Moving to Canada: Finale

As of last month, I hit my one-year mark of living in Calgary, Canada. This is the official conclusion to my moving to Canada series that has slowed down over the course of the year. I’ve spent a whole year residing here, picking up new hobbies, making new friends, and exploring. What did I learn?

Making friends, especially in a smaller city is HARD. Like BRUTALLY HARD. The thing is, in cities like LA, or New York, there are SO many people that aren’t from the surrounding area, that state, or even the country so you bond with other people that didn’t grow up there over your same ‘otherness’. In Calgary though, it’s smaller, so more people you meet are from the surrounding area or provinces. As such, there is a tribal knowledge that is tough to break into. This isn’t a dig at Calgary, I’m sure this would happen in any city of similar size. Everyone has gone to school together, or lived and worked there for years and they have all these little things that just don’t make sense to an outsider. Jokes about different parts of the city, a restaurant that used to be where that bar is, different sets of hobbies, etc. It’s one of those cities that you can walk around pretty much anywhere and bump into someone you know (to be clear, I am not a fan of this. I adore the anonymity in big cities). To truly fit in, would take a long while. I have done a good job I think, making friends, but more often than not, I still feel like I’m on the outside.

I also am having way more of an identity crisis than I bargained for. Before moving up here, I was pretty indifferent to being American. Honestly, I was a little embarrassed due to our incessant antics around the world. But since moving, I’ve become way more patriotic. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why, though. Since Americans and Canadians look and dress pretty much the same, I am often assumed to be Canadian and this irks me. Part of it is because I can’t help but compare the two countries since they are so similar but so different at the same time. The other part is because I think I’ve realized how much being an American is integral to my personality and the way I am, and I am intensely reluctant to give up that part of myself.

There is a certain comfort in things that are American versus Canadian for me. Like how everybody is so rude on the road in America. That might sound like a terrible thing, but I miss it. I miss talking about the audacity of American politics with people who don’t see the situation as an elaborate media joke. I miss the sheer amount of things to do in U.S. cities like Chicago and LA. Pop up shops, concerts, art shows – they never skip major U.S. cities, but they definitely skip Canadian ones. I miss the fact that everything is instantly at your fingertips in the states whereas in Canada the mail takes for fucking ever. I miss the intensity of ambition that is ever present in American cities whereas Canada is more laidback (I’d like to point out that this is most likely due to the fact that they have amazing benefits no matter your socioeconomic status so there’s not as much worry). But the point is I MISS IT. And right now, I’m not willing to let that part of me go.

So this is the struggle of identity I face now. How do I keep my American identity while still successfully assimilating in Canada? Is it even possible? Or must I say sorry to everything and sell my soul to the oil industry?

The thing is, Canada is great in many ways. Since being up there, I’ve learned a ton of new hobbies – skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking and I’ve learned to enjoy the outdoors a lot more. I’ve also really enjoyed being closer to my boyfriend, discovering cool parts of Calgary, and learning how to set up a life from almost nothing.

And maybe I only feel this way because I’ve truly only been halfway in this whole time. Due to my job, I’ve spent nearly the same amount of time outside of Canada as I have in it. How can I really be a good judge of the place when I’ve never worked there and only developed the bare minimum of a social life since I’m gone all the time? A terrible one probably.

But this is all I’ve got right now. I’ve tried my hardest to make the most of the situation, but I’m at a loss of how to continue this way. I have no roots in Calgary, but also not enough time there to plant any. In the same vein, turns out it is ridiculously hard to get a job in Canada as an American, and what’s more, is that Calgary doesn’t exactly align with my career interests.

But all of that aside, let’s say I got an amazing job in the city, and joined a bunch of things to meet people. The risk in the back of my mind is the feeling that I’d have to give some part of my identity up to be 100% happy up there versus clinging on to my familiar self and perhaps only ever being able to achieve 70% happiness. When is the proper time to allow yourself to change?

So many questions, so little answers. To help cope with this feeling of being in between, of being lost, I’ve dedicated a large amount of mental space to taking things one day at a time. Right now, I’m not moving anywhere different, and I don’t have another job on the table. So why drive myself nuts? The best I can do is navigate each day and ask myself what I can do to make myself as amazing as possible no matter where I am.

To catch up on my entire Canada series, you can start here.

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The outdoors are a major perk of Canada living
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Moving to Canada: Take 5

It’s been a minute since I last wrote about my move. It was at the end of January and I was finally feeling pretty positive about my relocation. I had started to make some friends, and my work life was getting increasingly busier. So busy, in fact, that I hadn’t had any time to reflect on how I was really feeling.

