A few weeks ago, I met with Louise and Paul at Lost Lagoon for their portrait shoot. It was the first time I had met up with a couple for the Brits in Vancouver project and, rather than get a joint story, I asked for their own version of events. Here are Louise's thoughts and feelings about being a Brit abroad.
I asked Louise about how Vancouver became the preferred destination.
"We wanted to experience living and working abroad for a few years. Australia, New Zealand and Canada were our options due to the working holiday visas offered. I decided that I wanted to come to Canada as NZ and Aus in my mind were too far away from our family. We took a trip to US/Canada in 2015 and visited Seattle to run the rock and roll half (marathon). We then took the Clipper across to Vancouver Island, staying in Victoria and Tofino before getting the ferry over to end our trip in Vancouver. Based on that trip, we decided to move to Vancouver."
So, plenty of research was undertaken before the final decision was made. However, what was it about Vancouver that made it the place to be? There appeared to have been an alternative plan that involved the Okanagan.
"Initially, we decided that Vancouver would be the best place to live/work due to its climate and the fact it seemed to have a very active population. Paul runs marathons and moving East was vetoed as he couldn’t stand the thought of training through cold winters in the snow. However, when we arrived in Vancouver at the end of June 2017, we made a quick judgement that we may not be so happy here after all. Being in downtown on a busy afternoon in the summer reminded us of being in London or some other big city, and we were put off. As we had no permanent accommodation, we were actually thinking of returning to Kelowna and trying to find work there for the summer. I really liked the idea of working at the wineries looking out onto the Vineyards and sampling all the wines myself. However, we had a change of heart after finding short term accommodation in the West End and fell in love with the area. We also loved the fact you can live in a city but be out hiking in the mountains within 30 minutes."
Once again, access to outdoor activities was a big draw. It seems that even if one didn't arrive here with the intent to explore the natural environment, the beauty and ease of access to hikes and trails soon wins you over.
Life isn't all about hiking and running, so what does Louise fill her days with?
"I’m an Insurance Underwriter and work in downtown but, currently I am on parental leave taking care of our daughter Mia. We have been in isolation for a few months, but now starting to get outside every day on playdates and enjoying the nice weather. I love living by False Creek, we take walks regularly around to Science World, Granville Island and the West End. On a warm day, I like to pitch up my beach tent and relax with my daughter at one of the green spaces in the area. I love the fact that you can literally walk everywhere in Vancouver and rarely need to use a car."
Since moving from the 'burbs' of Port Coquitlam to the West End of Vancouver, I can only agree with Louise. The walkability of the area is first class and, with many tree-lined side-streets, it's easy to forget that one is in a city environment.
Both Louise and Paul are passionate runners, but I also wanted to know more about Louise's other interests. Pre-Covid, weekly hikes of the Grouse Grind, BCMC or Flint and Feather trails figured large. However, Louise has also developed a liking for local beers and enjoys trying flights at the different breweries across the city. Louise also mentioned the joy of attending festivals and events (again, pre-Covid) that are across the city over the summer months. I'm certainly hoping for a return to that part of living downtown.
I returned to the subject of work. I've noted that sometimes newcomers walk into appropriate jobs very quickly when they arrive. I asked Louise about her experience.
"I was surprised how difficult it was to gain employment without Canadian work experience, even minimum wage jobs were hard to get. I was either on zero-hour roles or part-time roles, earning low wages for almost 18 months before eventually gaining employment in my profession."
I had a similar experience back in 2007. Times may have moved on, yet certain aspects of relocating have remained static. It's a frustrating experience to go through and, from my perspective, wrongly, seen as the immigrants right of passage. If someone has the skills and the experience to take on a particular role, having no Canadian experience, should not be a hurdle to have to overcome.
I followed up by asking about other aspects of living here that Louise found challenging.
"Being so far from friends and family. Facetime definitely helps, but I do wish we were on the same time zone as catching up can be difficult to schedule. If all my family and friends from the UK could move here, life would be perfect!"
Louise also has some solid advice for someone thinking of cutting ties with the UK, even if it's not for the long term.
"Save up some money before you come here. It may take a few months to secure employment, and Vancouver is an expensive city to live in. If you can afford to, try and do some exploring before getting a job or finding an apartment. Statutory vacation here is only 10 days. It can be very quickly used up on trips back to the UK or visits to other places in the province and other parts of Canada. I’m so glad we planned our road trip through the Rockies before we arrived because as soon as we had found an apartment and jobs we didn’t have so much freedom to explore. Canada is huge and you will need lots of free time and money to explore other destinations inside of Canada and out."
As we met just as being out was a thing again, I was interested to hear how Louise had navigated through Covid isolation.
"In many ways, Mia’s timing (she was born at the start of the year) was ideal as with a newborn you are stuck inside quite a lot anyway. Paul has worked from home pretty much since she was born and has been around to help take care of Mia. I think its been great for their bond and our relationship as we (Louise and Mia) both see him so much more than if he were to be working in the office or clinic. However, it has also been difficult at times; not being able to see our friends and Mia has had little interaction with other adults and children. We had also planned to visit the UK and Europe for 6 weeks in July to introduce Mia to family and friends. Sadly, the trip has been cancelled and it's unlikely our family will get to meet Mia before she turns 1. There are some days where I miss my family and friends back in the UK but I know for now it's safer for us to be in Vancouver."
My sense is that many similar conversations are happening as the world continues to figure out how to deal with a novel coronavirus. I was due to visit Italy with my wife, earlier in the year, and that trip was postponed for another year. I'm certainly hoping that Louise and Paul can properly introduce Mia to family in the not too distant future.
Most ex-pats that I've spoken to miss other aspects of living back in the UK. People get accustomed to particular routines or have favourite places to visit. I asked Louise, "If it could have fitted into a suitcase, what would you have brought with you, but couldn't" Her reply?
"One of my favourite places back in Norwich, UK is a self serve wine bar called The Wallow. It was really casual and a great place to wallow the afternoon or evening away, sipping on different wines and sampling charcuterie and cheese platers. I haven’t found anywhere similar in Vancouver. Most places here have table service and I loved the concept of being able to top up my drink from the machine without calling a waiter.
There are also a few personal trinkets and furniture I left behind in storage that I wouldn’t mind having here but I’m not overly bothered as long as they can stay where they are for now."
Finally, as Louise mentioned items in storage, I wondered what would take her and Paul back to the UK.
"It would probably be because of family, or, if it made more sense for us to move financially and for family planning reasons; but I think I would always pine for Canada and cannot imagine leaving for a permanent move to the UK anytime soon. In an ideal world, I would love to split my time between the two countries, say 70% Canada and 30% UK (more so I can spend some quality time with family rather than a 2 week jampacked visit every 18 months)."
With that, I let Louise get back to being a parent. It was a pleasure to spend time chatting with Louise (and Paul) about their continuing adventures in Vancouver that have moved on from being just the two of them to now figuring out life with a child and all the adjustments that means.
Thank you, Louise, for sharing your story and, welcome to the Tardis.
You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.