Relations & Realizations | An Expat’s Summer in Canada

It’s been ten months since I left the UK for Vancouver Island, Canada. Summer with its droughts and wildfires has now passed, and I still have no desire to return back to England. Not only do I have a permanent job doing something I love, but my time in Victoria has opened my eyes to a lifestyle I was missing before when I lived in London.

In the first house I lived in upon moving to Victoria, I’d wake up for work in the morning and open the blinds to see a deer just hanging out in my front yard. He became known as ‘Stanley’. On the walk to the bus stop I would pass runners and dog-walkers who would smile and let me pet their pooch. I would recognize people on the bus who were open to the concept of smiling and engaging in brief conversation. I admired and participated in the culture of saying “thank you” to the driver upon exiting the bus. I established that my favourite driver was a former pilot called Dan who provided weather updates, scenic commentary and probably even birthday shout-outs if requested.

I learned through my interviewing of various people at work that a lot of Canadians can’t decipher between an English and Australian/Kiwi accent. I made friends with a Persian family who started a new restaurant a few steps away from my office, to the extent that they wave at me whenever I pass by and look in.

I learned (and soon forgot) the rules of softball and that “good hustle” and “you got this” are a quintessential feature of Canadian vocabulary.  I experienced how wonderful it is to spend evenings after work on the beach, in a park or doing exercise, as opposed to being in a culture that seems to promote spending the evenings in a pub. I learned of various locally owned bakeries and cafes that made such a refreshing change from the large corporate chains such as Starbucks, Pret and Costa Coffee that can be seen on every street in London. I realized just how fame-obsessed and media-mobbed life in London was in comparison to the easy-going, outdoor-loving West Coast lifestyle. I also learned that I’m addicted to thrift stores.

With regards to self-esteem, I stopped wearing mascara in late April after suddenly feeling more comfortable in my skin and realizing I no longer cared about looking younger or less attractive with my naturally fair features. And at the end of the summer, I went to an open mic night at a small pub up island attended by a handful of locals, and ended up singing on stage with a bunch of old boys playing guitars.

The kindness of Vancouver Islanders in comparison to Londoners really came to light during a bus journey on a sweltering Saturday in June, when I fainted after having a vasovagal episode. I opened my eyes to see a few strangers peering down at me uncertainly, with one of them casually holding my raised legs by the ankles. A lady placed a damp flannel on my forehead and asked me a series of questions, before deciding that my apparently ghostly white face warranted calling an ambulance, (even though I had had vasovagal episodes like this before and was pretty confident all was fine). The lady continued to ask me a series of questions, including: “Where are your parents?” Suddenly I had one of those stirring moments of realization I’ll occasionally get where I remember where I am and how far away I am from home.

This same lady would later text me to ask how I was feeling. To my grateful response she replied, “Don’t thank me, just pay it forwards.”

So I did.

A few weeks later, I was reading at the beach minutes from my house when a little girl ran over to her mum to inform her that reckless Sally had taken a tumble at the playground and cut her toe open. “Oh God, oh God,” gabbled the mum like an alarmed chicken. “Is she okay? Is it broken? Is there blood? You know I can’t handle blood, Lucy!” And so Lucy ran back to assess the extent of damage further before returning with a report. “Oh God oh God,” began the chicken-momma again. “Why would she do this to me? Does she need an ambulance?”

I impulsively offered to help, and without hesitation, the woman accepted. Little Sally sat calmly on a bench and rolled her eyes at me as if acknowledging her mother’s flappy ways. I cleaned up and covered the 1-inch cut on the top of her toe and then her mum approached, only to shrink back at the sight of a slightly-bloodied wet wipe. “Thank you so much! I just can’t deal with blood when it’s on my kids; with anything else it’s fine, but not my kids.” I decided not to ask what she would do if her child was in a life or death situation, but did insist she shouldn’t need to take her daughter to the doctor.

All in all it was a great summer, and the best thing was that I got to show my life here (and some humpbacks!) to my mum when she came out to visit for a week.

The worst thing about the summer was the part where my boyfriend and I decided to call time on our 3-year relationship.

No relationship is perfect – there will always be struggles, and for a while you will rightfully try to work through them. Then comes the time when you have that highly needed yet highly unsettling moment of realization that someone you have loved and cared about for a long time just isn’t right for you anymore and vice versa.  Your personalities, interests and goals no longer align, and you no longer recognize them as the person you felt an instant attraction for upon meeting. No matter how much you try to compromise and persevere, you cannot find the sense of content you are looking for, and it’s time to concede defeat. But it’s terrifying to leave the comfort of something that has always seemed so simple, natural and ideal in so many ways. As an expat far from home, questions of, “Why am I really here? Do I actually want to be here?” arose in my mind. The future seemed unclear and scary.

Then I thought long and hard about all the big things I had experienced in Canada since December, like new friendships and a fulfilling job. And then I considered all the little things I had experienced just over the summer – the run clubs, the beach days, the outdoor adventures, the friendly interactions, the pleasant sights. Things that made being here so much more appealing than returning to London and England. Why would I give up all these things I’m lucky to have in my life? Why would I return to a place and a lifestyle that doesn’t make me feel as happy? More than ever, I knew that I wanted to remain in Canada.

I made a list of goals for when I would become single. One of them involved running competitively again. I signed up for my first race in over two years for late September, and regardless of the fact that I ended up being the first lady home in my race, I enjoyed the whole experience immensely.

Another goal included making more use of my free time to travel. It had been over a year since I’d completed a solo trip. After passing my work probation I booked a few days off for the beginning of September. It was time to leave the Island and return to the place where I first fell in love with Canada: the Rockies.

I spent a day walking around Calgary (not for me) and then got a bus to Banff. The town was flooded with tourists for the Labour Day weekend and had become a lot more commercialized since my last visit. I was a little disappointed by my return visit, but just having some alone time in a different setting felt good.

One morning, I sat at the same spot on the Bow River where I’d perched six years ago as a less confident and more naive 19 year old. I thought about all that has happened in the past six years – travelling, moving to London, completing my degree, commencing a (mostly long-distance) relationship, starting a job that developed into a career field, moving to Canada, and returning to single-hood again. I felt a sense of pride remembering all that I’ve experienced, learned and accomplished in that time, and suddenly the world felt like a map in my pocket, with me in control of my life route and excited for what lay ahead in my chosen path.

This summer turned out to be different from how I initially envisioned it would be. But the unexpected developments turned out to be positive. They gave me some important realizations and helped inspire my future plans.

2 thoughts on “Relations & Realizations | An Expat’s Summer in Canada

  1. Sounds like some fabulous, tough but enlightening experiences you had Shannon. Great stuff. I am stunned at how traveling the world changed me. I am a different person. Big time. When you see different cultures and are open you have a new perspective on things.

    I was cleaning out stuff from my parent’s house when visiting them today and I found my security guard reflective jacket. Awesome for running at night during cold winter months here in New Jersey so I took it home. When I looked at it, the jacket brought me back 12 years ago, when I had such a different mindset and outlook on life. I was working for a paycheck as a security guard. Now I am an island hopping pro blogger. What a journey.

    Ryan

    • Thanks for reading, Ryan! It’s been a very valuable experience for sure. New Jersey could not be more opposite to where you are now! Funny how we unexpectedly find ourselves in places totally different from where we previously imagined 🙂

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