It’s nearing the end of six months and I’ve finally had a slow weekend to relax and think a little bit. I think I’ve started to settle into a rhythm here in Calgary.  Work has picked up a ton which keeps me busy (and keeps my stress levels engaged). I travel almost every single week, so I guess it’s a good thing I have such cheap rent now since I hardly spend time in my apartment during the week.

I’ve also really been trying to work on those friendships I started back in January. Since originally just going climbing with a couple girls a few times a week, I’ve done a ski weekend, and had some double dinner dates thrown in for good measure. I’ve gotten loads better at downhill skiing as well as steadily progressing on rock climbing, and actually look forward to being outdoors (shocking, I know).

All in all, I am starting to feel good about my life here. But that is just it – I feel good, but not great. I don’t believe this is any fault of the people I’ve met, the city itself, or even underlying homesickness. I believe it’s my own unrest that is leaving me dissatisfied.

I was talking to a friend earlier in the week and we were discussing how most people in our friend group always need to feel like we’re moving forward and part of that feeling is physically moving locations at every available opportunity. I’m particularly guilty of this (7 places in 5 years), but I can’t figure out where it stems from. I fear to stay in any place longer than a year and view part of my success synonymously with changing locations. And now that I’m past the halfway point in my lease in Calgary, I’m starting to feel myself growing restless.

Where do I go from here? I’ve conquered my fear of moving to a new city in a new country and building a life from scratch, and part of me craves doing it all over again. The other part of me simply fears growing complacent by staying in one place for too long and becoming comfortable. One of my favourite ways to challenge myself is by moving to new places and I’m terrified of ever growing too attached to a place out of convenience.

So my new questions for myself are as follows: why do I feel the need to move around? And if I don’t move, how can I still find ways to push myself?

Does anyone else feel like their success depends on moving around? Or feel afraid of staying in one place for too long and becoming too comfortable to move again? Let me know!

 

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PC: The talented Megan Lawson

 

Moving to Canada: Take 4

Last time I talked about my move to Canada, I was in a pretty fragile state. My loneliness and isolation had reached the point where it was tough to get out of bed in the morning, my motivation was waning, and I was just going through the barest motions of my life. Get up. Work. Workout. Sleep. Repeat. Those feelings were wearing me down and I spent many a night during the first part of December in tears or close to them.

Every time I would try and talk to someone about these feelings, they’d hit me with those dreadful generalist statements. “Oh everyone goes through this” “You just have to do ___ and you’ll be ok” “It’ll get better if you stick it out”. Yeah fuck that. How come people won’t shut up about embracing uniqueness until it comes to pain? Sure, if I want to pursue my dream of being a basket weaver, society loves me for embracing my own version of happiness, but if I say I’m sad because I feel out of place, they lump me into a group with everyone else that happens to feel sad. Obviously, seeking comfort in others wasn’t working, and thus, those hideous generalisms just made me clam up and wallow in my struggle even more.

Thankfully, I had a light at the end of my tunnel. The holidays consisted of three weeks of quality time spent in Chicago in a familiar environment, surrounded by people I’m comfortable with. This came at the perfect time. My family always keeps me happy and finally getting the opportunity to have deeper conversations with people who know and understand me was a huge weight off my shoulders. There’s just something about getting food with my friends and simply talking about life that makes me feel enormously calm and happy. There’s also something about the way my sister narrates life that makes me laugh until I cry so that always helps too.

Unfortunately, I was about to go back into the tunnel. Obviously, my return to Calgary was awaiting me in the New Year and I was dreading it. I was looking forward to seeing my boyfriend, but other than that, I would’ve been content to stay in Chicago. BUT, I did return and I returned to the most hectic month I’ve had since moving in the first place. I haven’t even had the time to be sad or lonely because my work schedule has kept me underwater.

This turned out to be a good thing. I have been so busy travelling for work and fitting in my few social engagements around my trips that my brain has no space to compute my feelings since returning. However, I have hit a small bit of luck. I finally met a girl that seems pretty cool and she actually got me into rock climbing. I’ve hung out with her and a few of her friends and although it’s all still in the tentative, surface level, lots-of-exclamations-to-show-positivity-while-texting stages, I’m honestly relieved I’ve met a few people that I could see myself becoming closer with. As hard as it’s been, I actually thought it would be harder to get to this point.

In the last two months, I’ve only spent about 4 weeks in Canada, but ultimately, I’ve been so much happier with my time here. What remains to be seen is if I can sustain this feeling. Is it because I’ve been so busy? My new friends? I haven’t distilled the actual source to the turnaround in my mood, but I leave for Mexico tomorrow so I guess I’ll have to just wait and see.

