Boston - Reflections on Life as an Expat
Boston, a great American city with more to see and do than you could ever imagine. We arrived after two long-haul flights from Kinshasa. We were tired, but immediately refreshed when we looked out the window to see the deep blue water meet the bright green land. Islands dotted the landscape, covered in rainbows of early summer flowers. Instantly we were at ease. Upon landing, we took a taxi through the city, traversing boulevards lined with brownstone brick houses, each slightly different, with a quaint and homely feel. I imagined what it must be like to sit on a rooftop patio on a summer evening, watching out over the city, with the ocean in the background. I immediately felt at home.
Culture Shock & 'Becoming British'
While I was going to Boston to attend a course at Harvard, for me, the trip was a chance to go back “home”. It was the opportunity to plant both feet solidly on the ground in North America, and to be around familiar sights and sounds. I moved away from Canada almost six years ago. At the time, I was desperate to see the world, and had no problem selling off everything I owned and moving to Oxford with the man I loved (now my husband, if you hadn’t guessed!) It was like I somehow knew that getting on that plane would be a defining moment in my life. And it was, as it led to a new degree, new friends, new career, and new experiences.
What I hadn’t anticipated was the culture shock of arriving in the UK. My family are British, and I grew up in a pretty British home. I mean, come on, my name is Laura-Ashley, and my dad worked for Marks & Spencers, how much more British can you get?! But what I didn’t anticipate was that it would take years before I would really start to feel like the UK was home. And years more before I really started feeling British. Interestingly, it was only after I got married to a Brit that it felt like I’d crossed a threshold into the other universe, like that door was open from simply being “they”, to being “we”.
Disconnected from Canada
However, what’s sad is that the longer I’m away from Canada, and from North America, the less Canadian I feel. So much so that a few weeks ago I went to the Canadian Embassy here in Kinshasa to celebrate Canada Day. When the national anthem came on and we started singing, this sorrow rushed over me and I started to cry. I tried not to let anyone notice (thank god it was dark, and there was beer!) But it was a sad moment as I realised how disconnected I feel from my original roots, and from my family. Yet at the same time, I’m reminded each day that I am not British either, nor Rwandan, nor Congolese. Yet I'm here, amongst them all, thriving and adjusting all at the same time.
Do you ever get lonely?
Do most expats go through this adjustment period? Is it worse at some points, and does it get easier? What are you experiences living overseas? How do you cope? I know that I can’t move back to Canada right now, as my life is overseas, and this brings me more joy that I could ever imagine. But that doesn’t prevent me from feeling grief from time to time. Sadness for my old life, grieving for the past. Most days I'm fine, as I am definitely right where I want to be. But then I see something on facebook, or realise I'm missing out on important life moments for friends/family. When I stop and reflect, there is a part of my heart that longs to be closer to those I love. I somehow feel like I can't admit this openly. It's like I chose this life and should just accept what is, and shouldn't complain. I feel like people will judge me and say "then come back home". But I can't, as that isn't the solution. I am following a path, and have faith that life will take me right where I need to be.
Why I love my family
You are probably wondering how this all relates to Boston. Well, you see, Boston was probably one of the highlights of my year so far (along with a family trip to Oman to be with Ryan’s parents). My father, sister, her partner, my 2 year-old niece, my brother and Ryan all came to see me, flying over 12 hours to see me for just 3 days. They spent their hard earned money and used their precious vacation time to meet-up. I can't explain the joy I felt when I realised they were all coming. To bond with my niece and to see how much she’s grown was so important, and this was the first time that I’d spent a holiday with my dad and siblings in years. So while I could talk to you about the sights and the sounds of Boston (pictures and tips below), what I suppose I gained most from this holiday was the reminder that family are always there. They love me, and I love them., unconditionally. I realised how much I need them, even when I didn't notice it before. It was like they recharged my batteries, and gave me that much more strength to get through this awkward phase where we are new to Kinshasa and trying to find our feet.
