A 29-year-old 'California girl' moved to Nova Scotia with her husband last year. She says it's been a culture shock, but living in Canada meant they could finally afford the American Dream

  • Los Angeles native Erin Ventura had no intention of ever leaving the sunny city — until she met her Canadian husband, Justin Chiang.
  • After getting married in 2018 and attempting to do long distance, the couple eventually moved to a house in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where Ventura says they were able to achieve the "American Dream" in a different country.
  • With the $50,000 CAD she made in her first year of being self-employed and her husband's annual salary of $60,000 CAD from the military band, Ventura and her husband purchased a four-bedroom, two-story house with an ocean view. 
  • She says living with colder weather, a slower lifestyle, less diversity, and fewer choices for shopping and health insurance more has been a "pretty big culture shock."
  • Other cultural differences around gun control and sexual harassment have been a big plus for Ventura, who says she feels especially safe in Halifax.
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Erin Ventura grew up in Los Angeles, and she describes herself as "a California girl" through-and-through. So, her life path over the past few years after she met her future husband, Justin Chiang, threw her family for a bit of a loop.

Probably the most surprising change? They gave up on sunny Los Angeles and Vancouver, British Columbia, where he grew up, and moved 3,000 miles to the northeast, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

After an election season in which searches for "move to Canada" spiked, Ventura talked with Business Insider about the culture shock from moving to a small city on Canada's eastern seaboard, but also how the move meant they could make a lot more money, buy a house near the ocean, and achieve the "American Dream" in a different country.

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Ventura, 29, and Chiang, 28, met at graduate school at Indiana University.

They both have fairly unusual jobs in the music industry: He plays the euphonium, which is a brass instrument that looks a bit like a small tuba; she's a professional luthier, meaning someone who makes or fixes stringed instruments.

The pair met during 2014, and got married in 2018. But since Chiang was a Canadian citizen, and Ventura was American, they had to choose which country to live in.

At first, they tried a long-distance relationship. Chiang moved back to Burnaby, British Columbia, where he stayed with his family and worked at a job in arts administration.

Meanwhile, Ventura lived with her mom in the San Fernando Valley, and got a job in a high-end violin repair shop in Pasadena. 

"We were kind of going back and forth between both countries," Ventura told BI, "because his job was really flexible and mine was fairly flexible. So we were kind of living in two countries for two years, like crazy people."

Looking for a long-term place to live was difficult, first because moving to one city or the other would mean that one of them would lose their job, and because the salaries they were making — Ventura said she was making "somewhere in the thirties" while Chiang was making less than $50,000 Canadian — wouldn't go very far in Los Angeles or Vancouver.

"They're just two really expensive cities," Ventura explained. But then her husband auditioned for a job as a musician with the Canadian military, and they offered him a place in the Stadacona Band, which is in Nova Scotia.

"Those jobs are really hard to get, and they don't open up very often," she explained. "And we're thinking like, you know what? Let's try it. Now's the time."

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As the spouse of a Canadian citizen, Ventura was eligible to apply right away for permanent residency, and they moved to Halifax together in June 2019.

It took a few months for her paperwork to come through, so at first she was technically just visiting, but she started looking for work as soon as she was able to.

It might not surprise you to learn that there are not a lot of openings for a luthier in Nova Scotia — there was only one shop in the area, and they weren't hiring — so Ventura wound up opening her own shop in a spare room in the house they rented. 

"It just completely took off," she said. "I'm so lucky, because I was trained in a nice shop. I do really good work. There's the symphony here and I've been lucky enough to have some members as customers. I'm very thankful."

Ventura said her husband is making a bit over $60,000 CAD a year now, playing in the military band. He actually had to join the Canadian Navy for the job, so employment security is very high. In her first year of being self-employed, Ventura said she made a bit over $50,000 CAD.

The result is that they're making more money together than they were in much higher cost of living cities, and that in turn meant they could buy a house together this past summer.

"It's a game changer," she said. "Honestly, one of my favorite things about moving here is we have this four bedroom, two story house with a basement suite, with a view of the ocean. To put a little disclaimer, it's the part where the ships come in, not the pretty part, but I still love it. I love being able to smell the ocean. And our mortgage is around $340,000 Canadian. I just can't believe it. We come from two of the most expensive cities in North America. So the fact that we could even get a house at age 28 or 29, I'm just blown away."

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Of course, moving from one of the biggest US cities to a much smaller, fairly remote one in Canada (Halifax has a population of about 425,000 people), has involved some significant surprises.

"It's actually a pretty big culture shock," she said. "It's kind of funny, considering the US and Canada are so similar. But I think in this case it's more of a big city, small city kind of thing. Just the mentality is a little bit slower. And I think people here are not as receptive to outsiders and immigrants as some bigger American cities and bigger Canadian cities would be."

The big changes she notices include less stress — but also, less diversity both in terms of the demographics of people who live around them, and in terms of choices in their daily lives.

For example, Ventura said it was jarring to move from diverse cities like Los Angeles and Vancouver to Halifax, which statistics show is about 80 percent or more white. 

"My husband's Asian, and it's funny. We have this area in Halifax where we're really comfortable, like the area we live in and the downtown area with all the students and immigrants," she said. "There, it feels totally great. But I notice, sometimes, even if we drive like 30 minutes outside, people kind of give me a stare or give him a stare, like oh, you're different. You're probably not from here. Especially like a white woman with a Chinese-Canadian man. I think that's pretty unique here, especially. It's just uncomfortable."

And, she said it's also noticeable that there are simply fewer choices for everything from where to shop or where to get health insurance.

"I miss Trader Joe's. I'm a typical Californian. I miss Trader Joe's so much. I miss the food trucks. That was another one of my favorite things about LA was that the food is just phenomenal. And I miss that about Vancouver, too," she said. 

But at the same time, she said there is just a lot less stress in daily life — things she didn't even notice she was particularly stressed about, like the potential for gun violence in the United States, until she was living in Canada and realized it was gone.

"I think a lot of Canadians really take for granted, like, I feel so safe here. It's amazing," she said, adding that gun violence seems rare enough that the few times it's happened in Canada are still commemorated year after year. "Like, there was a mass shooting in Quebec at a technical college 20 years ago, and they still talk about that in the news. Where in the United States, we have something like the Pulse nightclub, or Las Vegas, and we just kind of forget about those things."

Another big change? She said she was used to having men make unwanted comments in the United States when she went outside, and that never happens anymore.

"I have not been catcalled since I got to Halifax. I should point that out," she said. "I have never felt like, any kind of aggressive, inappropriate energy from any man here, which is amazing. It's much more polite. It's an issue everywhere [in the US], but it was especially in Bloomington."

Of course, one of the biggest changes is the weather — going from sunny California to chilly Canada is a big deal.

"Canadians are so funny with their winters that they think if it's slightly not terrible, it's the nicest day ever. I'm a California girl, used to nine months of summer," she said. "I adapted, though. You have to get a whole new wardrobe. There was one day last year we got about a foot of snow, and that was the most I've ever seen. I'd never shoveled a driveway before."

But despite the weather and the adjustments, Ventura said it's starting to feel a bit more like home.

"I don't think anybody in my family had ever even heard of Halifax, before I mentioned that I was considering moving here. It is so new for them," she said. "We were saying we'd try it out for a year, and if we didn't like it, we'd go somewhere else. But it's working out so well for us. We're really happy here. So yeah, we're going to stay here for a while."

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