although his colleagues are always willing to help if he doesn’t understand something.

Rowena may have had the hardest time, since she did not have a job and was looking after their toddler, Dante, leaving her quite isolated. “The first winter, home alone with the kid, not knowing anyone, not being very comfortable speaking the language was very tough for her” said Dan. When they hit rough patches, the impulse to leave was very strong, making them question whether they had made the right move. Also being so far away from the embrace of family support prompted Rowena to go back and visit them in Vancouver.   Thankfully the tough ups and downs of the first year have diminished and they feel far more settled here.

 It was the ‘nitty-gritty’ things such as housing or medicare or finding a doctor that they found hardest at the beginning, as most of the services were in French. The first couple of visits to a hospital were really challenging because they had absolutely no idea what was going on.  Buying a house, stressful at the best of times, was doubly so as they had to wade through legal documents, only catching half of what was written before having to reach for a dictionary.   Luckily they did receive some help from work who paired them up with a company. “They helped with things like getting your driver’s licence, or finding how to get certain insurances, or looking for housing, looking for rent.”  It was only later on that they discovered that there were other resources out there like the Jeffery Hale Family resources and the VEQ.

Another thing that was strange was the cultural aspect.  Coming from Vancouver’s diverse cultural community, they found themselves a visible minority in a city where there are not that many. The saddest change was the lack of food diversity that they were accustomed to.

Now, three years in to their move, they find that their social circle is starting to include more Francophone friends, mainly through people that they share commonalities with, such as neighbours, sports or social events and this is beginning to feel more like home.  

Dan’s parting advice is “Come here with an open mind and do whatever you can to learn the language and learn the culture.  Come into it as if you are coming into a brand new country and just be open to learning and to growing”.

About Author

Simon Jacobs

Originally from the UK, Simon Jacobs has been living in Quebec City since 1989. He played viola with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra for 20 years before moving on to become the Executive Director of the Morrin Centre. Currently studying for an MBA at Laval University, he is also a certified Quebec City tour guide and a historian specialising in the Jewish history of Quebec City. He is the current president of the Québec Anglophone heritage network.

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