It was the fall of 2008 when my fiancé dropped the first hint. He had just come back from a geophysics conference in Las Vegas and he was unpacking his suitcase. Conference gadgets from companies looking for new hires were all over the place.
“In the hypothetical situation that I wanted to work abroad after I finish my PhD, would you come with me?” he asked.
Without thinking, I answered: “Yes, I would.”
Then the penny dropped. Me, leave? I was living a great life surrounded by friends in my native country, the Netherlands. I had a great job as an environmental health scientist, owned a beautiful condo and had finally trained my two bunnies to go back to their cage when I told them. I was home.
I liked adventure, and back in university I had travelled and lived abroad, but now that I had been working for a while, I didn’t mind settling down. I was happy to have lived in the same place for more than a year. I wasn’t going to go anywhere.
But the seed had been planted and in the year that followed, Tristan’s idea of moving abroad started to take shape. He wanted to do his postdoctoral research in geophysics in Canada or the United States for a couple of years and he’d had several serious job offers. This was for real. He would go, and he wanted me to come with him.
I panicked. We hadn’t been with each other that long, and although we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, I wasn’t going to leave everything I had worked so hard for behind.
Would I have to give up my job and sell my place to follow him to a country I barely knew? Would I be able to find a job that would be good for my own career? And what if I didn’t? Would I be stuck at home because I didn’t know anyone in a big foreign country?
On the other hand, if we stayed where we were, I would feel guilty for not letting Tristan chase his dream. He could leave without me, but an intercontinental relationship wasn’t appealing to either of us. We had to choose between a rock and a hard place: his career or our relationship.
We talked, laughed, cried and talked more. We listed every possible pro and con. International experience would be valuable for both of us in the long run, but it would take a lot of effort. Our parents would probably not be thrilled with us moving to the other side of the world, but there was Skype to stay in touch. We’d have to say goodbye to lifelong friends, but we’d also meet new people.
Empty wine bottles were stacking up and we still didn’t know what to do.
Then it became clear that my job contract in the Netherlands would not be extended. Score one for North America. With one of the most significant barriers breaking down, the road to the New World opened up. Tristan already had a job there – what if I tried to find one there too?
We visited Boston, Vancouver and San Francisco to explore the job market. Thanks to a Canadian professor who had spent a couple of years in my former department in the Netherlands, I knew who to talk to in Vancouver. And seeing the city made it real. I liked the relaxed vibe of this beautiful city of glass where people walked around downtown with a snowboard under their arms. I could even picture us living and working there.
Knowing where I might end up made the “what-ifs” of moving to another country less scary. Slowly, my initial panic was giving way to some excitement. Maybe this could work. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If we didn’t take advantage of it now, we’d never do it.
In the middle of a night in April, 2010 – the deadline for Tristan’s offers – we decided we would go to Vancouver for two years because the chances of me finding a job there would be best.
One month later I did.
With more certainty about our near future, I started to look forward to our joint adventure in Canada and my new job. Our friends, families and even we had little time – three months – to adjust to the fact that we would be moving almost 8,000 kilometres west.
That same month, my sister announced she was pregnant. I would become a first-time aunt, but I wasn’t going to be there. And I would turn 30 only a couple of weeks after our arrival in Canada. These sorts of life events were not even on our pro-con list.
We left on Aug. 25, 2010, and arrived in Vancouver on an unusually warm evening. We enjoyed it with a glass of wine on the deck of the heritage house that we now call home.
More than a year after we started working in our new jobs in our new country, we’re still glad we made this decision. I rented my place in The Hague out and my bunnies found a good home with a friend. We’ve made new friends here and Skype has been a great solution to keeping in touch with our old lives – although our mothers tell us it’s not quite the same as being able to hug us.
We are lucky we can both live and work in the same city, and we like living in Canada more than we thought we would. Canadians make us feel welcome. When Tristan recently returned from a conference in the United States, a border control official at the Vancouver airport told him: “Welcome back, sir.”
Erna van Balen lives in Vancouver.