Why living in St. Catharines? Interview with Marina Varella

Podcast Ontario Beyond Toronto (English transcript): In this episode, we spoke with Marina, who came to Canada for the first time to study English in Vancouver and fell in love with the country.

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Audio in Portuguese. Read the English transcript below.

The city of St. Catharines – Location


Why living in St. Catharines? Interview with Marina Varella
Transcripts (Automatic English translation – unedited)

Welcome to another episode of Ontario beyond Toronto, a podcast of Brazilian Wave Canada. In this episode, we ask: why did Marina go to live in St. Catharines? I’m Christian Pedersen and in this episode, we talked to Marina Varella. She came to Canada for the first time to study English in Vancouver and, as a student, fell in love with the country. The approximately two years, Marina and her husband decided to move to Canada. The couple resides in St. Catharines, which is the largest city in the Niagara region, known as the Garden City for the many parks and squares that exist there. St. Catharines is the sixth-largest city in the Province of Ontario and by road, it is about 112 km south of Toronto and just 19 km from the international border with the United States, which is divided by the Niagara River.

Christian: Hello Marina. It’s OK?

Marina: Hello. Everything great, Christian, how about you?

Christian: Everything’s great! Marina, welcome! First, tell us why you chose Vancouver to study? You were there before that Ontario phase.

Marina: I was younger and wanted to study English. At the time, I wanted Ireland or Canada. I ended up deciding on Canada. I met some people who had already gone to Vancouver, then I read a little … and I went, right? I went to study English. I stayed for six months and that’s when I fell in love! I had the opportunity to get to know Canada a lot, in that coming. After six months, I went to Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa.

Christian: At least you can get to know Canada a lot.

Marina: It was. I think I traveled more in these six months, than in this year and a half that I am here, now. Because now, I’m working and there’s no time.

Christian: So, did you come back to Brazil?

Marina: I went back to Brazil to finish college and then I started to work. (Me) with my boyfriend (now my husband, but at the time we were dating) we with the idea of ​​leaving the country and he didn’t know Canada. That was when we decided to come to Canada to stay a month, studying English. We did an exchange and stayed on homestay. It was in 2017.

Christian: How was the experience for you?

Marina: It was cool! It was nothing new for me because I had already had this experience in Vancouver. But it was for my husband! At the very end of the trip, we had a little problem with the homestay, due to hygiene, food … but I didn’t care so much because we ate a lot outside. So, it wasn’t so much of a problem. On that same trip, I remember that a lot of people had a lot of problems with the homestay. It is funny because in Vancouver, I never heard any problems (at least when I was there). But in Toronto, I heard some problems that people had. But ours did it for us to resolve. But it was a good experience! Especially because there were more students in the house. So, the time I was with my husband and there was a foreigner, we were always speaking English. So, it was a better experience than if we had stayed in an Air BNB or somewhere just the two of us because we would be speaking Portuguese all the time.

Christian: Then you went back to Brazil, stayed for a while and decided to come back here, right?

Marina: Then when we came to stay this month, in 2017, it was when we decided that we would return [to Canada] to live. But at that time, we were not sure where. My husband wanted to do gastronomy (at the time he worked with logistics, nothing to do with gastronomy, right?). And then, we were in doubt. The first city we saw was Toronto. But in terms of the cost of living, we started to look elsewhere. Only we thought about Ottawa and London. When we got in touch with a consulting company, she introduced us to Niagara College. So, we started researching the region, researching Niagara College (which is very cool!). There is even a brewery course, which is the second course that my husband is also very delighted because we made beer in Brazil. And the College is also quite complete. We did a nice survey before. So, we decided… oh, another thing too, that we started to research the cost of living in the Niagara region and the difference is very big in Toronto! It’s very big! A rental is up to 40% cheaper. With that, we decided. At the time we entered a Whatsapp group from London and the Niagara region. It was kind of cool because I got in touch with some people from London, to find out what it was like, to know the transport issue and everything.

Christian: When you came the first time, did you ever go to Niagara Falls or only later, when did you come the second time?

