The arrival: The early days in a new country

It has been one month since our arrival in Toronto. And as expected, I have mixed emotions about being back in the city. I’m not sure if my return to Toronto is classed as expatriating, or repatriating, which may or may not explain the mixed emotions I’m harboring. True, I have lived in Canada before, and as a teen I lived in Toronto. But never as an adult. But I’ve never identified with Toronto as being home. Home has always been London to me. And so I’m left feeling like I’m in No Man’s Land due to more reasons than one. 

As I expected, the adjustment has been one of the hardest I’ve gone through as an expat. This may come as a surprise to everyone as I have lived in the Middle East and in the Far East. However, none of those experiences left me with culture shock or this feeling of loss and confusion. Perhaps this is because I expected everything to be so polar opposite to life as I’d come to know it. Or perhaps I welcomed all those wonderful differences that reminded me that I was no longer in my home. And by extension, that I was no longer in my comfort zone. There is an other element to this feeling but as of yet… I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. 

Lost in the big city

From the outside, Toronto would seem like an easy country to assimilate in to. But I’ve never found this to be the case. One of the reasons I believe is down to the sheer size of the place. Toronto is a huge city. Although actually only measuring 630 km² (in comparison with London 1,572km²), it feels larger. This is most likely due to the ridiculous urban sprawl that spreads as far as the eye can see known as the GTA  (Greater Toronto Area). Most people that live in ‘Toronto’, actually live in the GTA. Therefore the size of Toronto inclusive of the GTA is actually about 7,124km².

In addition to this, everything is bigger here. Houses are bigger, road intersections are bigger. It can take a good 30 secs on the pedestrian countdown to get from one side of the street to the other. Everyone seems to drive a huge car, and shopping trolleys in the supermarket mirror that size down the aisles. You can’t buy 1L bottles of fizzy drinks here. And I have yet to see a 1L carton of milk. Nope its got to be 2L and above. The bigger the better.  Needless to say, I feel overwhelmed by this city and its sprawling rash of suburbia which I now reside in. I’ve always been one for convenience and minimal living.  And so far, living in Toronto (which we will hence refer to as including both the city and the GTA) is neither of those things.

An inconvenient city

For me, getting around on my own two feet is convenient. I believe it is natural, environmentally friendly and healthy. Sadly, since our arrival, I’ve gone from walking, everywhere to needing to drive again. I grew up driving around suburbia as a teenager with much confidence on the road. However, now, me behind the wheel is comparable with that of an old nana maneuvering a boat! And to make matters worse, drivers here are awful! Impatient, aggressive and certainly lacking in common sense on the road. I miss being able to walk to places. But the nearest thing I can walk to is a park, a school or another house. Anything else like a coffee shop or a bus stop is a good 25 min walk. 

Upon arriving at the bus stop or train station (that never runs in suburbia), I’m a good hour away from the that 630km² of city where, supposedly all the action is. And so most of my days have been spent catching up on sleep, writing, watching TV or reading  (all things I’m grateful for having time to do) and looking for jobs (I’ll get to that). 

Expat exploring

Having known ahead of time that trekking to the city was indeed a trek, worthy of packing snacks and water, I didn’t let that deter me from exploring this new city. And so hubby and I walked the 25 min walk through a sleepy suburban subdivision to purchase a paper ticket to board a bus (or if we were lucky) a train to downtown Toronto. The cost of the return was $20 each. And that was just for the bus or train (same price for either) in and out of city. That wasn’t inclusive of getting around in the city! (And people say London transport is expensive!) With only two subway lines running perpendicular through the city, I would hardly say public transport is cutting edge. But it seems to work for the locals. 

We’ve perused around a few neighbourhoods in Toronto to see what there was to see and do. Apart from the beautiful houses we walked passed, there was little to see. There isn’t much history in Toronto and sadly many historic buildings are being torn down in the name of development. None of the neighbourhoods stand out as offering anything the others couldn’t. But perhaps this is a naive first-hand impression of the city. I’m hoping this will change over time. But for now, although I can see that Toronto has had new developments (in the way of a condo epidemic), I can’t see that the city has anything more to offer than it always had. 

The Good, the bad and the ugly

The Good

The good news is that I am breathing fresh air again and eating fresh produce that is home grown and not shipped into the country (well some are but not everything). There is no humidity and so my hair is not suffering anymore either (yay!- sorry, I love my hair). I have slowly but surely acclimated to a slightly cooler climate and have been thankful that we arrived in the summer. I have had the opportunity to hang out with friends that I would only see once a year if I was lucky. And the best part was that it was like no time had passed. And of course, I get to spend time with my Dad and worry and nag him in person rather than over a Skype call millions of miles away.

