An Expat Partner: the First Three Months

Thank you to Sarah who blogs over at Scribbles from Overseas for the refreshingly honest story of her first three months living as an Expat Partner. Those early days are often the hardest for any expat – and even more so for the non-working partner who has to find a new routine to their day, as well as find their way around, find out where the shops are and how to use the local bus service….But as Sarah’s post proves, things do usually start to look up once you have the first few months under your belt.

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My partner was always very honest with me. There was a chance his job might be moving overseas, and it was more a question of when rather than if.

I have always found myself torn between two separate paths in life. The first is the kind of ‘normal’ one I suppose – go to school, get a good job, a house, get married and live happily ever after. I am a self-confessed homemaker.

The second, however, is the travelling path. I would love to see more of the world and experience new cultures. When I was growing up I always said one day I would like to spend a year or two living and working overseas.

So when my partner told me we were moving to Toronto, Canada I was excited. There were the initial stresses to deal with – like packing up our house, sorting out shipping and leaving my job. But I loved the idea of Canada. I looked forward to spending my weekend’s hiking in mountains or hiring out cute log cabins by a snowy lake. And I could not wait to go exploring all the cities in North America that I’d always wanted to visit. These would now be on the right side of the ocean for us.

Yet lurking underneath all that anticipation, buried somewhere deep in my subconscious was a growing anxiety.

bubblewrap! Starting the long task of packing our stuff in Bristol

Bubblewrap! Starting the long task of packing our stuff in Bristol.

Leaving England was stressful. Only a couple of days before our flight I was still trying to shift our stuff on gumtree whilst my partner did multiple trips to the dump. Well after dark on the day we were supposed to move out of our house in Bristol, we were still cleaning and sorting out what would be coming with us, and what was going in the bin. It didn’t help that I had come down with the world’s worst (and most badly timed) cold and was feeling entirely wiped out.

Waving goodbye to our house somewhere close to midnight, we drove to my partner’s parents to stay the night before our flight. I felt so nauseous I had to stop the car to throw up. The illness (and general exhaustion) was probably partly to blame, but also the brewing nervousness.

In Toronto

Me, My partner and the CN Tower

Me, my partner and the CN Tower

The first few weeks after you get off that flight will be the hardest. We had two days in Toronto before my partner returned to work in his new office. You feel like you have to squeeze everything into that short period of time. It is a whirlwind of trying to get the important stuff done – such as opening bank accounts and setting up phone numbers. But mixed in is the desire to learn your way around the city and make the most of the time you have off together before work takes over. I was glad we managed to find the time to have some fun and fit a little of the touristy stuff in, such as visiting the CN Tower.

It was after he went to work that supressed bubble of anxiety really shimmied its way to the surface. I had this sugar-coated idea in my head before arriving in Toronto that I would spend this time getting to know the city. However, in reality there is only so much exploring you want to do by yourself. Plus there’s the ever growing guilt that you are not working and therefore should really hold back on spending too much money.

I quickly realised I do not like being dependent. I have always worked since the age of thirteen when I had my first paper round. I do have a work permit here, but I found the process of job hunting agonising. Trailing though endless pages of job advertisements, half of which specify applicants with Canadian permanent resident status will be prioritised was an incredibly de-motivating experience.

Far too excited to find a shop selling British baked beans and squash!

Far too excited to find a shop selling British baked beans and squash! (not at all: I think we all know where you are coming from – look, Yorkshire Tea! Ed).

I got into the habit of researching trailing spouse syndrome online and convinced myself I was doomed to two years of depression and there was nothing I could do about it. Finding some temping work pulled me out of that routine. It stopped me sitting in our apartment thinking, or getting frustrated at job hunting all day. And even though I am not working again now and those niggles do still exist, after three months of being here I am able to enjoy having the opportunity to spend my time writing, cooking and doing the things I love. Things I wouldn’t normally have the time to do when working a full-time job.

I don’t want to make this all sound too negative. Things do get better once you get over that initial first month hurdle. Yes you will undoubtedly sob into a cup of tea wondering whether you made the right decision and consider getting on the next plane home at various points. Yes you may go slightly loopy some days, and I certainly crave that path one lifestyle from time to time.  However, if I could go back in time six months I wouldn’t change my decision to move overseas and become an expat partner. Most days I really love being here, and for every day I want to go home there’s another where I am thinking about where might be next on the list after Toronto.

On top of all the obvious positives of seeing a new place, meeting new people and learning about new cultures, I have found this an opportunity to learn what makes me happy. I have realised what is most important to me – and who is most important to me. You learn who your true friends are. It gives you the chance to step back, re-evaluate and maybe write a whole new path for yourself.

Three months in and Toronto is bright and blooming. It is summer here now and the weather at least certainly beats the grey drizzle England promises most of the year around. Toronto is a really great place – and I have still only seen the tip of the iceberg!

There is still a lot to learn and a long way to go until I will feel completely settled, but I am starting to realise it is OK to not have everything neatly in place.

 

The Charms of Indiscretion – a guest post

Thank you to Canadian expat Hubert O’Hearn (who wrote this review of my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide) who has kindly written his own take on his new life in Ireland. I love his very distinctive humour and I can think of a few fellow bloggers who will probably appreciate it too! Enjoy!

