The Sweet Seconds of Living Abroad
When you first arrive in Canada, you’re taking in the sights, seasons, and simple joys of living here. You immerse yourself in first-time experiences, while discovering your new city or town like a tourist. There are a string of firsts—some planned (drinking your first coffee from Tim Horton’s), some spontaneous (the smoke alarm going off while cooking your favourite dish from back home). Every first gets embedded into your mental album of pictures…
But what about your seconds?
‘Time’ is a word you may have heard a lot in your early months as a newcomer. When you speak to people, be it new acquaintances or loved ones back home, about finding your feet in Canada, everyone tells you to give it time.
You settle into the motions of life – work, chores, paying the bills – and even though your heart may not always be in the same place as your feet, you know that you have to be patient with the experience.
Some of us may earmark our progress by the calendar. We tell ourselves we’ll find a job in X number of weeks, or reach certain financial goals in X number of months…
Suddenly, time doesn’t seem to move the same for everyone. It moves too fast on the other side of the world, where your loved ones back home celebrate milestones without you, while over here, you feel like you’re stuck in the same challenges. Still struggling with your job search or with making new friends.
All we can do is think of time as a balm that will soothe the ache of homesickness, as a flashlight that will shine clarity on the uncertainty and overall, push us to where we envision ourselves to be in Canada.
We take it one day at a time.
The ‘firsts’ in life are always regarded with doe eyes and sweet smiles. We tabulate our noteworthy memories into ‘first crush’, ‘first kiss’ or ‘first time leaving home’ when we relay our life’s best memories. We recount these firsts with a twinkle in our eyes, and the memory playing out in our heads as vivid as the day they happened.
For any newcomer, some firsts are experiential like the first time watching a snowfall. Other firsts are huge monumental wins. The first job in Canada, first car, and first house are not just congratulatory pats on the back for us, they’re landmarks in our newcomer journeys. Some of us even remember the first pair of winter boots we bought or the first Canadian paycheck we earned.
But what about the seconds?
When you sign the offer letter for your second job – or trade your first car in for another car – or move to another house – you stop short in your tracks and say to yourself “Woah, I’ve been here long enough that this is the second time I’m doing this.”
Where did the time go?
Moving on from your first job means you’ve gained confidence from your first job to have looked for other career opportunities that were better aligned with your ambitions. Congratulations to you on that.
Trading in your first car for another one means you learnt how to drive on Canadian roads (turning right on a red feels wrong, doesn’t it?), obtained a Canadian driver’s license, and repaired your car enough times that it just makes sense to replace it. Congratulations to you on that, and the lower insurance of course.
Moving to another house or apartment means you probably now know which neighbourhood in the city or town you like to live in or maybe you now have the living space you’ve always wanted. Congratulations to you on that.
You suddenly realize that between all the seemingly-ordinary motions of working and doing your chores, you’ve achieved SO many other things both a first and second time.
Those “firsts” get to stand on the pedestal, and you are prone to treat them like markers of your progress in this new land…
But the seconds, those sweet second moments, are the real markers of how far we’ve come.
These seconds don’t always have to be big-ticket experiences. Even something like buying your second winter coat because you’re retiring your first is a milestone of how many Canadian winters you’ve lived through.
Neither does your progress have to show itself in big ways. Getting enough points on your Tim Horton’s app to get a free drink is an indicator that you’ve lived in Canada for a while now (unless you go to Tim’s every single day in your first month of arriving here, haha.)
And with the second run of things, you know more now to make decisions better suited for your personality. The first time around, you’re just figuring things out and sometimes, winging it. The second time around, you understand your needs in this country better.
The firsts are like rehearsals, you show up and run through the motions hoping that you’re doing fine. The second time around, you’re more sure of what you want and need to do.
Your seconds in your newcomer experience are no small feats.