What It's Really Like To Give Up Everything And Become An Expat Wife

by Joanna Kell
Originally Published: 
Joanna Kell

A few days ago I found myself staring wistfully at a jar of pickled onions on the shelf at my local grocery store. I had an ache inside me that I hadn’t really felt for a long time. It was back again, homesickness. It all sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it? To be tearing up over a British delicacy?

However, when I’m in the trenches of homesickness, anything can set me off. I moved to Canada almost a decade ago after meeting my husband on a trip in Australia. My husband tried unsuccessfully to move to Wales shortly after we met, but the recession and lack of agricultural opportunities meant that he quickly ran out of money and patience sitting in our flat all day with no car and no where to go. So I stepped up and offered to move to Canada to allow him to return to his dream job farming as I was a bright-eyed 23-year-old who was eager for adventure and a way out of the omnipresent rain that plagued Wales.

So I booked my ticket, got my working holiday visa, and after a tearful farewell at Heathrow to my mum, I boarded my flight to Canada, not really believing that I would truly become an expat.

I’m going on an adventure!

When I got to Canada, it was the blazing heat of summer and I had a wonderful century farm house to decorate as I pleased. My husband got me a puggle puppy we named Darwin (after the place we met), and I quickly got a job at a local gym where I met a few friends to keep me occupied. We got engaged a few months later and married less than a year after that. After returning from honeymoon, I eagerly applied for my permanent residency and was excited at the life that lay ahead in Canada. I got my PR (permanent resident) status fairly quickly and decided it was time to set down some roots and a start a career.

I wanted to be a lawyer in Wales, but it became apparent that wouldn’t fit with the amount of travel I would need to do and getting into law school here is about as easy as getting a toddler to eat anything that you provide them with for dinner. I decided to head to teacher’s college and, after a few years, I got a permanent contract. Sounds like everything went perfectly for me, doesn’t it?

Honestly, on paper everything is perfect. I have a wonderful job, a beautiful family, a husband who I apparently love so much I’ll move across the world for and a gorgeous home that I could only dream about in the UK. However, I would be lying if I said that late at night when my husband is harvesting, when I’m shoveling a foot of snow off my car, when I yearn to meet my mum for a coffee and a chat, when I see my friends going out back home, that I don’t feel the sledgehammer blow of homesickness. It has been a decade and it is still as strong as when I first came here at times. It takes me by surprise.

The harsh reality of being the “trailing spouse”

Life is hard as the “trailing spouse” (a kind of brutal term for the person in the relationship that moves for love). I miss home a lot. I have found it hard to make meaningful friendships with people I have things in common with, my British humor is quite often lost on people, and I have to repeat myself several times at the drive-thru at Tims when people don’t understand my accent. (“Can I have a croissant please?” “A what sorry m’am, do you mean a chocolate donut?” Repeat ad nauseam).

Another thing I have struggled with intermittently is finding purpose in my new life. Having children gave me purpose as a mum, but I don’t find myself completely comfortable in my new life in Canada all the time. Sometimes there is a feeling of being shoved into someone else’s life and you just have to carve out a little space for yourself.

Here are a few things that I wish I knew before I moved here

1. The honeymoon period will end at some point, and no matter how grim life was, you will eventually miss some aspect of it.

2. You will miss your family more than you can put into words and no amount of FaceTime will make up for it.

3. If you have children, you will have to deal with the guilt of them missing out on grandparent time.

4. Homesickness will strike you hard at random moments. Teary at the pickled onions? Weeping at the sound of a British accent on a commercial? Sobbing over a pound you found in your wallet? Standing out in the rain because it feels like Wales? Watching any old shite that was made in Britain? YUP, you’re homesick.

5. Snow for almost half the year sucks. Invest in a good jacket, boots and a shovel (OK so I don’t shovel too much snow so maybe work on being really busy whenever your spouse walks out of the door to clear the driveway. Kind of like he does when you pick up the hoover or talk about going shopping).

But there are positives too

1. Your children will be international travelers before they are one. What a rich life they will lead.

2. You get more than one passport which makes you look interesting and important at the airport.

3. You will meet awesome people who you would never have crossed lives with otherwise.

4. You get to enrich yourself and grow as a person by immersing yourself in another culture. I really think meeting people from different parts of the world and living amongst people different to me (you’d be surprised how many cultural differences I encounter) has helped me grow as a person.

5. Your relationship with your spouse is stronger than most as you rely on each other so much.

6. You realize how much you truly love your family and make every second count when you’re with them (WOW, that sounded like a Disney movie).

So hang in there expat wives, mums and dads. It is a hard journey and maybe not the life you always wanted in some respects but you can do it. Try to remember why you moved to your current country and at the same time honor and celebrate your roots, you beautiful multicultural global unicorn, you.

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