Third Month Theme: Rest, Reflect and Observe New Things

I’m about 80% settled here! There’s more time to relax! I can reflect more on how the last three months have gone. It was kind of been a blur up until Christmas. This is the point where I can observe and absorb my new country now.

Calgary Baptism of Fire

Here’s another weird Calgary weather story! I had to go out at about 8 am in mid-January. I checked the temperature on my phone and didn’t see indicators of the previous day’s forecast of snow in the morning. It was still, clear and looked like it would be sunny later. Yes, in mid-January, the sun STILL rises late! It wasn’t too cold, so I was on the fence as to whether I needed my down parka. I decided not to wear it and left my hat behind too…

Ten minutes out the door I was suddenly hit with this bone-chilling Arctic wind and hail! “HOLY S**T!!!” was my first thought! It was too late now to go home for my parka! Fortunately, I had a cashmere sweater that I pulled over my head as I walked. The blast didn’t last too long though. Calgary had JUST avoided a blizzard! The temperature dropped too. In other words, I saw an immediate barometric pressure change firsthand!

Okay, what just happened? Was this a baptism of fire for living in Calgary or something? What did I learn from this? Check the radar map too if I’m going out! Checking the current forecast, temperature and windchill are not enough! Weather reports are never entirely reliable, especially on a cell phone. Regardless, I need to know how much to layer up. I learned the phrase, “Don’t like the weather? Wait 20 minutes.” within my first month here. You can replace “don’t” with “do” in that sentence too. I laughed before. I have actually lived it now! It’s VERY real for me!

Everything Else is Boring by Comparison

Just kidding! The temperature is dropping more. We’re in the -10s and sometimes the windchill makes it feel in the-20s at this point! I hear a lot about the -30 degree temperatures but haven’t experienced it yet. Watch this space! Walks help me learn what I should wear at what temperatures before I have to go do chores. One example was when I took the photos for this post. It was -14 degrees with a windchill of -18 and it was hard to leave my gloves off for more than a minute or two! I tried buying gloves that had a grip on them for your cell phone screen, but it was a rip off!

Recently, we got a dusting of new snow along with hoarfrost. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful! When I walked by the river, there was a stretch that was completely frozen. The river gets more frozen by the day. I have never lived anywhere where the river freezes before. I was tempted to walk on it but decided not to. I’m not fully Canadian yet, so I don’t have the intuition to judge ice thickness.

I see SO many geese flying over every day to congregate at the river! It’s crazy! Why haven’t those birdbrains flown south yet?

I Admit That I Wished for Snow

Be careful what you wish for, hey? In Calgary, you’re more likely to get it! There was a reason I wished for it. I had a flashback to a time in London that was an incredibly stressful and miserable time in my life. I feel like I can heal from it now that I’m in Canada partly because there is snow that makes everything beautiful. My Mum said it says a lot about Canada if I feel safe enough to think through this garbage and heal from it. I agree with her on that.

Additionally, I was exhausted for a few days, so I stayed in bed. It was due to my move. There comes a point after moving overseas where I have had to sleep it off! It doesn’t happen right away. It creeps up on me. There are some stressors that don’t end for a long time (if at all). Once there’s a time to breathe a bit more, the fatigue hits! It was time to press the Reset button! I was so tired I didn’t give a crap about Inauguration Day in the US!

A Word on How I Feel About US Politics

Honestly, I’m still numb. I still have this strong part of me that says “I do NOT want to talk about it!” When I moved to Calgary, I had to be strict on that boundary. I broke that norm when I did my post Storming the Reichstag 2.0. My personal boundaries on talking about it still stand. I’m feeling more emotionally resilient than I was when I first moved here though. I am in a new country though and I want to respect their own cultural norms when it comes to politics.

Had Another TCK Moment about US Politics

I was 10 when I moved away from the US for the first time. Politics was boring adult stuff for me. 9/11 happened and I learned of ripple effects from the US around the world. Then, I came across a challenge that many TCKs face.

Politics didn’t come up a lot while I was living life outside my home in London. UK politics doesn’t get discussed nearly as much. I didn’t fully understand how UK politics worked, frankly. News shows were cryptic and I gave up learning it after a while. When I studied for my citizenship test though, it finally made sense to me!

