working holiday visa difficulties

On Working Holiday Visa pains

I felt like picking up my pen again – or my computer keyboard, to be more accurate – to put pains into words. The pains you experience on a WHV (Working Holiday Visa). For sure, the topic is not as fancy as the pictures of infinite blue lakes or the constant discoveries. I am however convinced that this side of the experience is just as much worth sharing.

Breaking news: when you’re on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV), you don’t always see the world through rose-tinted glasses. Everything isn’t as smooth, silky and velvety as the Instagram pics that are flooding your feeds (I’ll come back to the “Instagram” topic a bit further down in this article).

Here, I won’t be focusing on tragic events that may unfortunately be part of a WHV experience. Yes indeed, some get injured badly while on a WHV, others learn about relatives having a disease, or have relatives who die. Those are of course very harsh moments, I have witnessed it here. Being far away from your family brings an additional layer of guilt.

In this article, I will instead focus on “psychological pains” that one may go through during a WHV.

Tackling the topic of mental health (and not being afraid of actually using these words) is dear to my heart. I feel like while it is the 21st Century, this topic is way too undermined, stigmatized, kept secret. We don’t (or rarely) talk about it because we feel ashamed. We tend to judge psychological pains in a much harsher way than in the case of physical health. Just like when someone who is suffering from depression is told “Get yourself together!”, as if it was merely dependent on good will. We would never dare to say that to someone who suffers from a physical disease.

Anyway. Here are some thoughts about psychological pains experienced during a Working Holiday Visa. Some of them undoubtedly apply to everyday life. I just feel like the WHV experience makes them stand out.

Contextualization: on the art of being lost on WHV

To be honest, I feel like the great majority of WHV people I may be exaggerating, but I doubt it – are lost souls. Beautiful lost souls. Fucking lost souls. Lost souls that are more or less at ease with this status. The only thing we know is that the path of life as it has been defined for us by our school years, society, sometimes by our relatives, isn’t what we were yearning for. Maybe it never was. Some of us have imploded (Hey burn-outs, if you hear me…), others have given up everything and escaped, others have done it in a gentler way, either alone or as a couple…

We are rejecting a variety of things. The professional world as it is now. Here is a topic I’m highly interested in. I will probably write a dedicated article about it, it’s pending, but it takes time. There’s so much to say about it.

Rejection of the boxes we are supposed to tick to be happy. Are we utopists? Disillusioned? Just eternal teenagers? Maybe we’re a bit of all of this, so what? That’s not a bad thing. To indulge into low-level philosophy: if everybody was staring the same way, we would lack perspective… “Your dreams are my nightmares » , they say in this song. (Lyrics in both French and English can be found here)

I think that above all, we do not accept that the “game over” of our lives is what we had a sneak peek of when we entered the “grown-ups” world. Going abroad to escape? Yes, there’s undoubtedly a lot of us that have escaped something. But is it a bad thing?

For sure, we don’t have final wisdom. We don’t know much. Actually, the only thing we know is that we have absolutely no idea about what we could do back home. So we escape somewhere else, and we try. We improvise. Sometimes we are at ease with this situation, and sometimes we are completely freaking out. What the heck could we do after this experience? Probably another WHV? Does that mean that we’re just escaping again and that we are slowly becoming pros at procrastinating actual life choices?

Overall, I feel like we are glad we took our chance. “Even better if the road is long, We’ll be able to take a few more detours”, isn’t it ?

The subtle (and difficult) art of « Carpe Diem »

But no matter how much we are convinced we were right to embark onto a new adventure, to jump into the unknown, it’s sometimes easier said than done. To have so much freedom is fucking scary. We have been so used to staying within the tracks, within the pre-made boxes, always keeping in mind what our next step would be. And now, there you go, do whatever you want. It’s as if your blinders were suddenly vanishing, you eventually grasp the vastness of the opportunities that lie in front of you. We are well aware that we are extremely lucky for that. But it’s also an inescapable trigger of your anxieties. You know you’re here for a limited amount of time, you know you left everything to be here. So when you’re feeling down, you sometimes sink. You feel guilty, times 1000. You don’t really dare to complain, because people will undoubtedly think you’re making a fuss over nothing : “Wait a minute, you’re lucky to be over there, you shouldn’t be complaining, it’s your own choice”. Yes, we are lucky. Actually, let me slightly qualify this statement. We also took our chance, we created it. ‘Cause at the end of the day, to dare to do this requires courage. You’re going away, far from your family. You say goodbye to jobs that are seen by society as being the Holy Grail. You are missing out on close friends’ weddings, births. Important life moments. You break up with your partner. And as for the “It’s your own choice” discourse, my dear Mum told me not so long ago something that perfectly nails down what I am thinking:

 It’s not because you choose something that it necessarily means it is easy

Anyway, getting back to the main subject. The issue is that you become your own tyrant regarding the injunction to happiness. You tell yourself “F***, I am not happy anymore now, what’s happening? I left everything to come here and here I am, in this state again? Why? Why do all the others manage to do it except me?”. But you have to accept that living in a place that looks like heaven to most people doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to be absolutely perfect at any time. Hence the cover picture of this article: sometimes, you may well feel like you’re drowning in a very charming flowers field… (This topic is very well covered by this article on a National Geographic blog, which tackles the mental health issues in ski towns).

