“I wake up and look out of my apartment window at the North Shore mountains, and it’s the most beautiful sight. I walk 25 minutes across town to work, passing people from all over the world.”
It was a warm and sunny early evening when I met Bell at Third Beach in Stanley Park. Bell has only been in Vancouver since late in 2018 yet the area was a known quantity as she had visited a few years ago. I wanted to know more about her relocation process, what was it that brought her to the city. “Courage, and the gravitational pull I had been feeling towards the country ever since travelling across it in 2014.” was her response. Courage? “I had had permanent residency status for over two years prior to moving, and it was getting to the point where I either needed to move and retain my PR status, or let the pipe dream go.” Everyone has their own reasons for when they make the move and, I found that the Brits I’ve spoken to have been fairly evenly split between arriving on a Work Visa or full on Permanent Residency. Bell certainly took things to the wire and yes, courage to let go of one’s past life is absolutely needed. Despite the ease of connectivity through technology, I believe the move is not for those that are not willing to take a significant risk.
I’ve spoken to Brits that have had contacts here and those that arrive knowing no-one and, although Bell was able to connect with a few people, as she says, it was a fairly loose network.
“..but each and every one of these people proved to be really helpful, supportive and welcoming.” It’s a common and heartening response. Other humans being open to ease the newcomer’s load and, maybe that’s due to being in an area with a large immigrant population - essentially everyone bar the indigenous peoples. Could it be that even those that have several generations of Canadian born family recognise that at some point in their history, a family member set out across an ocean to build a new life.
Enough about the relocation, I wanted to know more about how Bell spends her time now that’s she’s established. “During the week I work at a tech agency in Yaletown, and force myself to the gym afterwards. At the weekend I try to make the most of the outdoors - we’re in Vancouver, after all - by embracing the snow, the transit system, and the unpredictable weather patterns.” Once again, the lure of the outdoors comes through loud and clear and given the ease of access to local mountains and parks, it’s hardly surprising that Bell makes the most of the natural environment. Bell is also ready to head in to hiking season after a brief introduction last year that “almost put me in cardiac arrest”. I’m guessing that she must have experienced a more strenuous hike so maybe a gentle start to this year might be in order, like the Quarry Rock route. To really explore the hikes and trails from Whistler to the Fraser Valley, check out Vancouver Trails and Explore Magazine’s 20 of the best hikes near Vancouver.
“What about other places that may not involve near death experiences?”, I asked. “Mount Pleasant and Main for exploring non-downtown city things, Gastown for cocktail time, Seattle for American fun. I can’t wait to explore Vancouver Island and the Okanagan.” Seems that Bell has all bases covered and that’s one of the joys of living here, the variety of things to do.
Hold The Maple Syrup
I was curious about Bell’s culture shock experience. It’s something that the other Brits I’ve spoken to have unexpectedly run in to and, Bell is was no different “I think the biggest culture shock in general for me is realising that although I moved to an English speaking, Westernised country, it’s still an entirely foreign country with different ways of doing just about everything - from banking to social etiquette.” Even after twelve years here, I can absolutely understand Bell’s experience. Having recently engaged a Relator for the fist time to sell property, I was horrified by the costs and the different process compared to my UK experience. Letting go of what was can certainly be hard, particularly when one feels one’s being fleeced by the system. Yet, it’s how it is here, and I’m not in the UK. And, Bells thoughts - “gauging appropriateness in any given situation has been more difficult than I expected. Getting paid is different, paying bills is different, washing machines are different, Heinz baked beans are different, everything (EVERYTHING) can be Maple Syrup flavoured.” I think it’s fair to say that anyone relocating from the UK should be open to embracing change!
How about the flip side of culture shock? What is it about this place that is so enticing? “I wake up and look out of my apartment window at the North shore mountains, and it’s the most beautiful sight. I walk 25 minutes across town to work, passing people from all over the world. If I want to travel further out, the transit systems here are frequent, quick, and affordable (this is in comparison to the UK!). For lunch, the food choices are endless and delicious.” and I have to agree. The UK has many beautiful places to live and visit, yet Vancouver seems to blend together a wonderful cultural and natural experience. Is it perfect here? No, of course not. Vancouver is a city and cities have problems with social exclusion, inequality, crime, environmental stressors - the usual suspects. However, if one is able to carve out a living here, it’s a rewarding experience.
So does Bell think it’s worthwhile being here? What are her tips for others considering the move? “It’s worth it, but be prepared for everything to be different. There is definitely a long adjustment period, and some days are darker than others (metaphorically). You need to be prepared to be independent, rely entirely on yourself and you need a good level of acceptance to tolerate and accept stuff that you might think “isn’t as good as it is at home!”. That seems to summarise things nicely. Relocation is a challenge so be ready to put the hours in to making it work.
Buildings and Food
My final ask of Bell was to reflect on what she missed and what she’s have brought with her if possible. “I miss Tescos, Twiglets, fast boiling kettles, and roundabouts. I also miss the bold, unapologetic way of the British. You don’t realise how ballsy we are until you’re around a quieter, politer and more helpful lot of people.” And what to bring? “All my books, Gloucester Road in Bristol, Clifton pubs, century old architecture.” Once again, it’s the buildings and pub socialising that are seen as a major differentiator.
Thank you Bell for being part of this project. Brits in Vancouver is turning out to be a such a fun and informative project. I’m meeting people that share a common experience with me through relocating, through knowing that something had to change, though wanting to build something different. Bell, welcome to the TARDIS, enjoy the journey.
You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.