The Bad

The bad news, is that life feels a bit stagnant at the moment. I know it has only been a month and my feelings are mainly due to having zero opportunity to integrate and engage with the city or the country. In this past month I have really began to appreciate what a ‘typical’ expat wife goes through (which by the way, I don’t think I could ever do and totally take my hats off to you ladies). See, every time we’ve moved countries, I’ve always had work. So I have had a reason to walk out the door and engage with my new setting. Right now I have no reason other than to get groceries.  This leaves me feel like a middle-aged, minivan driving housewife as I drive through suburbia.  And so I feel a little lost some days with what to do with myself and a little guilty when I’ve accomplished very little in a day.

We are still waiting for my husbands papers to arrive (we’re nearly there!) and even for our stuff to arrive. I am also still waiting to find work and to apply for some courses (one of the main reasons I wanted to come back). But perhaps more importantly, I know we will be waiting a lot longer for the big picture to arrive. To be in a position to truly enjoy the country. Having a home and getting out to those stunning lakes during the summer. And well…. I guess although being a primary school teacher by day should mean I have endless patience… I don’t. 

The Ugly

The ugly news…. and this is something I haven’t really want to admit because… well I’m in Canada. And this is a beautiful country and everyone said it would be great here and everyone wants to move here and Justin Trudeau is a sexy prime minister etc etc.. But, I don’t like it here. And by here I mean, I don’t like Toronto. It’s just not me.  I don’t want to live a life where I have to drive everywhere. I get a little bit nervous when I see someone has been shot at least once a day on the local news (and yes I know London has a far higher crime rate). And I certainly don’t want to live in suburbia (but I’ll leave that for another post). I know I sound like a petulant teenager, whinging about what are seen as luxuries to other people. Of course there are far worse places in the world I could be. And it is a privilege to have the right to live in a country like Canada when others are queuing up and banging on the door, begging to be let in. I know this. I’m all too aware of this. But if I could just have my whinge for a moment…. it will pass.  I really hope this opinion changes but for now, I have to be honest with myself.

Sticking through it

People that know me will know I certainly never let first impressions determine the future. And I can certainly admit when I am wrong about something. I am in this for the long haul. Because despite my feelings of reservation at the moment, I sure as hell am not packing up bags and boxes to move after only a year! No, we decided we were going to be more sensible and stay somewhere long enough to sow the seeds and reap the fruit. So that is what we will do!

Mariam at the Andthenwemovedto blog, wrote a brilliant article with tips on how to learn to love the new place you move to, which you can find here. I’ll certainly be following some of the tips I haven’t already been doing.

Think positive

There are so many positives to living in Canada and I am excited to have the opportunity to experience it. I will approach this as I have my other moves. Be a tourist in the city, try and meet other British expats and try and exploit the benefits of a lifestyle in this country (aka the great outdoors) while we are here. What’s more, not all Canadian cities are like Toronto. I lived in Ottawa (the nation’s capital) before and adored it. Montreal is beautiful and is known for its European flair (why did I give up French in high school!).  So who knows… maybe we’ll move within the country! haha

 it’s early days, I know. And so I’ll continue on waiting and watching as our new adventure unfolds here. I also know I’m not the only expat out there that has ever felt lost, confused or disliked their new home and for that reason I wanted to share this. Because those that have been flexing that expat muscle for a while know that this life we lead is far from perfect. 

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 The Arrival:the early days in a new country The Arrival, the early days in a new country  

12 Comments

    • Thanks Shona. I really appreciate it. I guess this is new territory for me. There were times when I found living in Doha tough but it didn’t frustrate me as much as this city does. Maybe I’m just hitting that grief wall. Where you realise what is going on and are starting to regret the move you’ve made. LOL

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  1. Okay first thing first – I dont mind you move away but if you do, please wait till I am back in Toronto. At least we need to meet each other at Tim Houtons in the winter.

    Toronto is not the city to be loved at the first sight. I hate Toronto during my first year and then until I moved away for work, I realized how much I missed it. I think it is because during my last two months I went out and get to know many people, and know this city can offer more than I expected. There are many parks to visit, good food restaurant, and lots of free shows. Toronto will get very cold after two months, so enjoy the summer.

    .