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When it was suggested to me by a mutual friend that Clara Wiggins might appreciate it if I wrote a guest post for her website – the word blog sounds to me like the song of a depressed frog – of course I leapt to it like a, well like a non-depressed frog taking aim at nearby fly. I’m a writer, I’m an expatriate, and in writing about my own experience I get to write the word I a lot. Including me and my and I’m, there’s a dozen already just in this opening paragraph. We are our own favourite subjects after all. Oh and there’s no denying that. As both a book reviewer and an editor/writing coach, If I (thirteen) had a dollar for every book I’ve (fourteen) read whose story began with a lonely, misunderstood writer who suddenly has a buxom Russian spy come bursting through his door bearing secret passions and a pizza with double cheese I’d (fifteen) be able to settle the national debt of Greece.

I probably should get some pencil-sharpening necessary exposition out of the way while I decide what would be the most interesting thing to discuss with you (1).  A half century ago a drunken stork got lost on its way, said ‘oh the hell with it’ and dropped its load smack in the middle of Canada. Thus I was born and I haven’t had a good word to say about large birds ever since. Half a century later I finally ended up where I was supposed to be in the first place. I packed three suitcases, bribed my border collie Stella into climbing inside a pet carrier and three flights and a limo jump between LaGuardia and Newark later, I was in Ireland. Despite the best efforts of the Irish government, I’m bloody well staying. So there.

Now of course I’m faced with a choice as to how to best fill the rest of this space. There are three definite options here:

The Romantic Allure of Ireland

Oh it definitely has all that allure in spades and I knew it from the first time I saw the little moss-covered island from the air when, at age 10, I was taken here for a summer tour by my mother. That was when I made up my mind to move here, although it did take a while to put the plan into action. And you think you have writer’s block! Anyway, writing about that would lead to sentences like this:

I no longer write, but record what I hear as I listen without listening to the voices whispered in coastal winds through the hawthorn tree in my back garden.

‘Ere now, ain’t that all grand like? But that is an option.

Humorous Observations

Now this is ever so popular at all the best dinner parties and is guaranteed to charm the pants off the guests, which would certainly be my specific intent if the guests were vivacious and single. Actually, never mind the single part. I’ve had affairs with married women and leaving the sinning aspect aside, you get to have all the fun and still can lay about alone on weekend afternoons in a robe and bare feet watching the football (2). Yes, there are lots of liquored laffs to be had in telling tales of learning to live in Ireland, such as:

Having decided to learn the Irish language, I downloaded a series of lessons produced by Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE. The very first lesson – I swear I am not making this up – implied that the three essential phrases to know are: The weather is terrible, Can I get you a cup of tea? and, Isn’t this the employment office?

Ho ho!

Serious Words of Advice

Oh gawd, you don’t really want to know about taxation policy and registering for National Health benefits do you? If that’s what you’ve come to me for, not only are you barking up the wrong tree you’d best be seeking out the National Health services in your own country to find treatment for this odd habit of yours of barking up trees. Well, I suppose if that’s what you’re after I had best toss a bone your way (3). Besides, to omit doing so would break the rhythm of this piece that is bound to be nominated for a myriad of Webby Awards if I can just find the link to place it in nomination. Here is your sample sentence of advice:

In seeking accurate assistance prior to emigrating to Ireland, the best and most accurate information is not likely to come from a clerk in the Irish Embassy in Ottawa whose accent has more of a distinct lilt of Delhi than Derry.

No no, that one’s true. My initial immigration was completely mucked up by said clerk in said Embassy which meant that I had to decamp to England for ten months while waiting for a UK passport to be delivered so that I, as a resident of the EU (4) could freely and legally return to the Republic of Ireland.

As you may have guessed, this post is nearly done and that’s why they all call me Clever Clogs (5). However I do have to say at least one serious thing about Ireland because I love it so. Somewhere in this often rotten world there is a place that meets your needs, suits your pace and matches your own energies and dreams perfectly. That is something I truly believe from the bottom of my heart. Just as migratory birds have an inner compass drawn to some mysterious energy pole that leads them safely to Capistrano or North Africa every autumn, so too is there that needle within you that tries to nudge you where you are meant to live. If you are very, very very lucky that place is where you live now. And if not, I truly hope you find it soon.

NOTES

1. In other words, this paragraph is dull as hell and you’re welcome to skip it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you Sparky.

2. What? You think I called this piece The Charms of Indiscretion just because I liked the sound of the words?

3. Seriously, why do you think you’re a dog? Your mother’s concerned and people are starting to talk.

4. At least until David Cameron bollixes up the EU Referendum in 2017.

5. No one has ever called me Clever Clogs.

Hubert O’Hearn is an independent editor, writing coach, arts reviewer and author of two books and six plays. He has also developed the Six Months to Better Writing Course designed to sharpen skills through individual mentoring for both developing and professional writers. He is delighted to hear from other writers any time on either a personal or professional basis. His email address is ohearnofireland@gmail.com and an archive of his work can be found at www.bythebookreviews.blogspot.ie.