Six months in Canada

It’s been six months since we arrived in Canada and I’m pretty sure we’ve already decided to go back home to Australia. We will be here about another six months or so, depending on what happens with jobs and money and accommodation. I wanted to do a bit of a reflective post to be able to look at in years to come and remember exactly what this process was like.

Was it what we expected? I guess the answer to that is, “no”, but by the same token I don’t think any expectation could possibly have matched this experience because we really had nothing to base it on. I’d never even been to North America before and it had been over ten years since I’d last studied. Would we do it again knowing what we know now? Hmm, that’s a toughie. I think I probably would. There are two big things coming out of this experience for me:

  1. My degree. Yes, of course I could have got an MA in Australia, and it would have been much cheaper and saved us a whole lot of money and headaches. But I would never have had this experience being part of one of the best language departments in the world and being taught by all these incredibly knowledgeable and highly respected Italian professors. I think having studied here in North America is a bonus too because it’s not something most Australians get the opportunity to do.
  2. My Australian identity. After 37 years of rejecting my place of birth, grappling with where I belong, where I fit, I can now say that I am proud and content to be an Australian. Why has it taken me so long to come to terms with what many of my cousins, for example, don’t seem to have even thought about? I can’t answer that except to say that what I’ve inherited from my parents, my sensibilities, and what I was exposed to from birth, my cultural influences, created a multi-layered and disjointed identity with which I have had to work hard to be at peace. Sure, there are many things about Australia that I don’t identify with, many aspects that infuriate and frustrate me, but I know one thing for sure now: I am Australian and happy about it. And I am relieved to be at peace with it now as I know others, my grandmother for example, who struggled with this their whole lives and never came to a place of peace.

How did this all begin, going halfway across the world to try and find a new home? Did we really do this? I am still amazed at what we’ve managed to achieve. I pinch myself all the time, still, even after six months here. Aside from childbirth, I think this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I’m so proud of myself and my family for the way we’ve handled it.

This is my current view:

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Why it’s rotated, I don’t know, just a quirk of WordPress, as it’s showing fine on my desktop. Ah well. I’m sitting, supposed to be studying, in the library. Across the road that creamy brown-coloured building is Carr Hall where the Department of Italian Studies lives. It looks quite nice from the outside but inside it’s not the greatest. It’s old and the rooms are either way too hot or way too cold. I spend most of my time either in class in that building, here in the Kelly library (which is the dedicated library for St Michael’s College so there are lots of interesting religious people around) or in the building next door to the library and across the road from Carr Hall, Alumni Hall. It sounds awfully grand and looks it from the outside but inside it’s old and tired and, like Carr, either hot and stuffy or freezing cold. Now that I’m not doing book history, I rarely go elsewhere on campus. Every couple of weeks I might go over to Robarts, which is the big library, about 10 minutes walk from here. It’s a cool concrete 70s monstrosity shaped to look like a peacock (although this is hard to see from most angles) and the collection of books is impressive, to say the least. There is also a Starbucks, Subway and some other food places in there, plus street vendors in vans out the front so it’s a good place to get food. I tend not to go there to study as it’s very busy, full of undergrads slacking off and just too big and distracting to really focus. I like the Kelly library for study as I can sit in the cafe area (yes, another Starbucks) in a comfy chair and it’s quiet but not deathly silent, plus there’s coffee if I want it. I can get free coffee from the Italian department any time I like actually, I must take advantage of that more.

This campus is really lovely, nice to walk around some of the older buildings, watch the squirrels jumping about, climbing the old trees and sculptures dotted around. I like being at uni, it’s very conducive to focus and study which is so enjoyable for me these days. Back in my undergrad days I almost never studied at uni – in fact I almost never studied at all – and I spent much of my time trying to avoid being anywhere conducive to focus and study. I never read the books or did any research, I just did the bare minimum to pass, wrote essays without citing any references and ate enough sausage rolls to sink a ship. I remember sitting in the computer labs checking my email, years before I ever had internet access at home. I had so much time, so many opportunities, and I blew most of it off, wasted it. I got by on sheer natural talent and arrogance, refusing to accept the very valid comments of lecturers and tutors who dared to ask me to cite a reference or read something. Someone must have been looking after me because I sure didn’t deserve to do as well as I did. I occasionally wonder what would have happened if I actually applied myself to finding a career, aspiring to something great, instead of just doing random things and ending up working for the government. I don’t know whether my parents could have done something differently and helped me to be more focused, but I will be doing what I can to ensure this doesn’t happen with my kids.

