One Day I Decided to Migrate

By Yulia Strelnikova, born in Ukraine

I arrived in Argentina in 2001 with my aunt, uncle and cousin. Back then, Argentina had signed migration accords with some of the ex-Soviet Republics. Argentina was accepting migrants and was expediting the procedures to obtain permanent residence. My aunt and uncle saw a great opportunity, and things were not so good in Ukraine. They were professionals yet could not find a job and so they decided they wanted a better future for their family.

I was a student in Ukraine. I was studying Library Science and Information Technology. I had finished two and a half years when I decided to discover the new world with my aunt and uncle.

The decision to migrate was a difficult one. True, things were challenging in my country, but I was happy there. I never lacked anything. I was studying and working; I hung out with my friends. In the summer I would go to the Black Sea; I was enjoying life like any 19-year-old-girl.  

But wanderlust got the best of me! And so I decided to leave my comfort zone and navigate uncharted waters. I was very thankful to have my mother’s support.

And so on 18 November 2001 we boarded a KLM flight in Kiev bound for Buenos Aires.

I remember those first few days in Buenos Aires. It was very hot, and I was not used to the heat.  I was amazed by everything: the people, the vegetation, the palm trees, the language. I did not speak Spanish well, I knew a few words. Initially we got by with English, but in 5 to 6 months we spoke Spanish more or less fluently. Learning the language was the easiest part of my new life. 

I was very taken by the people. The Argentineans seemed to sport a permanent smile; they looked as if they didn’t have a care in the world. They held demonstrations in front of Congress; this seemed to amuse them. They kissed each other when they would meet; they spoke very fast and passionately. I loved the happiness that seemed to hang in the air in Buenos Aires. It is a lovely city and I cherish very dear memories of my time there.

I was not sure if I would stay forever or if this was a temporary journey. My return ticket was valid for one year, so I knew I could return home. But I decided to stay, perfect my Spanish, make friends, and find myself in this new environment.

Sure there were times when I wanted to leave everything and return home. I would suffer terrible bouts of nostalgia. I missed my life in Ukraine, my family and friends, but I managed to overcome those times by telling myself: “There are many things to discover, people to meet, lessons to be learnt.”  This gave me the strength to forge ahead. Especially at times when I was making little money in jobs that I did not like. That was a necessary time in my life; a necessary time for development and advancement.

I managed to integrate rather quickly. The language was easy for me, and I made friends soon after I arrived. The most difficult thing was finding work. But in 2001 this was difficult even for the Argentineans; the country was going through a serious political and economic crisis.

My Argentinean friends were always supportive. I must say Argentineans are good people, they are great friends. I was also very active in the Ukrainian community, participating in plays and a chorus.

Of course I missed Ukrainian food, the Black Sea, the cold weather, winter sports, discussions with my girl friends around the kitchen table until the wee hours of the morning, and my lovely and very elegant city. Ukraine will always be the best place in the world, my home where I can always return, where I will always have people who love me and who will welcome me with open arms.

In 2004 I went to live in Peru. I stayed there for three years and worked as a model, a tour guide and a translator. I returned to Argentina and stayed another three years, where I found a job with a Russian/Argentinean company. I travelled all over South America, I made lots of friends, I also managed to go to university to study translation. Truly, I was fulfilling all of my dreams.

But in 2009, my husband and I decided to migrate to Canada, and we’ve been here ever since. I love this country. I love the fact that there is a real winter here. I like the order, the peace and the security it provides. And I also like the Canadian people! I work as a social worker with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

I believe I have the ability to integrate quickly in a new environment, which is a positive personality trait. 

When I think where I will be in ten years, I say to myself: “I don’t even know where I’ll be in one year!”  I’m not the type to plan my life. Although I don’t resist the flow of life, I am always the captain of my ship.