Pain, Fire and Other Moving Upheavals

When you’re moving overseas, there are going to be massive changes to your plans. That is inevitable. Something that seemed a solid plan one day will disappear by the next. Even upsets in your life can seem like a bigger deal when you’re moving overseas.

These days, with COVID-19, plans are even more unpredictable. I check border updates every day to see if there is a way that my Mom and I can enter Canada. I have chronic pain issues and I got treatment by a Canadian healthcare provider that worked better than anything I have ever had in the US. One thing I am hoping for is if I can get into Canada to get treatment for my pain. I had to stop getting treatment because of COVID-19, so I have struggled with pain through the lockdown. I manage it on my own as best as I can, but I am going to need to resume treatment soon. I might have found a way to get in for healthcare reasons though. I might have to give up my IEC visa and find another way to get a work permit once I’m inside Canada.

Thanks to the pandemic, I hear companies aren’t hiring people from overseas. That means I have to establish residence first and then find a job. I do have financial worries because of this, and I am thinking about starting my own sort of enterprise and exploring my options for that. Whether I can do it in Canada before I get permanent residence is another matter. COVID-19 has made me think about what I want to do with my life and where I want to be financially.

Wildfire season has started in California, and it’s freakishly early compared to other years! I couldn’t believe it a few days ago, when I found out there are a lot of fires going on nearby. I haven’t needed to evacuate, but the fires are closer to where I live than they were in previous years. In 2018, the Camp Fire in November gave me ten days off school because the Air Quality Index was ridiculously high. Last year, classes were cancelled for a couple days in October because of a potential fire risk.

Sunrise and sunset are different when there is a fire. It’s almost eerie! I took some photos of a sunset when the smoke was really bad. It’s getting better in my area now, though. It’s scary to think wildfires are happening during a global pandemic too, especially since prisoners are recruited to fight fires, but the prisons have been hit with COVID-19. The whole system is fucked frankly!

Sunset on August 20, 2020 in SF Bay Area, East Bay
Sunset and Evening Star are one clear call for thee (Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

I thought when I left for Canada, I would only be taking the things I really need. I will be coming back later to move things up in a van. Now, I am thinking, “What can I not bear to lose if there is a fire?” I am going to take the things that are valuable to me that I have collected on my travels. Also, people have given me meaningful gifts from their countries and travels over the years. I collect things from foreign countries and I would be devastated if they got destroyed by a fire.

We have just started our sixth month on lockdown in the US. I feel scared to go out sometimes because cases keep going up even though indoor activities are not allowed. I have been good and doing my part, and it feels really unfair that I still have to stay home while other people are being reckless. Mental health is my number one priority at least. I have been doing a lot of self-care, like what I mention in my Self Care post. I think Michael Rappaport said it best in his PSA to wear your mask.

I admit, it has been nice finding some content that makes fun of anti-maskers, or even just content that creatively reminds you to do your part. Here are some of my favorites:

Signs You’re a “Karen”

Everybody Must Stay Home – Bob Dylan Coronavirus Parody

Sarah Cooper is a gem that has emerged during the pandemic. Someone once said she doesn’t just mimic Trump. She exposes him. I think she’s been doing people in the US a service, especially those who are good and staying home.

I also love the John Oliver shows. My favorite is still the first one he did on COVID-19 when he talked about this handwashing informational video from Vietnam that featured a dance routine that went viral all over the world. It’s funny to talk about something going viral during the time of a global pandemic.

Even so, I find it hard to enjoy these things sometimes and keep up my motivation to stay on lockdown. Whenever someone in my family comes home from a high-risk area, we have to do a 2319 from Monsters Inc. Now, that joke is getting old unfortunately.

My Mom and I say every day how we can’t wait to leave the US. Sometimes, we get news that makes me say, “Oh no! We’ll never get there!” I have to remember though that I have a false sense of timing about moving. It has always been that I would be in a country a few months after my Dad got a job overseas. We had the company help us with the paperwork and stuff, but now that I have to do it on my own, it takes longer. I have to remind myself that where there’s a will, there’s a way and just keep going until I reach my goal.

How have you all been handling the coronavirus situation? Hope you are all hanging in there and staying healthy! Watch this space for more updates!

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 Caribbean 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.

Visas: Part I- Getting Started

Winston Churchill’s quote applies to getting visas!

