When people think about moving to North America, they tend to picture big cities in the United States, such as New York and Los Angeles. But what about its neighbor up north, Canada? Aurora, a diplomat in Canada, shares her experience living in one of the coldest capital cities of the world.
What comes to your mind when hearing the word “Ottawa”? If Ottawa doesn’t ring a bell or you guessed that it is located in Asia (and mistakenly thought that it has something to do with Osaka), you should not be worried as I can assure you that you are not the only person in Indonesia who is not familiar with Ottawa or thought that it’s situated in Japan.
Most people are familiar with Canada, but perhaps not with its capital city, Ottawa. Toronto with its beautiful Niagara Falls or Vancouver known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world might be more popular to Indonesians. Although Ottawa is smaller compared to those two cities, based on the annual Mercer survey, Ottawa offers the third highest quality of life of any city in North America, beating San Francisco, Boston, and even New York. So what is it that this city really offer?
What’s life like in the second coldest capital city in the world?
How did I end up living in Ottawa? As a foreign service officer, or a diplomat in short, I get to travel around the world, visit (and live) in different cities abroad, for work. I am fortunate as I am living my dream job which is in line with my passion for international affairs and travelling. As diplomats, we will periodically be posted in one of the 132 Indonesia missions abroad, consisting of embassies, permanent missions, consulate generals and consulates located in different cities and countries around the globe. However we do not have the perks to choose the posts liberally based on our preferences as we have to be ready to be deployed anywhere.
As a young diplomat, Ottawa is my first post and I will be working at the Embassy of Indonesia in Ottawa for the next 3 years. I arrived early in February 2018 and the first thing that struck me was the chilly cold weather. Before leaving Indonesia, I did my research on the city to make my transition smoother and I already knew that Ottawa would live up to its reputation as the second coldest capital city in the world. However experiencing it directly turned out to be quite a different matter. Winter in Ottawa is long (no joke). It usually starts in late November and lasts until April, sometimes with temperatures reaching up to -40 celsius with wind chill. Now that I have been here for almost a year, I have learned to embrace winter as Canadians, especially Ottawans, do each year and try to make the best of the season.
Ottawa has the world’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink in the winter situated at the Rideau Canal. The cleared length is 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) and has the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks. People in the city would flock to the canal to skate and then take a break while enjoying a piping hot Beavertail, the famous Canadian fried dough pastry.
It is also not unusual to see people going to work by skiing or snowshoeing in Ottawa as Canadians are known for being healthy and active, even during the winter. If you are lucky, you might also catch the good-looking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skating at Rideau Canal with his family.
Ottawa is a government town. Thus for people who are used to more cosmopolitan cities, you may find life in Ottawa a little dull. Sure the city has shopping malls, restaurants and pubs but not anywhere near the volume of big cities. However the city offers lots of green spaces, less traffic congestion and has one of the lowest crime rates of any large city in Canada. I can’t lie — when I first moved here, I didn’t think I would be able to love Ottawa, since I’m a city person who really enjoys the hustle-bustle life. However after living here for quite some time, I get to see the good and bad sides of living in this city. Without the traffic and due to the size of the city, my commute to work is only about 10 minutes instead of 2 hours each way like I did in Jakarta, thus time is used effectively and efficiently. I still have time and energy to enjoy my spare time after work. If I miss the ambience of big cities, I can drive to Montreal in two hours and Toronto in 5 hours. Distance-wise, they’re equivalent to driving from Jakarta to Bogor and Bandung respectively, just without the traffic!
Furthermore, Ottawa is officially a bilingual city where 60.5% of its residents speak English as their mother-tongue, and 13.61% of its residents speak French as their mother tongue (as of 2016). People who want to work in governmental offices are usually required to be bilingual in both languages. For me personally, living and working in the city is the perfect opportunity to practice my rusty French.
I am currently in charge of issues related with bilateral relations between Indonesia and Canada on economic fields at our Embassy in Ottawa. I have learned that Indonesia and Canada share a lot of commonalities but due to the geographical distance between the two countries, both Indonesia and Canada and their societies need to know more of each other. Indonesia and Canada are both vast countries with two of the longest coastlines, significant stretches of forest and diverse natural habitats in the world. The two countries are also proud of their diversity and multiculturalism. Therefore, there are abundant opportunities laying ahead for the two countries to maximize their bilateral relations in many fields, including economic, socio-cultural and education, and take it to its highest potential. What needs to be done further by both countries and communities is to know each other even better including through intensified people-to-people contact. Thus studying in Canada may be one of the best way in that context.
A glimpse of studying in Canada
Based on the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE), Canada ranks 4th as destination country for international students. Canada is home to some of the best universities in the world, including University of Toronto (1st in Canada, 31st in the world in 2018), McGill University (2nd in Canada, 32nd in the world) which boasts the highest number of Rhodes Scholars and Nobel Prize winners among all Canadian universities and University of British Columbia (3rd in Canada, 51st in the world) to name a few.
There are currently more than 4,000 international students from Indonesia in Canada which represents about 1% of the total of all international students in Canada. Most of them study in universities in Toronto and Vancouver. Moreover, there are around 100 Indonesian students going to universities in Ottawa such as University of Ottawa, Carleton University and Algonquin College and also in Montreal mostly in McGill University. Although Canada is a bilingual country, most of the courses in universities are offered in English.
Starting in 2017, the Canadian government started offering a scholarship specifically dedicated to ASEAN member countries under the program of Canada-ASEAN Scholarships and Educational Exchanges for Development (SEED). SEED is a 5 year program dedicated to help building capacities of students and professionals from ASEAN member countries through short-term courses or researches (4-8 months at the college and undergraduate level; 4-6 months for graduate level) in several appointed universities across Canada in fields related with development studies in Southeast Asia region. However many Indonesian students in Canada also use other forms of scholarships offered in Indonesia including LPDP (Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education) managed by the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia.
It is my hope to see more Indonesians, be it students or professionals, to come to Canada, whether it be Ottawa or any other Canadian city, in the future. I hope to see more people writing about their experience and success stories to inspire their fellow Indonesians, and to expand their horizons and see what the world offers.
Photos were provided by author.