“I currently live in East Van near the PNE and its a great stretch for local bars and eateries”
Brits in Vancouver is definitely back up and running. I recently met up with Joe at New Brighton Park, one of his favoured haunts for chilling and walking, to find out more about his journey.
Was Joe’s story like other Brits I’ve met? Joe thought so, yet maybe not quite.
“It seems like a typical story now that I've met a lot of Brits but it was a girl! I met her in London while I was rehearsing for a play and we fell for each other in Edinburgh while the play was being put on during the Fringe Festival. She ended up coming back to my hometown of Portsmouth for a bit but returned to Canada and we had a long-distance thing going on for a while. It was during these long-distance discussions about our relationship that I made the decision to come out to Vancouver and try it out.”
It turns out that was quite a while ago, some eight years, and despite often feeling a newcomer, Joe now realises that he’s been here longer than many immigrants and ex-pats he speaks to.
Other than moving to pursue a relationship, I wanted to know if there was anything else that Joe experienced to confirm that this was the place to be.
“Actually it was kind of bittersweet. I split up with my ex-partner and went back to the UK to see the family and think about my options. While I was there, I had a longing to come back to Vancouver. The mountains, the open spaces, the general way of life and how polite and friendly everyone is, it was all things I missed as soon as I left. I also had a job that I loved and that I'd put a lot of energy into in terms of working my way up the ladder. I had PR so I just thought; 'I guess that's home'. “
Joe had mentioned performing and I asked if this was his life in Vancouver.
“I like to work hard and play hard. I work in Film, so my Monday to Friday is largely work, but I play(ed) football during the week (pre-Covid). I read, write and play guitar in my own time during the week too and am currently learning Spanish (One of the advantages of Vancouver is its position in the world; so many great countries to explore that are cheap to travel to in Central and South America).”
Like many newcomers, Joe found that his qualifications were not fully recognised in BC. As he loves performance he started working behind the scenes on film sets and also performs (again, pre-Covid) with local theatre groups. The desire to learn and grow shone through as was the need to remain active when I asked about what he was doing now that he didn’t expect to be.
“I was a teacher back home and struggled to get a teaching job when I came here. I was volunteering for a theatre and met someone who gave me my first film job and that was five years ago now! But also, the outdoor lifestyle is something that seems so simple but is just not as accessible back home; here I have a kayak and I've skied and snowboarded...things I never would have done in the UK.”
How about fun/playtime. How does Joe get through the weekends?
“At the weekend I try to hike and or travel where I can, beaches and lakes and such, as long as I haven't hit the bars too hard on the Friday and Saturday night, haha (pre-Covid). That side of British culture is difficult to get rid of. But I love the open spaces here, the mountains and the forests are incredible and I love getting out to explore.”
Despite remnants of Brit weekend culture, Joe has certainly immersed himself in his new neighbourhood and, as with others I’ve spoken to, dining out figures large.
“I like to think I've explored a lot of Vancouver in terms of food and drink but I love finding new spots, whether it's breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner! I currently live in East Van near the PNE and it's a great stretch for local bars and eateries, particularly the Commercial Drive area.”
Like many Brits and likely many other immigrants, Joe found it tough to build lasting friendships with others here. Vancouver has its share of transient workers, here on short term visas, and there’s the difficulty of breaking into longstanding friend groups of locals. It’s a frustration I’ve heard on several occasions when speaking with Brits on this project. Maybe this is another reason why nation groups flock together.
Other than being prepared for the difficulty of building a new social circle, I asked Joe for other nuggets of wisdom for the potential Brit immigrant.
“…don't come here expecting your life from back home but with nicer scenery. There are a lot of small differences here that add up a very different way of living, a shift in mindset can be very important!”
And I agree, a common language and some shared heritage make it easy to think that this part of Canada will be (insert UK city/town) with mountains. It’s not the case. Vancouver is very multi-cultural and offers a wider and deeper experience of global living than I ever had in the UK. Joe also summed up other things he misses (other than family).
“The football culture. They have a football (soccer) team here but the atmosphere is different. The fans aren't quite as impassioned as we are, not as much singing or cheering and generally a quieter affair. The food/drink. Crisps, beer, chocolate, pot noodles....there's a lot of things you take for granted that you miss when you can't have it...kind of like moving out from your parents place and then once you start cooking for yourself you realise how much you miss your mum's cooking haha. Pasties and pies! They're so hard to find here, not really a part of the culture like wings and craft beer is.”
As I mentioned above. Vancouver isn’t, in Joe’s case, Portsmouth with mountains. Take note potential relocators!
To wrap up our chat I asked Joe what would drive him to return to the UK. It was a touching response.
“My family. I miss them all the time. I was incredibly homesick when I came and eight years later I wouldn't say I'm less homesick now than I was then...I've just accepted it and it's become a dull sound in the back of my head as opposed to an ache. I have nieces and nephews back home that I've pretty much missed growing up and that's one of the great sacrifices you have to make when you're expatriated. I'd love to move them all over but I know they'd never leave the UK. For some, the changes and sacrifices are too great even if they are for the better.”
One of the attractions of this project is meeting new people and allowing them to open up about their journey to being a Brit in Vancouver. The expats I meet are amazing people. As Joe mentioned, living away from the homeland means giving up a lot and, it’s not for everyone.
Joe, thank you for being such a great sport. It was a pleasure to wander New Brighton Park and chat. Welcome to the Tardis.
You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.