Welcome to my new series ‘The Living Abroad Questionnaire’ where I interview 5 women born in 5 different countries about their experiences of living abroad for extended periods of time! Every day of this week you will get a new insight into what its like to move to a new country and how it can impact your life for the better!
Country of birth: Canada
Countries you’ve lived in: Canada, England, United States (New York City)
Why did you move abroad?
I knew exactly what my career path would look like roughly three weeks into my first ever Media class in ninth grade. With a clear passion for marketing and advertising, I set my sights on applying it to the most beautiful 'product' I could conceive of - fashion. I went through the necessary preliminary steps; a college degree in commerce followed by a university degree in business. After one particularly dreary Montreal winter day kept me cooped up at home binge-watching Project Runway, my pathway became clear. What better place to pursue fashion than the city in which style inspiration comes more readily than the next available yellow cab. It was New York, it was Parsons the New School of Design, and it was the Fashion Marketing degree that would round out all of my studies as yet.
What was the process of moving to a new country?
The process of getting there was fairly quick and painless. The first steps were academic ones. I needed to get all of my grades submitted to be standardized for the US, write up a killer letter of intent and complete a project on a fashion retail success (I chose to keep it Canadian with Joe Fresh!). It was a quick acceptance, followed by paperwork for a Visa and the search for a home. Knowing I was moving to the kind of city that's cluttered with people, but is notoriously known for being somewhat isolating, I wanted to find a true home. Half a day of Googling and several cups of coffee later, I discovered the school dorms were awful, and any apartment would want something terrifying like 22 months rent upfront. I call my older sister seeking advise, or perhaps straight up emotional asylum, when she offered up a suggestion on word from a friend of hers. It was a residence down in South Harlem by Columbia University for international students and interns from all fields. It offered a community of some 800 people all brought to New York to pursue an individual dream, sharing in a space with a cafeteria, a gym, a bar, a few lounges and a massive social calendar. It was an easy decision from there.
Was there an aspect of living abroad that was different from what you expected?
Overall, the dream matched pretty close to the reality. The school program was fun, creative and largely manageable coming off of a three and a half year stay at McGill's mental bootcamp (McGill University’s Faculty of Management). The city was alive and literally always had something to offer. The people were interesting, each with their own story and perspective to share. The work offered up experiences a young 20-something fashion enthusiast would froth at the mouth over such as sitting front row at New York Fashion Week, and sipping mimosas up top the Chelsea Hotel in conversation with Rachel Zoe on her latest collection inspiration.
The one thing that did catch me off guard, was the always looming feeling of being somewhat alien in a country that had consistently felt like a sibling to my own. I felt it in moments of harmless humor when an American friend would half-seriously joke that as a Canadian, I lacked the right to complain of the cold in the city. The times where it actually affected me; however, came when I was applying for jobs. It became apparent that I was looking at a time limited stay with the undesirable prospect of 'sponsorship' on the horizon. Few companies were willing to go that route, and those that were, essentially wanted your soul in exchange for their promise of keeping you in the country.
How has living abroad changed your perception of life?
It made me more aware of the fact that everyone has their own story and that sometimes, your shared meaningful relationship may be just a chapter in it. New York is an entirely transient city that harbors some of the most passionate people out there, all bleeding money just to get a taste of the 'American dream' whatever that means to them. Broadway stars, fashion careers, music executives, financial analysts, poets, people looking to better the world and correct social injustices. Some achieve it in the city, some compile what they learn and take it with them to apply somewhere with better property value. People come and go. A neighbor is in one day, and gone without a trace the next. Interact with who you like, learn what you can from them while you're with them, enjoy your time together and accept that some of these relationships will endure, while others were just a memory from a time in your life, and that's okay too.
Any tips for someone moving abroad for the first time?
Be mindful of the fact that while you're off abroad, life does still go on without you at home and be sure to take the time to stay in touch with everyone you care about. Life back home isn't stagnant, though sometimes it definitely feels that way. People may move abroad themselves, take on new careers, get into or out of relationships. Things will change, and that's okay, because so will you. If and when you come back, things will inevitably feel a bit different, but if you've taken the time to stay connected to those who matter most, you'll find your way back much quicker. Oh, and if you come home for a quick visit, do NOT try to see everyone in one short visit - it's nearly impossible, hugely overwhelming and usually ends in some drama ;)
I'd also encourage you to take it all in. It's human nature to let the new become the 'new normal' a little too quickly. Remember that this is something exciting you took on to change the course of your life for the better. Enjoy it and get out all that you can from it. Open your mind to new experiences, your heart to new people, and your eyes to new surroundings. Keep your head on tight, make smart decisions and the rest will be your story to tell someday!
Thanks Emily! Look back at all the articles of the ‘Living Abroad Questionnaire’ here.