From the unknown to the familiar

From the sweltering heat of Chennai, India to the rainy coldness of Vancouver, Canada, moving halfway around the world has provided me with an abundance of new experiences. India, known for its diversity in culture, is sometimes scrutinized by its own citizens for not being as accepting as countries like Canada. Hence for me, life in Vancouver is radically different from my life in Chennai.

Like any other teenager, I was highly motivated to leave the confines of “home” and to explore the “strange” after graduating high school. This led me to apply to universities all over Europe and North America. My family’s paranoia over American gun laws and the recent cases of hostility in Europe, led me to focus more on Canadian universities. Subsequently I applied to UBC and was accepted.

Soon enough I realized, in Vancouver, there is no clear distinction between “home” and the “strange.” In fact they are both intermingled depending on the instances one encounters. When I took my first cab ride from the Vancouver International Terminal to my planned residence, conversing with the genial Indian-born driver in my mother tongue made me oblivious to the fact that I was in a different country altogether. However, my first lunch (which was coincidentally the first time I tried Sushi) at the Japanese restaurant below my apartment left me with a craving for more sushi and for more new experiences.

Initially I was confronted by numerous culture shocks but over time this list kept getting shorter. The biggest culture shock I faced was the difference in activities people engaged in during their free time. In India, spending time with my friends meant going for a movie or just talking, but spending time with acquaintances or friends in Vancouver had me attending various parties or social events or getting involved in highly energetic activities like hiking. Another aspect that dumbfounded me was the large number of food options available in Vancouver. I was surprised to find a restaurant with different cuisines on every block. The number of options left me confused on what I should eat for each meal. But the more culture shock I faced, the more I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Different cuisines on every block. | Photo by Jan Zeschky

A major leap out of my comfort zone occurred with my first part-time job. Growing up in India, I was sheltered financially under the comforts of my parent’s income and wealth. It is the norm there that children are financially dependent on their parents until they graduate university and are employed in a professional job. However, being miles away from my parents, and with the high costs of living of Vancouver, it was imperative for me to look for an additional source of income. Being financially independent to some extent taught me how to budget my expenses more efficiently. I was soon more interested in learning the skills required by different jobs rather than the wage they offered. This led me on a frenzy of trial and error jobs in different industries.

Eventually I became familiar with the daily aspects of Vancouver life, but I still have many more places to visit and more novel things to experience. I still have yet to visit the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain, and each time I visit a new place and interact with new people I am in the process of converting the “strange” into “home.” Living in Vancouver has exposed me to numerous cultures. I am no longer solely an Indian citizen. I have been made a global citizen. I learn a bit more about different cultures every time I interact with my middle-eastern colleagues at work (which is a Mediterranean restaurant), meet my Chinese girlfriend’s South East Asian friends or when I talk to the Korean owner of the neighbourhood magazine store.