15 Things I Learned From Moving Across An Ocean In My Thirties

Nine years ago, I picked up my stuffed suitcase, got on a plane and moved from London to Toronto.

Today, I have an unbridled devotion to this city, which feels absolutely like my home. I even got a tattoo of the CN Tower on my ankle – which I think is the closest one can come to actually marrying the city of Toronto.

In honour of my SEVEN YEAR CANADAVERSARY, here are 15 things I learned:

 

(1) It’s hard. Like, really, really hard

When I was moving, so many people told me, “You’re so brave!” and I would reply, “No I’m not! If I don’t like it, I’ll just come back!”. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would be really hard and I would still want to stay.

About six months in, once the honeymoon period (“Wow! I really did leave all my problems in London!!!!”) wore off, I suddenly realized, “Oh. THIS is what they were talking about….”

(2) The hardness last about a total of two years, tapering at the end

From talking to a lot of other people, it seems this length of time is mostly universal. Putting this out there in case you’re thinking of moving somewhere.

(3) The things that you find hard aren’t the ones you’d expect to

Yes, I missed my mum and my friends, andIMG_1420 change can be difficult. But what was hardest were the little things. Like knowing where to buy an extension chord. In the UK, I’d just go to Argos. But Canada doesn’t have an Argos.

You can, of course, ask people to tell you. But sometimes it feels so exhausting to have to call someone about every. tiny. thing.

(4) The friends you miss aren’t the ones you’d expect to

I still spoke to my closies all the time. But the friends I missed the most were the ones who I wouldn’t see for a year, then immediately it would feel like we’d never been apart (like Tom).

Making new friends – even ones you get on really well with – is a very high-energy pursuit (because you want to find out EVERYTHING about each other). What I missed were friends I could just flop around in front of the TV with, and not have to talk about myself to.

(5) …Although, you never stop missing your mum

Living so far away from my ma feels the way people describe extreme grief: it’s not that the pain goes away, it’s that you just learn to live with it.

(6) Making new friends is like dating

When you don’t have any, it feels really hard. But once you break the seal, it can be a river that never stops flowing.

I actually wrote about the whole experience of this – and how it’s like networking – here: yesyesmarsha.com/newcity Walk O Winter Mud copy

(7) When you’re starting again as a grown up, you get to be really choosy about your friends

You know that person who you went to school with and even though you don’t have a single thing in common, you still go for coffee or lunch every few months, then go home feeling crummy? Or the awkward person you worked with years ago, who always invites you out for a drink, and you have to find some excuse to say no?

None of them! They are no longer your problem! You get to pick your entire social circle, so it’s only filled with the most awesome people. This is the pay-off for all the hard work making new friends as a grown up takes.

(8) It’s much easier to change core habits

In London, I ate mostly processed food, mostly on the hoof while I was running from place to place, got callouses on my thumbs plus neck problems from how often I used my Blackberry (not even kidding), barely read the news, was out almost every night and stayed up wayyyyy too late. 

Here, I cook (mostly organic) food from scratch, bike everywhere (?? I never biked ANYWHERE before I moved here), have a flip phone that I keep switched off half the time, am an activist, barely ever drink booze and – well, I’m still not that good at getting to bed on time, but I manage it at least three nights a week.

It was easy to change my habits because I was changing everything.

 

Particular to my move:

(9) Canadians bloody love British accents and it’s SO AWESOME

Yes, I have to suffer every second person doing terrible impressions of me (“Moi noime is Mosheh! Oooiiiiiim Bri-ish! HAHAHAHAHHAHA”).

Yes, people constantly respond as if I’ve said things “British-ly” on purpose just for fun (even the way strangers say, “I love your accent!” is in a tone of “You’re such a card!!”, suggesting that they think you’ve put it on especially for them).

BUT:

  • they think I’m funnier than I am (awesome)
  • they think I’m smarter than I am (I’ll take that)
  • it’s really nice to feel so frequently special.

Side note: they also think I’m more arrogant than I am, which only gets me into trouble when I make jokes like, “God EVERYONE in this bar is STARING at me, it’s SO hard being this attractive”. Which, admittedly, is a lot of the time. 1506_TSTL-Marsha-3016

 

(10) North Americans are WAY more enthusiastic than people back home.

It’s terribly good for one’s self-esteem.

I actually only discovered this after I’d been normalised to it:

After a few years of living here, I was the keynote speaker at a conference in the UK. I walked on and, as is my wont, started cracking jokes as I was teaching. Silence. At best, small titters. “Oh god,” I thought. “I’m bombing so badly!”

Then I realised, – Oh, no. They’re just British.

Later on in the conference, I was sat in the audience. The person on stage made what I thought was a really good point. Naturally, I started clapping, loudly and enthusiastically. Only to realise (*slows down clap*) that NO ONE ELSE WAS. It’s just not the done thing.

Over here – certainly at the kinds of conferences I go to – everyone gets a standing O. The person speaking feels amazing, and I love it.

(11) On visits home, you have to stop trying to see all of your friends

At first, I tried to do it. It was like speed-dating them (but without even the promise of sex). It made my entire visit miserable as I rushed madly around, having the same conversation over and over and over again.

The answer seems to be to pick a couple of friends to see each visit, then let go of the guilt you feel from calling no one else.

(12) You must accept the fact that your regular friendship time with a lot of people has come to an end for now, and that’s ok.IMG_1288

There are people you worked with for years, whom you LOVE. People you dated and are still on great terms with. People who, when you lived there, you’d meet once a week and always have the best time.

