Friday, 8 March 2013

Guest blogger series: Introducing…Aisha Ashraf

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.

Here, by comparison, people wait expectantly for you to paint a picture of yourself, “Where are you from?’ “Why did you move?” “British huh? Does everyone really have bad teeth there?” All those assumptions and social boundary lines are exposed for the useless and demeaning attitudes they are. When people see you differently, it helps you to see yourself differently. And suddenly there’s a whole lot of potential you never noticed before…

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


  1. Thanks Expat Explorer for providing a quiet corner of the internet for me to indulge in some navel-gazing. It was a pleasure to write for a resource that provided such helpful information in those bewildering early days of expatriation.

  2. I think it's true that people never cease to ask! Well written

  3. Nice post Aisha. I think one of the greatest gifts of living abroad is in realizing how different cultural constructs vary from place to place, and how ingrained is our sense of how things are/ought/should be. When the latter starts to fall away, THAT is when we cross cultures. Still, we are more alike than we realize.

  4. Great article, and one that is very close to my heart - I am currently the parent of two children who each consider two different continents 'home', and behave accordingly. I can only imagine the questions and challenges we are going to face going forward.

  5. Sometimes I think humans are like magnets - ideas and perspectives fly at us and stick in an instant. If we're lucky, we manage to detach ourselves from this clunky armour but it doesn't stop the pull. Staying open-minded is a constant exercise in self-awareness. Maybe asking those questions isn't such a bad thing after all...

  6. Nice! And very timely for me as today marks the one-year anniversary of our first move abroad, to Panama. So I'm doing some navel gazing of my own today as I try to summarize a year's worth of experiences.


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