On (not) going home.
COVID19 has forced many of us to make difficult decisions about our lives, jobs, and even where we live. For us, when it arrived in Canada and lockdown began in Ontario back in early March, it posed a deeply painful choice, as a person living away from New Zealand on a visa: do we go home?
I’ve been living away from New Zealand for more than 5 years in 2020, with the majority of those in Amsterdam, but we recently moved to Canada in late 2019 for something new: jobs drew us here, but the allure of Canada drew us in. We arrived in Toronto in August, and it’s been almost too easy of a move so far.
But, when COVID19 struck Canada in February, and the lockdown began here, the New Zealand government began urging citizens to come home, regardless of where they were, as soon as possible–it seemed unlikely that commercial flights to the country would be viable for much longer, and authorities insisted it was time to act.
As someone living away from ‘home’ for so long, this presented a difficult crossroads: do we pack up and head back on a dime? Is that even home anymore, after almost 6 years away? Family insisted that perhaps coming now would be a good idea, before New Zealand went into lock-down, which was honestly incredibly tempting–and far away from any danger, with those we loved, even if the reality of that wasn’t really true.
Of course, such a move is not trivial when you’re invested in a country and deeply bought into staying there. I have a house full of things I like, a job + team at Shopify I love, and a cat–jumping on a plane isn’t that easy, let alone wise. Even if we were to consider it, such a move would be difficult to undo, given the circumstances, especially in Canada: as visaholders, if we leave the country right now, we aren’t eligble to come back in until the border re-opens, a process that may take months.
But, most confronting of all was a question I’d never needed to actually grapple with: where is home after so long abroad? What would it even mean to return, and try to slip back into life there, all of a sudden? New Zealand will always be toku kainga (my home) in spirit, but actually deciding to return was never something we had on any meaningful time horizon to do. Choosing to stay in Canada felt similarly fraught: what if someone close to us were to get sick? The choice felt impossible.
In the end, the decision was fairly clear: the right thing to do for everyone, to prevent any spread, was to stay put in Canada, no matter the temptation of a far away land that feels safe for weathering a storm like this. And in the meantime, it meant making a decision that I’d never really conciously come to in the first few years away: that here, Canada, is where we’ve made home, at least for now.
I know that many other kiwis around the world must have been in similar positions, and have been forced to make the same difficult choice as well. The hard truth is that it’s painful to make this decision, especially when all you want is to be with family and friends on the other side of the planet.
No matter what you decided, Kia kaha, we’ll make it through this.