My Dad has always talked about US politics incessantly at home. It gets so tiresome! Because of the cultural conflict between my home and life outside in England, I didn’t understand it. When you’re having a conversation in the US, sooner or later, you will start talking about politics. I didn’t realize that until I repatriated to the US. There is an unhealthy obsession with politics in the US. People from other countries really don’t understand that. A friend of mine pointed out that the US stands out in the world as an exception to the norm. She’s so right!

I think other cultures making politics a taboo topic can be healthy under the right circumstances. People have been taking breaks from politics because of the amount of depressing stuff going on. Cultural structures can act as pre-imposed boundaries on the amount of political discussion. I am breaking my habit of talking about US politics because I’m not there anymore. I do feel peer pressure from other Americans to talk about politics sometimes. My response is, I am in another country, and we aren’t obsessed with politics. Being a TCK can be a powerful thing.

Push and Pull between Cultures

When I move to a new country, I get this push and pull effect between my last country and my current country. As a TCK, I need to reconfigure balancing all my cultures now and then. Moving to a new country is one of those times to reconfigure.

Here’s one example. I have been loving the winter SO much! There are different things that are new to me about a sub-Arctic winter! There’s a push from the US and a pull towards Canada. That feeling is strong and deep! I am bracing myself for someday needing to go to California. I have to sort through a room full of stuff that I left behind. When will that happen? No idea. People I know have false hope that I’m returning for good. I have to squash it.

Sometimes, you get updates from your loved ones in your last country that make you wish you were there. That’s the biggest pull of all. Problems can be increased in severity by a factor of 10 when you’re overseas. Other times, people from your last country can say things that feel like peer pressure to return.

A Note on Peer Pressure

A word to the wise: if you know someone who is living overseas, please don’t ask, “when are you coming back?” They either might not know, or they may not want to do so, or both. Additionally, please don’t say, “when you come back”. I have had people do both to me and I hate it!

I am understanding of people who do this because they haven’t lived overseas. They don’t know how things work. Things can get complicated or plans can change for whatever reason. Take my situation about needing to go to California someday. I thought that was going to go back in April. Now, I know I can’t, and I have to apply to extend my stay. I don’t want to go to California until I know for sure that I would be allowed back into Canada. I told people in California that I would be there in April, but I didn’t know my situation would change.

What I hate though is people being unsupportive. I can tell the difference between someone not knowing how things work and them being unsupportive. The best example I can think of this from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Okay, spoiler alert: Kim Baker breaks up with her cheating boyfriend. He blames the fact she’s been in Afghanistan. That hits home! I saved her line of, “Go to (insert something bad)! It sucks! You’ll fit right in!” It’s EXACTLY how I feel at moments like that!

People who have been the most sensitive are the ones who let me talk about my situation first. If they ask questions, they do it respectfully. If I mention that I might be visiting, we can randomly say we can do some fun things when I do. That is the best!

A Word on Getting Settled in A New Country

The question, “Are you settled yet?” is rather disconcerting for me. I’m going to do a more detailed post about what getting settled in a new country really means to me. I will probably stay at 80% settled for a while, frankly. There are circumstances beyond my control that will keep me from being 100% settled. Additionally, if my immigration status isn’t what I call solid, it’s hard to feel 100% settled.

That’s it for now. What do you think of what I said about my expat/TCK life here? I’m open to discussion! Any further tips on sub-Arctic winter would be welcome!

First Month Theme: Is This A Thing?

I have been here a month now, and the most common question I ask myself is, “Is this a thing?” I ask myself that because it’s surprising to me, not because I think it’s good or bad. Then, I try and find out if it is a thing and I withhold judgement until I have more information! Here are some things I have experienced living here that have made me ask that question and the answers I have got. I’m probably going to be asking myself that question a lot for a while at least. So, if anyone has anything to contribute to my possible “things” please let me know in the comments!

On a different note, I have been making changes on my page because I’m going independent. If you’re having problems with my interacting on my blog, please let me know either in the comments or through my contact page. Bear with me please with this transition!

Canadian TV:

Once things got a bit calmer, my Mum and I started exploring streaming services on CBC Gem. A friend recommended that to us, and it looks really cool so far! I found Schitt’s Creek on there. I heard my friends in California say that it was a funny show, so we thought of giving it a try. Little did we know how much that show would resonate with us because of the whole moving situation! We’re almost done with the last season and we want to watch it again and take notes! Initially, I didn’t know it was a Canadian tv show. None of my friends told me it was, and I don’t have Netflix, so I’m really not up on the shows on there. Before moving here, we were actively looking for Canadian tv shows, and we came across Slings and Arrows, which I featured in my post about Rachel McAdams. Slings and Arrows is another one that I have watched about 3 times over.

