Julia: New Vancouverites
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Vancouver, etc.
We are a family of 5; mum, dad and 3 girls known as The Weasels in our blogs. We lived all over the UK but never found anywhere we wanted to settle, so we moved to Vancouver in March 2009.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Although we had some friends here before we arrived, we knew nobody who had emigrated in our circumstances, with a young family, without jobs or businesses lined up, and we found it really hard to figure out the simple things like finding a doctor, buying a car or deciding where to live. I talked a lot about how much I had to say on the subject, until my husband told me to start writing it down in a blog in October 2010. We hoped we might be able to help a few people and offer some good advice.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I try to keep the content varied, so it’s hard to choose a favorite, but The Worst Of Times expresses some of the sentiments and advice we probably would have found useful at the time – emigrating is hard, be kind to yourself.
But of course, I would have to include In Defence Of Sushi, which has brought the most traffic to my blog and caused the most confusion because no one can work out why!
Tell us about the ways your new life in Vancouver differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The biggest difference was the lack of rules. I don’t think we Brits realize just how many rules we live by until you move to a place where life is more free and easy, and people just get along. We kept expecting to get things wrong like you do in England – using the wrong door, saying the wrong thing, walking on the grass, but it just didn’t happen. This lack of rules and the use of common sense and common courtesy affect everything in Vancouver, from the schools to the Transit to the public spaces, and make it a very happy and peaceful place to live.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Vancouver? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
We are the first to admit that our emigration succeeded due to plain dumb luck. We were completely unprepared, and we lucked out with houses, jobs, schools and all the essentials of life. I don’t know that we would have prepared better if we had known more, and I love the way we stumbled through it all, but I know that, if you want to succeed at emigrating, you should not trust to luck!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
We could not believe how much the Canadians loved our accents, and how difficult it could be to make ourselves understood at first; after all, we were all speaking the same language, weren’t we? Sometimes we had problems with translation too. I was chatting to a member of the Board at work, and she told me that she had met a friend for lunch at the Leisure Centre. She was grinning like this was a big deal. In England a Leisure Centre is a Recreation Centre, and many of them do have small cafes where you can get a sandwich, but I couldn’t understand why she would expect me to be impressed by this. I asked which Leisure Centre she had been to. She looked at me like I was an idiot and said “Is there more than one?” After she had stalked off to talk to someone else, a coworker came over and said “Did Joan tell you about her lunch at the Legislature? Her friend is an MLA.” The penny dropped – not Leisure Centre, but the Legislature, the Provincial government building in Victoria.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Vancouver?
- Give yourself time to enjoy your new home – our first month downtown was a perfect introduction to Vancouver, and a real holiday.
- If you are coming with a partner or family, look after each other. Communicate, be prepared for tears and misery, and be kind when someone is down. This experience can make a family stronger, or pull it apart.
- Don’t rush to recreate your old life – take a few risks, try something a bit different, and accept that it might take a while to get settled.
How is the expat community in Vancouver? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
We call the children Magical Introduction Makers – you really can’t help meeting people when you have children in school and joining clubs and sports teams. We deliberately chose to live in an ethnically mixed area because we did not want to limit ourselves to an expat social life, and as a result we have a lovely mix of friends. Vancouver is a city of immigrants, and part of the fun is learning about different cultures. Neither of us were particularly attached to the social centres that expat Brits seem to miss – the pubs and football, so we didn’t feel the need to seek out the British pubs showing the English sports events.
How would you summarize your expat life in Vancouver in a single, catchy sentence?
Why would you want to live anywhere else?