The Pigeon

Canada is a vast, diverse country, and The Pigeon is a new publication that aims to tell its stories with nuance and depth, focusing on Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, and POC voices.

The Pigeon

Definitely one of the most insightful things I have read about why they say sorry a lot in Canada. I wonder how things will change with women realizing they say sorry more often than men. I don’t have an problems with basic politeness, but I refuse to shrink to fit others’ comfort levels. I’m not apologizing for being me!

Culture Shock/Reverse Culture Shock

Update: I may be moving soon! Haven’t set a definite date just yet, but watch this space! My passport took 4 months total to process, thanks to COVID-19, but it finally happened and now my plans can move along!

Something that has been on my mind while preparing to move is culture shock. The last time I went through culture shock was when I was 10 years old, and before that, I’m not sure what I went through as a little kid was culture shock or reverse culture shock. I was born in one country and ended up in my parents’ country, but my parents were going through reverse culture shock, so why shouldn’t I? On the other hand, French culture had stuck with me. There should be another form of culture shock for kids born in one country and moving to another when they are too young to remember it, but it still affects them. I might call it child culture shock. I definitely went through reverse culture shock when I moved back to the US. 

When I was little, I didn’t understand why I spoke French and no one else did. At my US school, I didn’t know why everyone called me “the French girl”. I loved and hated French throughout my childhood because my parents kept putting me in French classes. On one hand, French classes gave me a sense of belonging somewhere. On the other hand, I hated speaking French at home because no one else did and it was embarrassing if my Mom spoke to me in French in public. I just wanted to fit in. Eventually, I got so rebellious, my mother said if I can learn another language, she would stop making me learn French. Challenge accepted, Mom. I jumped at the opportunity to learn German in secondary school in the UK, much to my Mom’s chagrin. She argued I didn’t have a good reason to learn German, and I had to compromise and take a French class as well. When I finally chose Russian as my language to pursue, my Mom was good to her word and let me give up French. In retrospect, I realize that my reaction to French was going through some kind of culture shock, and dealing with teasing and not knowing what it was or what to do about it. I love French now!

I definitely went through culture shock when I moved to London. When my parents and I were looking for an apartment, the estate agent said to us that if we chose the place we did, we would be living among English people! Well, yeah. Where did she expect us to live? An American community and end up not experiencing anything about England? No thanks. 

When I went to school, I crashed. The English kids would get me to say things only to make fun of my accent, and they would ask me questions and then laugh at my answers. That was worse than being called “the French girl” and being teased for speaking French. Little did I know that this was a normal thing for immigrants to England. I thought a country that had a lot of immigrants would have citizens who knew better than to do things like that, and would teach their kids how to behave properly with immigrants, but I was wrong. I had a friend at my first school who was from South Africa and she had similar struggles. My first school had this contest about who had the coolest accent, and the students voted me as the winner. I didn’t care about that contest and my Mom found out about it through my friend. In retrospect, that contest was a signal to bullies to go for me as a target. It also translated into a lack of success in preparing for my future endeavours. The same kind of bullying happened at my second school and continued even after my experience in school. Fortunately, my Mom figured out what was happening and homeschooled me after that whole experience. After my experience in school, I knew I didn’t want to live in England for the rest of my life. Somehow, I ended up staying in England for over a decade, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t going to work out for me. Not all was lost though. 

I became involved with the Russian community though because I fell in love with their ballet and started training to be a professional dancer. I didn’t like England, but I didn’t want to go back to the US, so I thought if I became good at ballet, I could go to Russia to dance. That’s how I became proficient in Russian. I didn’t make it in the end, but that’s another story. Also, I would deliberately hang out with other immigrants. I felt more at home with them. The best thing about having friends from other countries was I could find some way to relate to them culturally and we would share stories. For instance, I could relate to people from India on celebrating our independence from England. Immigrants from Carribean countries and Canada made me feel closer to home. There are many other examples besides that as well, but it would take too long to write.

When I moved back to the US with my parents seven years ago, I naively thought I would not experience reverse culture shock. My Mom warned me that reverse culture shock can be just as bad, or worse than culture shock. She had a hard time of reverse culture shock when we moved from Switzerland and a lot of it had to do with her not wanting to go back to the US. I thought that because I wanted to return to the US and England hadn’t worked out for me, that I wouldn’t have as hard a time adjusting to the US. There were struggles that I didn’t anticipate. I felt embarrassed asking someone to repeat something they said because they were talking too fast. I thought people would appreciate my perspectives on a subject, but that was not always true. If anything, I would be shot down for sharing my points of view. I was told once to “give up the London thing”. How? I lived there for a good portion of my life! I can’t just let it go! I have a big mouth because I’m not afraid to speak out against something that is very wrong and violates human rights. That has got me in trouble way too often since moving back to the US. As I lost my British accent, I lost the one clue that I had that I am multicultural. I look and sound American now and no one can tell that I have lived overseas. I was put in a box and I didn’t fit there. 

When I was living overseas, I saw that the US was becoming increasingly polarized politically. Despite that, I moved back to the US because I did need to go home for a while. The moment when I realized that I wanted to move to Canada was a culmination of hurts I have suffered since moving back here and not being appreciated for what I have to offer. Additionally, I can see the US is falling apart thanks to all these toxic systems that created the country and the pandemic is exposing those toxicities. This is not my country anymore. I can’t put my name to Donald Trump’s actions and atrocities. I see how far-right movements are springing up in many countries and the US is the perfect example of what happens when it gets out of hand. I think because I was away from the US for so long, the polarization hit me the hardest. It was a shock to see how much had changed since I last lived here. I read that a lot of expats move overseas again after they return home, and that doesn’t surprise me. If you see how much has changed in your country, it can be harder to cope with that change and you can feel like you don’t belong anymore.