 

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PC: Michael Lankester

 

Moving to Canada: Take 2

Alright guys. At the beginning of last month, I detailed how the first few days of living in Canada had gone for me, and in case you forgot, I was not in a good place (see the first article here, if you need a refresher on my misery).

But because I know this move is going to be a period of tons of changes and phases, I figured I’d start a series on my blog chronicling how it goes. So here it is: my first full month in my new country.

October was a little strange because I really only spent 20 days out of 31 actually in Canada. For one week, I had a business trip to Seattle and for another week, I was visiting my family in Chicago. However, most weekends and other days were all spent in Calgary.

Even though I spent some time away, I will admit that I definitely enjoyed my time in Calgary a little bit more than I did in the first few days. I realized that Amazon and can still be useful and Canadian Netflix is actually BETTER than American Netflix. (Although my HBO doesn’t work here so I have to figure something out before the final season of GOT. YES I’M ALREADY WORRIED ABOUT THIS). I got into my normal routine of working from home, working out, and tried two boxing gyms. I also hung out a couple times with some of my boyfriend’s friends and family. Even though I know I need my own friends, it was obviously nice to talk to someone other than my boyfriend every once in a while.

Now that I’ve calmed down a bit, I can recognize that Calgary, for the most part, is like any other major city in the U.S. It has a vibrant downtown where everything is walking distance and it has bars, shops, and restaurants, as well as skyscrapers to form the skyline, so getting used to the city won’t take long. I’ve begun walking around by myself to run errands and familiarize myself with how to get around.

The hardest part of moving, and I suspect it will be the hardest part for awhile, will be developing a social life of my own. Working from home really works against me in this respect, since I have to find other ways to meet people. My first thought is to join a boxing gym or maybe a cycling class and go regularly to start to see the same people. But unlike making friends in college or at work, I would still only see these people for one or two hours a week, so building up a repartee with them will still take a while even once I commit to one.

My next thought was to join a couple groups online for people of similar interests, as well as an expat group, but so far I haven’t found any events that I have been able to attend. November might be a little bit better for this since I don’t have any travel planned but we’ll see. Luckily, I feel a bit more settled after this past month and I can mostly focus on trying to meet people and cultivate new hobbies for a new city. Wish me luck!

If you have any suggestions on how to make friends in a new city, please comment! I need all the help I can get!

 

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If nothing else, Canada is gorgeous.

 

 

 

I’m Homesick Already

My name is Melina, last week I moved to Calgary Canada, and I’m HOMESICK.

This probably doesn’t sound that surprising, but I’m honestly quite taken aback that this feeling came over me so quickly. I had been here for exactly two days and then we went grocery shopping at this huge grocery store, and let me tell you, it’s been a long time since I felt that helpless. I didn’t know where anything was, half the brands and food items I was used to weren’t there, or I couldn’t find them and I just felt this unbearable longing for the overpriced Ralph’s in downtown LA.

The next day, I tried to buy a few items on Amazon and boy was I in for a treat. You know how great Amazon is in the states? You can find anything and everything for crazy prices and it all arrives in two days? Yeah, not the same deal in Canada. The selection is almost comically inferior and the prices are hit or miss. And that two-day shipping deal? Almost nonexistent even with prime. So after realizing Amazon couldn’t help me at all in this country, I basically had a breakdown and laid on the floor for about an hour with glassy eyes halfway between crying and not.

I know Amazon and the grocery store sound pretty freaking trivial, but these are key components in setting up a new life and I’ve never had to set up shop before in a location that was almost familiar but just different enough to be completely unsettling. When I lived in China, I was already mentally prepared to not have any of the things I was used to. Canada, however, seems so close to the U.S. on the surface that it was easy to trick myself into thinking it would be nearly the same bar a few ‘sorry’s’ and ‘eh’s’.

Additionally, for the first time in my life, I find myself in a new place with no one around me going through the same thing. I know it hasn’t even been a week so I can’t expect to have already made friends or connections and I know this will eventually be spectacular for my personal growth, but right now, it just sucks. I feel out of place and out of step since there’s no one I can really turn to right now about this feeling.

I know these feelings will subside, and the longer I stay, the more familiar I will get with my surroundings and the more people I will meet. However, I wanted to get this off my chest because even though moving can be really exciting and fun, and starting in a new place can be like having a great blank slate to play with, that same blank slate can also be fucking terrifying. Writing this out was the perfect way to remind myself that it WILL be ok, and that for now, it is ok for me to cry or watch TV alone on weekends, or whatever.

