After eight years living and working in U.S.A., I had to leave America to return to Canada.
It was not about the politics, though that did have an impact on the paths that were narrowing for me in the U.S.
I am a Canadian who was always on a temporary work visa in the U.S. When I left Canada in 2012, I never expected to be in America for so long. I never sought U.S. permanent residency, which was what led to this eventual upheaval.
Eight months ago, I joined a start-up accelerator, but it was not to be. Its vision was incongruent with mine.
Temporary visas are tied to one’s employer. When that role ended this September, I had to leave the country.
In the end, the experience of uprooting with limited time was turbulent. I had to terminate a lease, close accounts, find a place to live in another country, pack, and discard memories that took root in personal belongings and in the familiar sights around Princeton.
There was no time to say good-bye to any friends. It was not even possible with this pandemic. Dear friends, we will meet again, and look each other in the eyes. I promise!
When I told anyone in America that I was on my way to Canada, many expressed that Canada is a nice place, that it may be better to be in Canada now.
I did not see it that way. To me, a pandemic, political upheaval, wildfires, hurricanes, collapsing societies, and other problems the world over are symptoms of deeper issues in sustainability—socially, environmentally, technologically—that need to be solved by all of us, each in our own way, and these problems are global. There is much to be done, where ever we are.
When I first arrived in America in 2012, I rented an apartment in Bayonne, across the river from Manhattan. Even though the commute to the office in central New Jersey was long, I just wanted my residence for that first year to be near New York City, to take in something about this place and perhaps appreciate something new.
After walking out of an apartment complex I was considering leasing, I stepped out onto its green lawn, looked across the Hudson River towards the Manhattan skyline and saw the Statue of Liberty.
“Liberty Enlightening the World” is an iconic symbol. It has varied meanings to different people and throughout different eras. Professor David Glassberg of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has detailed how it has been a monument to political cooperation, to the end of slavery, to national unity, to immigration and economic opportunity, to political liberty and freedom around the globe, and to character and resilience.
These meanings were not all clear to me at the time, but I could feel the wellsprings of all these ideas by just beholding that sight for a few moments.
I rented that apartment for a year. Every morning when I woke up at sunrise and looked out the window, I saw the Statue of Liberty reaching out across the Atlantic. At night, I could see her unmistakable torch illuminating out over the darkness.
The inspiration I felt each time I saw that image outside my window will continue to be an illuminating memory forever.
May that flame to those ideas never die in all of us.