What I have noticed about Canadian TV shows is that they are very real and don’t have that in-your-face that US TV shows and movies have. Every country puts its stamp on their TV shows, and I like the personal and transparent aspect of Canadian TV shows. I fell in love with English comedies while living in London. They will always have a special place in my heart!

I was pleasantly astounded that Schitt’s Creek put LGBTQIA+ representation front and centre of their show! No wonder they have won several awards for that! As much as I would love to see that happen with US TV shows, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, since conservatives have quite the grip on media.

I have got some good recommendations for other Canadian shows, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of them in the future! I have found TV shows and entertainment are an excellent gateway to understanding a culture. Plus, right now, I can learn a lot about how people speak and spell words here in Canada. At this time, I am a little overwhelmed with that considering I am already fluent in both American English and English English and I’m trying to figure out how and when to relate to which dialect or when to abandon the rules with both dialects completely with Canadian English.

Currently, I am watching movies from the Marda Loop Justice Film Festival, which I can do for free through my local library. I will write a post on that later. Right now, I’m still trying to find out what’s a “thing” with Canadian TV and movies, but I’ll get there!

Another “thing” I discovered is whenever there’s a big snowfall, the internet gets funny. The last time I lived in a snowy climate, the internet wasn’t nearly as big a thing! Streaming does get a little weird around that time too and I have to refresh the page. I have tried 5G though, and I understand why the transition is happening now in Canada. 5G is definitely better quality than regular internet when there’s a big snowfall. That, and I know from being a data science major that transport fleets of the future are being designed to run on 5G, so there we go.

Quality of Food:

I’m in love with the food here! I discovered the joys of the Co-op and Cal & Gary’s my first day out of quarantine! Still exploring what they have to offer at this point, but I’m hooked! I’m really into organic, local and ethically sourced foods since I’m a trained chef, and it appeals to my French side. I know this sounds crazy, but it doesn’t feel like the food is slowly killing you here because corporations get away with putting SO much crap in it! I know a few things about Canadian laws on food and trade with the US, but I’m still learning about it. Frankly, I think the fact that the US just lets corporations do whatever they want makes the population more unhealthy, even if you personally take care of yourself. Plus, giving corporations free rein strips people of their livelihoods, and that’s one of the things that has lead to that orange baboon being in the White House for four years. I told my Mum that and she hadn’t thought about that, but she thinks I’m right.

I have been getting in touch with my French side since discovering the joys of Yann Haute Patisserie! I get bread there regularly because no one does bread like the French! Plus, on my first trip there, I decided to try a Paris-Calgary, while my Mum tried a lemon tart. We were celebrating our end of quarantine, and the food was ABSOLUTE ECSTACY!!! Anyone who visits Calgary HAS to try Yann Haute Patisserie!! Trust me, your trip will not be complete without it!! I have since tried their croissants and sausage rolls, and they are just as incredible! I feel like I’m in France again or back at Le Cordon Bleu!

Cold Water Pipes and Furnaces:

It was a weird thing to realize that you can’t get completely cold water from the cold water tap! I have lived in Colorado, where the pipes would freeze sometimes, but you could still get cold water. I joked with my Mum that the tepid water from the cold tap is like the tepidarium in Roman baths!

Winter Infrastructure and Lifestyle:

I used to take my water bottle everywhere with me back in California. It helped with getting my required 2L per day of liquid to carry it around. Now, there is no way I can take it with me without the water freezing, so I have to drink as much as I can before and after I go out! I also started drinking 2.5L of water a day because of the dry climate. Additionally, I have been using lotion and chapstick a lot more! Every store I go into has Burt’s Bees chapstick, and I can see it’s for a good reason.

I can tell if it has snowed during the night because someone comes by with a snowblower at about 6:30 am and it’s loud and stinky! Worst alarm clock EVER! It makes me pull the blankets over my head and hope I fall back to sleep!

I’m doing fine acclimatizing to subzero temperatures, and so far, I have learned how to deal with -10 C ish pretty well! I come alive whenever there is snow! I have missed that feeling after living in California and London. Lately, I heard that California is getting “cold”, so I created a meme. Basically, no one in the US is getting any sympathy from me when they say it’s cold! There are a few exceptions, but this meme sums me up pretty well.