Do you need a visa? If so, you need to find a visa that suits your goals for life in your new country. If you aren’t sure what visa you need, keep researching available visas. I know it sounds weird, but if you look hard enough, you can find a visa to fit your needs. Visas can have many parts to them and you need to figure out what those parts are and decide which ones work for you. For instance, with my IEC visa, I can either do the Working Holiday Program or the Young Professionals Program. The Young Professionals Program suits my needs more, and I will try to get into that program. Right now, because everything is being delayed with COVID-19, I don’t know yet what program I will be doing. 

Once you look at the technical parts of your visa, you need to see what they recommend about passport validity. Do they recommend that your passport has to be valid for a certain amount of time in order to apply for the visa? If they do have recommendations for length of passport validity, and your passport is not going to be valid for that long, it’s time to renew your passport. If you need to get your passport fast, you can get expedited service. Currently, for US passports, expedited service has been suspended because of COVID-19. Check with your passport authorities about processing times. 

Now, it’s time to address the dual citizenship issues. Since I’m a dual citizen, I had to decide which passport I wanted to use for the visa. Thankfully, my visa application gave me instructions on what to do if I am a dual citizen. I decided to use my US passport since I am moving from the US and the transition would be easier. I may have a chance to use my UK passport at some point since Canada is a former British colony, but I will bide my time.

I ran into another dual citizenship issue. My US passport expired last year and I wanted to wait to renew it because my UK passport expired this year so that I could renew them at the same time. What was I thinking? 🤦🏼‍♀️ I applied to renew my US passport when the pandemic hit in March, and it’s being delayed. Passport services resumed processing regular applications a month ago, so I am still waiting for it. I am trying to think about when I can apply for my UK passport. I might have to wait until they resume processing regular applications. #dualcitizenshipproblems

It is important to plan ahead and set goals for how long you wish to stay in your new country. Of course, there are some unexpected things that happen, but it’s important to have a plan. The saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail” may be cliché, but it’s very true when it comes to planning for an international move. 

Do you only want to live in a country for as long as your visa lasts? That’s fine, but what if you love it so much that you want to stay? You want to have a plan in case that happens because if you don’t, you will be very disappointed if you have to go home because you didn’t plan to extend your visa or apply for another visa, depending on your life circumstances. 

There might also be an emergency that may cause you to lose your visa through no fault of your own. When I was 12, my parents and I lost our visa through no fault of our own and it was terrifying not knowing if we could stay in the UK.  I bet the COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of immigrants concerned about their immigration status if their visa is dependent on their jobs. My heart goes out to all of them. 😢🤗

Do you want to get permanent residence and/or citizenship? That’s fine, but I recommend making a final decision after you go through culture shock, and be honest with yourself about whether you want to stay. I will do a future post about culture shock and reverse culture shock, but I will say this. Don’t underestimate the impact of culture shock. There will be highs and lows that are more extreme than a roller coaster sometimes. Someone once said to me, there comes a time when you realize a country is either going to work out for you, or it isn’t. I knew when I went through culture shock in London that I didn’t want to live there for the rest of my life. Reverse culture shock when I moved back to the US resulted in A LOT of tears! I was in denial that things weren’t working out for me when I moved back to the US because I am American for goodness sake! I was also burned out from international moves. I guess the 2016 election and COVID-19 snapped me out of denial and made me realize what’s important. Denial is not a river in Africa after all. I will do a post about being a dual citizen someday because that is a whole other story.

I do plan to get permanent residence and citizenship in Canada, but still planning for culture shock. I am looking into what I can do to stay longer, such as going to graduate school or extending my visa or seeing if I can qualify for another kind of visa. We’ll see how culture shock goes! What have been your experiences with visas and obtaining citizenship?

This move is different from the ones I have done before, precisely because of COVID-19, plus the US response to the pandemic has been dismal, to say the least. I feel sorry for Canada being right next to the US and worrying about Americans bringing the virus into Canada. I heard stories of Americans exploiting border closures, such as claiming to be driving to Alaska and then going to tourist spots not wearing masks. Also, two other Americans got fined for not quarantining. Really people? As if we didn’t look bad enough already. 🤦🏼‍♀️😡 I would understand if people were leaving because they were desperate, but still doing so legally. Just leaving to satisfy your own ego is not okay.

Even though I am practically desperate to leave and I’m so done with this country, I only want to do it safely, ethically, and lawfully. My area has low rates of infection, but I have still been sheltering in place all this time. Where do you think I got all this time to blog from? 😂 There is still a lot I can do to prepare to move though thanks to staying at home and waiting for my passport. I don’t have a definite date for moving just yet, but I can be patient. 

Stay tuned for more posts about finances while moving, packing, and saying goodbye!