When I hear the phrase “starting over”, I automatically think of scenarios such as these:
- Beginning afresh after a broken relationship (whether it be divorce or a long-term relationship);
- Beginning anew on a project when an idea does not work (ah, the frustration!);
- Putting one’s life together after the death of a loved one (parent, spouse, child);
- Learning to live again after a serious accident (especially if one’s physical or mental capacity has been affected).
One scenario I never used to think of, was the experience of immigration or relocation to another country. I certainly did not do so when my husband and I spoke of leaving the country of my birth. We thought of moving to a place we believed would give to our children the experiences we wanted them to have. When we filled in the application forms and paid over the money requested, we did not think of the specific experiences we may have in the land of our choice. Our knowledge and expertise were wanted; and we were eager to change where we lived on this earth. We realised that we would have to “move house”, sell and give away our possessions; but we did not realise the extent of the change we would have to experience.
We landed at Pearson Airport full of optimism and hope, certain that our experience here would soon lead us into a life similar to the one we had left behind: similar and yet with the knowledge that we would be living in a more secure society. What we did not know was that we would be starting over in more ways than one. Not only would we need to create a new home in another hemisphere, or start over with a new company in the workplace; but we would also need to start over with our careers.
Moving the family to another country has brought along with it many learning curves. We have had to learn the bureaucracy here (very quickly so that we could get through the required paperwork!). We have had to learn how to use the public transport system (coming from a city that has an almost non-existent one, this was a pleasure). We have had to find where the supermarkets are, the post office, the libraries, the schools, the doctors and the dentists. We have had to learn new roads, and new ways of understanding directions. We have had to relearn the language (even though we could speak English, our accents are different; as well as our terminology). Jersey became sweater; pavement became sidewalk; mielie became corn; and the words biltong and koeksusters were no longer used. “Ah, siestog!” a South African may say. And yes, it is a shame as we can no longer eat the foods I had grown up with and loved.
What has been the hardest for both my husband and me, has been starting over in our profession. After the process of being certified and doing courses to make me more eligible for hiring here, I have had to start at the bottom. My previous years of experience in another country are seen as nothing. When I walk into a school, the experience I have under my belt is ignored and I am treated as a first year teacher. Bit by bit, week by week, I need to climb up once again – just as I did when I was 23 years old and fresh out of university. The difference now is that I am older, my hair is greyer, and I am myself now a mom. I sigh in frustration when others tell me what I know: that the job of a teacher never ends, that doing report cards is stressful, that there are never enough hours in the day to help the children reach their full potential. And I smile slightly to myself when I realise that even though I am treated as a first year teacher, I will never reach the number of years required before retirement. It is my age that will determine that time of my life; not the number of years I have worked as a teacher in this country.
Now when I hear the phrase “starting over”, I add one more scenario to my imagined list. I add the realisation that at times beginning once again can exceed any expectation I may have of what it means. I have had to adapt to my new surroundings; and I have had to accept that in starting over in a new country, I started over in more ways than one.
What “starting over” experience have you had that led to more than you bargained for?
(This post was inspired by the writing challenge prompt issued by WordPress)
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013