I become like Roz!

Most of all, I love taking walks in the winter weather and seeing other people taking walks and enjoying the outdoors. Life seems more deliberate here, unlike the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley, which is a recipe for burnout, and why people are doing a mass exodus of the Bay Area.

I could write an entire post about winter lifestyle here (including what I see when I take a walk), but so far, I just want to mention those few things. More later!

Remembrance Day:

I wanted to say a few things to follow up on my post about Remembrance Day. First of all, I noticed on Remembrance Day a nearby flag was flying at half-mast. I got this feeling that I have only ever had in England whenever I saw Armistice Day customs. It’s a feeling of realization that it really was world wars you’re talking about here.

Additionally, I was outside the day before Remembrance Day. When I passed the monument to an unknown soldier, I noticed a flame burning and people laying a poppy wreath. I smiled respectfully to myself and lowered my head as another memory of England cropped up. I went to that memorial again when I visited a local library. I saw the eternal flame burning and took some photos of the memorial with the poppy wreaths. I definitely felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for England, and also a realization that Canadians really love their country!

The US doesn’t fly the flag at half-mast on November 11. The US used to call November 11 Armistice Day, like in England, but they changed it. My Mum remembers when that happened, and my grandparents were really upset with the name change. To them, it was a slap in the face to get rid of a name that signified the termination of The War to End All Wars. It’s like changing the name made the US forget about the sacrifice during the World Wars and isolated themselves further from the world. My Mum told me to NEVER forget that the US did that, and I promised her I never will!

COVID-19 Response:

After my mandatory 2 week quarantine upon arrival, it was weird for me to go outside and find out how many places have successfully reopened with COVID measures in place! I avoided stores like the plague back in California. I only went to Costco a few times in the seven months we were on lockdown. I trust a lot of stores here in Calgary since they are transparent about what they are doing about COVID procedures.

When I was in Safeway and found that they have arrows on the floor to indicate where to go, I was like, “Wait, WHAT?” 😮 I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. It was just inconceivable to me that stores would do that. I have had to get used to that though and be conscious about it. I was at the Co-op the other day and it slipped my mind briefly to check the arrows, and I got told off before going down an aisle in the wrong direction. I deserved that. Now, my Mum and I keep reminding each other to watch the arrows until it becomes routine. Lately, there have been some more restrictions, so I can see businesses are being more careful, and I’m completely willing to respect that!

Additionally, when I found out I could subscribe to updates to restrictions on the Alberta government website and there’s a contact tracing app, it blew my mind! 😮Can you blame me after coming from a country whose COVID response is nothing short of pathetic?

Overall, I feel I can relax a bit here when it comes to COVID. Cases have been going up in Alberta recently, so we are still careful when we go outside. When we left California, we figured out that you basically can’t go outside without being borderline paranoid anymore. So, I had a bit of paranoia at first when I went out for the first few times in Calgary, but a bit of perspective has helped. I go out more often than I did back in California, especially since it’s more of a necessity as a preventative measure for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I still have no idea how it’s going to affect me yet since I had it really bad in England! Plus, it’s a nice treat after being among the good people in the USA who have been sheltering in place for seven months and staying disease-free! Note: I’m NOT getting complacent though! The last thing I want is COVID!

Wildlife:

If you have seen my Quarantine Diaries posts, you will know I was amazed to find black squirrels here! I have seen more city wildlife since then, like rabbits and magpies. Whenever I go for a walk in the park, the rabbits come right up to me! I have noticed people feeding them, so I get why they are tame. One of our friends did warn us that rabbits are pests in Canada, so I’m not so sure about feeding them until I know for sure that it’s a thing. The rabbits kind of remind me of the squirrels at UC Berkeley. The squirrels there are just as tame and they know the students give them nuts. When I did a summer class there, I always had nuts on hand for the squirrels. Plus, those squirrels are the subject of many UC Berkeley memes, beside bears.

I haven’t seen so many magpies since England! There’s a superstition on how many magpies you see, “One for sorrow. Two for joy. Three for a girl. Four for a boy.” I gave up on that superstition though because I see so many lone magpies here, I’m just like, “Whatever!” Still, there are three magpies that frequent the front and backyard. We call one of them Belle and the other two are clearly a couple, so we call them Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie since they strut around like they’re a celebrity couple!