Marina: In 2010, when I came to Toronto, I didn’t come to Niagara Falls. Because I remember it was snowing a lot and it turned out that I decided not to come to Niagara Falls. The second time we came, now, in 2017 we came for a walk in Niagara Falls, but I had no idea that we were going to live here! Because for me, Niagara Falls was just the falls, that tourist center and that ended. I didn’t even imagine everything in the region, which is a very nice region to live in!

Christian: What is the reason that made you want to leave Brazil? Was it that thing of violence?

Marina: In fact, I was very dissatisfied with my job. I think one thing that weighed heavily was this lack of value that I felt in Brazil. Even more inside! We are from the south of Minas, from the interior. I studied engineering and received very badly there. So, I was very dissatisfied with that. And this question, too, of getting to know other cultures, improving English … that weighed a lot. Everyone says a lot that there is a relationship between safety and quality of life. Regarding security, I never had a problem because being from the countryside … although today, being a little dangerous, there is no way to compare it with Rio [de Janeiro] and São Paulo, right?

Christian: And how Marina ended up in St. Catharines . How was that?

Marina: When we came, we stayed in a hotel for a week to rent an apartment here. And it was here that we decided. Since the campus of [college of], John is in Niagara – on the Lake, it is easier for us to live in St. Catharines than it is to live in Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls also has buses, but where we live, it’s very close! Despite being another city … for example, by car from my house to the campus, it’s 10 minutes. So, it’s very close. And so we decided: St. Catharines is the largest city in the region. And although it is not very big, it has 130 thousand inhabitants here. In Brazil, my city has about 90 or 95 [thousand inhabitants] and has nothing! Compared to a city in Brazil with 130 thousand inhabitants, here it has everything. I don’t have to complain! Despite having people who complain, who say that here is interior and has nothing to do. I came from a city that has nothing, so for me there is shopping, there is a cinema, there is everything! I have nothing to complain about. We ended up finding an apartment here and that’s why we decided to live here. But I would live too … do not know yet, after John form, it may be that more people in Niagara- Falls, in Welland or any other city in the region here. If we are going to stay here. Because everything is so close, right?

Christian: And what was it like to find a place to live in the region? Was hard? Did you search in several places or was it something that wasn’t even so complicated?

Marina: We arrived in May last year, so it was quiet. Because they say that in September it is very difficult. Because the school year starts in September, many courses … at Niagara Colleg and, few courses start in May, so it was very quiet. When we arrived, it was pretty busy, because we arrived on a Thursday and classes started on Monday. It was just in the nick of time! On Friday we started looking for an apartment. On Saturday we applied … it was very fast! Because on Friday we looked at five apartments and I liked where we live, nowadays. We applied on Saturday and on Monday, we were approved. But, I know people who have had more difficulty. That took a little longer to find a place to live.

Christian : Are you in a central area of St. Catharines or is it more residential?

Marina: There is everything I need close to home. But, it is more residential here, yes. We arrived by car, but there is a bus stop right in front of my house. If I walk a block, there is another point. So, all of this also influenced our decision.

Christian: So, it is easy to move around in the region.

Marina: I think. I don’t know if it’s because before I came, I heard so much bad about public transport here … that, for me, I don’t think it’s that bad. I can’t compare to Toronto. Much less, with Vancouver, which has public transportation … I remember that, if the bus was full in Vancouver, I said: “I’ll wait for the next one”, which was five minutes away. Not here. Here I have to wait half an hour. And the weekend and holiday is every hour, the bus. Another bad thing here, when it comes to public transport, is that, for example, the regional bus does not work on the weekend. So, if I live in St. Catharines and work in Niagara Falls, I won’t have a [regional] bus. I’m going to have to take another bus. There is a “ Go ” bus that comes from Toronto (which is even more expensive) because the regional one doesn’t work. This is bad. But, as I work in St. Catharines and live in St. Catharines when I need to take the bus, it’s not a problem for me.

Christian: Did you have to buy a car then?

Marina: Yeah. Why did my husband start working in Niagara Falls . And working in a restaurant, leaving late and there was no bus. Every ride [home], Uber was Can $ 30.00 to Can $ 35.00. We were spending more on Uber than if we had bought a car. That’s when we decided. Here in this region, having a car makes a difference. But those who don’t have a car can live, even in winter.

