The Expat Diaries: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The Expat Diaries: Should I Stay or Should I Go?People often ask me when I decided to stay in London for good (or rather, indefinitely). It’s a hard question for me to answer.

I knew from my very first day visiting London, when we’d come here to work on The MASON, that I had to return here to live. I’d had that feeling before. Any time I’d gone on holiday to a city before and fallen in love with it, I’d wanted to move there. But this time was different. I knew that in my bones and I proved it by doing everything I needed to to make it happen.

Yet even when I first moved here, I only meant to come for a year. Deciding to stay came later, although not much.

It was an idea that crept into my mind during my first few weeks after arriving, as I’d be filled with spontaneous joy just wandering the streets and realized that I lived here now. But it didn’t happen all at once. I wasn’t certain.

Within the first couple of months I’d mostly made up my mind but then that decision was shaken. I found out my brother’s girlfriend was having a baby and my first response was that I needed to move back to Canada. I knew that they’d need my support and I couldn’t imagine having a nephew grow up with me so far away.

But soon there was a nagging decision in my heart that my place was in London. That I wasn’t ready to leave.

I knew that if I moved back to Canada, it wouldn’t be to my hometown. And I didn’t even feel right about moving back to Toronto. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where I’d want to be because my heart was stuck on London – maybe Montreal or Vancouver, but either way I’d still be far away from my family. It took me a while to accept the decision I was making, but soon enough I gave into it.

At first I liked to think that this certainty was because London is mine now. In the way you take ownership of a city after having had to struggle to stay there, having learned the curve of her streets, and suddenly finding yourself a local at your favourite pubs and cafes. I liked to think I’d made this great, wild place my own.

But lately I’ve realized it’s the opposite that’s true. It’s me that belongs to London.

This city is full of surprises. Pockets of beauty, secret corners, and hidden mysteries. I’ll never see it all. And there’s something new popping up every day.

My life is being shaped around her energy. My schedule bends to accommodate hers. And somehow I understand that who I am and who I’m becoming is tied to her. I know with the full force of my being that I’m not ready to leave and perhaps I never will be. And so, sometime last winter, I decided to stay.

Have you ever felt the call of a city so strongly that you couldn’t say no? Or is there a place you’re yearning for right now?

Love, glitter crowns, & fields of tulips,

The Expat Diaries: The Great Kitty Dilemma.

Henry1I had a different post written for today’s Expat Diaries entry but I’m saving it for another day as there’s something pressing on my mind: Henry. Yes, my cat.

When I decided to stay in London for the long-term, I’d planned to bring him here with me. I’ll have my new visa by the time Matthew and I go to visit my family in Canada this fall and I figured it would be the perfect time to move him over. Now I’m not so sure.

This is no small expense. Because the UK doesn’t allow pets to enter the country in the cabin of the airplane, the cost of Henry’s one-way flight is almost as much as my return. There’s also expenses for getting travel documents from his vet and a handling fee at the UK airport. But I’ve been anticipating this and saving for it. It’s not what I’m worried about.

Henry might not seem like it because he’s such a bossy guy but he’s an anxious cat. If he has to stay inside for too long he starts ripping out his fur. And he’s neurotic about his routines.

A flight to the UK, including drives to and from the airport, would mean being in a carrier for at least 15 hours. And that’s if there are no delays.

He’s settled with my mom right now and there’s no reason to think he’d be happier with me than he is with her. I’m starting to wonder: is this fair to him? For a human, 15 hours, even if miserable, is something we can endure because we can understand the experience and know that it will be over eventually. But of course cats don’t have this kind of rational thinking. He won’t understand what’s going on.

You hear about plenty of cats who are moved internationally without any problems at all. But then there are others who are affected by the experience and never seem the same afterwards. And of course there are horror stories of pets who die in transit.

My mind is reeling, asking myself: Am I selfish for wanting to put him through this? Even if he gets over it eventually, is it worth the trauma on the day? Is it less selfish to let him stay the king of his Canadian neighbourhood and give a home to a British cat in need? What metric can I use for making this decision?

Moving to another country brings with it so many benefits, new experiences, and adventures. But it also comes with sacrifices and challenges you’ve never faced before. Sometimes it’s surprising which ones will really trip you up.

I’m sure that people without furry friends could be confused by the level of distress I’m experiencing over an animal, but I know my fellow crazy cat ladies will get it.

If you’ve had experiences moving animals abroad, I’d love to hear what it was like. Or even if you haven’t, how you’d go about making this decision.

Love, tiger stripes, & whiskery kisses,

The Expat Diaries: The Privilege of Being an Expat.

suitcaseThis is a slight deviation from my usual Expat Diaries posts, which I write with the hopes of shedding light on what it’s like to move abroad and inspiring other wild hearts to create their lives in the place that their soul yearns for.

But after reading this article, Why Are White People Expats When the Rest of Us Are Immigrants?, it got me thinking about the privilege of being able to up and move to a new country with a relative ease, so I felt obliged to comment on it.

The article raises the important point that the words “expat” and “immigrant” are loaded terms, steeped in assumptions about social class, country of origin, and economic status. You don’t hear politicians complaining about “the expat problem.”

Not only were there few barriers to my move to the UK, but there’s a whole class of visas that allows young Canadians to live and work in another countries for up to 2 years. And although applying for a long-term visa is both time-consuming and expensive, the colour of my skin and the country emblazoned on my passport are likely to make the process somewhat easier for me.

But why should these opportunities be available to me but not a similar woman born in a different country?

I understand that borders and laws and nations exist to make life easier. To provide order. To help keep us safe. But inherent in many of these laws are assumptions about who a person is because of the colour of their skin, where they were born, or how much money their family makes. Most of us like to think that we are immune to most prejudice, but the language we use can also perpetuate this kind of thinking.

This series would have a very different tone if it were titled “The Immigrant Diaries” – a word that suggest struggle and often poverty. Whereas the “word” expat suggests a certain romantic and luxurious lifestyle, even though its definition (a person who lives outside their native country) is almost identical to “immigrant” (a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country).

That’s not to say that either word is inherently bad or that I plan to stop using them, only that it’s important to think about the context surrounding our language and to be intentional with when and why we use it.

Certainly moving to the UK has had it’s share of difficulties but never have I had to deal with accusations that I’m stealing someone’s job or that I don’t belong here. When I do mention that I was born in Canada, it usually results in an even warmer welcome.

So today I just wanted to offer this gentle reminder of the privilege that comes alongside being an expat and that there is power in the words we use, so wield them wisely.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the article. Does it make you uncomfortable using the word expat?

Love, handwritten letters, & cross-country train rides,




P.S. What do YOU want to know about living abroad? Let me know and I’ll talk about it in a future post.

Photograph by Sarah C. Stanley.
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