Living in a country and culture different from what you grew up in is an amazing experience. When you first arrive everything is new and exciting. There’s so much to explore and get to know. (That goes both ways, too. I can’t tell you how many times I had to explain that it actually does get as hot in Canada during the summer as it does in the South.) The thing is, as you spend more time there you start to pick up new habits, mannerisms, and whatnot and change or set aside some of the ones you used to have. And then, when you’ve been there long enough, you start to think that you’re approaching life now the same as those around you and it’s genuinely shocking to find out that you don’t.
If you follow immigration issues much you’ll probably have heard the sentiment that people marry Americans, or find other ways into this country, just to get a green card. The idea is that the U.S.A. is such an amazing place, especially when compared to the rest of the world, that people will do just about anything to get here and then be allowed to stay here when they arrive. And don’t get me wrong. The United States is, in my experience and despite what you may hear on the news, still a great place to live. People here in the South have proven to be some of the most welcoming I’ve ever met (and that includes Canadians). That being said, Canada is still a pretty amazing place, too. I didn’t move here just to get the hell out of there, you know?
Growing up in Ontario, and then living and travelling all around the country, made me who I am. That’s something special and yet it’s so easy to forget sometimes. As much as I have grown to love the people here I will probably never really, truly approach life the way they do, at least not with giving up too much of myself in the process. I will forever be just a little bit different (and that’s OK).
I’ll be so bold as to suggest that wanting to belong and fit in is pretty much a universal desire. Whether it’s just to have a certain group of people like us, or to become financially secure through gaining the respect of your boss, or just to have someone to relate to, belonging is something we all want to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that, at least to a point.
The problem comes when we try to change who we are just to fit in. I’ll give you another example from my own life. When I first got to the Royal Military College of Canada, I didn’t fit in much. I wasn’t much of an athlete and I hardly ever touched alcohol (not that there’s anything wrong with a drink every now and then; it just wasn’t a big deal for me at the time). While this set me apart, for the first couple of months it didn’t really bother me. When it did become too much for me I deliberately gave up just trying to be myself and I actively sought the acceptance of those around me. Did it work? No. I didn’t seem to really be any more accepted than I had been before, so I hadn’t gained anything by it, and at the same time I had lost something very special. Me. Finding my sense of self again after all that took a very long time.
We are, each of us, who we are. You are who you are for a reason and the same goes for me. That is something far too special and far too important just to give up for the acceptance of those around you. So don’t forget who you are or where you come from. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
And for those who don’t know just how special a place Canada is, here’s a song all about it.