Op-Ed: A reflection on living abroad

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The following article was submitted in partnership with the COM X program which gives students in Communications Studies the opportunity to work as an intern at The Baron.

According to Statistics Canada, there is approximately 3 – 5.5 million Canadians living abroad at any given time. For a country with a population of 37 million those are some very big numbers.

COM X intern/Submitted

So, what are all these people doing? What could be so great, that people would want to leave Canada? I mean, this is a great country! We’ve got lots of space, reasonable laws and overall, we are very accepting of everyone.

What am I missing? We’ve got the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, it’s a beautiful country. What is drawing millions of Canadians away every year?

I once heard, life is like a book and if you don’t travel you never leave the first chapter. That’s always kind of stuck with me.

I’ve had the opportunity to live and work abroad a couple of times. It’s something that I truly love and something I will do again in the future. I want to tell you about my most recent experience of living abroad In Beijing, China.

Now, China wasn’t our first choice. I say “our” because it wasn’t just me, I am married with three beautiful children. My wife is a schoolteacher here in the Anglophone South District and that position provides some unique opportunities. One of these opportunities is to do a “position swap” with another teacher from another country.

This sounded very interesting to us, so we went ahead and filed all the paperwork. Our goal was to swap with a teacher in Adelaide, Australia. We were quickly paired with a mature couple wanting to do a year in Canada.

Now, the way this works is you swap everything!

They come here and live in your house, drive your car, and do your job. On the other side of the coin, we would go to Adelaide Australia, live in their house, drive their car (on the left!), and my wife would teach her class.

COM X intern/Submitted

Are you following so far?

Unfortunately, this perfect pairing was not meant to be as the other couple backed out of our agreement at the last minute. They didn’t realize the difficulty surrounding bringing their dog and leaving him behind was not an option. Pretty hard to get mad at them for that, although I do wish they had investigated it a little better.

We were very disappointed. We had told everyone about our plan, including our three kids, who were very excited.

As fate would have it, my wife received this terrible news while she was at a teachers’ conference. She stepped outside to take the call and got the bad news. There was a nice lady in the lobby, who saw the disappointment on her face and inquired about what was wrong.

This lady was at the conference to recruit teachers for positions China.

I still remember my wife calling me: “ Yeah, so Adelaide didn’t work out, want to go to Beijing? “ I’m always up for an adventure, so I said, “Sure, why not?!”

Three months later, we were all on a 13-hour flight to Beijing, China.

COM X intern/Submitted

We each had two suitcases and that was it. We were walking away from everything for one year. We had no idea what to expect. We didn’t speak the language, we didn’t know anyone and standing on the sidewalk in downtown Beijing, a city of 22 million people, I clearly remember turning to my wife and saying, “What have we done?”

We had traded in our beautiful two-story home for an 80 square meter two-bedroom apartment. I was used to driving my nice big truck, now I was driving an electric scooter in an ocean of people who see road rules as more of a suggestion!

There were so many firsts. Learning to navigate such a huge city and get from one place to the next was no small feat.

I remember seeing a man in the crowd who looked like me. I walked up to him and struck up a conversation, only to have him look at me puzzled and start speaking Russian. Being from little old Rothesay, I assumed he spoke English, but this was not the case at all.

I was a million miles from home and had a lot to learn. Having complete strangers ask to take my picture, or often ask to take pictures of my kids, was a very strange experience. Squatting to use the toilets (the only toilets there) are a challenge, to say the least! The food wasn’t at all what I expected, and, after the people, it would be the thing I miss most.

COM X intern/Submitted

We had signed up for a one-year contract, but five years later we were still there. we loved it!

If COVID-19 hadn’t thrown the world for a loop, we would still be there. We met so many amazing people from all over the world. The international teaching community is so great.

And the people, the Chinese people are beyond generous and thoughtful!

My kids all speak fluent Mandarin. They had the privilege of attending one of the most prestigious private
schools in Asia, where their mother worked. I was in a movie. We went to the Olympics. We camped out on the Great Wall (a few times!). My kids performed for the government and president, Xi Jinping!

We’ve had so many adventures, made friendships that will last a lifetime and many great memories. None of which would have happened if we hadn’t taken a chance and said “yes!”.

COM X intern/Submitted

There will be times in your life when an opportunity comes up to do something outside of your comfort zone. Maybe something you never considered before or maybe something that just sounds crazy.

When life offers you this chance, I strongly recommend you lean in and say “yes!” Because in my experience life has a great way of showing you what you didn’t know you needed.