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    • Hahah don’t worry Julie. I’m not moving anywhere any time soon. I don’t think I have the energy to pack up again. I have heard of all these things you speak of but everything just seems so far away. Such a hassle to get to. Even walking down to the waterfront and having to cross two dual carriageways?! The city is just so poorly built and it frustrates me that it is still like this after 12 years. I vaguely remember the city as a teen but from what I’ve seen not much has changed (except now property is ridiculously priced as well). Maybe I feel like its more of an inconvenience as I live in the GTA and will be for the remainder of the year until we both have jobs. I’m not saying I won’t give it a go. It’s not like me not to. I already when to Taste of the Danforth (which I never did before when I lived here!). I’m looking forward to meeting you in any warm establishment come winter time. I’m genuinely afraid! haha. Hope your travels are treating you well x

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      • Thanks Van! Colombia treats me wonderful. The infrastructure in Toronto is not ideal, but after what I have seen in Colombia and Cuba, Toronto is a heaven to me. The public transport system in Canada is the worst among the developed countries, and they are dismantling some old shops in downtown (Markham and Bathurst) to build ridiculously priced condos, such a shame. Glad you went to the Taste of the Danforth, I look forward to meeting you in the winter also. (Dont afraid, you will survive the winter and like it)

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        • I’m so glad you agree about the transport! See I wouldn’t even compare Toronto to the likes of Colombia or Cuba because as you say, Toronto is classed as being in a developed western country. It is also somehow classed as a world class city. Something I am baffled by. This year I may enjoy winter as it will still be a novelty to wrap up and wear socks but I can’t ignore how much of a summer baby I am. I love the heat and have really enjoyed my 2 years of full on summer haha.

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  2. Ah Im so glad you wrote this! I felt the exact same way about Toronto when I moved here from the UK… I felt like I was the only one but almost everything you have mentioned in this post I can relate to! I really hope things get better for you soon. I found working helped a lot with the process. Keeps you busy and stops you dwelling! I’m heading back to the UK xmas so it will be interesting to see how things work the other way 🙂

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    • Thanks for sharing Sarah. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one that feels this way upon arriving in this city. I’m sure things will improve when I start interacting with the city on a routine basis. And if it doesn’t then I will look to move again. haha. I have my eye on a few other cities that call my name. I’m sure when you move back to the UK you’ll feel like things are smaller and hate the rain! 😉 I hope you document the journey back as well.

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  3. Ack. I’ve never moved to a different country (yet; I have a feeling that’s in the cards though), but I have moved to a place that made me enormously unhappy. Sadly I’m still living here 12 years later. I can sure relate to not fitting and having your heart long for something else. Until the time comes you can move on, explore the best you can like you’re doing, write it out like you’re doing (best therapy there is!), and have faith that this is just a stop along the way, part of the journey to be savored but maybe not totally enjoyed. You’ll find some good things and one day you’ll get to be where you want. But for now this makes very honest writing and refreshing reading from my POV because things are presented as too shiny and perfect these days. Which we all know is not reality. Thanks for sharing and here’s to hoping you can find some more good soon!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read this. I appreciate your thoughts. I agree too often we read about the shinier side of life. However, I think the struggle is not to appear to whingy or negative as well. I think sometimes when you admit you don’t like something people automatically assume you are unhappy or struggling or worse depressed. I’m none of those things but I don’t really want to pretend that I like it here at the moment either haha. Thank you for your encouragement as well. I’m hoping the path to my holy grail city will reveal itself soon!

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  4. so honest! thanks for sharing and I bet it must feel at least a little better to open up and speak about the experience?! I’ve heard that repatriating/ returning as an expat is one of the hardest things! adjusting to all that life you left behind.. and you’re a different person too. I wish you all the best and hoping for visas to be sorted and some great work to be found soon.
    for now, as corny as it sounds, try to enjoy those moments and slower days – you will miss them when you’ll jump into routine again..! love , ags

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    • Thanks lovely. I think you’re right about repatriating which is what I’m doing I guess. I think if I went to a new city in Canada I could still call it expating to a certain degree. But this city has ghosts of my old life. One that I vaguely remember but certainly don’t recognise. Maybe that’s why I like being an expat more! It’s more familiar and exciting! I’m actually really enjoying these slow days and afraid when the time comes to work I’ll be resentful hahaha. There’s nothing like being able to choose whether you need to go out or stay in when the weather is crappy outside haha. Here’s hoping the pieces of the puzzle fall into place soon. Until then, it’s a part of the adventure right?

      Reply

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