Boots for the Great White Polar Bear Country

Yen Ngoc Nguyen


Yen had studied in other warm countries, like Vietnam, but Canada was nothing like that. For her, it was the country of frigid cold, snow, and polar bears.


Arggggg… my fourth winter in Canada is coming. The first snow day this year was October 18th. It’s way earlier than I thought. Sitting near the warm stove in a corner of the house, I look through the window, observing more and more white butterflies landing on the ground. 

A Canadian white winter! This had been an obsession of mine since we decided to go to Canada five years ago in 2013. After I finished my Ph.D. in finance in Melbourne, Australia, we had to decide on our next destination. My home country of Vietnam? South Korea? Malaysia? 

         “How about moving to Canada?” said Ryan, finally. 

         “But you left there sixteen years ago!” I replied in surprise. 

         “We can always try. And I will help you.” 

I felt the shock of it a few days after our conversation. It suddenly came to me that I would be going to “the great white polar bear country.” I had been there once, yes, but in the summer. Now I needed to learn to deal with snow—the white angel, the white destroyer. 

The next few days, I texted back and forth with my friend in Germany about her experience. It ended up with her asking me to buy her some Ugg boots. To have warm boots in the winter was important, she stressed. I went to the shopping center to pick the style she wanted and chose a pair for myself: soft black sheepskin boots that went halfway up the calf with three buttons on the side. They had a very classic look. The salesperson told me that the design provided maximum protection against the cold. Yay, I was going to the North Pole anyway! 

My whole family landed in Cambridge, Ontario, in June 2015. The first six months in a new country were the most frustrating. I did not have friends here, and I could not go anywhere easily because there was limited public transit compared to Melbourne. Ryan became my main taxi driver. I failed my first driving test. I applied for so many jobs without any reply. Sometimes I felt so useless in this new country, and day by day, it seemed like I had a light depression. But I started to write. It saved me. I wrote Vietnamese poems, learned poetry, struggled with poetry, and made online friends with other Vietnamese writers. In the first year of writing, I wrote 850 poems! Ryan used to joke that I breathed out poems! 

And the job came. First, I got an instructor job for two courses at Brock University, then another course at McMaster University. And my only fly-out interview with Saint Francis Xavier University turned out to be a job offer for a tenure-track position. Yay, my first full-time job after so many years at university. We packed again, hired a huge van, and moved to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, in June 2016. With the used boots from Australia, of course.

I never thought that I would enjoy life that much in a little town with a population of five thousand. But I do. We bought our first home. Our daughter is in French immersion and plays hockey. I published my first poetry book in Vietnamese and worked hard on my academic papers. After so many years of moving, I feel grounded. We may not live here forever, but we treasure it. I look again through the window—yes, still large white butterflies. But in the spring, I’ll learn how to drive.  

YEN NGOC NGUYEN is originally from Vietnam. She moved to Canada with her family after completing her Ph.D. in Australia and is currently working as an assistant professor in finance at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

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