Fourteen years ago, Clara Guerrero came to Canada to study English. She wanted to become fully bilingual to enhance her career. Her visit turned into something more, allowing her a new perspective on life. The process of starting over has not been easy, filled with change, adjustment, adaptation, internal conflict, and finally, realization and acceptance of transformation.
I adored my “fall boots” as soon as I saw them. They are joyful, as life can be, and colourful, like the people and landscape of Colombia. They remind me of Mary Poppins and the magic we can create every day. Most of all, they represent a season I had never experienced before coming to Canada, the season that leaves behind long sunny days and playful memories, the season of transformation.
I remember one of my early days in Canmore as I walked to work and could see my breath in the frigid air. My eyelashes were frozen. I worried they would snap off. That night when I spoke with my oldest brother in Colombia, I told him it was minus 40 Celsius outside. “Impossible,” he said. “Check again. The thermometer must be broken.” The cold winter in the Bow Valley is not an easy adjustment for someone who comes from near the equator. Nor is the new language, the different styles of communication, the foreign culture, and the fact that loved ones are many miles away.
In July 2012, my mother became extremely ill. I raced back to Colombia to be by her side. She was unable to talk, but she was conscious and could hear me. As I spoke, she responded with her eyes, and we understood each other in our hearts. I treasure those days that I shared with my family. We talked about our lives, our childhood, and how we grew up surrounded by our parents’ love. After four weeks, I had to return to Canada, to my job, husband and life here. When I said goodbye, I knew I would not see my mother again. She died a month later.
At the end of 2012, my permanent residency was confirmed. I had applied for it three years earlier. Back then, I had been driven by the pursuit of my career. I was eager to find a job in Canada that highlighted my degree in social communication and journalism and years of international work experience. A lot has changed in my perspective since then.
Permanent residency allowed my husband and me to plan a trip to Colombia. He would meet my family, I would have the chance for closure with my mother, and we would enjoy a short honeymoon. Unfortunately, I had sent my passport to the immigration office as documentation for my permanent residency, and it was not returned in time for our trip. We decided Gary would fly to Colombia, and I would join him as soon as possible. My passport took much longer than expected, and we ended up travelling separately. Gary went in November, introduced himself to my family and learned a few helpful Spanish words, and I went in January. If we couldn’t see the humour in taking separate honeymoons, I’m not sure how we could have stayed married.
Fourteen years have passed since I arrived in Canmore. My career from Colombia is no longer my main goal. I have been shaped differently by this place, by its landscape and culture. I am open to the learning opportunities Canada offers me, and I appreciate the importance of keeping old memories while creating new ones. I understand that my life has changed, but my essence is still the same, if not richer.
I continue to be amazed that trees become bare in the fall. I used to think that this meant the trees lost everything that is important for their survival. Instead, they are simply experiencing change. They adapt to their surroundings, to the cold, and they not only invite but require transformation. They will blossom again, renewed, strong and radiant, ready for spring. This year I will polish my fall boots, add to their vibrancy, and wear them as a reminder of my own transformation.
Clara Guerrero was born in Bogotá, Colombia, the country of smooth coffee and exquisite flowers. While working for a worldwide corporation in the Dominican Republic, she decided to come to Canada to study English. Her planned visit of five months turned into 14 years in the Bow Valley. Through her challenging immigration process, Clara found meaning in the feeling of transformation. She now appreciates a simpler life in Canmore where she works in the retail industry.