We have started putting birdseed out for the birds since we know from living in England that not a lot of animals make it through the winter, and England’s climate is less harsh than Canada’s.

The other day, I was walking home and it was snowing, and I saw SO many rabbits out! It makes me wonder if they go and grab as much food as possible when it starts snowing! Thing, or not a thing? 🤔

Healthcare:

Disclaimer: This is just my own personal experience so far!

I have successfully resumed my chronic pain treatment and it’s been going so well! One of my observations is that there are so many chiropractic centres around here. Clearly, chiropractic has more recognition as a healthcare profession in Canada. In the US, I have had some bad experiences with chiropractic care, and even the good chiropractors aren’t at the same level as chiropractors in Canada. Legally, chiropractors can’t diagnose your problems in the US. Additionally, even though I have had some good chiropractors in the US, the care didn’t provide any more than just occasional pain relief. My treatment and care recommendations have been sticking more than before, which is great!

Additionally, I went to the dentist since I needed a check-up and a problem that needed attention. It was the most thorough appointment I have ever had! The hygienist saw me before the dentist did (it’s the other way around in the US). I got some excellent oral care tips from the hygienist, which was also a first! The dentist explained possible steps in my care very well. I understand that a good dentist is a good dentist, and maybe that would have happened where I was getting care before, but who knows?

Diversity and Representation:

I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood in London, and the diversity enriched my life like nothing else! When I repatriated to the USA, I wondered if I would ever have that again. I got some diverse, multicultural experiences in the USA, but it wasn’t to the same extent as London. I guess one of the defining factors for me leaving the USA, was not just that lack of diversity in my life, but also living at a time of terrible polarization the last four years. Someone who was your friend before, could become your enemy overnight.

Before I moved to Calgary, my friends told me Alberta was rather white, so I was kind of bracing myself. I’m white myself, but because I identify as multicultural and multiethnic, I’m not white by US standards. If anything, white Americans have explicitly said to me that I’m not American if I have spent any part of my life overseas and ostracized me in other ways too. My reaction is, “Fine. I would rather be an expat anyway!”

I was pleasantly surprised to move here and find it was more diverse than I thought it would be! I have connected with other immigrants, and I have already met another Third Culture Kid this past month! (Doing a little dance right here!)

Another thing I noticed is there is more representation overall. Since I have had to buy some good winter clothes, I have been looking at clothing websites a lot. All these websites I have visited have racially and ethnically diverse models. Plus, I have seen some ads from time to time and they have diverse representation, and minoritized groups are portrayed in a positive way. I can honestly say I’m impressed! Go Canada! 👏👏👏🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦

Recently, this Japanese anime artist created samurai warriors to represent different cultures that will compete at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The designs are brilliant, of course! I read some comments from Canadians on Reddit and they said their anime warrior doesn’t represent their diverse culture. I understand why Canadians said that but on the other hand, maybe the artist didn’t know too much about Canada’s diverse culture, so I can forgive that.

Overall, I am really loving my life here! I didn’t realize that I was depressed before I moved, but suddenly, I have a boost in my mental health!

Please let me know what you think of my “things”!

Lest We Forget 🌺🇬🇧🌺🇨🇦🌺

It’s Remembrance Day tomorrow! I wish I could experience all the regular traditions here, but I know the public celebrations are cancelled because of COVID-19. Still, I have made a resolution to learn more about Canada’s role in WWI and WWII once things calm down with getting settled. Okay, I know the flower emoji I’m using in the titles is a hibiscus, but I looked it up and it said that’s acceptable to use it in replacement of a poppy for Remembrance Day. Meanwhile, tech companies need to catch on and create culturally appropriate emojis to make them available for different cultures.

Note: I’m saying Remembrance Day in my post because that’s what it’s called in Canada, except when I’m talking about England. One thing that is making me chuckle right now is learning the meanings and slang terms of different words in Canada. Sometimes, I have to learn another term for something, when I already know two other forms of it in American English and English English! Remembrance Day is one of them because it’s called Armistice Day in the UK and Veterans Day in the US. I won’t say much about how it’s celebrated in the US, because frankly, it pales in comparison to both the UK and Canada, as far as I have seen.

I’m rather embarrassed to admit this, but I never bought a poppy in England. I made up for it this time and got a poppy last week! Next time I’m in England in November, I will get a poppy! I like how the poppies look here. It’s different from England though. In England, the poppies have a stem on them and they have that definite European poppy look. I think that’s fair considering you see those poppies all the time in Europe.

