Julie’s Story

A portrait of Julie“I love the fact that there is lots of green space. I like being able to buy locally-sourced groceries.”

Having spent a couple of sessions in the studio, my first, shoot emerging into a ‘living with Covid’ world was with Julie. I suspect many people now have even greater respect for those involved in healthcare and I was pleased that Julie would be the first person to tell their story since my re-start of the project as Julie has spent a career in nursing. Before diving into Julie’s pre-coronavirus world, I thought I’d ask how the last three months have been for her and her family.

“As an RN my life hasn’t changed so much, but the amount of PPE has. 

Our daughter is homeschooled alternate weeks, and at daycare.  She misses school and her activities, but technology is allowing her to participate in dance classes from home and talk to her friends.

I miss being able to see my friends, so have embraced technology for weekly chats and a much-needed gin & tonic.

As a  Nurse working in a hospital which is the heart of the community, I am so humbled to hear the 7 pm applause for frontline workers.  I think of all those who are playing an important role at this time; transit workers, shop workers, educators, and those who are simply staying home to keep us all safe.”

It was comforting to know that even through the enforced changes, for Julie there are still elements of normality as well as creative get-togethers that hopefully help maintain balanced wellbeing. On to Julie’s story……

Julie arrived in Vancouver early in 2008 so she has certainly had time to adjust to the differences between the UK and the west coast of BC. But, what brought her here?

A portrait of Julie“I attended a job fair in London in 2006.  Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) had placed information in a UK nursing journal and I was curious.  I'd been working in the NHS since graduating in 1998. During an interview, my would-be manager offered me a job!  Kind of surreal.”

I’ll say! Given the stories I’ve heard about qualifications not being recognised and with no Canadian experience it’s hard to find work, Julie was in a position of simply needing to make a decision whether to relocate or not. When I say simple, that’s never really the case as one weighs up leaving family and friends, cutting loose from the known and heading off to a new life. Plus there was still a need to jump a few hurdles.

“The process was time-consuming.  I had to complete a labour market opinion (LMO) and get my nursing qualification reviewed by the BC Nursing Regulatory body.” 

Okay, so the qualifications review did play a part in the process yet it didn’t prevent a full offer being made so it was all systems go. Almost. 

“After getting married, a whirlwind honeymoon, and shipping what we could, we arrived in Vancouver in April 2008. We didn't know anyone, although my husband's mother has a cousin in Squamish.”

So there was also a wedding to negotiate before the move. Yet, within two years of attending a job fair out of curiosity, Julie and now husband arrived in Vancouver. The great thing about having work organised was the greeting.

“I remember VCH had this amazing programme where someone met us at the airport, took us to our accommodation, helped us with opening a bank account and obtaining Social Insurance Number, etc.”

The newcomers were certainly well treated and it’s heartening to know that sometimes the transition can be made a lot less stressful by thoughtful employers. Julie told me that she still has the guidebooks for Vancouver that travelled with her from the UK. One of those memory box things that trigger emotions and feelings from years ago. Another feeling that remains to this day is the awe-inspiring waterfront skyline of downtown Vancouver and, I totally get it. Whether it’s from Stanley Park or the Lonsdale area, that a view!

A portrait of JulieJulie has worked at St Paul's and more recently Lions Gate hospitals and lives in the Lower Lonsdale area. The area has certainly cast its spell on her. When asked about some of the things she loves about North Van, she replied.

“I love living by the Ocean. 

I love the fact that there is lots of green space.

I like being able to buy locally-sourced groceries.

Transit is reliable and cheap.

Downtown is less than 15 min away.”

Just a few of the things that consistently make Vancouver such a livable city. But what about property ownership?

“We couldn't afford a place in the UK.  Nurses in BC earn considerably more than in the UK so we are lucky in that we bought a condo.”

Okay, I appreciate that affordability has declined significantly since the late 2000’s so housing may now be more of an issue for newcomers, yet it’s still interesting to note that financially, nurses in BC are more valued than back in the UK. Little wonder that I read about staffing shortages in the NHS back in the UK.

On to culture shock. Everyone I speak to has their own little ‘huh!’ moment when they arrive and for Julie, it turned out to be no online grocery shopping. It’s those little things that we’ve taken for granted for years before relocating that seems to trip us up. I think moving to another English speaking country lulls us into a false sense of equivalence, of expecting the same. I was certainly in that place. Julie also mentioned the perennial cell/mobile phone plan costs as one of those things that she missed about the UK. It’s good to know that even after twelve years here, I’m not the only one that still finds it hard to accept the poor value offered by Canadian telecoms providers.

What about local culture, where does Julie head to for nights out or for fun?

A portrait of Julie“Vancouver Art Gallery, Science World, Gastown, Lonsdale Quay, Ambleside beach

The outdoors always manages to work its way into Brit's consciousness. Sometimes it’s for serious sport, others for simple relaxing downtime.

To wrap up the conversation I asked Julie what advice she’d pass on to those considering the leap and any other final thoughts.

“It is a huge step to move your life from one part of the world to another.  I remember being incredibly homesick for the first few months. Talk to people who have done it. There are great ex-pat resources online. The process can be frustrating, but it's been worth it.

12 years; 1 mortgage, 1 daughter, a myriad of pets, new friends, wonderful memories, and maybe time to finally do our Citizenship paperwork.”

It seems that sticking with the challenges can be worthwhile, horizons can be expanded and more importantly, a new life can be successfully built.

Julie, thank you for meeting with me for another Brits in Vancouver meeting. It was a pleasure to chat, find out about your life here, and photograph you downtown.

Welcome to the TARDIS, Julie. Happy travels!

You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.

Julie with the TARDIS

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