12 Common Resume Mistakes by Expats

Happy 2022! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. In thinking about how I want to use this blog going forwards, I’ve decided to incorporate more of my day job into my posts. That is: human resources with a specialization in recruitment.

Over the past seven years, I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes for various positions. Many of these resumes have been from immigrants and expats. There are common mistakes made by all applicants, and there are common mistakes made specifically by newcomers.

I’ve decided to use my recruiting knowledge to try to help anyone who is planning to move to Canada. You’ve got your work permit, landed in Canada, found accommodation, and now you need to find a job. Below is my list of 12 common resume mistakes that can reduce someone’s chances of getting a job, and why.

This content has been copied and modified from an article I created and shared on my LinkedIn page. I am not an employment lawyer or registered immigration consultant. All advice provided is based off my personal knowledge and experiences, and does not represent the views of any specific organization. This post is intended as a guide and I am not responsible for the outcome of any job applications.

1. Sharing Personal Information

There’s a tendency for some applicants to share personal details on their resume, including their date of birth and marital status. Even if this is the custom in your home country, I recommend not doing this because it can open up the possibility of unconscious bias and discriminatory hiring. Although age and marital status are protected grounds under Canadian human rights legislation, many employers are unfortunately still guilty of age bias against people from older generations. The only personal information you need to include on your resume is your name, phone number or email, and town of residence.

If you’ve arrived in Canada with permanent resident or citizenship status, it’s a good idea to mention this on your resume. If you’re on a temporary open work permit, mention in your cover letter that you are authorized to work full-time in Canada. Don’t mention your visa expiry date because it may turn some employers off. Instead, wait until this question comes up in a pre-screen call, by which time you will have hopefully made a good impression on the recruiter and they’ll be happy to move to the next stage regardless.

2. Wrong Location

Some people that are applying for jobs outside of their town/province will list their location as being in the area where the employer is based. While I can understand the motivation behind this, it can be frustrating for a recruiter to think they have a promising candidate, only to discover later in the screening process that there will be delays because the candidate would need time to find a new place to live. This is especially the case if the company isn’t able to provide a relocation package or needs someone ASAP.

Better practice is to list your actual address but make note on your cover letter that you are able and willing to relocate should an offer be received. If you already have accommodation organized, for example with a friend or relative, make this clear too.

3. Spelling Mistakes & Formatting Issues

Everyone makes typos from time to time. Some employers will excuse a spelling mistake, especially if the applicant is an ESL speaker and the position applied for does not require much writing. However, if you’re applying for a communications or secretarial position, the employer will be less forgiving. This is especially true now when there is so much competition for jobs. If you have a few typos before the hiring manager has even got halfway down your resume, it’s possible they will immediately put you in the reject pile, even if you have good experience.

Additionally, some resumes are very untidy and confusing to look at. They might have inconsistent font styles and sizes, only list employment dates for some positions and not others, or list their past jobs in random orders. To a hiring manager, a sloppily presented resume shows a lack of respect to the application process by suggesting it isn’t being taken seriously. Again, you might be rejected before the hiring manager has got to the bottom of the first page.

Make sure you list the job title, employer name, and employment dates for each position to create consistency and prevent confusion about your employment history. Generally, jobs should be listed in reverse chronological order with the most recent at the top.

4. Language & Terminology Differences

When I arrived in Canada, I was surprised by how certain terminology used in England wasn’t recognized in this English-speaking country. This includes job titles. For example, people in England say “waiter” or “waitress”, while Canadians tend to say “server”. In England, they often say “air steward” but here they say “flight attendant.” Some terms are quite obvious to translate, however, if a hiring manager is not familiar with the terminology you’re using on your resume and they have hundreds of applicants for one position, it’s very possible you’ll miss out.

When writing a resume, it makes sense to adapt your spelling to the country you’ll be working in. Canada uses a combination of British and American spellings, but generally it uses more Z’s than S’s (recognize vs recognise, analyze vs analyse, etc.).

5. Too Much Emphasis on Education

A mistake British applicants often make is listing all their education credentials on their resume. To be honest, this is often a waste of time and space because many Canadian hiring managers don’t know what an A-level, A*, or 2:1 is. Unless the job ad requests it, hiring managers don’t need to know each module you studied at university and what your grades were. In most cases, they are more interested in knowing about your practical experience.