If you would like me to continue chronicling my general feelings and activities about moving to a new country and starting over, please let me know, I’m sure I will have TONS to vent about in the coming months.

 

 

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Photography by the illustrious Clara Yu

 

Dear L.A.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas (Malibu, Thousand Oaks, Tujunga, DTLA) for about three years now (not all in a row, but close), and I can safely say I have a pretty harsh love/hate relationship with this place. L.A. is ugly, has boring architecture, the traffic is the WORST, and there really are a ton of people here trying to be famous or get discovered at every ice cream shop, club, and street corner.

However, even though I can say a million horrible things about Los Angeles, I also have a few good thoughts on this place and as I prepare to abandon it (only three more days!) in favor of the Great White North (aka Canada), I thought I’d write a little letter to Los Angeles to thank it for how it has contributed to who I am today.

Dear L.A.,

We have been through a lot together. My whole college career, internships, amazing friends. But I’ve known since the day I set foot in this town that it would be a temporary living space for me, and now the day has come for us to part ways.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you, you’re not the prettiest city I’ve ever had the pleasure of courting, but certain parts of you are incredible. I can’t deny that your proximity to the Pacific doesn’t make me justify your numerous other flaws everytime I set foot in that warm sand and get salt water in my hair.

Ugh and the food! You do so many things so well: Mexican, Chinese, Italian. You have a million dessert shops, each offering better cupcakes or ice cream than the last. And the best part? All of it is gorgeous because you know half your revenue is from being reposted on Instagram.

You’ve also taught me much about taking care of myself. Although you can get a little dramatic with all your overpriced juice cleanses and fancy gym memberships, you really showed me that it is ok to put a priority on self-care. You gave me all sorts of healthy eating options and introduced me to heaven in bowl form: acai bowls. You also made sure I never got bored exercising and offered me my choice of many boxing, yoga, swimming, and hiking prospects to stay fit.

And even though you can be way too expensive and way too superficial, you were also the place where I met some of my absolute best friends.  These are the friends that taught me to be more open minded, more social, and more generous. They taught me it’s ok to depend on others and to be vulnerable with them. They are friends that I can laugh, cry, or be silent with. The kind that truly change you as a person, shape your life, and stay with you forever, and for that, I will always be grateful.

See you again soon L.A.

Love, Melina

 

 

A Girl’s Guide to Defecting

As many of you may know from my recent blog post here, I am moving to Canada in just a couple weeks now! While I’ve moved WAY too many times in the last few years, moving to another country comes with a whole set of different challenges that you normally don’t have to worry about when you’re moving within one country. I love the idea of living abroad, and although Canada isn’t exactly as exotic as I’d like, it is still a foreign country and a new set of logistics need to be considered. So if you’re the same as me and are considering, or have considered living abroad, here are some things you should take into account:

  1. THE LAW. I know, I know, this one is obvious. But it is worth repeating here because each country has its own immigration laws and regulations, and you should become intensely familiar with those rules to avoid any mishaps. Common ways to live abroad include getting work or student visas that provide you with the correct documentation to live in a country that is not your own. If you’re a U.S. citizen, the Federal Secretary of State website is the place to start for this info. For me, I’m in a unique situation since I work from home for an American company. For this first year at least, I won’t claim that I live in Canada, and I will make sure I go back to the states at least every few months to prevent violating immigration law. If I live with my boyfriend in Canada for a year or longer, he can actually sponsor me for permanent residency and things become a whole lot easier.
  2. TAXES. The only certainties in life right? Death and taxes. Just because you move away does not mean you are free of paying your government money. In fact, it gets even more complicated because you will have to file in both countries. I make money through an American firm, but will be using Canada’s resources so I have to file twice. I’ll be honest, taxes are already complicated enough as it is, so I’ve decided to hire an accountant for this. It’s expensive but I will definitely need the help and peace of mind of putting this burden on a professional who can make sure I don’t lose too much money.
  3. HEALTH INSURANCE. Maybe you’re on your parent’s policy still, or maybe you have insurance through your work. Either way, chances are, your policy doesn’t really apply abroad. I have Blue Cross Blue Shield and they do have emergency insurance for if I were to break my leg or something abroad, but as far as getting checkups or other appointments, I have to come back down to the states if I want coverage. There are ways you can extend your coverage abroad, or buy a separate policy for extended trips, but you will have to make sure you contact your health insurance providers for more details.
  4. CELLPHONE. Ideally, you would simply buy a Sim card in whatever country you moved to and get a new plan with one of their providers. However, because I will be constantly going back and forth between the states and Canada for work, I 1.) Don’t want to commit to a Canadian plan and 2.) Don’t want to change my number. I have Verizon and they have quite a few options for people traveling abroad. For now, I have added Canadian Access to my phone at a limited capacity for an extra charge, and will add more as I need it.
  5. MAILING.  If you leave the country there are still going to be some important documents that you might not want to forward across oceans and continents. I know I will change all my subscriptions and official document addresses to my parent’s address. Make sure you obtain a PO box or an address for a person you trust for official documents and tax purposes. Figure out how to forward your mail with your current postal service or call/email all your subscription services and change your address manually.

