Smelling the salt water and hearing the roar of the ocean I am reminded of Portugal Cove South, where I grew up, but then the breeze I feel is actually warm, which would be unusual on the Cove beach. I look around to see my friends in bikinis and shorts, the condos and hotels that circle the bay and I see the commonality between this town and my hometown is probably limited to the fact that both are on the ocean.
I am in Acapulco enjoying the sun and waving off offers for t-shirts and margaritas from vendors who trudge back and forth through the coarse sand trying to make a buck. One of the great things about living in Mexico City is that when a long weekend rolls around, you can take an early morning bus and be on the beach at noon. As I sit here enjoying the beautiful climate, I think to myself ‘This is what I love about living away!’
It isn’t always that easy though. Last week, I was debating whether I should go to Nova Scotia to help out with my brother’s family as my sister-in-law was in the hospital and he was away on training. I wanted to be there to help out with their four kids (cutest kids ever of course!), but it wasn’t that simple. I would need at least a week’s holidays and, as everyone on the east coast knows, it is expensive to travel both domestically and internationally. It might mean I couldn’t go at Easter as planned. Then I was thinking, ‘This is what I hate about living away.’
“Some go to where the buildings reach to meet the clouds”
Five years ago, my husband and I left the Rock for Ottawa where I started working at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as a Foreign Service Officer. I worked in Ottawa for 3 years and then got my first posting to Mexico City. I have had the opportunity to learn French and Spanish, and now I am living in a different country, which I love to do – it is basically why I applied for the Foreign Service in the first place. I feel very privileged and I love my job so far.
Unfortunately the cost of traveling back to Newfoundland makes it very difficult to see my family more than once a year. My parents (thankfully) are healthy and happy, and my grandmother is doing great for 84, but when family problems arise or there is the threat of illness or worry, I always want to be at home with them. I worry that my choice to live abroad means neglecting family obligations.
“Flights to Toronto: $99! Flights to St. John’s, Newfoundland: $1013!!”
I feel that way about my province as well. I am from Newfoundland, I love Newfoundland, I was educated in Newfoundland…shouldn’t I be ‘giving back’ to my own province? I met an old university friend on a flight one time who proudly claimed that she would never leave Newfoundland, and I had the feeling it was a dig at me and others who chose to live away. Newfoundlanders have a long history of moving away to find work: to Toronto, to Alberta, to Saudi Arabia and Korea. Many have done so reluctantly, after much consideration and struggle. I think this might be changing now, and Newfoundlanders go abroad not just in search of a good job but for the adventure, the learning opportunities and, well…just to see what’s out there!
How it all began…
I left Newfoundland and Labrador to go to South Korea a month after I graduated from university, just to see what living somewhere else would be like for a year. It was interesting but it was also tough (you just try eating kimchi – a fermented cabbage that is a staple of Korean food – with every meal!) A few years after returning to Canada, I found myself applying for a job in Thailand, anxiously hoping for another opportunity to live abroad. My job in Thailand was followed by a contract with UNESCO in Cambodia which was a fascinating experience. I think all that flowed from my first decision to leave Newfoundland after I graduated.
I love my province and I sell it to everyone I meet – the nature, the culture, the people. It is a very special place and I was lucky to grow up where I did and when I did. There were no fears of kidnapping, no mandated parental supervision for outside activities. I saw upper-class kids in Korea trying to squeeze in 10 minutes of play between their music classes and English tutors. In Mexico, I see poor kids on the streets begging for food and money. I grew up in a wonderful small town surrounded by family and friends. We simply played after school, with cousins, at someone’s house or ‘out on the path’. We walked everywhere and just had to be sure to be home for supper. It was idyllic.
Now when I go home in the summer, I cram everything I love about Newfoundland and Labrador into three weeks – a walk or a hike outdoors, fish and chips, maybe a campfire and drinks with friends and family. I love answering all the questions from store clerks and it always makes me smile when I remember how chatty everyone is. It is all still there to be appreciated and cherished, but when the three weeks are over I can leave – a few pounds heavier, no doubt – but knowing that I won’t be homesick for too long. The departures at St. John’s airport are the worst part and I try to go through the motions of saying good-bye without really considering when I’ll see mom and dad again – that part is too sad. Before the plane lands in Mexico City, though, the tears are gone and I’m ready to unpack my suitcase and move back into my apartment. I might start thinking about tacos al pastor and planning a walking tour of some part of the city I haven’t seen yet.
I think Newfoundlanders everywhere struggle with the ‘stay home or go’ dilemma. “Away” has the promise of bigger and better things, but you’ll never find the community that you have in Newfoundland and Labrador. “Home” has family and roots, the delicious smells of homemade bread and the biggest hugs of your life. There are positive aspects and downsides to whichever you choose. I will always be proud to be a Newfoundlander and I can hardly sleep after June 1st because I am so excited about the next trip home. I get butterflies just thinking about flying into St. John’s airport. I will always be happy to go back. Maybe one day I will decide to go back for good but for now, I am pleased with my choice. I call my parents every week, and call my nieces and nephews on Skype to make sure they recognize their Aunt Lynn. And I submit my request as early as possible for my three weeks’ vacation in cool, windy, beautiful Newfoundland.