Expat Interview With Dianne Russell - Canadian Expat In South Africa

Published: 12 Oct at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,South Africa
Dianne Russell is a Canadian who has lived and worked on three continents and finally found her home at the bottom of Africa. Her work with immigrants and visitors to Canada has spanned a period of almost 15 years, including ESL teacher and exam assessor, Canadian immigration officer and customs officer, immigrant services program coordinator, and now Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant. Dianne runs her two expat blogs "Yeah But..." (see listing here) and Home Away from Home (see listing here).

Here's the interview with Dianne...

Where are you originally from?
I grew up in Kamloops BC, but moved to Victoria and then Vancouver where I lived till 2010.

In which country and city are you living now?
Cape Town, South Africa

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been here for 2.5 years and can't foresee leaving!

Why did you move and what do you do?
My partner has dual South African-Canadian citizenship and had been living in Canada for 17 years. We decided to come to Cape Town for an extended 2 month holiday in January 2010. While on the plane, I had the strange sensation of 'going home'...there is a post about this experience on my blog! once I got here, I knew I was home and we stayed for a full year before going back to sell our things in Canada.

I have worked in the field of Canadian immigration my whole life - I was an immigration officer, immigrant services program coordinator, ESL teacher etc. so once I got to South Africa, I decided to study for my Canadian immigration practitioner diploma (online) and was certified as a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant last year. I was the first person authorized to write the regulatory body's exam outside Canada and am now setting up my own business. I've never been a business owner before, so it's a bit scary doing this in a new country!

Did you bring family with you?
Just my boyfriend :-)

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
In the beginning, I still had my own savings and was able to take care of myself finanically, but after school drained my savings and I was not able to work, I struggled a lot with being financially dependent on my boyfriend. I was not designed to be a housewife, so I have found it frustrating in that way. However, I had also lived in Korea in the 1990s and was used to living abroad, so this time was much easier. The fact that most people speak Engish here makes it much easier than living in a small town in South Korea when no one spoke English!

Driving on the other side of the road was challenging at first, and so was getting used to not being able to go out at night on my own for safety reasons.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Because my boyfriend is South African and has friends and fmaily here, it's been somewhat easy to meet people. However, I find that I struggle to have strong friendships with locals who have never lived abroad because our worldviews are so different. It's the same for me with people in Canada who have never lived abroad or travelled as well, so maybe it's not really relevant. Our circle of friends is comprised mostly of expats and South Africans who have lived abroad but have now returned.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Cape Town is amazing. A dream, really. I could write a dissertation about things you can do in Cape Town; there is something for everyone. Winefarms, safaris, beaches, surfing, hiking, cycling, food, nightlife, local culture, volunteering, everything! I recommend getting involved in things you love to do and you'll be sure to find like-minded people. I also joined Internations and met some great people that way.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The sunny weather (coming from rainy Vancouver, this place is paradise), the beaches, the Cape Malay food and culture, the NGO community, the amazing expats who are brave enough to be here, the amazing opportunities to find gaps in the local enonomy and start your own business...

How does the cost of living compare to home?
It's more expensive than one would expect, especially to live in a good neighborhood on the Atlantic Seaboard. Food is pricey (but wine is cheap!)

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
I cannot speak for others, but for me, the endless focus on crime and how awful it is to live here really drags me down. Yes, there is crime and yes, awful things happen here. Cape Town is not the rest of South Africa though, and for me and my community, crime is certainly not something we ever really speak about. That's not to say nothing happens. I have had friends hijacked and robbed, but both chose to continue living here.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Live through your own experience and don't let locals or South Africans who have moved abroad and not lived here for 17 years tell you what your experience should be. Be cautious and street smart but do not live in fear. (I am only speaking about Cape Town...)

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I started a blog about 6 months after I arrived that talked about how much I love living in Cape Town. Although it had a hugely positive reaction, many people also decided to use my blog as a way to knock South Africa and try to scare me. I was told that my happiness in SA was not 'real' and that I would eventually be raped or killed and only then would I know what 'real South Africa is. I have tremendous compassion for people who have suffered here, but I don't understand how trying to scare other people who are clearly enjoying their lives is useful. Everyone has a different reality, and I'm aware enough to recognize that mine may be more positive than others, but that does not mean it is not

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I've been home to visit twice, and seeing family and friends was great. I think I will struggle with the weather a lot if I go back permanently though!

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
Join groups and stay active, don't get bogged down with the local negativity scene - there are plenty of positive people and organizations doing amazing things in SA

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
As I mentioned, my first blog was about my experiences in SA and about my love of living in Cape Town. I have unfortunately had to lock down many of my posts because I recieved actual hate mail, threats and other such unpleasant communications for simply sharing my positive experience.
My newest blog is related to the experience of immigrating to Canada and everything that process entails - it's about the legal process, the practical aspects, the psychological process, cultural adaptations, etc. I use my 15 years of working in immigration as well as my own experiences living abroad as a basis for my posts. It's not a business blog at all...it's to help people understand and make better choices for themselves so that the process of moving to Canada goes as smoothly as possible.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
People can email me at di_russell{at}hotmail{dot}com.

Dianne writes for her two expat blogs "Yeah But..." http://dirussell.com and "Home Away from Home" http://dirussellimmigration.com/, which are both well worth checking out! She can be found on Twitter @CDNinSA and her Facebook page. Also do visit Dianne's two expat blog entries here and here at ExpatsBlog.com and leave her a great review!
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