Annalisse Crosswell, Associate News Editor // Illustration by Cynthia Tran Vo
On a casual trip to Safeway on a rainy Tuesday morning to grab a few supplies, I looked at my phone to see a message from our Columns Editor. She said that there’s a need for an international perspective this week, and she asked if I would be willing to throw something together. My first thought was that I was rather insulted she thought of me for this piece, but then again I did announce to the entire office that I’m from New Zealand during my first week on the job.
There’s no question, I am an international student and my tuition statements are enough to make you Canadians hold on tightly to your wallets. But I’ve never really thought of myself that way. I moved to Canada at the age of 20 on my own dime, ready to find a job and build some sort of a life for myself. I definitely wasn’t expecting to stay as long as I have, and yet I never came here to be a tourist. After all, half my family is Canadian and therefore I must have some right to call myself more Canadian than the average immigrant, right?
As far as I see it, there are people who come to Canada – or go to other countries – to engage with people <i>from<i> their home countries, do the touristy stuff like take pictures of the Gastown steam clock and learn as little as possible about the local spots. And then there are people like me – overly invested in their ability to pass as a Canadian, eager to learn about anything that may enhance the ability to pass and ready to leave their homeland behind in the dust. I’m so invested in this endeavour that I know a little about hockey despite the fact that I hate watching sports and, at least in my early days, insisted that seeing places like Surrey was a part of knowing the true experience of Greater Vancouver.
So when Rachel fired back at me that I could talk about how I dealt with homesickness from an international student’s perspective, I again shied away from the topic. As far as I’m concerned, Vancouver is home, and homesickness has never been my battle. Even when I first arrived in Vancouver with no friends (aside from one notable roommate who featured in every blog post I wrote at the time), no money, and I subsisted on a combination of ham sandwiches and Pop Tarts. These things never made me miss home,as in New Zealand, though. Instead, they made me wonder where in the world I would find that feeling of home, or, if we’re being honest here, the feeling of belonging that we look for in a home if one place doesn’t work out.
When things started to look up six months after I moved to Vancouver, I took a trip to Los Angeles with the aforementioned roommate to celebrate my 21st birthday. That’s when I started to miss home for the first time – as in Vancouver this time. That was the first time in my life that I truly felt that feeling of being happy to be home after a vacation. It was another year and a half before I started at Capilano University in order to maintain my life in Canada. I suppose this is what makes the labels feel like they don’t fit.
Because I lived here without much help from, or contact with, my family and friends in New Zealand for two years prior to returning to school, I didn’t want to ask my parents for the tuition money I needed because that would degrade my standing as a person who had moved overseas to make a life in their own right. When I’m referred to as an international student I associate it with kids whose parents are paying their way through school and who don’t have to jump through so many hurdles. This is obviously far from the reality for many international students, but somehow, with a small and accurate label, I find my independent struggle to become a Canadian, and live a life in Canada, being disenfranchised.