You tell yourself that you could be somewhere else, that you could take this path or maybe that one. You see what others are doing around you. You wonder if you’re really making the most of your WHV experience. You compare yourself, and you doubt.I should probably be doing that instead…”. You tend to forget what’s right in front of your eyes.

The notorious “Carpe Diem” (= Seize the day)… with which we are actually all struggling. And here it comes, an additional layer of guilt which whispers to your ear that you’re not even capable of enjoying the present moment. Well, yeah, sometimes you’re not feeling okay, you can’t make it, you’re not in the right mindset. You have to admit it, and try as much as you can not to add that additional toxic layer of guilt. I’m working on it…

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”

Once again, all of this doesn’t mean that I’m not glad that I left, that I’m here, at the other end of the world. Not at all, I know it was the right choice for me. I can’t picture myself in France right now. I can’t even imagine what I could be doing there. To be honest, from my departure on June 10, 2018 to December 2018, I was on cloud nine. Everything was so smooth and easy. I was deeply and intensely happy. I felt free and consistent with who I am.

Since I shortly went back to France over the Christmas holidays, things have been a bit more difficult. Fatigue accumulated. Routine was there again, even at the other end of the world, even in a totally new professional environment. I sometimes forgot what makes the place where I live so special. I skied less, I paid less attention to the majestic nature that surrounds me. I strongly believe that mental health and physical health are deeply intertwined, and it showed. I was often sick over the past few months. Nothing too bad, but well, a good old sinus infection is no one’s favorite. Then I smacked my head pretty badly on the ground. I think I probably had a small concussion. I didn’t realize then that it could affect the way I feel (Feeling down is part of post-concussion symptoms, at least now I know…)

Generally speaking, once you turn the “negative” switch on, you change the way you look at things that surround you. You sink in it. This is yet another proof for me that your mindset, your serenity or non-serenity affects greatly what you actually notice. In a nutshell, the past few months weren’t always the greatest. Of course, if I look at it objectively, I’ve had good times. But my mind focused a lot on the dark side. I cried, I doubted, I went back to “mental places” that I didn’t really want to visit again. 

To sum things up, you put pressure on yourself by thinking that you are supposed to be happy, and that if you aren’t despite being there, despite being surrounded by all of this, it means you have an actual issue.

But whether we like it or not, feeling low is an integral part of the experience. These moments teach you a lot. Of course, at first sight, I would rather have stayed on cloud nine, just like during my first months here in Canada. But difficult moments shook me, pushed me to have talks with some people here that were deep and necessary. As underlined by Julie, the co-founder of the n°1 French website about WHV, we are looking for “experiences, whether good or bad, which have in common to teach me what I thought I knew in my quiet little life, to shape me, maybe even to change me.”

As far as questioning oneself is concerned, I have no magic potion for this. I’m just trying to remind myself that we all come here with different goals in mind, with different backgrounds, and that there’s no point comparing our experiences. For instance, I had never worked in the hospitality world before coming here. Sometimes, when I start blaming myself for staying “too long” in Whistler, I try to remember that it allowed me to develop skills that I rarely used before. Another person with previous experience in this field would have looked for something totally different while on WHV. And I try to remember what Ushuaianne (who had just come back from Canada) had told me when we met in Paris : “Rule n°2 when on a WHV : there’s no point comparing yourself to others…”. This leads me to a very “photogenic” topic… :

#NoFilter, or how to craft a toxic race towards apparent happiness

 This title will come as no surprise to Instagram addicts. For the others: “No Filter” is the hashtag used to explain that a picture hasn’t been edited, that no filters were added to improve it. Since I have been on a WHV, I started questioning my social media use again.

Well, it’s no breaking news: while Instagram is a hub to share great pictures (that’s cool!), it’s also a place where everyone stages their own life. Especially through “stories” , those short-lived videos that vanish after 24h and allow to document your daily life. It’s addictive. It is created to be addictive. I’m far from being the person in my social circle that spends the most time on my phone, but I still feel like I’m wasting way too much time there. I come back to Insta (and friends) again and again while I’m perfectly aware that it doesn’t have a positive impact on my mental health.  

For sure, I could just be like: “Let’s have a look at nice pics, get some news from friends, find some inspirations for my travels or the next place I want to eat at”. This does happen, I do get some benefits from Instagram. But let’s look at ourselves in the mirror for more than two seconds. How many of us are experiencing this:

  1. Checking Instagram without even thinking about it, while laying on our bed because we just wanted to have a chill afternoon
  2. Seeing the stories of others who are doing this or that
  3. Feeling like shit because you end up thinking you’re a little loser, just staying at home doin’ nothing while everyone else is doing amazing shit?

Let us not forget the staging. You are perfectly aware that some are not that satisfied with their WHV experience (or are even having a crappy time) and when you look at their Insta stories, it’s a daily dream. So just think about people whose whole life is crafted around Instagram, the influencers… I honestly don’t know how they manage to deal with that.