A wise friend once told me that there comes a time when you’re living in another country where you realize it’s either going to work out for you, or it isn’t. There’s no shame in a country not working out for you. It doesn’t mean you are prejudiced, or there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just a fact that sometimes, things don’t work out. There are a lot of clues that can help you in deciding if a country isn’t going to work out. One thing I see people get wrong is time spent in a country is NOT a determinant in deciding whether a country is going to work out! I lived in the UK for over a decade, and got citizenship, but that didn’t make me any less miserable. I lived in the US for half my life and it hasn’t worked out, even though it’s like anyone who knows me would expect it to work out for me. I never thought that moving back home to the US would not work out for me. There was a part of me that desperately wanted to go back. As you can see, a country working out for you or not, is a purely subjective thing. No one can decide whether or not a country will work out for you, except you. It puts a lot of strain on families if there are some members who the country is working out for and some who want to go back to their home country. Family problems are often exacerbated by culture shock, and tensions can be on a whole different level. You have feelings you never thought were possible. The best solution I have is to develop close friendships with expats, regardless of whether or not they are from your own country, and third culture kids. They are the best friendships you can have.

As I’m preparing to move, I am able to think about my past experiences and how they have prepared me for whatever lies ahead. It’s no less scary to move again, and there is a fear that things might not work out. The best thing is that I feel more prepared for this move than I did for the other ones and in my post Visas, I quoted Winston Churchill. It’s basically a mantra for moving overseas in general, not just for visas and culture shock.

Finances: Part I- The Basics

Money: Taboo right? Well, let’s be real here. If you don’t have a handle on your finances before, during, and after moving overseas, your problems will swamp you. It’s tough enough handling money while you’re moving if you are good with money. If you aren’t so good with money, it’s time to step up your game!

Now is the time to do a financial health check and see if you have the resources to move to another country. Here’s what I do: I plan for expenses, and also emergencies, and then I check it again. And again… I’m not kidding. Emergencies can and do happen. I have found from moving overseas that I am one decision away from making a financial mistake, even if I don’t realize it, so I have to stay ahead of the game! It’s important to have as many protections against losing money that you can get. Check your overdraft protection amounts. Check if you can get some kind of insurance against losing your salary. If you’re late on a credit card or loan payment because you are busy with moving or overlooked something, see what you can do to fix it. 

There are some important decisions you need to make about building credit and planning for retirement. Even if you are young, you need to think about what you need to do to plan for retirement. Some countries have a residency requirement for claiming retirement benefits and you need to see if you can still get them even if you are overseas. You also want to think ahead a little bit about whether or not you want to buy a house or car, or need a loan in your new country. I understand that life happens, and you can’t see the future, but if any of those things are even the remotest possibility, you need to plan for building credit and consult with people who understand how to do this overseas. HSBC was very helpful in that regard, but I admit, the process for getting a credit card was a little difficult.

Additionally, it is important to decide if you want to keep money in your home country for any reason, especially if you want to avoid any pains with exchange rates and additional charges. Learning your way around exchange rates is a real skill in itself. You learn when to make them work for you and when you want to avoid them. I’ll mention examples from time to time in my future posts.

The most important decision you can make is choosing a bank that can support you through the move. When I was living in London and approaching the age where I could earn my own money, I looked for a bank that was good at dealing with international and expat finance. I knew there was a chance I could move to another country, and I wanted to be prepared for that. I also knew from experience that I did not want Citibank. Even though they advertise how good they are at international stuff, I found out that to not be true. 

A friend of mine from Germany told me about HSBC. She had to do regular financial transactions between the UK and Germany and she was impressed by how well HSBC dealt with that. So, I decided to give it a try. I was very impressed with HSBC’s customer service, and when I moved to the US, it was very easy to handle my money affairs. Unfortunately, I had to give up on HSBC because they did not have any branches near where I moved to in the US. Once I decided to move to Canada, I found that HSBC had opened a branch near where I lived, so it was easy to become a customer again.

When I went back to HSBC, I was pleased to see their quality customer service was still the same. I was able to get all my questions answered and I feel confident financially about moving. I have good people at my branch willing to work with me on my financial needs. Currently, I’m in the process of setting things up to move my finances from the US to Canada, and HSBC has been great in facilitating that process. One thing I remembered about HSBC from before, and still see it now, is they hire people that represent the cultural background of immigrants in the areas where their branches operate, so they can assist immigrants in their native languages. In England, the employees came from India, Africa, and different European countries. Here, the employees are from China. I also remembered how I specifically prefer to be helped by employees who have a foreign accent because it shows me that they have dealt with money matters of moving overseas.  

I have found that HSBC has since expanded their services for expats since the last time I was a customer. One source I like reading about information on living in Canada is HSBC’s Expat Explorer. This report is based on HSBC expat survey responses and is published every year.

Fellow expats? Do you agree or disagree with what I said? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

Note: I do not work for HSBC and I’m not trying to promote it.

Windsor Ontario explained Briefly – Delusional Bubble

I was getting excited about the prospect of my new life in Canada and traveling to new places to explore my new country. Came across a post about this hidden gem! Thank you @Delusional Bubble and enjoy!

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