"Vancouver is blessed with 4 distinct seasons and, each of them has its own charm."
Mark, along with my previous two Brits in Vancouver, is co-host of the Great Escape Pod. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with them all to chat through my experience of living overseas. During our studio shoot, I was able to find out more about Marks journey from the UK, via China to the West Coast of Canada. Here is Marks story.
"I came to Vancouver for several reasons. Firstly, my brother Matt and his boyfriend Sam had made the move from the UK to Canada back in 2017 and had nothing but great things to say about the place. I’d been to visit them a couple of times in Vancouver and the weather, the outdoors, and the lack of a language barrier were big draws after living in China for almost 4 years. Secondly, as a filmmaker, I was drawn to Vancouver’s place in the movie industry. Known as Hollywood North, I thought it would be a great place to get myself some ‘on-set’ experience and move up the ranks. Finally, after living in Beijing, China between 2014 and 2018, I was ready to start a new chapter in a Western country, where being able to speak my mother tongue could help me make friends and connections much more easily. Following Brexit, I was in no hurry to move back home to Yorkshire either!"
It was April 2018 when Mark arrived. He couldn't put off the move any longer as his International Experience Visa was about to expire. Fortunately, as he mentioned, Mark's brother was already living here so, the transition was simpler than starting afresh.
I'm always interested to know what it is about Vancouver that brings people here. What makes this the place to be for Mark?
"Following my time in Beijing, a vast concrete jungle full of millions of people and huge skyscrapers, I had missed a lot of the countryside, forests and nature on offer back home in the UK. When I visited my brother in Vancouver took me on a hike into the snowy forests, a skiing trip up Mt. Seymour, and some shopping around Granville Island. I made my mind up that Canada was a great place to build a life for myself."
Like many others, Mark seemed to be sold on the city/nature combination that Vancouver delivers so effortlessly.
Having mentioned his creative side, I wanted to know more about how Mark filled his hours here.
"Right now I’m studying Film Arts: Acting full time at Langara College. At the age of 29, I was rather reluctant to go back to school. But, to extend my stay in Canada after my initial work visa ran out, studying was one of my only options. Luckily, I landed on a great course which has helped me meet lots of other actors and filmmakers from all around the world. Acting was definitely not on my radar before coming to Vancouver. But since studying Film Arts at Langara I’ve had a bit of an epiphany and decided that I really would love to pursue it as a career if I can. So far, I’ve been in a handful of student films and a commercial. I’ve officially been bitten by the bug. "
Vancouver is such a creative hub. Both my sons studied here, one in live audio, the other in games design. Although not impossible to do back in the UK, being in Vancouver meant that these opportunities were on their doorstep. Although neither attended Langara, I know the college has a great reputation for creative programs.
I couldn't move on until Mark had told me what film or movie set he'd love to come across when wandering around Vancouver.
"If I were to witness anything Star Wars related I’d probably lose my mind! I’ve worked on a few film sets so far and I’m always itching to be a part of the action."
What about outside of school? Did Mark have any energy left for other pursuits? Plenty it seems.
"I like to play football when I can, either with friends or competitively for my team Bombastic FC. Football was a great way of finding new friends when I first landed in Canada, and it also served me well for networking when living in China so I’m always keen to find a game whenever I get to a new place. COVID has made it difficult to find a game over the summer, so recently myself and a few pals have been playing so old school heads and volleys down the park which has done wonders for keeping my spirits up during the pandemic. Outside of sport, I’m a film nut and love going to watch movies at the Twilight Drive-In cinema with my girlfriend on a weekend. Drive-In cinemas aren’t that popular back in the UK, so when I found out you could relax in your car, tune in the radio, sit back and enjoy 2 or sometimes 3 back to back movies with freshly popped popcorn, I was sold. I and a few friends also recently discovered an amusement park just outside of town with batting cages, an arcade, mini-golf, go-karting and much more. So we’ll definitely be going there again! Finally, you can’t beat a good hike in the awesome nature we have here."
In other words, Mark remains pretty active whether at school or not. There's also the Great Escape Pod, remember to listen to the stories of Brits overseas that Mark, Ryan and Owen tease out of their guests.
Having lived in a mega-city in China, I wondered if Mark had experienced any culture-shock when moving here.
"Moving to Canada was in many ways a switch back to Western normality for me since I was able to speak English and eat Western food again. The strangest parts would probably be having to refer to football as soccer, the local's obsession around ice hockey and the juxtaposition of the severely wealthy and the severely poor in some downtown areas can be a strange thing to witness."
When prompted, Mark then added more about the cultural differences.
"Probably just how incredibly polite everyone is here in Canada. I’d met a few Canadians during my time in China, and I’d gotten along with their sense of humour very well, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see how nice people were once I got here. I did have to adjust my levels of sarcasm though, as I found my humour wasn’t always landing as it had done previously! That’s not to say Canadians aren’t hilarious though. I’ve been to many comedy nights here in Vancouver and the local comedians are brilliant in their own way!"
With a very full life, I wondered if there was anything that Mark found hard about living here.
"Being away from my parents is the toughest part for certain. Having my brother makes thing easier when I want to see a direct family member but I always feel sorry for my parents who can’t play as big a role in my life as they would want to since I live so far away from them. Facetime helps from time to time though, and I always try my best to keep them up to date with my life, and ask about what’s happening back home."
Even though I'm no 29-year old, I recognise the difficulty of having a long-distance relationship with parents. Particularly when the older generation rejects the use of tech, one is left making old-school phone calls. Fortunately for Mark, that isn't an issue.
What else did Mark miss, other than family?
"It sounds odd to say, but British radio is probably what I miss most from back home. Canadian radio doesn't really come anywhere close in terms of entertainment, the playlists get repetitive, the DJ’s aren't the best, and ads tend to spoil the whole thing. Rant over haha. But in a nutshell, I miss BBC radio."
With a couple of years under his belt since the move, I wondered what advice Mark had for someone thinking of upping sticks and heading for pastures new.
"Once you find a place to live, don’t stick around if you don’t like it that much. When I first arrived in Vancouver I lived in a cheap flat with a housemate I didn’t really get along with and it made me feel rather down. Biting the bullet and finding a new place might seem like a lot of hassle, but it pays off when you’re living with people you get along with and can talk about your daily stresses, experiences, and hang out with them too. Also, if you plan to stay here long-term, the earlier you look into Permanent Residency the better, as everyone’s application is slightly different and not always straightforward."
As he'd mentioned Permanent Residency, I wondered if Mark was thinking about sticking around.
"I was lucky enough to find a brilliant partner just over a year ago, and she just so happens to be Canadian. Along with her family, she has been brilliant support in helping me build a life for myself out here in Canada and a big reason as to why I see my future out here and not back in England. You never know where life will take you, but with her, my brother, and a potential acting career out here in Vancouver, I’m in no rush to head back home yet."
It seemed like the perfect place to wind up the conversation. Mark had already stretched his immigrant legs by living in China, but Vancouver certainly seems to have captured his heart.
Thank you for telling your story, Mark. It was great chatting and, the portrait session was such fun. I loved your hard-guy of the year speech!
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