Adventures in … Saudi Arabia?

… or Calgary…

… or Saudi Arabia…

… or Calgary…

About a week ago, I discovered that it’s really hard to get any sleep when my brain is wrestling with itself. I place the blame for my insomnia squarely where it belongs: the post office.

Wait, what?

Yup, the post office. Maybe the one in Thailand, maybe the one in Canada – I’m not sure. There’s really no way to tell. What I do know is that one document went missing from all the documents I needed to complete my application packet for a PhD program in Montreal. An incomplete application won’t be processed, so instead of scouring real estate listings for character-filled, historic apartments in La Belle Ville, the doors to my future were suddenly thrown wide open. And I mean W-I-D-E open.

You know me. You know I have some reservations about living in Antarctica, but any other continent is fair game. Standing on such a precipice with my passport in hand is like going to the dairy section of a North American grocery store after spending years in Asia. There are so many choices, it’s thrilling and paralyzing all at once. But instead of choosing between 8 types of Brie and 12 kinds of Cheddar, I have to choose ONE place to live somewhere in the whole world.

After very little thought – really – almost no thought at all, I had narrowed the whole world down to two choices: Saudi Arabia or Calgary.

Because those are both pretty similar, right?

In one, all the moisture in my body would freeze, in the other it would all evaporate. Both sound equally uncomfortable.

In one, I’d trade considerable freedom for considerable finances. In the other, I’d have tons of freedom, but no funds available to enjoy it.

In one, I couldn’t drive if I wanted to. In the other, I wouldn’t want to drive if I could. (Seriously, the Deer Foot Trail in Calgary terrifies me.)

I was equally excited about both – and equally worried. Sure, the worries were different, but as far as my internal worry-o-meter goes, they were both about even.

As the roosters started crowing after my third sleepless night, I came to an uncomfortable conclusion: For me, the thought of moving back to Canada is scarier than the thought of moving to a country where people get beheaded for breaking the law.

How can Canada be scary?? (Not counting the Deer Foot Trail, of course, that’s obviously terrifying.) It’s not you, Canada. It’s me. Really.

When you’re living, travelling, working, snorkelling or eating your way through other countries, it’s easy to pick and choose elements of culture that resonate with you. It’s fun to identify things you love about your host culture (Giant Nation-Wide water fights? Yes please. Heated floors? Love ’em.) and easy to grumble about things you’re not so fond of (Get your elbows out of my rib cage, you horde of crazy grandmothers! Why is there a chunk of congealed blood in my soup?) But the not-so-awesome things are tolerable, because you know they’re temporary. Eventually you’ll move on, and you won’t have to take the unpleasant things with you.

Not wanting to confess, even to myself, that I’ve been actively avoiding my own country, my decision was made: Calgary.


Nestled in the protective embrace of the Rocky Mountains, it’s home to the Calgary Stampede, giant belt buckles, and a university with a PhD program in Language and Diversity. It’s also stupidly expensive and unbearably cold.

After being away from Canada for 14 years, I find myself accessing Immigrant to Canada and expatriate websites to navigate my way back into my own country. That’s a little disconcerting. There are things I’m really excited about when I think of moving back, but I wonder how much trouble I’m going to have when I realize that Canada is home. I can’t pick and choose what I like about Canadian culture, and I can’t leave the bad stuff behind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not terribly worried about those things. I’m not losing sleep over them anyway. I just wonder what it will be like to live in Canada again. If I do start to get anxious, I simply remind myself I’ll have 8 different types of Brie and 12 types of Cheddar waiting for me.

How did you wind up in your current home? How did you choose where to live?

15 thoughts on “Adventures in … Saudi Arabia?

  1. Yeah, so all of this. I GOT IT. Deciding to stay in the States rather than go overseas was probably the scariest decision I ever made and it continues to freak me out EVERY SINGLE DAY.

