August 2nd, 2021 marked ten years since I first stepped foot in Canada.
I remember the teary goodbye with my mum at Gatwick Airport and sitting on the plane next to a mother and daughter from Quebec, smiling to conceal my nerves. As I walked into the the arrival lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport, I clutched my backpack as if holding onto the only friend I had. When I stepped off the bus in downtown Toronto and gazed around at the tall buildings, I felt tiny. For a moment, the sound of traffic blurred out as I took in my new surroundings. The hustle and bustle of the city was quite overwhelming, and I quickly got lost. The sight of drivers turning right on a red light confused me, and I was thrown off in a shop when I learned tax was added to a product’s price at the till.
With some inner pep talks, I began to find my feet. I pushed through the nerves to approach a group of people sat on my hostel’s patio. The next morning, I smiled with relief when two Italian girls on the same Niagara Falls tour as me invited me to join them for the day. When we approached their stop on the way home, I held a scrap of paper in my hand with my name on it, only to smile with relief once again when they turned and asked the question that seemed so common in those days of, “Do you have Facebook?” A couple of days later, I shared a cab with a stranger after both of us missed the bus to the airport.
It was when I flew west to the Rockies and bussed through BC that I realized this country would remain special to me for all the memories made. But I definitely didn’t expect that ten years later, I’d be a permanent resident soon to be applying for dual citizenship, with a book published about my experience of moving here.
In reflecting on that first visit to Canada, I feel a corny sense of pride because I realize just how much I kept putting myself out of my comfort zone. Finding my way around unfamiliar places, introducing myself to a room full of chatting people, asking strangers on the street for directions, reacting to unexpected changes, moving forward after losing my backpack.
I always think of that time in Canada as the time when “life really became fun.” It was definitely fun before then, but that experience spawned a more confident and adventurous me – someone who saw the world as her oyster, who realized that we’re just tiny specks of dust in a huge galaxy and there are so many bigger issues than a few minutes of us feeling awkward or embarrassed. I began to approach new experiences with less worry and more faith that “things will work out.”
When I consider the increased rates of anxiety among younger generations today, I sometimes wonder if some of these cases stem fom these individuals having been too sheltered and having not put themselves out of comfort enough. I think back to the time I was fourteen years old and my mum drove me to a school friend’s party in the nearest town. We arrived late because it had been snowing, and when we pulled up outside the town hall, I heard loud music and laughing from inside. For some reason that I still don’t understand, I was suddenly overcome by nerves and asked mum to drive me home.
I could have done the very same thing at Gatwick Airport when I caught my mum crying, but instead, I swallowed the emotional feelings and turned around to walk towards departures. How different my life would be if I hadn’t turned around that day.
I truly believe that making progress towards a more fulfilling life (however you personally define that) comes from challenging yourself and putting yourself out of your comfort zone. At first it feels daunting and awkward and uncomfortable, but when you take the plunge and make those little steps, you start to realize that the world isn’t as scary as you might have once thought. Sometimes you need to push aside your ego and push through your anxiety and take the opportunities before you. Progress won’t be achieved without taking some risks and navigating some challenges. It’s these experiences that build character and make you a more confident, competent person.
It’s because of the associations with increased independence and confidence that I have such a soft spot for Canada. I grew up a lot during those five weeks in the country, and I’ve continued to grow up since moving here almost five years ago.
I write this post with an awareness of the privileges I have as a resident of Canada. I can love and appreciate this country for my own reasons while also knowing it needs to do better for others. I respectfully acknowledge the Indigenous peoples, on whose unceded territories I am fortunate to live and explore. I wish for more harmony and less hostility in the ongoing process of reconciliation.