Brits in Vancouver – Ellie’s Story

A portrait of Ellie at Lynn CanyonThe access to true wilderness. There are areas nearby which are a multi-day strenuous hike away, not accessible by road or boat.

Another Brit in Vancouver, another location. I met with Ellie at Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver.

Disc World

Ellie moved to Vancouver just over five years ago for possibly the most unusual reason; “Mostly to play Ultimate Frisbee at a higher level – bit unusual I know! The sport started in North America and so the level of competition here is just a step above.” I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting that as a response. I asked “How did you know that Vancouver was the place to be?”. Ellie’s response, “I didn’t and still don’t. But no decision needs to be forever. A portrait of Ellie at Lynn CanyonA lot of my friends raved about Vancouver even though most had never been. The city is on top of their marketing!”, which I found so refreshing. The idea of being open to exploration fitted perfectly with the TARDIS theme for the project, Ellie was in this time and place, enjoying the experience.

“Who did you know here before moving?” I asked. “No-one at all. However the Ultimate Frisbee community is incredibly friendly and welcoming so I knew I’d meet people easily.” I was left musing that having a ready made community to join could make the relocation easier. When I arrived with my family in 2007, we were in the same position of knowing no-one and found it hard (especially as more introverted types) to build relationships. My guess is that some newcomers, and it doesn’t matter where they come from, will gravitate to seeking out their default national community if they don’t have access to an alternative group like Ellie tapped in to.

An Active Life

It didn’t take long before the natural environment in this area surfaced. I was exploring Ellie’s interests outside of Ultimate and work (Sustainability Consultant), she mentioned “I love exploring nature and challenging myself.” Adding to that “The access to true wilderness; there are areas nearby which are a multi-day strenuous hike away, not accessible by road or boat.” Due to an injury, Ellie is no longer playing Ultimate (she even represented Canada) but is able to run, ski, climb and swim and loves spending time in Lynn Valley. Swimming turned out to be something that Ellei did not expect to be doing as frequently as she does, “the rivers and lakes are so inviting in the summer.” 

The surprises

A portrait of Ellie at Lynn CanyonWhen asking about other surprises I was a little taken-aback by her comments; “Initially it was the litter and homelessness – Vancouver had been built up so much as an ‘ideal’ city that I was shocked that it can be pretty dirty.” Unfortunately homelessness is a reality for many, not just in Vancouver. I’m a believer that on the whole. people do not choose to be homeless. The local problem is well documented (just do a search on ‘homelessness in Vancouver’ for a variety of links to articles and news reports) yet being confronted by the issue is a reminder that we (humankind) can do better for vulnerable people. As for litter, I have to agree that over the last two-three years I seem to be noticing more litter on the streets. There can obviously be multiple reasons for this, street cleaning down, more people discarding stuff, social values changing, yet whatever the reason, I’m still not sure the streets are as grubby as some I’ve seen in the UK in the past. Maybe the City has set such high standards for itself that even a little deviation from ‘ideal’ becomes very noticeable.

Missing

As part of this project I’ll always ask about what’s missed other than family and friends. Ellie mentioned  “the train and bike network. Definitely the self deprecating sarcastic humour.” Two very diverse observations and I’m in agreement on both. Let’s face it, the UK train networks so not enjoy the best of reputations, but they do exist. Outside of Skytrain, the only options are tourist-focussed trains to Whistler and the Rockies or the Cascades line to Seattle and beyond. I took the train to Seattle a couple of years ago and even though the journey offered up amazing views, it was a slow, slow ride. A portrait of Ellie at Lynn CanyonI’ve also travelled on trains across Europe (Berlin, Torino) and the high speed networks such as TGV, Thalys, and ICE provided a far superior experience. A map showing the UK within part of CanadaHaving said that, with a population roughly half that of the UK covering an area multiple times more ( map courtesy of My Life Elsewhere ) I can appreciate running a service that doesn’t lose money is likely very difficult. Humour, oh yes, I get that completely. It must be in the genes.

Wrapping up

My final question to Ellie was asking for tips for potential emigrants. “Think about how much time / money / carbon emissions you will commit to for going home for visits. Most jobs only give you three weeks off a year (two when you first start) – will you use at least a week of that to go home each year?” And that’s a great thought. People react differently to relocating, some needing to reconnect with people and places from their country of origin; others more comfortable with letting the old country go. Before taking the signifiant step of emigration, even if it’s only for a couple of years on a work permit, think carefully about what you’re leaving behind.

Thanks Ellie for being a great Brit in Vancouver. Keep exploring and enjoy your life on the west coast.

A portrait of Ellie with the TARDIS at Lynn Canyon

Brits in Vancouver – Shayna’s story

A portrait of Shayna at Acadia Beach VancouverWith a love of mountains, oceans and forests, Vancouver had a natural pull for Shayna.

I met Shayna at one of her special places, Acadia Beach within Pacific Spirit Park. It’s a place that showcased the best thing about being in Vancouver for her; access to water, forests and mountains.  Not wanting to assume anything I asked what brought her to Vancouver.

