I was woken up shortly after 2 AM this morning by a group of people talking loudly outside my window. It is incredibly rare that I am even aware of my neighbours, let alone disturbed by them, so I was surprised by the continued intensity of the conversation. In the UK, I’d have made assumptions about the group based purely on their voices: where they were from, how educated they were, whether their behaviour was potentially concerning. Here in Canada, I can’t tell any of these things. A year in, I’m still unable to differentiate between Canadian and American accents, let alone regional differences within Canada. This is a sure-fire way to offend one’s colleagues (sorry, folks!), but last night it meant that I didn’t really tune into the noise downstairs or use it as a way to form prejudices about the people involved. It’s interesting to reflect on what one does and does not notice when in a different environment.
Having returned to Canada for Year 2 of my studies, so many things feel easier than this time in 2015. I’ve got a support network in place now, and better understand how things work here; how to put North American lightbulbs into North American lamps (both are different to at home), finding my way around the city, understanding verbal expressions. Some things still infuriate me: yesterday I bought a fabulous new coat online, but only remembered about tax being added when the order confirmation arrived and I realized I’d spent more than I’d expected to. I could list more examples!
It’s an odd mix. My ‘visitor’ status means that there are some things I don’t notice at all, others that I am constantly aware of. At times it’s tiring, and I long to be back in my home country. But being both more blind and more critical here in Canada means that I’m also becoming more blind and more critical about the UK – which is an unexpected but positive outcome of my international status. To other new students, then, especially international ones, hang in there! It’ll get easier once you’ve started to establish habits and communities in your new environment, and it’ll make you look differently at your old environment. It’ll take time (as demonstrated by the coat incident) and there’ll be times when you are desperate to go home (what I would’ve given to have been in the same time zone as Ambridge on Sunday evening!). But it’s fantastic to see and hear the world from a different perspective. Allow yourself the time to do so.