I’ve been back in the UK for nearly two weeks now, and things are, as I anticipated, a little strange.
Everyone I meet who knows I’ve been away asks me how it feels to be home, and my standard response is currently “oh well, you know, conflicting feelings!” accompanied with a smile.
Because honestly? That is about as close to the truth as I think I can get. It is conflicting; I’m both happy and sad, pleased and miserable, excited for the future, and desperate to wind back the clock to life in Canada already. I’m having a hard time working out my own feelings, so maybe it’s safer to deal with the facts and return to this blog’s time-honoured tradition of listing things unnecessarily.
Here are the facts, as I understand them to be:
- I was always going to be sad to leave Ottawa. I knew that. I worked so hard to make it my home and I’m about as sentimental about home-making as they come, so saying goodbye was going to be hard. I’ve made my friends there; I’ve got connections with professors, some of whom I wish I could carry on studies with; I’m a recognised local at my favourite tea shop; I know Ottawa, the bus system, the short-cuts and back-alleys, the cheapest places to buy groceries, the best vegetarian restaurants, the most beautiful spot for sunsets. For all it’s flaws, it was home. Now I’m back in the UK, completely broke, facing dissertation drafts and job applications, I want nothing more than to turn right back around and head back to my team, my degree and my city in Canada.
- I was always also going to be a little sad coming home, because it wasn’t quite ‘home’ anymore. Losing our much-loved family pet, as I covered in my last post, was an unexpected blow at the end of my year. Not being here while the family were going through their mourning period was difficult; I’ve had to catch up independently since I’ve been back. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be greeted at the front door by a familiar face and wagging tail when I hauled my airport-labelled luggage out of the car had made me anxious about coming home. Being back in the house would make her absence all the more unavoidable, I thought, and I was right. That has definitely been a tough aspect of coming back, and conflicted with my joy of seeing my family enormously. Knowing that the dog, and our childhood era she was such a part of, is gone, has been an important process to go through but a difficult one. It has also in many ways contributed to the feeling that this house isn’t really my home anymore.
- The last major thing I did while on my year abroad wasn’t really in Ottawa – so it’s weirdly easy to forget about the year, and focus on the holiday. The majority of my last 6 weeks in North America was spent travelling in the states, on the most epic adventure I’ve ever been on and could ever have hoped to go on (more on that another time). It was an awesome experience, but it was decidedly an amazing holiday as opposed to real life (as my savings account will attest to ((read: what savings account. I have nothing.)) It was also not representative of my entire year away. I keep almost forgetting that I haven’t actually been in the UK since August 2016, thinking only about my recent travels, and not about the fact I was living in Ottawa for 9 months prior to that. Although my final days were spent in Ottawa itself, packing and preparing to leave, the city was inundated with Canada Day celebrations. Amongst the throngs of tourists, fireworks and painfully prolonged goodbyes to friends, it didn’t really feel like the city I’d left in May to go travelling. In many ways, my goodbye had been then, but it was a staggered process, that never really felt like the real thing.
- I was prepared to feel like home had changed, but it hasn’t, and that’s what’s throwing me off. Superficial changes, for sure, but much of life, my village, even the country as a whole, feels just like I left it. Emily and I were struggling to describe it, but in the end agreed on the word ‘small’. Everything feels small. It’s strange going back to the one nice cafe in the village, ordering exactly what I did a year previously. My bedroom is no longer a space of my own, it’s my ‘childhood bedroom’ – a shrine to pillows and books and pens and posters that are just no longer are my taste, having spent a year collecting dust and being outgrown. I’ve lived with a flatmate in an apartment for 9 months, cooking all my own meals, and now I’m back in the very nice, but slightly guilt-inducing dynamic of having food cooked for me. At home with my parents, I’m in the difficult role of being both a child and someone approaching a tenant – mature and independent enough to contribute to the house (but in precisely what way, I’m still working on). I find myself more cautious about tidying up after myself, as though I am a guest. Meanwhile, my room is a complete mess, a clutter of Canada things on top of childhood things on top of things that I don’t even know what to do with.
- I have changed, but I don’t think I quite know how much yet. Here’s another conflicting feeling to add to the pile – I feel simultaneously both much older than I did before I left, but much younger too. I am older in that I know I’m far more independent, more self-motivated, more willing to do things alone, to take on new challenges, to not be panicked or stressed by inconveniences or things that don’t come naturally to me. I feel older in that I’ve seen more of the world, seen diversity and staggering beauty and communities so different from my own; I’ve experienced more in 10 months than I could have thought possible. But I also feel ‘young’ too. Young in a way that many of my friends are now graduating, settling into regular jobs, even into their own homes – making plans for ‘real life’. As much of an experience Canada was, it also now feels, in this slightly surreal, hazy, post-year-abroad period I’ve found myself in, like it was an interruption from reality. A delay of the terrifying freedom and emptiness of post-graduation; a stopper on the inevitable progression of my life. The Tessa I was before this, younger though she was, had some handle on approaching that next phase. She was with her peers, shared experiences bolstering shared anxieties and excitements. The Tessa I feel I am now, wiser, older and more mature (maybe I’m flattering myself here), having taken a completely different path for the year, now feels out of the loop. And that next phase? I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m doing.
A cumulation of all of the above is leaving me feeling decidedly odd. At the start I blamed the strange hollow feeling I was experiencing on jetlag, but I think nearly two weeks down the line that excuse is becoming a stretch. Emotions are fleeting, in a wider context of general uncertainty. I’m happy when I see friends and family I’ve missed, of course, and sad too, in the quiet stillness of my house where the pattering of paws usually provided summer holiday company with the parents at work. But in the inbetween? In the moments I’m not otherwise occupied? A little empty, I guess.
Reverse culture shock on arriving home was something I anticipated as much as outgoing culture shock, which definitely made itself known during the October of last year. I feel as though this current slew of emotion and lack thereof is how my reverse culture shock is manifesting itself. I think the thing I’m finding strangest is how little I’m talking about Canada. I imagined I’d never be able to shut up about it, that every other thing would spark an anecdote or a comparison to Ottawa – but as it is, I feel like I’m almost deliberately not talking about it. Because I don’t want to keep reminding myself of a life I’m not going back to any time soon? Because I’m aware of not wanting to bore people, having already subjected my friends and family to a detailed Instagram documentation of my adventures? Because, really, no-one will quite understand and appreciate it all anyway, and that these are experiences I need to keep to myself?
My current hope is that most of this limbo feeling will dissipate with a) a very long and much needed catch-up with Emily when I get to see her and b) my return to Exeter in September. The prospect of independent living, a regular training schedule and the final academic year to keep me busy is already appealing, even if readjusting back into another home I’ve probably outgrown a little is less so. Another bridge to cross when it comes I suppose.