Yes, I too share content from time to time on Instagram. I do post stories sometimes, but I don’t do it that often. Because in the end, I feel like it’s making me uncomfortable. Why do I share this? What am I trying to prove here? That I have a life? That my WHV is the sickest? Honestly, when you are living the best moments, you enjoy them so much and you are so much in the “now” that you don’t even need do share those on Instagram, do you? I don’t know. It’s all about striking the right balance I guess. I’m am not flawless on this topic but at least, I do question myself.

For sure, all those “Insta & Friends” related thoughts are not specific to WHV experiences, but I do think their negative psychological impact is even strengthened. The reason behind this is temporality (you know you’re only here for a limited period of time), and because you’re well aware that there’s so much to explore and so much freedom. This cocktail leads to a WHV “performance” pressure, a pressure that you put on yourself, and that eventually fills the cup of toxic comparisons, which we would do well without. I even think it goes to the extent of convincing ourselves we want to do things that aren’t even our own desires: we end up regretting not doing this or that, when, deep down, did we actually really want to do it? Once more, let’s remember that we all came to look for something totally different while on WHV. And it is precisely the encounter of all those eccentric and diverse personalities that makes the experience so worthy.

Weaving in the void?

Indeed, while on WHV, you create bonds with people. Strong bonds You’re with individuals who share this sparkle. Who escaped everything too, who let down everything, who threw it all away, who questioned, who are just as lost as you are. It creates a beautiful alchemy. You happily meet among lost souls. But of course, the rules of WHV – even more so in a place that is so linked to “seasons” – are what they are: no sooner friends are made that you have to let them go. WHV is a good school of life. Learning non-attachment. Not in the meaning of not letting people in your life or in your heart, but not holding onto them desperately because it doesn’t make sense. The cards will never be the same ever again, the alignment of planets is peculiar to this precise moment: this place, these people who come from all around the globe, this shared moment. It’s now, and it won’t be later. Learning – sometimes the hard way- that it is okay for things to be like this.

I know that I will leave Whistler soon. I know I have to, because my little inner voice knows it too well. I’m yearning for new adventures. But it’s not because I know it that it is easy to accept. My inner self knows it, but who I am now refuses this idea. It is sometimes quite painful because I think about all these people I am here with, about the lifestyle I had here, about all that I am going to say goodbye to, to dive into the unknown once again.

I really liked these few words that my fellow WHVer Tiphaine shared with me:

You tell yourself that in the end, the others do not stay for long either. Some leave when you arrive, some arrive when you leave. It’s a merry-go-round of faces and experiences, and an emotional rollercoaster. And sometimes a little battle against oneself.’’ 

On the importance of speaking about how we feel, or “Praising vulnerability”

 Why did I choose to write this article and to be open about the difficulties I’ve been through/am still going through? As soon as I started opening up to some people here about my doubts and torments, I understood the extent to which it is beneficial and sound to remove the masks. Some persons seemed so radiant here, so full of energy, that I was wondering if something was wrong with me, if I was the one not managing to be happy among a happy crowd. Actually, when you dare to speak up, to be vulnerable in front of others, you understand that everybody is struggling at one point, one way or another. If we all dared to open up a bit more, if we all could remove our masks with a little less apprehension, a little less fear of being judged, maybe we would all feel a bit better.

It’s not about thinking “Well everybody is having a shitty time so I feel better about it” or to rejoice the misery of others, not at all. The idea is about knowing that it is absolutely normal and human to experience difficult moments, no matter what the circumstances seem to be from the outside. It’s about understanding that by speaking about it more openly, we can help out each other, and reassure one another. We shouldn’t be stigmatizing mental pains. I like the saying “It’s okay not to be okay”. We are all in the same boat so we may as well row together, right? I think we tend to praise too much being constantly flawless and happy, when we shouldn’t be ashamed to say that we don’t feel well and that we don’t know where we’re at. Negative moments are an integral part of life, and there’s no point hiding them. It doesn’t make us a sook or a sucker.

We all have the feeling that others deal with things better than we do. That it’s easy for them to make the most of the present moment, to not have any doubts. But it isn’t true. When you start to speak up, you realize how many people around you suffer from anxieties. You open up, and in return the others dare to open up too. There’s a mirror effect. A touch of authenticity never hurts anyone.

I will close this thought with a quote from an article entitled Why I’ve stopped hiding my struggles :

When we share our struggles with those around us, we give them permission to voice theirs, if they wish to share. We may never know just how life-changing that permission may be to someone. They may feel alone, overwhelmed, or even at the end of their rope, and we could change it all by giving them an opportunity to receive our understanding and support… Showing we’re struggling gives others permission to show they’re struggling too.”


Some links to delve further into the topic:

And to conclude – and to reassure those that may be worried after reading this article-: I’m good! And I can eventually open my eyes again and enjoy the beauty that surrounds me. Anyway, if you properly understood my article, you should rather worry if I wasn’t sharing my struggles 😉