“The opportunity to teach following a holistic curriculum and live by the sea and mountains” My feeling is that I’d be hearing one part of that answer many times during my meetings with other British expatriates. 

Working conundrum 

Having been sold on the place following a short visit, Shayna applied for a Permanent Resident visa and was surprised that it was approved within six months. The move happened in May of 2017. I asked who she knew before heading here. “a distant relative and some ESL [English as a Second Language ] teaching colleagues”. What surprised her was even though she’d been granted Permanent residency at Federal level based upon her qualifications and skills, her teaching qualification wasn’t fully accepted in British Columbia. This meant a further period of study which she is currently working through. However Shayna is able to use her skills within the private school system and is working as a University Prep Academic English teacher and tutors ESL three times a week.

Taking in the culture 

A portrait of Shayna at Acadia Beach VancouverShayna is also exploring Indigenous culture through an online literature course. Her reading has to led to a desire to “explore the history of First Nations and Indigenous People. I would love to go to Squamish and speak with Elders and hear their stories.” There’s a real thirst for finding out more and I find it encouraging that other immigrants are open to exploring the full history of this province, one that extends far beyond the easily accessible Euro-centric stories.

Outside of work and study Shayna takes advantage of the natural environment and walks whenever she can. It’s not all soaking in the local culture though as brunch at Cora’s with her Brit bestie is also right up there as a special time.

Surprises

I wanted to find out more about the surprises of relocation; those things that despite the research just weren’t obvious. Not surprisingly, “Studying and working two jobs” was prominent as well as something a little more off-beat, “The friendliness of the bus drivers. The fact that buses stop for you without being prompted to.” Yep, I agree, it’s very rare to come across a bus driver that doesn’t engage with you in some way. It’s one of the pleasures of transit use here.

Something that I’ve noticed on comments on Facebook groups and through conversation with other Brits has been the challenge of getting a wider friend group established in Vancouver. It’s been something that Shayna has also experienced and I’m left wondering what is is that leads to this. The best I can offer to the conversation is that when newcomers arrive, we are, in some ways, competing with long established relationships and that holds true for singles and couples. One other thing that I’ve noticed since relocation back in 2007 is that locals may not return social or business calls or messages. That’s just how it is and so it falls on the newcomer to make the effort which, when trying to assimilate is another ball to keep in the air. 

A portrait of Shayna at Acadia Beach VancouverMissing

There are invariably things that the emigrant misses when moving to a new country. Rather than the more obvious family and friends, I asked Shayna about what she would have brought with her from the UK but couldn’t. I loved her thoughts “Waterstones bookstore my local pub, the Cornish coastline: Tintagel.” 

Time for tips

To round off the conversation I asked for relocation tips. “Compromise is key. 

Ensure you have your professional qualifications assessed before you arrive, although we are all part of the Commonwealth there are some professional certificates Provinces do not recognize. (Teachers beware you might be required to complete another year at University). 

Go with the flow, there will be dark days.” Her last thought really resonated with me as despite not having the pressure to learn another language, it can still be hard navigating ones way through the administrative, social and business differences that exist. Having said that, for me the challenges have been worthwhile and it seems that is the case for Shayna as well as she updates her education for BC and takes advantage of living in a stunning environment. 

Thank you Shayna for being up for sharing your experience as a Brit in Vancouver. Enjoy your studies, make the most of being in this amazing environment.

A portrait of Shayna at Acadia Beach Vancouver with the TARDIS

Brits in Vancouver – Adventures in Time and Place

An image of a woman holding a TARDISIt was a natural link and I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about what it was to be British and living in the Metro Vancouver area.

Towards the end of last year I photographed Chris. He’d put a call out on a Facebook group I’d recently joined for a photographer as he was considering looking for extras work in the local TV/movie sector. We met up on Granville Island, had a chat, had a great portrait shoot (you’ll find him on my portfolio page) and it got me thinking about a personal project.

Fast forward a couple of months and I decided to put a call out through the Facebook Group for Brits wanting to tell their story. What interested me? Having relocated with my family back in 2007 and to a certain extent, keeping arms length from the expat circuit, I felt a pull to explore what brought others here. It was a natural link and I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about what it was to be British and living in the Metro Vancouver area.

My call attracted more people than I’d asked for and so the project already started to grow, there was a desire to be involved, others wanted to share their experience. To make this thing work I wanted to get answers to some simple questions from everyone that participated and I also wanted to include something that brought the series of portraits together. I decided to use a prop that was easily identifiable, quintessentially British, something that would transcend generations, be about travel, adventure, meeting new people and exploring unfamiliar worlds. 

The project, Brits in Vancouver: Adventures in Time and Place is up and running. I’ve decided to make it an ongoing project, something I can grow, explore on different levels, return to. In fact, it’s become bigger on the inside (my motivation) than it was on the outside (when I first put pencil to paper and outlined my idea).