Christian: And speaking of winter, you spent the first winter 2019/2020. How did it go?

Marina: They say it was much more peaceful than it usually is. Honestly, I found it very peaceful. The most annoying part I found was having to clean the car. Because the garage is not covered, these things … like: “I have to wake up early, because I have to clean the car to go to work”.

Christian: What was the most difficult part of this whole change?

Marina: Waiting for a visa was very difficult for us! We even had a little problem. We paid for the college (it wasn’t even the college’s fault ) and when they applied, international vacancies had already been closed. So, we were supposed to come in January 2019 and we only managed to come in May 2019. So, we were no longer working, we were already organizing everything, and that wait and anxiety for the visa! …. because still ran the risk of being denied, right? When I got here, although everyone said to me “look, stay calm, you will arrive and you will get a job”, I was very scared, you know? I was very afraid of not getting a job. Why do we arrive and are spending in real? Everything is very expensive for us when we arrive! I suffered a lot at the beginning, from anxiety about my job. Which was really a matter of time and we can get jobs here. I think that here, only those who do not want to work do not work. I say “who doesn’t want to” because there are people who are very demanding. At least, here in the region, everyone gets a job.

Christian: Did you already have fluent English when you got here?

Marina: No, and she is not fluent yet, no! Actually, I can manage, right? But, I have a hard time every day! They are people talking fast, they are people I have to ask again … because I work at Walmart and there are people asking for things, which I don’t even know what, in Portuguese. You’re welcome! And then I research and manage on a daily basis. But I still have an insecurity with my English.

Christian: So to get here without any English, it’s not a good idea …

Marina: We see a lot on the internet, which can come without English, which is easy. I don’t think it is! I have a friend who came without English. She has a channel on Youtube and she talks about it: “study before, in Brazil”. Because people say a lot: “no … you can go easy. It goes without English, that you learn fast ”. But we know that the reality is different, right? Especially because classroom English is completely different from real-life English.

Christian: And how is your husband’s English? How was it for him arriving at college [ college ], on the first day, with the English he brought from Brazil?

Marina: He says that my grammar is better than his. But his English is better. In fact, in my English, I think my problem is my listening. The people speak very fast here. I always joke: “imagine a Brazilian hick talking fast!” it’s the same thing! Because there are times that I don’t understand. There are a lot of slang words and people talking fast! I do not know if he is more uncoiled if he takes the words there, more importantly, and understands … I do not know, but he … actually on the first day of school, I remember that he commented on a teacher that he had a little difficulty understanding (I don’t know if the teacher was Scottish … I don’t remember well). But for him, it was very easy.

Christian: Was it easy to get that job? Before, you worked at Tommy Hilfiger.

Marina: Yeah. I worked at Tommy for 4 months, but I didn’t like it. So I started to apply for Walmart , because I heard that it was a good environment to work. I met a guy who worked there and then I applied for the job. It was not difficult. I’ve been there for a year and a month.

Christian: With what you earn, can you survive right there in St. Catharines, in general?

Marina: If you compare it to a person who works in a supermarket and earns a minimum wage in Brazil, you will never have the life we ​​have here. Never! Like buying video games , buying the appliances we like, right? The purchasing power here is much greater and it is possible to live.

Christian: What about St. Catharines , what do you like most and what do you like least about it?

Marina: It is different from Brazil. In Brazil, when you need to do something, you go to the center and find everything. Stops the car and does it all. Here, you depend on transportation (be it public or the car) to be able to go to the bank, the supermarket … because everything is so scattered here. This is the feeling I have here in the region. Although it is normal for them, it is strange for me. I like St. Catharines because it has a lot of parks and I think it’s a beautiful city (despite having an uglier region, like anywhere). Here there is a lot of nice things to do, related to nature. So, you can go hiking, you can have a picnic and here is the lake. From the lake here, we can see the CN Tower [located in Toronto ]. I really like the city! I say that I date here every day. When I walk I think everything is beautiful here!

Christian: Do you enjoy what the city offers in the area of ​​leisure?