There are obviously a billion other little things to consider when moving period, but when moving abroad, the most important thing is to make sure all your legal affairs are in order. Moving to another country is honestly a logistical nightmare and for me, I really had to do my research and talk to people that had done something similar to me to figure out how they handled all this. Information online can be vague or misleading so it is best to find forums for expats or official government instructions to get a better handle on the things you need to know. Wish me luck!

 

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Photography by the lovely Clara Yu

 

I’m Moving…Again

I have an important announcement.

Drumroll, please.

I’m moving to Canada.

No, this is not a drill, practical joke, or political piece (although my timing is great regarding that). I really am moving to the city of Calgary, Canada in one month’s time.

Why, you ask? Well, there are a couple reasons: chiefly, that my boyfriend lives in Calgary and since my job allows me to work anywhere, we decided to do away with the long distance thing and move in together. And also because I can never stay in one place for long. Just look at the last four years:

  • August 2013: Moved to Malibu, CA
  • May 2014: Moved back to Chicago, IL
  • August 2014: Moved to Shanghai, China
  • May 2015: Moved back to Chicago, IL
  • June 2015: Moved to Tujunga, CA (Thanks, Kay and Jim)
  • August 2015: Moved to Thousand Oaks, CA
  • May 2016: Graduated Pepperdine and moved to Chicago, IL
  • June-July 2016: Euro Trip
  • September 2016: Moved to Downtown LA, CA
  • September 2017: Move to Calgary, Canada

I know it’s typical for college students to go back and forth and not settle during their university years, but I do think I’ve moved around a little more than the average student/young professional. This past year living in DTLA has been the longest I’ve been in one place since leaving home, and I’m moving yet again!

However, the decision to move wasn’t quite as easy as it seems, and I honestly have quite a bit of anxiety over it. First of all, even though I’ve moved around quite a bit, I always knew I was coming back to somewhere, whether that was Chicago or California. With this move to Canada, I have no idea if I will end up staying there or where I would move next.

Secondly, it is a BIG deal to me to move in with my boyfriend. Moving in with a romantic partner means we will be merging our lives. And the scary part, of course, is if things go south with the relationship, it is much harder for me to rebuild my life again after shifting all the way to Canada. Furthermore, I am moving to my boyfriend’s home turf. His family, friends, and activities are already established in Calgary, whereas I will be starting from scratch — no family, no friends, no social life at all. That is absolutely terrifying for me. I don’t want to rely solely on my boyfriend for all of my social needs, but that is how it is going to have to be at the very start until I start getting involved in my own things. Moving to California the first time was different because I was a freshman at university, and everyone knows freshman are all desperate to make friends so we were all in the same uncomfortable situation. This time around, it is only me in the uncomfortable situation and I have to figure it out by myself.

Lastly, I was initially apprehensive about moving to Calgary. All my life I’ve lived in or around extremely large cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, Shanghai, etc. These cities are enormous, gorgeous, and have tons of opportunities. Calgary, on the other hand, is a bit smaller and still developing. That’s not a bad thing, but I’m not used to it. I also admit I’ve been spoiled by the sheer variety of activities, food, and landscapes afforded to me by those cities. Calgary has a much different feel to it and the major points of interest are things I had never even considered doing before, like skiing, camping, or cycling. I have visited a couple times and definitely felt out of my element.

So there you have it, in spite of my fears of not having any friends, not having a social life, not fitting in with the activities, being too bored, of my boyfriend and I breaking up, I still decided to move. I still decided to move because I decided it was important to continue to challenge myself.

I know it’s Canada and I won’t have bigger issues to tackle, like language or vastly different cultural norms (although I will never understand the big deal about hockey), it is still a different country and I will have to build my life there. I’ll have to learn what I like about Calgary and what I like doing there. I’ll have to learn how to live with my boyfriend, and I’ll learn how to create my own social life from the ground up. So while it’s comfortable to live in places I know so well, with people I already love, I know I will grow so much more by putting myself in a place I barely know, with people I definitely don’t know and force myself to make it a great opportunity.

 

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Checking out my new horizons…