Starting Over

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. 

English: Toronto Pearson Airport – Terminal 1 ...
English: Toronto Pearson Airport – Terminal 1 seen from the tarmac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Koeksuster, jou lekker ding.
Koeksuster, jou lekker ding. (Photo credit: Phil Massyn)

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

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36 thoughts on “Starting Over

  1. This is such a perceptive and moving post. My father (chasing his dreams) moved us from Sydney, Australia, to Canada, to Papua New Guinnea, and then to Western Australia when I was a child.

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    1. A lot of changes to experience Julie! When my husband suggests smilingly that we move to warmer climes, I dig my heels in. I would not want to go through this all again just as we are starting to make inroads into this society.

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  2. We are still in the starting over process with our move to London. I didn’t factor in little things, like getting spices for cooking. It’s fun, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.

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    1. Where have you moved from? One never really factors in things such as: moving from a suburb to a city, adjusting to new weather patterns, or even basic things such as restocking your pantry.

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  3. It seems singularly fat-headed to start an obviously experienced person at beginner level. One would think that they would have the flexibility to fill in the gaps at an accelerated speed, and then slot one in where one belongs. Bureaucracy is similarly stupid the world over it would seem.

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    1. They all seen to have the same narrow-minded vision, it is true. And yet they may have method in their madness – after all they are getting an experienced teaching at the price of a first year one!

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  4. A very interesting post Colline, and something I’ve not really given much thought to. I move A LOT, I mean an awful lot, including relocating to 3 different countries in the past 4 years. However for me, it’s a very simple process. I’ve no children and my entire life is tailored to being ‘on the move’. Since I know I’ll not be in any particular location for much longer than a year or two, immigration is a matter of extended stay visas. Everything I own I can carry with me, and I seek furnished, temporary housing when arriving in new places. I guess you can say I’m constantly starting over, but I like to think of it as constantly adapting.

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    1. When it is a lifestyle one has chosen, I think one is able to adapt a lot faster. Changing countries was never something I thought of doing (though I did spend a year in Europe with the intention of returning home). Moving we left behind plenty of things bought with permanency in mind: furniture, car, house, a business, and of course my working experience 🙂

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      1. I definitely think your experience to be different than mine. Yours in more like this will be your new home, and mine is more like this will be where I hang out for the foreseeable future. 🙂 And…I buy nothing with permanence in mind. Aside from food, I actually buy very, very, little.

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  5. I have no way of knowing, Colline, how many years you would yet have till retirement, but I do appreciate that careerwise it must have been extremely frustrating. Has it been worthwhile in the other ways that you hoped? I guess so?
    Starting over to me always brings back the Lennon song.

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    1. Now that I have my foot into the teaching profession here (I still cannot be employed on a permanent basis), I do not regret my determination to get back in.
      I love listening to John Lennon’s song too. I had to, of course, go listen to it again 🙂

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  6. My parents “started over” when I was 9 years old. My father got relocated to the U.S all the way from Venezuela. From what I can remember….it was a hard transition. My parents barely knew the language and I didn’t know a thing, no family and the countries are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Obviously, I survived! I learned the language and have been in the U.S for 19 years. I feel completely Americanized and I am so happy that my live led me here! 🙂 Nicepost Colline, I think you gave me a little inspiration for a blog post of my own 🙂 have a good day! 🙂

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  7. I just love Koeksusters, and have not had one for many decades. I have started making my own biltong though, it’s lovely.
    I too, have gone through this ‘starting over’ experience too. I can identify so well with your sentiments!

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  8. Love the personal story. My first thought was about those massive wave of European immigrants with their journey to new lands … thus trying to relate my impression of your journey to theirs – ah yes, the similarities and differences.

    BTW – lose the additions to the changes in the wordings of the same language!

    Do answer your question about me … no question, career change was much more than I bargained for.

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        1. Thank you for sharing you post with us Frank – it certainly adds to the perspective of immigration. Groups of people from other countries certainly enrich a land with their cultures and ways of doing things; especially if there are dominant groups of a culture.

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