A year ago. A whole year. We landed with a lot of luggage, a lot of excitement, a few nerves, and some semblance of a plan.
In some ways it feels like we still arrived here yesterday. In others, it feels like it’s always been like this.
So, a year in, what have I learned?
It takes a lot longer to feel settled than I thought it might. What might be considered small bureaucratic accomplishments by a native (like getting a parking permit, or a new banking service) still feel like larger victories.
However, I’m starting to find that hearing a lot of North American accents together is somewhat jarring. And I don’t have an accent myself (yet?), but my speech patterns have changed somewhat. I say ‘yeah’ a lot more than ‘eh’ now. And some pronounciations are being overtaken by the Queen’s English. These days I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to come out when I open my mouth to say ‘tomato.’
We’re doing pretty well in the friends department. Oxford is small, so it’s easy to run into the same people a lot. Having a kid helps, because we get to know parents of other kids. As does having a job and making friends with workmates. But a rare in-person visit with a friend I’ve known for over a decade quickly puts these much fresher friendships into perspective.
It’s hard, really hard, being so far from family.
But there is one thing about being an ExPat, an overarching theme to it all, that I really, really like. And until very recently, I wasn’t sure how to put it into words:
Being an ExPat means being free to forge a new path.
When we arrived here, one thing I really liked was the perception I had that more people work-to-live than live-to-work. The English, I thought, have a much healthier attitude toward their careers. I have a friend here who spent a year living near Toronto, and thought exactly the same thing about Canadians!
It seems to be less about the attitude of a country’s people toward life, than the type of people you end up exposed to as an ExPat, and your experience of seeing the world without the lens of their cultural history and expectations.
And the same thing happens to the way people see you. Natives don’t expect you will have the same background, goals, or priorities they do, since you are not one of them.
At the same time, nobody from ‘back home’ expects you to live the same way anymore, because you are no longer there.
It’s a total opting-out of the rat race. Of the competitive parenting. Of keeping up with the Joneses.
Oh, we still cause people’s eyes to bug out of their heads occasionally, when saying things like “well, if we don’t end up living in that catchment, we’ll be ok. It’s only primary school.” Except the eye-bug is more one of ‘Wacky Canadians’ rather than ‘Terrible Parents’ (which is what many of those who aren’t ultimately consumed by where their kindergarteners end up are labelled).
There are still things I miss about Vancouver. Top of the list is that network of family and friends, of course. But I also find myself longing for the beaches and mountains in a way that surprises me. I miss North American pizza, great cheap sushi, and bread that doesn’t disintegrate if you wave some butter near it.
But I am finding new things here. Not replacements for the life we built before going, but additions to it. A proper cup of tea. Bacon sandwiches. Pub culture. Beautiful old treasure houses. The network of rivers and canals. The ever-present sense of English ‘fair play.’ New friends.
All things that I’m discovering I’m going to miss whenever the time comes that we move on.