Tag Archives: adversity

How To Get Kicked Out of Canada

entreeinterdite How To Get Kicked Out of Canada

And Why It Was The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

I don’t tell this story all that often but it’s probably the biggest story in my life (so far).

Back in the fall of 2007 I was a student in Montreal, living with the woman I thought I would marry. I was a teacher and artistic director for a great dance studio, a barista at a local cafe.  I was applying to a graduate program in Educational Technology.  I did yoga and pilates regularly, and trained in capoeira when I wasn’t teaching or social dancing at night.  All things seemed to be on their merry conventional way in my life.

Cups of tea were plentiful and there were no jarring questions to shake my existence.

Fast forward to a Sunday night on a return trip from Albany, NY with my girlfriend.  We arrived at the border station at 10pm.  The guard checked our passports and said we needed to go inside.  I’d been through the border so many times it didn’t bother me.  Inside we waited. They called my name.  Took my documentation.  Asked a few standard questions, told me to sit down.

They called me back up and asked prying questions about my studies.  Something was wrong.  After the long weekend, driving, being generally exhausted, and now confused I started to panic.  I was called into a back room.  Small, gray, windowless.  A desk and two chairs.  A Quebecois border guard came in with a stack of documents and a yellow legal pad.  She did not look friendly.

Apparently they believed I had purposefully lied about my visa and study situation.  My old visa for prior undergraduate work had expired but no one had removed it.  Assuming I was studying on an expired visa and with no alternate paperwork with me to back my story up, I was out of luck.  She accused me of lying.  Badgered me.  Said I was taking advantage of their system.  It was probably after midnight by now but there were no clocks.  I was horrified.

She read a passage from the immigration law book, quoting the law I had supposedly broken.  Then two more.  The punishment, exclusion from Canada for a year.  Oh it could be much worse, I could be deported for life she said.  As if just a year was a kindness.  She handed me the card for the Consulate Generale in NYC and said that I could appeal it there but that I had no chance.  Obviously she was steadfast in her belief that her decision was law.

I was crushed, crying and really in no right space to think.  Really at a border you have no power.  But it got better.  I couldn’t just turn around.  They had to drive me back to the U.S. border.  I was locked in the back of an SUV and driven to the U.S. where they brought me inside for more paperwork.  Even the U.S. borderguards gave me crap.  Like I was in any state to receive more insult.

It was 1am.

I called my parents when I was back in the car with my girlfriend.  They say in books that people choke out words and they are right.  I had my life torn out from under me.  In 3 hours.

Life changes that fast.

Eight months later, thousands of dollars in travel expenses, lawyer fees, and immigration fees and the expulsion order was overturned as a misunderstanding.

That’s right, a misunderstanding.

In the meantime I had racked up credit card debt, moved to NYC, gotten a real job where I worked 40 to 60 hour weeks, and watched let my relationship fall apart.  3 hours and a misunderstanding had destroyed my idyllic Montreal life.

Life as we know it hangs on the edge.

Now you ask, how can that experience be one of the best things to happen to me?

Tragedy, despair, displacement, loss.  All of these things have something to teach us about ourselves, how we walk in the world and treat the things we care about.

Those 8 months weren’t the end of how low I would sink.  I turned to drinking, women, traveling and dancing to fill the voids in my life.  I ended up hurting friends, driving myself further into debt, and the tale goes on.

In all the pain and tragedy I ended up causing and feeling, I found the part of me that was strong enough to stand up, smile and make my way in the world.  It took me almost a year to sort out the layers of guilt, the feeling of powerlessness, and get my head on straight financially.  But for the adversity I withstood in a year, I have gained a strength of character and an understanding of myself that I never would have had if my life had remained idyllic.

So, besides the most obvious thing it taught me (always have a good lawyer versed in immigration laws if you are traveling, studying or working abroad), it taught me more about myself, my potential and my weaknesses, than any other series of events in my life.

Adversity and tragedy holds the potential for our greatest strength to come forward.

When we are stripped bare by loss and pain there are rarely more than 2 roads for us to choose from.

The road of apathy, self-pity, denial, anger.

The road of perseverance, courage and acceptance.

Sometimes only after we follow the first road for a while do we realize that the other road is even there.  Often not far out of reach but we can only see the brambles of self-doubt.  To realize that we can make it to the other road by steps regardless of how small they are is the biggest challenge and hardest step of all.

Each step towards the other road is the beginning of our own road and soon they are one and the same.

Tragedy shatters the reality we took for granted and we can only bury our head in the sand for so long before we suffocate.

It’s time to come up for air.  To breathe in a new life every moment and live to our greatest potential with the courage that tragedy has shown us we possess.

Flickr photo courtesy of Mechanikat.

Accepting Adversity – Making the Difficult Look Easy

Wrecked Car - AccidentOne of the things I’ve had in the past few years is a variety of personal setbacks or struggles which most people are amazed at.  (This is in context of being from a 1st world country and not having the hardships of war, extreme poverty, famine, etc.)

I’ve been excluded (for a year) from the country I called home where my entire life revolved.

I’ve moved to the biggest city in the U.S. without a job or place to live and found work within two days.

I’ve had more relationship difficulties than I would care to expound upon (people have said it would make a decent hollywood movie).

Despite all of this I’ve turned this into one of the most productive and creative periods in my life.  I take setbacks relatively lightly and consider most of my struggles and difficulties ahead as a learning experience.

How have I managed all of this?  Here are some things I keep in mind.

Smile

When you smile there are actual reactions which will improve your mood. Your body is wired in a particular way that when you smile you’ll often feel happier.  So when they’re out of your favorite ice cream smile and try something else instead.

Laugh

In my opinion even better than smiling.  When the world hands me a downpour and I’m out for a walk I’ll probably laugh rather than cringe and run for cover.  When my luggage doesn’t show up or my bicycle gets stolen I’ll often chuckle or laugh at the sheer nonsensical nature of things.  It takes the weight of the situation off.

Plus laughter is a good workout (who hasn’t pulled a side-stitch cause they laughed too hard) and has positive health effects mentally, physically and emotionally.

Appearance vs. Reality

Does it appear worse or feel worse than it actually is?

Taking a moment to step back and evaluate the consequences of the situation or why you are feeling the way you are will give you a bit of perspective.  Losing your job can feel worse or appear worse than it actually is, perhaps it is just the catalyst you needed for you to change out of the boring 9 to 5 you’ve been enduring for the past four years (that’s what it was for me).

This is a recurring theme in literature, philosophy and is often the focus of a large body of humor.

Focus

When you always look at the end point you’re living in a mode of expectation rather than a mode of action.  When things don’t necessarily work out like you had expected you are doubly hurt by the event itself and by your failure of expectations.

When you are focused on acting or doing the result is just another part of that process.

Feel

The worst experiences I’ve had with adversity are when I bury my reactions to them with distractions (work, alcohol, women, or dancing).

When I take the time by myself without distractions and understand that I’ve been hurt or disappointed I can come to terms with it. Being honest with myself and admitting my pain and understanding my part in the issues at hand help me take the weight of a situation off.

Fail

Always taking the easy route in life is a sure fire way to be exceptionally disappointed when you don’t succeed.  Sometimes making the hard choice, whether it is painful or uncomfortable, is the better choice even if it means we admit to failure.

Failure is the key to learning and growth in a lot of ways.

Nonattachment

The Buddhist in me advises me to live in a manner which lets me smile, laugh, focus, feel and fail.

This is living in a mode of nonattachment.  Simply speaking, don’t attach your personal esteem to the things around you.  When they are out of soy milk it is not a slight against your lactose-intolerant person, it’s just the way things are.