In our latest guest blogger series Aisha Ashraf discusses the challenges and rewards of expat life in Canada.
Picture source: Wikicommons
Two and a half years ago, I moved my family across the pond to Canada from the UK. With three rapidly growing small children, life was too short to spend long periods of time apart whenever my husband took a foreign assignment – we made the decision to stick together. Neither he nor I was new to the expat game, both having first expatriated as children, but we’d been fairly settled for a long time so we steeled ourselves for the onslaught of culture shock and hit the ground running, creating a new life from scratch in a country we’d never seen and where we knew no one.
During that first year, I put so much pressure on myself to return a verdict on my new location; “So, do I like Canada?” “Can I see myself settling here?” “Which is better here or home?” The months passed by like milestones; first three, then six, a year, and I expected a comprehensive understanding to have crystallised, an opinion, a preference. But expat life isn’t that cut and dried.
The beauty of it is that, years in, even when you think you’ve grasped the nettle, there are still more experiences to be had - deeper nuances to the molten emotion that bubbles hotly, just below the surface of your day-to-day life. You learn to question the concepts of identity, belonging, and nationalism. Somehow, those cozy little social constructs now seem limiting instead of comforting.
A quick-fire, Canadian-accented response still has the power to momentarily floor me, and we’re still discovering different ways of doing things, but after thirty months here without a visit to the UK, my thoughts have taken a new direction. I find myself intrigued by how my old home would look to me through my Canadian tinted retinas.
Canada’s multi-lane roads that I compared to “crossing continents” in my early blog posts are now the norm. Would British ones feel like a tight squeeze? Have I lost the ability to parallel park? Would the weather depress me? The UK newspapers are reporting temperatures of minus three as “bitterly cold”, it made me laugh out loud – it’s minus twenty-six here today.
How about my beautiful home, the newly refurbished dream-house that I found such a wrench to leave – would it seem claustrophobic after the open-plan housing favored by North Americans? Would I feel like a fish out of water or slip smoothly back into my old space?
My new life has changed me in a million different ways. I’ve developed new angles and depth. I don’t know if I could fit back into that space even if I wanted to. Expat life forces you to develop your identity in ways you’re never pushed to at home.
About the author
Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog Expatlogue, where she can be found strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of Canadian life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations. She can be found on Twitter @AishaAshraf1 and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/expatlogue.