Monthly Archives: August 2016

Transitions

I’ve had ‘write a blogpost’ on my weekly to-do list since I last published a post. Unfortunately for me that was all the way back in May! Well, I’m here now. So! What do I want to write about?  Seeing as I’ve just celebrated my third year in Canada (or my ‘canniversary’ as the expat forum I visit calls it) it seems to me that ‘transitions’ would be a good theme for today’s post.

I suppose I should start with a disclaimer that I’m well aware that I’m not the only person on the planet that’s experienced a number of transitions in a short period of time (or long, even). But maybe that’s the beauty of a blog, right? It’s a holding place for my ramblings regardless of whether they’re unique or special. The point is they’re special to me. And I think I’ve had quite a few special transitions over the last three years. The first that comes to mind is the transition to ‘PhD student.’ When I first started my PhD I believed that nothing would change fundamentally. I was merely completing the next leg of a journey that had begun with the birth of my nephew years back. I had a quality MA in Gender Studies under my belt, I’d compiled a long list of relevant texts to read in preparation for writing a full-fledged analysis of attachment parenting, I was married to a supportive partner and I was fortunate enough to have a good funding package. Sure, I’d moved to a new city, country, university. No matter! I knew how to write, how to analyse and how to collect data and therefore I was set! If only!

Actually, not ‘if only.’ I’m very glad for the wake-up call I got in the first year. Bogged down by five intense graduate-level courses, TAing a first-year intro course and culture shock I started wondering what on earth I’d got myself into. The pressure of writing in a new environment and writing so much more than I’d ever before really challenged me. I realised just how problematic my lifelong, fiercely-protected writing habits were. If I wanted to not only meet the millions of deadlines looming but respond with well-written assignments I had to radically rethink the way I approached writing. And now, three years later, I’m very grateful for the new skills I’ve honed and the advice I’ve received. Now I approach writing in a simultaneously cautious and confident manner and nine times out of ten, I’m really happy with the final product. As this entire blog no doubt demonstrates my grammar hasn’t improved much but I am much more aware of my shortcomings and can (try to) address them. It’s been a good transition from wandering, passionate thinker to focused, deliberate PhD student. And I don’t think I’ve lost the passion or the enjoyment of a good ramble!

I’ve already hinted about the second transition which I can sum up as the process of becoming a pseudo-North American. The speed with which I’ve started saying ‘math’ and ‘good job’ is frankly disturbing! I think coming here made me realise that as much as I’ve criticised the creeping Americanisation of the rest of the world there are still aspects of North American culture that are completely foreign to me. Sure, there were things I recognised from TV shows and films (the quintessential student wardrobe, for instance) but there was lots of stuff that surprised me. Customs and habits that I had to learn to navigate on my own, with no episode of Friends to guide me. Part of that was the writing style which I think I’ve started to get my head ’round. But it was also interpersonal relations and the celebration of holidays and shopping norms and appropriate ideas about small talk and all sorts of wonderful things that can surprise and excite. I think if I end up back home (wherever that is) I’ll probably transition to something else entirely, some hybrid of British and South African and Canadian characteristics. I’ll write a blogpost then to tell you what that looks like but whatever that is, I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, I think the last three years have been all about transitioning into adulthood. I know, at my age, I ought to be an adult already but to be honest, I didn’t really feel it until coming here. Perhaps it’s related to being all alone in a city with only recently-made friends to rely on for help in an emergency. It makes you grow up and take proper precautions (here’s my small plug for health insurance even if you’re politically opposed to its existence!). It also comes with the fun stuff like finding the perfect (cheap!) furniture, choosing how you’d like to decorate your home to make it home and making up your own Christmas and birthday traditions. Suddenly it’s all you. You’re responsible for yourself, you have to make all the hard (and easy) decisions. It can be daunting but exhilarating too. I’ve probably enjoyed this transition most of all.

I don’t have any words of wisdom to conclude with. Transitions aren’t always easy but they aren’t always awful either. But you knew that already. So my last word is: enjoy it! And look forward to the next one because the transitions never stop.