Coming Home – An Ex-Pat Canadian Prepares to Land in Aotearoa
When people ask me about my life I give them a brief chronological description of how I studied in Southern Ontario, moved to Vancouver to continue studying and then left Canada to travel and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. However, the other day while talking to a Swedish friend who also happens to live in London, I alluded to my life still being lived in transit. My fellow expat asked how I can categorise my lifestyle as traveling because isn’t it just that I am living in a different place than where I was born? And there is some logic to this because when you break it down, over the past five years I’ve always had a base from which all my traveling has stemmed. Whether New Zealand, Australia, Japan or the UK I’ve always had a roof over my head and an income that allowed for this continual traipsing of countries and cultures. So where does the divide come between living in a new country and being a perpetual traveller?
For me, that distinction comes in just how much stuff you own and of what quality. What do I mean by this? Well, for much of the past five years I have only had what can comfortably fit in a rucksack. That has comprised my worldly goods. (A small white lie this, as when I first started moving about I did acquire so much ‘stuff’ that I had to go out and buy a rather large suitcase – but then I got so sick of carting this around with me that I sent home what I wanted to have in the future and much of the rest I gave away so I was once again back to no more than a rucksack). Much of what I’ve carried around with me was a book to read, a book to write in, a film and a digital camera, a very old, well loved laptop and some clothes – and not much else. This has enabled me to pick up and move my life from country to country as needed, not having to bother with the hassle of shipping boxes or buying then selling furniture. I’m not much of one for shopping or hording so sticking to just what I can carry isn’t so bad. And this has allowed me to maintain that I am still traveling rather than a Canadian currently living in London.
My point in all of this? I went home to Canada this summer. I spent some time in Northern Ontario with my father going through the boxes of my childhood selecting what I still wanted to save and what could be donated to a charity shop. After clearly marking what was what I then carried on to visit my Mom in Vancouver where again I had boxes and boxes of artifacts that have made up my life thus far. Text books from University and photo albums from high school, souvenirs from my travels that I’ve shipped back for safe keeping but more than all of this what I have are my journals.
I started writing in a journal when I was about 10 years old. My parents had split up when I was about five years old and around the age of ten my Mom moved to Vancouver to go back to school, get a degree and pursue a life that she couldn’t have in my hometown of 4,500 people and limited opportunities. My older brother and I stayed with our father, our childhood friends and our grandparents in Marathon. And one day I picked up a pen, started a conversation with myself and I’ve been writing nearly everyday since. And so these volumes of journals and self-discovery have been sitting in a box for the duration of my traveling waiting for me to have a permanent home to bring them to.
While in Canada, looking through these pieces of my past I was struck by nostalgia and a need to have all aspects of my life in one place. And this, going back to where I started from, is what I think is the difference between being an expat who lives in a country that is not of their birth as opposed to a traveler who moves about with limited comforts of home.
And as I pack and prepare for a new life in New Zealand, dreaming of a vegetable garden and wide open spaces, I’m also giddy with the excitement of knowing that for the first time in a very long time I’ll be bringing together those childhood boxes stored at my Dad’s and the boxes at my Mom’s along with the bits and pieces of London life and have them all in one place. And I feel that then and only then will I really be an expat Canadian settled in New Zealand. I’m not going to stop seeking out undiscovered corners of the world but I’ll no longer define myself by this activity for I’ll finally, again, have a home.