I’m a Canadian; but, I’ve lived more than two-thirds of my adult life abroad. With the exception of a year and a half in Canada, since graduating university, I’ve been living elsewhere. After finishing my Master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan, I spent a year teaching in South Korea, which was enough to convince me to look for work in Canada. Looking for work in western Canada during the mid-1990s recession was enough to convince me to go back to Asia. I’ve spent the last 20 years in Taiwan.
I am exceptionally grateful to my adopted country. Taiwan took me in and gave me meaningful employment at a time when that was not available in Canada. Beyond work, I’ve had the opportunity to build a life, marry, own a home, engage in hobbies and travel – all the things, big and small, that add color to a life. I’m not convinced that would have been possible if I’d remained in Canada, certainly it would have taken much longer. For these reasons, Taiwan has a place in my heart exceeding that of my home country.
However, lately my wife has been advocating moving to Canada. I’ve had a knee-jerk negative reaction, but apparently, “No damn way,” is not a well-reasoned argument. So, I’m going to try to elucidate the case for not returning to Canada.
I’ve spent my adult life living in Asia as a minority in race, ethnicity, language, culture, size, weight, etc. I am a true outsider in a way that few North Americans, with our racial and ethnic diversity, can really understand. When I do something – anything – everyone notices. Simply walking down the street can cause mass rubbernecking among the locals. Being the “other” is core to my existence and a huge part of my self-definition. If I’m not an expat then who am I? Moving back to Canada would constitute a huge existential challenge.
Perhaps that’s a bit ephemeral; in a practical sense, what would I do in Canada? My last job there was working as an editor for a long defunct newspaper. I cannot create an acceptable Canadian resume. There’s a 20+ year blank spot. For all a potential employer knows, I might have just got out of prison after a long hitch. The long-term expats I know, who have tried to return to Canada, have met blind resistance at job interviews. Most interviewers cannot see the diverse range of skills and personality traits required of long-term expats. They see only something new, strange, and scary. The best an expat can hope for is that the potential employer will simply ignore the last however many years of his life. Most who return to Canada find themselves moving from a professional career path to a janitorial position, and bounce back to Asia, much poorer for the experience, but a bit wiser.
What about simply not seeking work? Retirement sounds good, but who spends their entire career in a warm climate and then retires to a polar region. That’s a special kind of stupid. Likewise, you shouldn’t retire to a place with a higher cost of living than where you worked. The economics simply don’t work. It is more logical to either retire in Taiwan, or move to a cheaper and warmer country, perhaps in South East Asia, Latin America, or Spain.
Finally, economic well-being has been elusive. Asia is full of Canadian Generation Xers, I’m one. When we finished our educations, Canada was a jobs wasteland for degree holders. Many lost a decade or more trying to get their careers going. It has been a real challenge to build job stability and prosperity because of the place and times I come from. It took a solid 17 years to work myself into a satisfactory job. Geographic stability has likewise been difficult to achieve. I had to trade geographic stability for a chance at economic comfort. It is only in the last few years that I have felt myself putting down real roots. Part of that process has been marrying a wonderful Taiwanese woman. I am loath to simply throw away these hard won gains, and repeat the same pattern over again.
At heart I love both countries – but, it’s Taiwan for me.