Marina: These days, it’s great for me. Perhaps, if I were younger, no! There is only a quieter bar here. Here is a very peaceful city! It feels good to me. We like to visit breweries and there are a lot of them here! Restaurant … but so, it is not lively. Here, too, there’s Brock, the university. They have a lot of partying between them. But the people who work with me, who make Brock, complain a lot. If they want to leave, they have to go to Toronto, because there is not much to do here. So, for example, one of these days, I went to a pumpkin farm. And then, it’s a walk because the place is beautiful! The whole way is beautiful to get to the farm.

Christian: And was there any prejudice, something at work, for example, because you are Brazilian or was it something normal?

Marina: At work, whoever works there, no. Even, for having a lot of foreigners working there. But, I already felt prejudice from the client. When you start to ask: “and what is this for?” (because there are things I don’t know what it is). And the person says [irritably]: “Ah! Forgets!” Then you realize that if a Canadian arrives, the person is more comfortable talking. It does exist! I have a friendship with the people at work, with Canadians, and with foreigners. But I feel that at work, Canadians are right among them. So … they talk a lot, they are nice, they tell us to make an appointment to do something, but when it comes time to leave, they go out with each other. Even walking between him, I don’t even see it as a prejudice. Especially because my friends are also Brazilians.

Christian: And do you have any plans to leave St. Catharines one day ?

Marina: I don’t want to leave here. But, everything will depend. Why João graduates in May. Everything will depend … if a job opportunity arises somewhere, we will. But I, for myself, I remain here in the region. I love living here!

Christian : Do you know many Brazilians?

Marina: Yes, but there aren’t many Brazilians here. So my friends are Brazilians. There is such a Whatsapp group. But compared to Toronto, for example, it is a very small community. You will not get on the bus and listen to Portuguese, for example. Maybe in Niagara Falls, because there are a lot of tourists.

Christian: And what are your recommendations for those who are moving to St. Catharines ?

Marina: It is important to come prepared financially, to buy a car. With six months here, we financed our car. But I speak like this, not for the day-to-day (for the day-to-day you can manage), but to be able to get to know the region. Because the region is very beautiful and has a lot of cool places, but you can only go for a walk and see it, even by car. Also, you have to be prepared for the cold, right. Because this is important anywhere in Canada. It’s funny, that I say, for example, “now, I think it must be around 6 ° C” and then, I go out on the balcony wearing slippers, just in sweatpants … but I feel that 6 ° C in Brazil, it is much colder than here. This is strange. I don’t know if our bodies get used to it … I think that’s it.

Christian: And is your husband enjoying this experience?

Marina: And he loves it! For him too, we do not leave the region, no. Everything will really depend on the opportunities that will come. If there is any opportunity abroad, we have to accept it, right? We are just starting a life here. So in the beginning, we are still in the adjustment phase. They say that the first three years are the years of adjustment. And we’re still in it yet! Hopefully, after three years, pass! (lol)

Christian: Even in the adjustment phase, you have already achieved a lot like … a car, home, and job.

Marina: I say that about the adjustment phase, more because of so much rush. Because like this, many times at the time when I am working, he is at home. Then, I’m at home and he’s working. I speak more for that very reason. Because, wow, there’s nothing to complain about, no! Thank goodness things here happen very fast. The conquests happen very fast, here, thanks to God!

Christian: And speaking and bureaucracy, was it really easy to get the car home? Was there a lot of paperwork?

Marina: In fact, we bought the car there in Toronto , with a Brazilian. Almost all Brazilians here in the region buy from him, because he manages to do the financing and such. He just asked us to fill out some documents. I delivered the letter of my work, I attached that I was working and my husband did the same thing. And then he approved and said: “look, I got approval up to the amount”. So, we chose the car and went to get it. It was very easy, it was very quiet.

Christian: Do you think that if you hadn’t come with your husband, it would be more difficult? Does the fact that he is here with you make it easier or more difficult?

Marina: I think it helps that I have someone here, yes. I could manage too, alone. Even more in this region, which is a region that has a lot of couples and a lot of family. There is also a tip that we missed! Perhaps, for those who come alone, I do not know if it is the best region. Even for being calm, too. Here you have the advantage of the financial issue. Because it is a cheaper cost of living, it ends up being … it has this advantage. But this question of being more peaceful. I think it’s a little harder for you to meet single people.

