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I moved to Montreal to be with a man I met on Xbox. It was a bigger culture shock than I expected.

Elle Hardy   

I moved to Montreal to be with a man I met on Xbox. It was a bigger culture shock than I expected.
  • Melissa Rebelo-Sauve relocated to Montreal after marrying a Canadian she met online.
  • She navigated the complex process for permanent residency and embraced learning French.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Melissa Rebelo-Sauve, a 44-year-old pet sitter from Massachusetts. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I spent almost my entire life in Massachusetts until I met my now husband, Marc, six years ago. He's from Montreal, and we met online while playing Grand Theft Auto on Xbox.

At first, we were just chatting in the game and meeting online to be teammates. It evolved into chatting outside the game, video chatting, and finally, meeting in person.

I started driving to Montreal to visit him regularly. Now we live here together, and I love it.

Montreal reminded me a lot of Boston at first

I lived in Boston for three years and loved that Montreal felt so similar.

The drive is about five hours each way, so I usually spent two weeks here at a time. During the pandemic, I had to quarantine every time I crossed the border, so I began spending longer amounts of time here.

When it came time to move in together, I knew I wanted to move to Montreal. My husband is close to his family, who all live within a few miles. As I visited more regularly, I also started to make friends here.

We got married, and I applied for permanent residency

We married in July 2020, but marrying a Canadian does not automatically grant Canadian permanent residence. It took about 17 months for me to get permanent residence. I was traveling back and forth until I had my papers, which I got in August 2022.

The process in Quebec is more complicated than in the other provinces. I used an immigration attorney to ensure it was all done correctly. The fees were almost $3,000, but it was worth every penny. Other expenses, including my biometrics and a physical, were about $1,500.

I'm a pet sitter, so once I got my permanent residence, I could start pet sitting and dog walking here. I use Rover, Pawshake, Pawsome Concierge, and local Facebook groups to find people looking for pet care.

Quebec is different from the rest of North America

The culture shock was more than I expected. There are lots of people who don't speak any English at all in Quebec, just French. Many languages are spoken in Montreal, but if you go out of the city, you'll likely not have any luck with English. That still surprises me.

When I was still driving back and forth, I listened to a lot of news radio in French to help my language skills.

Immigrants have access to a program where they're paid to take French courses for 30 hours a week, which I signed up for. Now, I can conduct interviews with potential pet-sitting clients in French, and my husband and I speak French at home, too.

I'm much more confident now, and sometimes, when I think I'm going to say something in English, French comes out first.

I love the fashion and the food

It's always interesting to watch people in Montreal. Even in the winter, people are dressed well. Locals embrace the cold in their clothing and in their winter sports and festivals.

Then there's the food — it's so good that I walk miles daily to justify eating more. The bakeries are plentiful and incredible. Before coming here, I never really ate croissants; now, they're my default food. I'm vegetarian, and there's a lot of fantastic vegan food, too.

Living here is quite affordable

Even though Montreal is undergoing gentrification, property prices are more reasonable than in Massachusetts. We rent an apartment and watch the market for a place to buy.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, where I used to live, a 2-bedroom apartment is about $1,500 a month. A similar property here is a couple of hundred dollars less.

Food prices are fairly similar, and healthcare is way more affordable.

I love my new life here, but there are things I miss about home

Thanksgiving here is at the beginning of October. It's a bit more like the stereotypical American holiday in the rest of Canada, but in Quebec, it's just an extra day off.

Seeing all my family and friends post their Thanksgiving photos on Facebook always gives me FOMO. Even when I try to recreate it here, it's just not it's not the same thing.

I return to the US every six weeks or so. My best friend is like a sister to me, and I miss her and her kids and some other very important people in my life.

I miss Thomas' English Muffins, Frank Pepe's pizza in Connecticut, and good Mexican food. I miss some of the furniture that belonged to my grandparents that I chose to leave behind. I miss being closer to the ocean.

But really, I love it here. When I cross the Champlain Bridge into Montreal after a trip to the US, I feel like I'm back where I'm supposed to be.

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