Coming Home!

Morgan Waters, March 2021

You know that old saying, “you can never go home again”?  I think it might be true – at least a little bit.

I left Canada in 2005 with a big yellow backpack and no idea when I’d return. Thirteen years later I came back for good. I was a little more weighed down this time with a shipping crate and a new family including a couple of furry rescues from the streets of Doha, Qatar. 

The Culture Shift

I expected there would be an adjustment period for my born-and-bred expat children and Egyptian-born partner. I don’t think I gave enough thought to how I’d fit back in. Or not.

Forget the weather. People always ask if I miss the warmer climate, but honestly the adjustment to living in layers has been a snap. My children settled in nicely and reconnecting with family and friends has been wonderful too – pandemic restrictions aside. It’s the culture of the place that I’m still trying to wear with the ease I once did. From the soccer field to job interviews to social gatherings, there have been plenty of awkward moments for me personally – more than I expected. 

Re-learning to dress in layers!

Cringeworthy Moment

The worst moment, the one that makes me cringe even now, took place at a friendly backyard BBQ, a few months after starting my newfound life in Ottawa. I was chatting with another guest who, I thought, might be from Western Canada. So I (stupidly) inquired “where are you from?”. His smile vanished, and he answered he was indeed from Canada but his background was Asian. Immediately, I saw my blunder and tried to explain and apologize. However, he looked unconvinced and I still feel rotten about it.

I had forgotten what a rude question that is here in North America – how it can make someone feel like an outsider in their own home. Amongst ex-pats on working visas in the Middle East and Asia, it was often the first question you asked or answered when you met someone new. Of course, in that transitory context, it rarely caused offence. 

Needless to say, I won’t be making that mistake again.

Struggling to readjust

Many of the dear friends I made in ex-pat life are struggling to readjust to the cultural norms at home, be that South Africa, Germany or the UK. The contexts we’ve walked back into are different, but we are all pretty rusty. 

We were warned. The so-called reverse culture shock is a popular subject on expat blogs. We were cautioned against telling stories about our overseas adventures. They may be central to our identities,  but the stories wouldn’t resonate with people who’d built a life rooted at home. We were told to prepare for a certain sense of dis-connectedness from the day to day rhythm of family and friends. Come back for a visit and people drop their routines for the special occasion. But come home for good after several years away, and you can’t just slide back in where you left off. It takes time and effort. 

We have all had our own struggles professionally too. I embarked on a career change at the same time as the move, making the jump from journalism to communications in the government sector. I had contacts and connections in Ottawa, but not nearly as many as I would have had, had I spent the previous 15 years in Canadian media. When I first starting putting out signals that I was open to work, I got more interest from American organizations than here. That changed in time though. I  ended up at a Canadian international development organization where I fit right in. But, for a while there I worried my experience overseas was going to be a handicap more than anything else.

Some Children Struggle

The biggest challenge for many of my ex-pat friends back in their home countries has been watching their children pine for the life left behind. We raised our children together in a tightly knit community akin to family, full of fun and adventure. It took ages for many of their children to stop asking to go back. Some still do. 

I must say that my children have not shared that struggle. They are 13 and 11, and love it here. They say they wouldn’t even consider going back to the cushy lifestyle we lived abroad. Aside from our friends, the only thing they say they miss is living in flip flops, the availability of dosas and falafel for breakfast,  and the proximity of swimming pools. When you live in a wealthy desert Arab kingdom run by Indian expats, all of the above are around every corner..

So can you go home again? Is the old saying wrong? Well, of course you can. Just understand that while home might be the same, you may not be.

Morgan Waters is my niece. She left Canada to work in journalism in the UK. As luck would have it, she received and accepted an offer to work in Doha, Qatar.

Larry Waters

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