I’ve never lived outside of Canada for this long before. Three weeks into my exchange semester abroad at Amsterdam University College, this is the first time in my life that I’ve been foreign. I feel it more strongly than I thought I would. It isn’t just that my sense of humour relies primarily on puns – which I have discovered are not as readily or enthusiastically received by non-native English speakers – it’s that I’m not surrounded by the familiar symbols of my home. Without that context, the little cultural symbols that fill in the background of daily life, I feel uncomfortable. Now, I realize that new experiences and personal growth are the goal of intercultural exchanges and I’m glad I took my first step out in a western nation where English is widely and, as far as I’ve seen, easily spoken but it makes me a little bit homesick.
You’re probably thinking that this is just the natural emotional roller coaster that travelers ride and that in a month I’ll be right into the swing of life and travel. I hope you’re right and, honestly, I think that too. But in the mean time I’m latching on to any and all familiar symbols.
In my first few weeks looking around I’ve started conversations with everyone that I’ve seen wearing a Blue Jays hat and I look sneakily behind every time I pass a backpacker to see if there’s a maple leaf on their pack. You can imagine my delight then, when I arrived at an AUC exchange student potluck to find someone wearing a ‘Canadians’ hat complete with Habs logo and hockey sticks. Making it even better, the hat was from a little league type team from Caledon, Ontario, a small town not too far from where I grew up. Delight was the wrong descriptor; I freaked out. Turns out the hat’s owner is from Slovakia and she had found it in a thrift store somewhere in eastern Europe. Either the world is small or globalization does stranger things than I thought but, either way, I was awfully glad for the blast of home.