Even though from Kinshasa it takes 35 hours to reach Vancouver, I know I’ll make the effort, each and every year. My family are a mirror to remind me of who I really am, where I came from, and allow me the space to reflect on what matters in life. If you took away everything, I’d still have my family, as you would yours, both in mind and spirit.
For that, I am eternally grateful.
“Happiness [is] only real when shared”
― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Boston - Our Favourite Places
- Fenway Park - no visit to Boston is complete without a visit to see the Boston Red Sox baseball in all their glory, to sit in the outside stands in the sunshine, with a beer in hand, hearing the American roar of “hot dogs! Get your hot dogs!”
- Little Italy - this was one of my favourite parts of the week. You can wander through the historic streets, visiting loads of cafes and restaurants. If you fancy trying on of the famous cannoli, pop into Modern Pasty or Mike’s Pastry on Hanover Street. These are institutions in Boston and are lined with tourists in the summer, but fun to visit.
- Beacon Hill - the most historic and beautiful part of Boston. Imagine long boulevards with brownstone houses, lined with cafes, parks and a classic heritage all of its own. The famous "Cheers" bar is also here (we weren't impressed!)
- Harvard University - in the summer this place is buzzing. I spent a week here studying (more on that later in another post). You can take university tours, and these are well worth it, as you learn a lot of history about the USA, Harvard and how the idea of public education spread across our nations. Harvard Square is a shoppers paradish, with cute boutiques, big chain stores, and pubs/cafes galore.
- South Boston - see our tips for restaurants below. This is the latest hipster area and is chock full of interesting art galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
Must-Try Restaurants, Bakeries and WATERING Holes
- Cocobeet - We loved this healthy juice bar/cafe that we went all the way bay, twice! The juices are cold-pressed, they have delicious raw snacks/foods, and the coffee smoothies are to die for. I bought energy bits and ate them all week - a clean eating stop. Love you guys!
- Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar - this was hands down our favourite restaurant. It's a hipster joint full of good food, drinks, and has such a great evening vibe. Located in South Boston (the latest hipster neighbourhood), you could spend the afternoon walking around before stopping here for some tequila, oysters and delicious Baja-Mexico inspired food.
- Sorelle Cafe - recommended to us by a Boston native, this place has the most delicious food with many locations through the Boston area.
- Flour Bakery - this is a great place to pick up some delicious goodies and bring them with you while you walk around the city, or take a break here to rest your tired feet. The scones are incredible and the coffee is perfect-o!
- Yankee Lobster Company - you can take a nice afternoon walk down along the docks (and the fish market) to this ma&pa style seafood joint. Featured on "dine-ins, diners and dives" the seafood is fresh (albeit most is fried). But we sat outside and enjoyed the summer music!
- Wink & Nod - in the Columbus area of Boston, a prohibition-style bar and restaurant which is worth a visit. The food and drinks were amazing. Dress up in your best clothes and enjoy!
- Evoo Restaurant - if you like local, organic food and craft-beers, this is the place for you. Well worth the visit to Cambridge.
- Oleana Restaurant - Mediterranean and Turkish restaurant offering fresh and flavourful food. Also recommended by a Boston native, it didn't disappoint. Save room for their desserts!
- Berryline Frozen Yogurt - ok, so this is a frozen yogurt place. But everyone raves about it, including my friend Meredith who was so excited she wrote me just to make sure I went. And I did, and I had fresh fruit on a tangy cup of delicious heaven. Beat the heat when in Cambridge!
- Neighbourhoods Cafe - this cute creperie is found in Fenway Park/Longwood Area. You can walk to the area and there's a cute street lined with restaurants. We had classic sweet crepes, but the savory ones looked oh-so-good too. And the coffee/chai was amazing, plus they really do have some of the tastiest desserts (we tried lemon meringue and a chocolate chip cookie). Yum!