But you don’t physically have time to see them and your closest friends and your family and do whatever it is you came home to do in the first place. If you happen to run into these people, it’s great. But your regular friendship is over for now, and you must let them go with love. Though, on this…

(13) If you want an easy life, don’t mention on social media that you are home

When you move to a different country, the supply of yourself in your home town dramatically drops – which means that your social stock rises sharply. People who, when you lived there, you could barely hold two minutes of conversation with at a party, will email you saying, “YOU’RE BACK!!! We must go for lunch!!!!!”.

When you’re home, either keep schtum, or brace yourself for a bunch of these messages.

(14) Once you hear yourself start to say “we” and “our” to refer to your adopted country, you experience a swell of pride It is prettier than this would suggest but it turns out it's REALLY hard to take a photo of your own outside ankle

We’re the country with the second biggest land mass in the world, but our population is about a third of that of the UK’s.

(15) Even though it is hard and it’s scary and you miss your mum and there’s so much effort in building new friendships and you have to learn New Argos…

You might end up having a life that feels perfectly you, in a way that your old one never did hockey

Don’t get me wrong – I loved my life when I was in London and Edinburgh. LOVED. But the way I live here feels like this whole new way of being that I never even knew existed. It’s like life before and after Google maps, or text messaging. You were perfectly ok when you didn’t know these existed. But now, can you imagine how bereft you’d be if they were taken away?

I’ve discovered that I’m super outdoorsy. I’ve learned how to cook. I’ve made my own communities. I’m more whole, somehow.

In spite of not having felt like an outsider in the UK, I’m more at home here than I ever felt in my home.

The hard work was worth it.

Yours,

xxProud Torontonian

Thanks so much for reading! If you know someone who has made a big move – or is thinking of it – it would be so lovely if you share this blog with them, using one of the round buttons below.

You RULE!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

 

PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo credits: All by me (Marsha)(well, or friends of mine I handed my camera to) except for the one of my onstage at True Stories Told Live, which is by the extraordinarily talented Connie Tsang

14 Comments

  • Elyse

    Reply Reply January 26, 2016

    I love this insight Marsha! I notice 3 + 4 whenever I travel for a long period of time. I notice the lack of that feeling of just instinctually knowing where everything is and those people you pass by on the street day by day but don’t really know that well. It’s so interesting! Thanks for always sharing your stories with us. Your writing and messages are so relatable and help me out all the time. I’m glad you’re an honorary North American. We love you here! xoxo

  • Sam

    Reply Reply January 26, 2016

    Such a great post!!
    I LOVE all the pictures of you living adventurously in your new adopted home :)
    And friend dating is real! Haha I’ve experienced the same thing.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply February 3, 2016

      RIGHT? It’s SO like dating when you’re starting to make friends!

  • Trudy

    Reply Reply January 26, 2016

    oh, I love this post and RELATE! I moved to Australia from the UK and went through most of the steps you said above – the going home and trying to see EVERYONE – the making new friends – the being more picky of the friends that you make!!

    Brilliant post – thanks Marsha! :)

  • Ryan

    Reply Reply January 25, 2017

    Hi Marsha,

    Love this post! I’m the un-Marsha, from North America (well, Maryland – not too unlike Ontario) to the UK 12 years ago. #10 is the biggest for me – I do a lot of teaching and training for professionals, and of course, most of my audiences are English. Being American helps – it gives me a bit of permission to be enthusiastic and positive

    My question – as someone who’s done lots of ‘getting in front of an audience’ in both UK and North America, how do you alter your ‘audience expectations’ in your own mind before you take the stage or lead a workshop? What cues do you look for to sense that the audience is ‘with you?’

    It’s very niche, but I’d love to read a post on the differences of doing your work in the UK and North America.

    Thanks Marsha for sharing your distinct voice in internet land, your work has been an inspiration as I leap into my next career move.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Interesting question: in full disclosure, I tend to only remember after I’ve made the first joke and got the country-appropriate response, then it’s a case of reminding myself “If they’re smiling, that means they’re into it. That’s fine!”

      And yes, I think you can TOTALLY get away with being enthusiastic and positive (way more than I can with Brits) – we expect it from you!!

      Thanks for the lovely words, Ryan. That means a TON!

      xxyyM

  • Austin Saylor

    Reply Reply January 25, 2017

    Thank you for writing this. It’s great timing for me. My wife and I are about to move TO London :)

    Well, for three months at least. We’d like to stay longer, but we’ll see if we can work out a visa. If not, we’ll just have to figure out where we want to go next. We’ve deemed 2017 the year of adventure into the unknown.

    Anyway, the thoughts you shared of your experience are comforting, so thank you :D

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Oh so fun!!

      If you ever want a fancy meal, may I recommend the Gay Hussar on Greek Street? It’s my favourite place in London!

      GOOD LUCK with the move, and I hope the visa thing works out. It’s VERY exciting!!

  • Anne Gage

    Reply Reply January 25, 2017

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Marsha. I have a bit of the reverse of your situation because my Mum, after living in Canada for almost 50 years, moved back to England. Our family came here when I was very young, and although Canada is my home, part of me still misses the place where I was born and thinks I could live there. Oh, how I miss having my Mum nearby.

  • Gloria

    Reply Reply May 28, 2018

    One of the best most enjoyable articles on relocating far away I’ve read in a long time! Thanks for this, these were stellar insights! Too many articles of this kind do what you did, but I feel they don’t include a balanced enough perspective, I liked how well rounded yours was. You included good bad ugly and good again, lol. All fitting together really well. Kudos!

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