Cooking a live lobster, experimenting with French cuisine, carving a pumpkin, finding a deer in her backyard — these are the stories that dance across my friend’s face as she tells me about her life in Victoria. She is embracing the novelty of living in a foreign land, and chronicling her journey via social media. Things that are familiar to local Victorians, like rain against our windows, Canada Dry on our grocery store shelves, and maple leaves scattered on our sidewalks, hold a special place in her newsfeed and online photo albums. I totally get it. This is a different land, one far removed from her world in Japan. As she shared with me, I was reminded of what I missed so much about my life abroad. Every day held a new surprise, every day was written by me, every day I smiled at the mundane novelties.
Living in a foreign land gave me an opportunity to reinvent myself. I no longer had to be the quiet girl with good grades. As an international student in Thailand, I started saying yes — yes to scuba diving, yes to traveling to new places, yes to skipping class to watch a cabaret show, yes to wearing a school uniform….even when I didn’t have class, and yes to staying out late and eating Mama noodles. My student days were never boring, even when I stayed on campus during the weekends. There was always the possibility of crossing paths with a 6-ft monitor lizard. There was always a novel experience to be had, and I was no longer held back by my Canadian shell.
Even though Thailand was my home for 6 years after my student days, I kept on experiencing the novelty of living in a foreign land. The monsoons and floods were my rain against the window, Thai iced tea with condensed milk was my Canada Dry……but it wasn’t bought in a store, and fruit stands and children’s laughter were my maple leaves on the streets. And somehow I found joy in my daily 3+ hour commute to work, because I got to ride a motorcycle, take the sky train, and sleep on the bus on the way. For a couple years, I even took a boat to my office. All this was so far removed from my world in Canada, and although it was routine for the Thais, it was so foreign to me.
Living abroad is filled with novel experiences, and once these experiences become part of regular life, you’re reminded of how unique they are when you talk to people in your home country. You tell them about eating insects, and taking a boat to work in a river often littered with garbage and floating animals, and you see surprise, disgust, questions, and sometimes lack of comprehension on their faces. When you move back to your home country, you feel somewhat bored. Going to the grocery store is not an interesting experience, your commute to work is long and tiring, and the streets are filled with silence. It’s not that there are no novel experiences to be had in your home country, it’s that you must seek them out or learn to look at your world through fresh eyes again.