From Karachi (Pakistan) to Montréal

August 26, 2019

The great unknown

It was in February 2019 aka my eighth month of pregnancy when I received the delightful news that I had been accepted into the PhD. Program at Concordia in the Art History Department. I had fanatically refreshing my inbox the day the news was expected, and when the email finally arrived, it felt nothing short of a miracle. 

As expected, the news was celebrated with a lot of fanfare, hugs and kisses from my family. It was only once that the celebrations had subsided, and the realization of what a huge undertaking it was, that the fear of the unknown settled in. It is one thing to take a trip for a few days and then returning home, but quite another to go and live some place, and that too with a baby. How do you dress for winters? Can you live in a studio with a baby? How much do daycare cost? Do they even have Pakistani stores there?

And so, I did what any person in my position would do. I sat down in front of Google and typed in my first search inquiry “Bombay Biryani Masala in Montréal”. I can say with much satisfaction that my search result was encouraging. Ah, the surreal wonder of multicultural cities! 

And thus began my Montréal preparation with this positive reaffirmation.  

Becoming a Concordia student

The idea of applying to Concordia was given to me by a friend, who herself had secured a PhD recently. It was her experience of developing a relationship with a supervisor who understands your research and where you are coming from, that really struck a chord with me. 

At this point I have to say, that on one hand, there is the stereotypical image of Canadians being sweet and welcoming, an image that has been parodied for far too long on American television. And then there is the actual reality.

I have found through my interactions with my professors, advisor, and the many individuals who are part of Concordia to be so helpful and utterly generous with their guidance and time, that it simply leaves you baffled. Speaking from my own personal experience, I know that expecting something similar back home would be either an unrealistic dream or an utter shock. 

Getting ready to leave

As the time for our – my husband, my daughter and I – departure neared, what began could only be described as the vicious cycle of emotional blackmail with regards to the baby, which came as a bit of a shock really. Especially when you consider the fact that my parents had known me for 33 years, and my daughter for only 4 months. 

The weeks preceding the departure included but are not limited to, my father taking on a “training” to get used to “living without the baby”, my mother trying to get as many as baby’s first squeezed into this time frame, promises about teaching the baby my mother tongue, Urdu. I had also been made to promise to buy the baby a walker as soon as I land in Montréal, and the fact that they are banned here came as quite a shock to my mother. Her displeasure was only countered by the many alternatives that I was able to show her. 

After a week in Montréal

As I write this, it has been a week since I have been in Montréal, and during this week, I have survived a twenty-one-hour flight with a baby, have gotten lost, rode the wrong bus, and missed my stop countless times. I have learned the intricacies of Montréal’s real estate system, and found a place to call home. I have shopped from IKEA, Marche’s and have gotten the chance to take my baby to a park more than once. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and the spirit of the people of Montréal. I have found myself at the crossroad of various cultures, food, art, languages and identities. 

And as things are finally starting to settle down, as a routine begins to emerge, life is taking on a new form, and the unknown is starting to look a lot less scary. 

To be continued in 6 months…

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Montréal International.