Christian: You have plans, dreams of opening your own business there in St. Catharines . a bakery, for example?

Marina: It’s a dream, right. I think that everyone who arrives here has a little dream of opening something. But, we think, yes. For now, it is not even the goal. It’s a dream. Because we think about several things! But hopefully one day it will work. And it works out, who knows, here in this region. I have seen a lot, nowadays, of Brazilians are in the Toronto region … do you find a bakery, people who make coxinha, brigadeiro … everything you have there [in Toronto ] nowadays. This is really cool.

Christian: Is anyone already doing this?

Marina: No. Here, I know that a marketing [market] of Brazilian items will open, but I am not sure how it will work. It hasn’t opened yet. But, like this, we have some things that we buy, that there are two companies that come from Toronto and that they bring here in the region, for us. Here in front of my house, there’s a little place called Los Amigos . In fact, it’s more Mexican, Argentine. But you find passion fruit juice, manioc flour, passion fruit pulp … manioc I buy there. It’s close to my house, so break the branch!

Christian: And how is Brazil? Do you have plans or are you thinking of going back to live in Brazil one day?

Marina: I don’t think about going back to Brazil, no. I don’t know what will happen in my life. Lately, I’m like: “I will never say never. For nothing! ”. But I only think about going back to visit my family and friends.

Christian : And now that you’re a little over here. What is your view of Brazil? The things that happen there, the news that you get from there. How do you see it, now with a more foreign look?

Marina: When people see some news in the newspaper and come to talk to me, I say: “it’s not like that, what they show”. Because, deep down, I am ashamed of the situation and everything that is happening today in Brazil. I get a little embarrassed, to be quite honest. And then I get sad, right? Because my family is there. Although I am here, I care about everything that is going on there. On the other hand, there are many things that today I value Brazil a lot more.

Christian: For example?

Marina : Hygiene. The Brazilian is very concerned with personal hygiene. We are different, in relation to this. Unfortunately, I do not know if it is because I am in the countryside [Canada] and it is also worse, people do not care about teeth care, brushing teeth (I cannot generalize, but I see this a lot). Even in relation to food, I think we eat much better. We, the Brazilians.

Christian: What kind of advice would you give to Marina who came here a year and a half ago?

Marina: To Marina who was on her way to Canada, I would say to enjoy the time. Rather than being depressed and anxious, I would say to study English more and enjoy the rest of the time with parents and friends more. Because it was a very difficult time. This anxiety did me very badly. But, for Marina who arrived here, I would also say, in relation to anxiety, not to suffer so much, because everything here is going very well. It’s all about time. He’ll send a resume and after a while, he’ll get his first job. Did not work? Looking for another job. In fact, it is a piece of advice that my husband always gave me: to go more calm and lighter. Because anxiety is very bad, it gets in the way. And who is living, who is starting life again, anxiety is difficult for us to control. But, it is important to make the most of every moment. We work more here. Today, I feel like I work harder. It’s more busy. But having a return is also very good! At the end of the month, you worked, but you can enjoy it. Something that a lot of people in Brazil are unable to do: they just work and can’t enjoy it. Here, we can enjoy life a little bit, despite the rush. One thing that I think is really cool, is that I am no longer the Marina that arrived. In a year and a half, I am sure that I have changed a lot! I grew up a lot! And I am much stronger than I imagined! Although there is still insecurity (because I speak English insecurity), I am sure that I am much stronger than when I first came here. I think the person has to dedicate himself. Being here is already so difficult … you have to dedicate yourself to improve your English. I see people who are at Niagara College who say: “wow, I have to study English”. Because it’s not because you got a good grade at IELTS, you’re studying in English, that you think English is good. On the contrary! It has to always evolve!

We are grateful for Mariana Varella’s participation in our episode in Ontario, it is not only Toronto and it is worth clarifying that the opinions and experiences reported by our guests, do not mean that it will be the same for someone else. The important thing about these episodes is that people know a little about what it is like to live and live in these places. If you made it this far, thank you for your audience and until the next episode.

Podcast: Ontario Beyond Toronto


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The views expressed in this podcast are the views of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.