  2. Yes to this. I haven’t lived in the UK since 2009, and quite frankly the thought of going back to LIVE there terrifies me, whether that be my small hometown in North Yorkshire (big up, Harrogate) or the quite frankly petrifying prospect of moving to London. I’m on my second country now (Taiwan), and you’re right about picking and choosing aspects of culture you like/dislike. Yes to all the dumplings, no to stinky tofu.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one terrified of living in my own country again. I mean, I liked growing up there, so why is it so scary now? Also, yes to the dumplings. Always yes to the dumplings.

  3. Hi there! I found you via UnbraveGirl and glad I did. My husband (Originally from Toronto) lives in Calgary while I (from the US) live in Utah. I know, weird. But I do go to Calgary to rendezvous with my husb about once a month, and I know little about Calgary, so looking forward to following your adventure there.

    • Hello! I’m glad you found me. I’ve been enjoying your Baby Aspirin Years (thanks, Unbrave Girl!), but I didn’t know you were connected to Calgary. If you and your husband stumble across any places with great pie, please let me know! =)

  4. Back in my 20s (I’m borderline 40 now- eeep!), I tried several times to move back to Canada. I’d left at 19 to go back packing halfway through my degree, then just kept on going, returning every few years to do more of my degree (it took 10 years in the end) and to see how I felt about staying. Initially it was the super crappy economy of Vancouver Island in the 1990s that kept me from settling down, but then it just became a compulsion- shall I move to Turkey? Yes! Shall I move to China? Yes! And for the reasons you gave (crappy aspects cancelled out by temporary nature of stay, balanced by interesting stuff that are new and intriguing), I kept on living abroad. I still am, after a 3 month visit home last autumn whilst waiting for my visa, but in a place a lot closer to home on a lot of levels- and perhaps a stepping stone toward breaking the 20 year habit of compulsively, impulsively trying countries on for size. Maybe in a few years, I’ll last a bit longer than 3 months…

  5. It’s hard to say, for me, you know. I targeted London because at the time I pursued it, it was a beautiful city. Such a trivial thing to point out, but I loved London’s cloud cover. I used to visit here in the summertime, and I would stand outside and look up, and the clouds seemed like they were miles and miles away. That made me feel small. And as a big guy, who often feels big around other people (because I literally tower over so many; not because I feel intellectually or emotionally bigger), the prospect of “feeling small” was exciting. The city had so much to offer, so many resources, so many restaurants, so many jobs. Endless opportunity, endless entertainment and fun, and a seemingly endless sky. It has since lost that. Sure, the clouds are still high up. But the resources have dwindled, the jobs are scarce, the opportunities really did have an end. And I have four kids. My perspective changed when I realized that when I do stuff, I can’t do it for me, or for me and my wife. I have to do it for them. Am I choosing right things because it’s right for them, or because it’s right for what I want in this time and in this place? I’m challenged by that, and challenged–in a very passive way–by London. This post is inspiring. What a unique perspective, and how encouraging to hear that the prospect of the “same old, same old” is almost scarier than the prospect of adversity and difficulty. Very inspiring.

    • Thanks for this, Steve. I always like to hear how people make choices, when so many options are available. I think appreciation for an endless sky is an excellent reason to choose a city. Reasons to stay (family, work, responsibilities) are a whole new set of questions and answers, but the original reasons a person has for choosing one place over another fascinate me.

  6. Pingback: Giving up on temporary

  7. I’m terrified of moving back to Canada! For one thing, after 14 yrs away, I don’t know how to deal with the cold anymore. But there’s no place like “home” right Janice? I’m sure it will be grand & if not, Saudi (& the rest of the world) will always be there (barring global warming-induced destruction).

  8. Hi there, glad I found you via Sally’s blog. I can relate. Moving “home” is by far the hardest move. I haven’t done it yet and likely never will (home, originally, was Germany, but now it is the USA, and even moving back “home” here from Africa was hard. Oh, and one last thing: I think you can safely lay all your gripes at the Post Office’s feet. I know I do.

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