“I’ve lived in 6 different countries in my life and this is the longest so I think that says a lot.”
Year two of Brits in Vancouver kicked off and I was looking to take the series to the next level. Having previously met with people that had been here for fewer years than myself, I wanted to widen participation to find out more about longer term life as a Brit immigrant. I was also keen to add studio sessions in to the mix as all past photo shoots had been outside.
Emma answered the call and having been here for more than 20 years, certainly added a new dimension to the stories. Best of all, Emma is also part of the vibrant theatre community so was a perfect fit for the studio shoot.
Back in the Day
I was curious about Emma’s first impressions of Vancouver, what was that first day or two like for her?
“I came to Vancouver in 1997 with my then husband. We have been travelling and didn’t want to settle back in England. He had lived in Calgary as a child and had citizenship. He sponsored me and we moved here. I had never been to Canada and we didn’t know anyone or have any jobs lined up. We stayed in a hotel down on Hastings our first night as the hostel was full and didn’t know we were in the DTES or even what that was. We moved to the hostel the next night.”
Those first experiences certainly resonate in part. A number of people I’ve met and spoken with have been in a similar space, knowing no-one, not having great awareness of areas of social exclusion and poverty that exist here.
In Emma’s case, she swiftly moved on from the shock of the first night.
“I was lucky and got a job within 5 days of being here and we moved to a studio on Beach avenue.”
Once settled it seems that life on the West Coast was really embraced.
West Coast Life
“We loved it, the view was amazing and that’s when we knew we were staying. We got into snowboarding, long walks on the sea wall. I even learned roller blading but I don’t have the best balance so didn’t risk the concrete.”
The subject of culture shock came up and, not surprisingly the different sense of humour was mentioned.
“I really had to tone down my humour and we found it hard to make friends the first couple of years but we met people through work.”
Despite there being twenty years difference in the relocation, I was certainly hearing similar stories with others that I’ve spoken to. Even though I could suggest that the world is a lot more accessible now (and it wasn’t exactly closed-off in the mid-late 90’s) it seems that there are still enough cultural differences to distinguish Brits from locals in other predominantly English speaking countries. Mind you, Vancouver is a real melting pot (and I love that diversity) so it’s hardly surprising that British humour can be misinterpreted at times.
I was curious to know more about the changes in living standards Emma has experienced over the years. She highlighted a couple of things
“I love how progressive and beautiful Vancouver is. I’m finding it increasingly more expensive though, especially house prices, I can’t imagine I’ll be living here when I retire even though I have a good job.”
I can only agree on accommodations. Buying and renting costs appear to have become uncoupled from affordability and, surely that cannot be a sustainable situation for the longer term.
Life’s a Performance
Work wise, Emma balances her daytime gig with a long term passion.
“I work in recruitment and hire people, and Vancouver’s been pretty good career wise. I’m also a theatre actor outside of work and Vancouver has an amazing theatre community.”
I’ve certainly found a thriving and supportive Improv community here so it wasn’t a surprise to hear that the wider performance community is also a great place to be. One thing I really appreciated during our photo-shoot was being able to call on a range of emotions from Emma. She delivered seamlessly, from anger to sultry and it made my job as the photographer so much easier.
Turning to the UK. Emma has been away from ‘the old country’ for many years. In fact she’s lived in Canada longer than she lived in the UK. Could there still be things that she missed?
“I miss lots of things about the UK, my Mum, some friends, country pubs, some of the shopping, English TV, chocolate, Sports fixtures, actually a lot of food. Sense of humour, the countryside, the history and architecture. Wow, that’s a lot. I do sometimes think about going back.”
So even after twenty plus years, ‘home’ is still calling?
“ I try and go back regularly especially as my whole family are there and I still have friends there. I enjoy the culture, I’m from the Northern countryside, so gorgeous. But I don’t know if I’d fit in if I lived there to be honest. I kind of straddle both countries. I’m not Canadian but I consider this home, my partner and my son are Canadian. Yet I’ve lived here longer than I lived in the UK. I’ve lived in 6 different countries in my life and this is the longest so I think that says a lot. Vancouver is pretty special.”
That last sentence sums it up for me. Nowhere is perfect, yet Vancouver has something about it that makes some people just want to stick around. After twelve years here and even dual citizenship, I still consider myself as BC Brit. Would I go back to live in the UK? Absolutely not. I’m committed to living my days in Western Canada and am very comfortable with that. I’m happy being a global citizen that just happens to have absorbed a defining chunk of culture from the UK. Does that make the UK better than living in BC? Again, nope. It differentiates me from others here, yet no more than any other nationality living here in Vancouver is able to differentiate themselves through their own formative years experience.
Thank you Emma for joining me for another Brits in Vancouver conversation and photo-shoot. Welcome to the TARDIS, enjoy your adventure.
You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.