Anyway, I digress. What I’ve managed to achieve in the last six months is phenomenal. I’m pretty sure I’m in line for an A average grade thus far in my course and frankly I think I could do better but I’m very grateful for the marks I’ve been awarded and I will do my best to keep up this standard. Ultimately, this is a year out of our lives to do this Canada thing, just a year, and then we will be entering the next phase, gathering together more funds, building our life back up again, getting established and settling down for good. I want to do my PhD, perhaps to be able to teach, certainly to write and work in a field a little closer to my interests and the work I’ve been doing here in this course. I’ve come so far, managed to narrow down my research interests which is a huge achievement for me, an all-rounder and generalist from way back, and I’m super excited about the next six months here, finishing this degree. Financially, we need a miracle, but I know this has been the right thing and I therefore know we will manage this second part of the journey and find our way back home.

The right path

How do you know when you’re on the ‘right’ path? I feel like I used to know, before I got distracted by life. It’s like, in my teenage years and 20s I used to have huge amounts of time to ponder and think over things. Too much time really. An ex-boyfriend (who, when he was my boyfriend, wouldn’t commit enough to my liking and I desperately wanted him to buy me some jewellery to symbolise our commitment) once bought me a birthday present, I think when I was about 22. It was a silver ID bracelet and he’d had it engraved. On the front it had my name and on the back was “No Thinking Zone”. I think we’d been dating a year or so and he wasn’t really intellectually the right person for me but he easily saw my issue back then. I was thinking too much, going over every little thing, obsessing.

Oh if only I had the time to obsess now! Something happened, I think, around the time that first serious relationship started to break down, and life started to become full. I resisted, of course, and it was only because that boyfriend announced he was leaving for a stint in London that I pig-headedly pushed my way forward and ended up leaving for my own London adventure a few months before him. I resisted it all the way, was convinced I would be there for about six months, and I wasn’t going there to party it up like all the other antipodeans. Oh no, I was just going for, um, the experience, whatever that was… And I’d be back in six months anyway. I didn’t need to let my hair down and be stupid on the other side of the world to find out who I was. I was going to fix my relationship, get married, and settle down in Canberra. Or Melbourne. That was me eight years ago. I would sit and think things over, imagine myself in various scenarios, get a feeling, and know the right path. I don’t think that’s what I did with my decision to go to London, although I know for certain it was the right choice. I became a completely different person, a much better person, after living in London. And I met Mr Chewbacca, which is one of the best things that could have happened to me.

With my decision to step into a new life in London, I forfeited this process of assessing my future plans. I began to be spontaneous, and ended up doing a lot of things I would never have considered previously as a result. Some things I can’t say I’m particularly proud of, and I don’t know how positively they contributed to who I am now, but I’m here to tell the tale (not in a public forum though!) and I don’t regret anything. I do miss that clarity, however, those moments of contemplation which allowed me to see the right path. I haven’t got the time now, to sit and think and plan, and so much has happened, life and circumstances have descended upon me in layer upon layer of possible deviations from the right path so that there is now no going back. I can’t sort back through each layer, meticulously choosing my path at every turn. Too much has happened.

So now I am on the path I’m on. I’m here, in Canada, a country I never even envisaged visiting let alone living in, and I’m doing an MA at one of the top universities in North America. As a family, we’ve taken a huge risk coming here. A risk for what? Because we didn’t know for sure if Australia was the right place for us. We couldn’t handle any more 40 degree endless summers. We wanted snow and beautiful trees and piles of leaves and traditions at the ‘right’ time of year, to be in a place that feels like it’s a little more in touch with the world. The course I’m doing is certainly leading me in the right direction and it’s fantastic to be studying again, especially with a level of maturity that allows me to apply myself fully to the material and achieve good results. But it will be ending all too soon.

Many MA programs are two years but this one is unfortunately just one year. I love this university, I am so privileged to be taught by some exceptional academics. I seriously want to do a PhD. But there’s one problem: this university is in Toronto, in the city. I don’t want to live in the city. In fact although I live 40km out of the city, that’s still too close. I can’t wait to move. But if I wanted to do further study I’d have to stay close enough to commute.

I got some clarity around what we might do next yesterday and I know what our options are in terms of staying on in Canada once I’ve graduated next year in June. Unfortunately, none of those options is clearly the right one. We haven’t been here long enough to decide whether to go back home or stay on permanently, another year testing things out at least seems the right thing, but that’s not an easy thing to do. These decisions are depressing me! I wish it wasn’t so complicated, and so much about money!

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I listen to my Aussie music, stuff I never listened to when I was at home, and I actually miss home, I miss it for the first time since London. I don’t believe in regrets, they are a waste of time, everything happens exactly as it should. But there are so many things that, if I’d just thought at the time with some clarity, taken a few moments to sit and really make the decisions without rushing, I’d have gone a different way and things would be better. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’ll never know, there’s no such thing as Sliding Doors. Right now, we’ve got some serious thinking to do and big decisions loom yet again. Wasn’t it meant to be easier than this? Didn’t I plan to settle down and enjoy simple family life when I left London?