Conor Agnew was already on the fence about moving to Columbus with his family from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, just across the border from Detroit. The then-11-year-old was reluctant to leave his friends, and he worried that Columbus was too small to be exciting. He even shed a few tears when the family car pulled out of the driveway from their home in Windsor for the last time, four years ago.
But when he turned on the television at their new home in the Tipton Lakes area, sadness turned to fear. Among the first commercials he saw was for a gun retailer and shooting range in Indianapolis. The popular commercials feature the owner shop’s owner laughing, pointing his fingers at the camera like pistols saying “I don’t want to make money, I just love to sell guns!”
“That terrified me!” said Conor, now a sophomore at Columbus North High School. The family dissolved into laughter recently at the memory, but it is just one example of the unexpected cultural differences the family encountered when they moved south.
Martin Agnew, 47, had been working in Detroit, and between the drive and the border crossing, he spent about three hours each day commuting. At one point, he worked in Dayton, Ohio, commuting to Windsor on weekends. In addition to being a draining trek, it also meant missing out on his three children’s school functions. So when the opportunity to move to Columbus to work for PMG Indiana, the decision was a relatively easy one.
“This was a quality of life issue,” said Martin, who is now the business unit manager for John Deere with Faurecia.
Though they harbored some initial concerns about what small-town life would be like, after a visit to Columbus, the family’s fears were put to rest. Megan said the family loved the “hustle and bustle” of downtown, and the abundance of walking and biking trails fit the family’s active lifestyle. Connor and Brendan, now 12, enrolled in St. Bartholomew School, and Megan, now 20, played the flute in the marching band at Columbus East High School.
Martin and Brendan, both sports fans, enjoy rooting for the Colts, and Terry, who joined the Newcomer’s Club and serves as president of the Cosmopolitan Club, enjoys the Midwestern weather as only a person from a much colder climate can.
“Every day is beautiful here,” she said. “I am almost embarrassed to tell my friends back home about it.”
Martin said the whole family felt drawn into the fold by a town that is clearly used to welcoming newcomers.
“There seems to be a great network here that helps you acclimate,” Martin said.
The best aspect of moving was finally being able to spend quality time together as a family.
“I thought, ‘This is what all of my friends have been used to!,’” Megan said of having her dad around more. “We needed him there with us.”
Such a major move is not without its drawbacks. Terry was amazed when it took six different documents to re-plate their American-made car. And last May, her mother, who has vascular dementia, suffered a fall in Toronto. Because Terry’s visa was still pending approval, she risked being unable to return to the United States following a visit. She waited an agonizing three weeks before being allowed to travel.
Academic expectations also threw the family for a loop. Schools in Canada typically don’t resume until after Labor Day, and the school day for most children doesn’t begin until 9 a.m. In addition, homework is typically light, a far cry from the hours each of the boys spend on assignments every evening.
Tuition costs for Megan, who is now a junior at Indiana University, were a big surprise. At one point, she had hoped to attend the University of Toronto, but making sure her credits and test scores transferred proved to be a huge hassle.
“The cost of American education really hit us in the face,” Martin said. On average, Canadian undergrads pay just more than $5,000 per year, while instate tuition for IU for the 2012-13 school year is around twice that.
While they are happy in Columbus, each member of the family said they could see themselves returning to Canada at some point. But it’s hard for them to imagine letting too many miles separate them.
“The whole reason we moved here was to be a family,” Megan said.