1. I don’t have a Canadian accent…or do I?
I mentioned in my last post that every single friend I’ve spoken to since I’ve been back has commented on my accent, or lack of one. It seems like a year has been long enough to pick up more than a slight twang, though how strong that twang is depends on who you talk to. The one thing I will admit is that my vocabulary has definitely been altered somewhat, with words like toilet, autumn and lift being replaced by washroom, fall and elevator. If it’s any consolation, I get the same funny looks when I use the wrong word in both countries, perhaps even more so back in the UK!
2. Home will always be home…
I was excited, nervous and more than a little apprehensive about heading back to the UK after a year, mainly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know whether arriving home would make me feel happy or sad, or whether everything would be the same as I remembered it. As it turns out, I didn’t really feel any of these things. There was no rush of emotion or epic conclusion to the weeks of worrying, I just, well, came home and got on with it. I was surprised at how quickly I settled back into normal life, and how weird it wasn’t being back in Ipswich, Southampton, London and Cambridge. When I met up with friends it really didn’t feel like a whole year (or in some cases much longer) had passed since I left; we just got right back into our flow. Which I guess is a good thing.
3. …but one person’s home is another’s holiday.
Despite feeling comfortably at home as soon as I touched down at the airport, my trip back to the UK was a vacation in all senses of the word (three weeks of work…hello?) and I did make the most of the holiday feeling as much as possible. There are so many, many differences between England and Vancouver, and I found myself naturally appreciating the things that make each place unique rather than comparing the two. I loved sailing down the Orwell River in the freezing cold, wandering past historical colleges in Cambridge and enjoying a (cheap) drink in a London pub. I insisted on taking photos of everything, because ‘my friends back home would love this’, and I realised how lucky I was to be spending three weeks of my year in a place that many people only dream of coming. It sounds a bit soppy (and a tad unbelievable), but there’s definitely something to be said for looking at your everyday life through the eyes of a tourist.
After 11 months in Vancouver, I’m happy to be writing this post curled up on the sofa of my house in Shotley Gate, near Ipswich, in Suffolk, England. The Christmas tree is up, the wreath is on the door, and I’m watching The A Team on Sky. I’ve been back in the country for a week now, and I still have another two weeks before I fly back to Vancouver. I’ve spent time with my family in Ipswich, friends in Southampton and grandparents in Basingstoke. I haven’t checked my work emails once, and am well and truly on vacation.
The flight from Vancouver was better than I expected it to be; I didn’t sleep or watch many movies, but I did close my eyes and listen to Westlife for 2 straight hours (oh yes). I arrived at Heathrow very, very tired but very, very excited to see my parents waiting with a huge ‘Welcome Home’ sign and a UK SIM card. Priorities indeed. I managed to stay awake for the drive back to Ipswich, and thoroughly enjoyed the toasted cheese sandwich that was waiting for me when I arrived. My first evening meal was an infamous family speciality: sausage meat pie with mashed potato, vegetables and a lot of gravy. How very British.
Once I got home it felt like I’d never been away, and it was the same when I arrived in Southampton. I was nervous about what it would be like being back on campus, but I had a fantastic few days of coffees, lunches and dinners with friends. I found myself repeatedly pinching myself to remind myself that being back wasn’t a dream, and more importantly that Vancouver wasn’t either. I was surprised at how easy it was to settle back into old patterns, and before long I was complaining about the prices of drinks on campus and fighting for a seat on the bus to town. The only difference was that this time I was openly celebrating drinking soda with lime cordial (finally), and paying for the bus with a £20 note as opposed to exact change (a luxury). Catching up with friends didn’t feel like a whole year had passed, and the awkwardness I’d worried about just didn’t appear. It was a little surreal being back in Starbucks in Southampton High Street after so long, but this time I savoured my toffee nut mocha, knowing I couldn’t get that flavour in Canada.
Ever since the temperature dropped back down below 20 degrees in September, I have been looking forward to the second best time of year in Vancouver (or I imagine, anywhere in North America): Christmas! I’ve been feeling somewhat festive since mid-November this year, which is unusual for me as I have a tendency to forgo anything that smells remotely like Christmas until after my birthday on December 14th. This might have had something to do with the fact that I was flying home on December 10th, so I had only 10 days to fit in all the merriment that was on offer.
First up were the ‘unofficial’ activities; the kind you don’t have to pay for. Vancouver is a haven of free festive fun at Christmas time, as everything from street lighting to hotel lobbies become a tourist attraction. The Hyatt hosted a gingerbread village with lifelike models of gingerbread sceneries, the Four Seasons displayed a Festival of (beautifully decorated) Trees and walking through the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was like stepping into Home Alone 2. Robson Street was lovely as ever with its golden fairy lights lining the streets, and the Lights of Hope decorating St. Paul’s Hospital were bright (if not a little tacky for my liking).
Speaking of tacky, one of the first ‘official’ activities I booked was the Stanley Park Bright Nights, which the website describes as ‘the most spectacular lighting display in Canada’. There is no doubt that the lights were bright, though the main plaza was less beautiful-romantic-fairy-lights and more oh-god-why-didn’t-I-bring-my-sunglasses. The little train ride taking us on a tour of the displays reminded me of a British theme park as I shrank away from glow in the dark santas and back lit cardboard cut-outs of choir boys. To be fair the kids seemed to love it, and I’m sure the train and accompanying festive snacks (think waffles, chestnuts and popcorn) is a great treat for families. Personally I just found it all a bit random, and definitely not worth the $23.50 for two tickets. We decided to skip the snacks and jump on the bus back to Downtown for some sushi.