On my first trip back to Australia in 2019, about 9 months after moving to Canada, I was delighted by one tiny detail; I did not have to pack a power adaptor. At that time, all my electronic devices still had Australian charging cables, adapting to their new Canadian sockets via an assortment of boxy interfaces. For this trip, I could leave them off the packing list.
It struck me as a handy little symbol of all the other ways I had been adapting to my new environment; the big and little changes to my language, accent, wardrobe, habits, humour, behaviours. It was such a good feeling to get off the plane in Sydney, plug my appliances straight into the wall and not have to worry about things like cafe tipping etiquette, or second-guessing my choice of vocabulary.
Fast forward another couple of years and things have changed. My devices have turned over and now fit into Canadian wall plugs, and I’m different too. My accent has softened, and I hear myself saying words like “cell phone” “candy” and “sweaterrrrrrrrr”. My bluntness has mellowed and I’m a bit less direct. I no longer use f*&k as punctuation. I have grown accustomed to a polite society where people are courteous, leaders respect the intelligence of their consituents and everything is recyclable.
At an orientation-to-Canada workshop we were taught about the stages of culture shock, and I was deeply sceptical that I would ever move past the frustration and “everything is stupid” attitutude of phase 2. I felt so very Australian that I never imagined that reverse culture shock would be a thing I would need to contend with. But now that I’m settled into the relative comfort of phase 4 and contemplating the homeward re-entry phase, I can see that I’m really a bit of a mix. You know… sort of part vegemite, part maple syrup. Three years in a foreign land can’t help but change you.
So I’m bracing myself for a bit of a rough landing. I wonder, how many times will I walk on the wrong side of the footpath or flip the light switch up instead of down? How jarring to my ears will it be to be surrounded by ‘strayan accents? Will my Canadian consonants disappear immediately or fade out slowly with time? Will I find the Aussie systems and structures frustrating and “wrong” after experiencing a different way of doing things? Will I be that insufferable person with my constant “back in Canada…” comparisons? Will I risk my life as a pedestrian who has forgotten to give way to cars?
Ok, so this coming home business may not be a complete walk in the park, but at least this time I’ll be adapting to a familiar sort of weirdness, and I’ll be doing it within the gentle buffer of friends, family, acquaintances and the history of my own life.
Who knows? Maybe it will feel like I never left. And while I feel confident that I’ll re-inhabit my Australian-ness soon enough, there are some parts of my Canadian-ness I hope I will never lose: the seeker of mountains and fresh forest air; the campfire singer and epic road-tripper; the flat-shoe wearer; the ambitious walker; the hopeful leader and the humble learner.
Wherever I am, there will always be new paths to explore, new challenges and new joys to discover. And that’s the kind of life I’m pretty well adapted to already!