My Canadian Poppy

It snowed last weekend. I took a walk in a park near where I live and took some pictures. I noticed when I looked at a selfie that I did that it would be nice to put a poppy frame around it, so I did! I’m glad the snow came back! I think it makes a difference in the photo.

Me in the snow with a poppy photo frame

I noticed one thing that is unique to Canada a few days ago. November 8 was Indigenous Veterans Day. I thought that was really cool, considering we don’t have that in the US. I hope someday the US creates a holiday to honour its Indigenous veterans too. Plus, I think they should have days to honour their Black veterans and immigrant veterans.

I ran into this news item a few days ago saying that Whole Foods (which is now owned by Amazon) said their Canadian staff couldn’t wear poppies because it violated the dress code. They thought poppies were a political symbol. I know there was already a backlash from employees this year who were punished for wearing Black Lives Matter masks. I flipped out when I heard about this! Poppies are NOT a political symbol here, or in any country that wears them for November 11! Thank goodness the Canadian government told Whole Foods to reverse the ban on poppies!

It’s not the first time, I have seen cultural controversy about poppies though. In November 2010, David Cameron offended Xi Jinping when he went on an official trip to China despite being asked not to wear it. Poppies are offensive in China, because of the opium wars. It’s one of those cultural mistakes that could have been avoided if David Cameron hadn’t been so bloody proud! Sometimes, I think individual expats and Third Culture Kids are more culturally sensitive than global businesses or governments.

I want to take a step back here and talk about what I remember about Armistice Day in England.

When I first moved to England, I noticed things around me that were reminiscent of WWII. In school, we observed the 2-minute silence at 11 AM on November 11. One time, I was at my local library, and all these people who had lived during the war were having a discussion about rationing. I didn’t really pay attention to the things around me that were reminiscent of WWII for a while, and I didn’t understand the poppy symbolism for a while either. Plus, after coming from a country that had engaged in all these useless wars, and then instituted a Patriot Act after 9/11, I was against anything pro-military.

Then, when I was 16, I became really good friends with my neighbour who was a little girl during WWII. She told me all the stories she had about it. Some of them were funny. Some of them were sad. Overall, it was a very personal and human experience.

I had a complete change in mindset about the war too. Both my grandfathers were in the US Navy, so up until I moved to England, I had a US perspective on the war. After I had lived in England for a while, I was rather disgusted when I said to one of my grandfathers that England had won the war, and he said, “But they didn’t!”

My neighbour shared that she didn’t mind the Americans coming because they were needed to help win the war. She remembered the Americans were always giving the kids gum! She did say, in a culturally sensitive way, that there was a lot of resentment towards Americans for showing up late AGAIN and then taking the credit! I saw it for myself too. I could see that England, as a culture, has a lot of pride in what they did to stand up to Hitler. They deserve to have that pride. They got hit hard with The Blitz and rationing, but they came together and stood up to fascism. What they went through was far different than the US, who sent their boys overseas. Now, I am very pro-England when I hear about WWI and WWII history, and I adopted that when I became a British citizen. One of my favourite shows about England during WWII is Foyle’s War. It’s a wonderful tribute to that war generation.

One thing I like about Armistice Day in England is that people still stand outside stores and sell poppies. It’s great for older people to do an activity like that, especially since a lot of them were of that war generation. I had a friend who was born shortly after the war, but she loved selling poppies every November! She was very sociable, so she got a lot of customers, plus she had the endurance to stand in the winter rain! She was one tough cookie! My friend died almost two years ago of cancer. At her funeral, her colleagues from the Royal British Legion laid a poppy wreath on her grave to thank her for her volunteer service. I’m remembering both my neighbour and my friend at this time.

Since I am still learning about Canadian WWI and WWII history and Remembrance Day traditions, I don’t feel I am in a place to say too much about them. I’ll do a post about it next year though. I’m looking forward to learning how that fits with the British part too and celebrate those sides of myself.

In closing, I’m going to put a link to the poem that started the poppy tradition. It’s been at the forefront of my attention now that I know it was written by a Canadian. Please enjoy the work of physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae!

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

    That mark our place; and in the sky

    The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.



We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

        In Flanders fields.



Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

    If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

        In Flanders fields.

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.