"Every single day I look at the view outside my office window and have to pinch myself. For me, it’s all about those mountain views and I hope I never tire of them!"
Having read many online resources that state winter as being a bad time to move to Canada, Sarah and her husband arrived in early 2019 as apparently she doesn't listen to what she's told to do. That set the tone for our conversation. It was a laugh-a-minute chat and a fun portrait session.
I asked what brought her to Vancouver.
"Funny story. The day of the result of the Brexit referendum, I heard the results and burst into tears. After I’d finally calmed down, I turned to my husband and said, “Fuck it, let’s go to Canada”. He said ok and that was that! Luckily for me, he has a profession in demand and was able to secure our visa. Two and a half years later, we were on our way!"
Brexit has been mentioned by a few of the more recent arrivals that I've spoken to. However, it's been more of dodging the bullet rather than a specific reason for relocating. Sarah was the first person to put Brexit front and centre as a reason for relocating. I'm with her on that too. Even though I left the UK in 2007 I feel that Brexit would have put me in the same place.
Canada is a large country, which is a bit of an understatement, so I asked why BC.
"Good question! Before we moved here, we decided to come on holiday just to see what it was like. Also, we kind of figured we couldn’t very well move to a country we’d never even visited before, right? Our first day in Vancouver, we jumped on a bus to head downtown and it was the day Grenfell Tower in London caught fire. A guy heard us talking and immediately started asking us about London and the tragedy that was going on there. He offered us a beer (we, being polite English and not used to such offers, turned him down). But his genuine concern for those people in London immediately showed us there was more to this place than we could know. We knew that first day that we wanted to move here!"
I like to think that Sarah would have had a similar experience in other areas of Canada as, for the most part, I've found people here to be welcoming and informed.
Although we met for the portrait session on Granville Island (Vancouver is still a favourite haunt), Sarah and her husband have settled outside on Metro Vancouver.
"I’m a little further out, in the Fraser Valley. But we love it here. Every single day I look at the view outside my office window and have to pinch myself. For me, it’s all about those mountain views and I hope I never tire of them! Even on grey rainy days, it still looks incredible. If I didn’t have to work, I would stare out my window all day because the views change from minute to minute!"
I was curious about Sarah filled her days. I used to live in Port Coquitlam that could have a commuter town feel about it. What was Sarah's experience?
"I’m a freelancer. I work for myself from home as a copywriter and branding photographer. I’m also studying, doing a degree in Creative Writing which I started through the Open University back in the UK. I’ve got one year left! I also run a podcast and I write about my experiences as a paramedic back in the UK, mostly from a mental health point of view. And I’ve just started learning macramé!"
So despite being out of the city, there's plenty to occupy Sarah. I followed up and asked about what else she got up to when time allowed.
"The cinema. Eating out. Bars and breweries. There’s a great place here in Chilliwack called The Tractorgrease Café that has awesome bands and great food. And I love going to places like the tulip festival, the sunflower festival, Tuscan Farm Gardens when they have all their lavender out and the various markets and festivals. Summer is the best time in BC! "
Enjoying the outdoors has been taken to another level for Sarah. It's something that wasn't expected but has been appreciated a lot, even though the wildlife here is larger than the regular Brit is accustomed to.
I moved on to other culture shocks (less dangerous than bears and cougars). What really surprised Sarah?
"Grocery shopping was a huge learning curve for me. I couldn’t understand this whole ‘buying in bulk’ thing people do here. I almost had a breakdown my first week when I just wanted to buy a normal size jar of pasta sauce and couldn’t find anything smaller than a giant bucket! Also, struggling to find certain things and having to shop around at different stores. It’s taken a bit of getting used to! "
It always seems to be those small, everyday things that trip people up when moving over here. As someone else in the project remarked, and, I'll paraphrase; just because English is one of the primary first languages here, doesn't mean the place is British.
What are the other hard things about living here?
"The time difference! Even after 18 months, I still struggle with how far behind the UK and Europe we are (my parents live in Malta). Luckily, one of my very good friends is a total night owl, so I do get to catch up with her quite frequently. For everyone else, I either have to call them first thing or very late at night! "
I've found the 8-hour difference a difficult balance too. If one has a regular day job, any weekday contact has to be early in the morning, 6-7 pm but that depends upon family and friends whereabouts and lives as its still mid-afternoon in the UK and Europe. One thing is for sure, I've become adept at knowing what time it is across several time-zones. It's something family and friends have struggled with. I still get asked what's the time when speaking with folks back in the UK.
Even though there are the challenges of being away from friends and family, Sarah and her husband appear committed to being here.
“Well, we got PR last October. We’re planning to stay. We bought a house at the end of the year and are starting to get settled in now. As long as we both can continue to work and enjoy life here, we’ll be sticking around!"
Would Sarah live anywhere else in Canada?
"Probably NS or Ontario. NS because I’ve heard it’s incredibly pretty (and much cheaper than BC!) and Ontario mostly because it’s physically closer to the UK (fewer hours between as well) and in Toronto, there’s the Maltese neighbourhood where I can get my fix of my favourite Maltese food that I miss! "
Vancouver has diverse cuisine options, yet I'll admit to not hearing of a Maltese restaurant here. If anyone knows of any, add a comment as Sarah would be grateful!
As Sarah is a relative newcomer here, I asked her for a nugget of advice for the likely emigrant.
"Do your research and prepare yourself for some long, stressful nights filling out forms on that blasted CIC website."
Yes! The admin part of relocation can be stressful. I vividly recall hours poring over my Permanent Residency application for the family. It's a job for the detail-conscious and, even if details are not your thing, by the time the application is submitted, detail has become ingrained.
As we wound up the conversation, I pitched my, what do you miss questions.
"It changes but it’s usually food items! There’s not much else I miss, to be honest! This last couple of weeks it’s been Galaxy Hot Chocolate and Dime Bars."
How about other items other than family, friends and food?
"I’ve racked my brain for a good 10 minutes and…. I can’t think of anything. Migrating is not something new for me though, I’ve moved country 3 times now so I’m used to leaving things behind"
And maybe Sarah has given some good advice there. Moving to a new country is very much about leaving things behind and, surely, that's one of the attractions of leaving one's homelands for pastures new.
Thank you, Sarah. You've given me some great laughs and it was a pleasure to photograph you. Welcome to the Tardis.
Find out more about Sarah's copywriting and branding.
You’ll find more images from Brits in Vancouver on my photography site.