If the job ad requests a resume and not a CV, keep it simple by just listing the highest level of education you have, your subject, and the year you graduated. If it’s required for you to list your degree grade, it’s best to convert it to the equivalent Canadian GPA.

Another issue with listing your entire education history in detail is that it can make you seem over-qualified for a position. PhD students in particular can have a difficult time finding jobs for this reason. If your resume shows you have a very specialized education but you are applying for a junior-level job that only requires a secondary school diploma, hiring managers might have concerns about your commitment.
Structure your resume based on the job specifications in the job description. If more emphasis is placed on practical experience over education, focus on highlighting the former.

6. Too Long/Wordy

Most employers in Canada will ask for a resume vs a CV. CVs are longer, with more details on education and experience. Some people think a resume should only be one page long. I disagree with this personally, but think three pages is a good maximum. Every time I’ve read a five-page resume, I’ve felt that it could have easily been condensed, with repeated or less relevant information removed. Brevity is key. Some job applicants say a lot on their resume without actually saying anything. Some repeat information through the disguise of different wording. A waffling resume might raise concerns about your ability to identify and select important information.

If you’ve had the same role for many years but performed it for a few different employers, consider using a functional resume style. In this format, you first summarize the main skills and experience you’ve demonstrated across all positions, and then list the employment organizations, titles, and dates after.

7. Unnecessary Employment Information

Following on from the above, some newcomers (commonly younger ones) feel a need to include on their resume every single job they’ve had. They perhaps think that showing they’ve been working since they were in secondary school will impress employers. Truth is, employers more often care about quality and not quantity. If you have a long resume that shows a variety of different jobs, it might be unclear to the hiring manager what your interests and best skills are.

If the job description notes they require someone with three years of experience in a specific role, the hiring manager is likely to lean towards the resume that has highlighted experience in that specific role, even if it’s the only work experience that’s listed. That’s because this resume will suggest a greater interest in and commitment to the job.

If you’re in your late twenties and have been working professionally since you were 21, there’s no need to include weekend jobs you had in your late teens. Focus on tailoring your resume to the position you’re applying for and include the jobs that show relevant skills.

8. Tailored to the Wrong Field

In addition to the above mistake of including too much generic information, there’s also a mistake of including too much specific information that’s irrelevant to the job being applied for.

If you have a retail background but are applying to be an admin assistant in the provincial government, having a skills summary that highlights your experience boosting revenue and exceeding sales targets is likely going to make the hiring manager wonder why you’re applying for the job. They might question your career goals and have concerns about commitment. Although the accomplishments you’ve listed might be impressive generally, if they’re not useful or applicable to the role, they won’t seem that valuable to the employer.

Depending on your career interests, it’s good practice to keep a template of resumes that can be modified for different positions, e.g. administration, customer service, marketing, etc. People with an engineering background might have one template for this, one for quality assurance, and another for project management.

9. Stretching

Stretching a resume involves exaggerating or embellishing certain details to sound more impressive. This could include adding a course that you haven’t yet finished in order to seem more knowledgeable, extending employment dates by a couple of months in order to suggest more commitment, adjusting a job title to suggest more seniority, or adding job responsibilities you didn’t have in order to appear more skilled and in line with the job specifications. These might seem like minor adjustments, but if reference checks reveals the discrepancies, it could raise concerns about how honest and trustworthy you are.

When preparing your resume and cover letter, remember that if offered an interview, you will need to be able to back up any statements you make with an example. There’s no point noting that you improved office processes if you can’t give an example of an occasion you did this and how.

10. Copy-and-Pasting Job Descriptions

Some applicants, including native English speakers and ESL speakers, will copy and paste a previous job description onto their resume when summarizing their employment history. Someone very experienced in reviewing resumes will be able to tell when this has happened. A potential issue with copy and pasting is that some employees don’t end up performing all duties listed in the job description. Perhaps they resigned or were let go before having a chance to take on some of the responsibilities. Inclusion of such content would therefore mean your resume is untruthful. A thorough reference check with a direct supervisor will verify job duties that were performed. Again, concerns about honesty might result.

There’s nothing wrong with referencing a previous job description to help you remember the duties you had, but the content should be rewritten in your own words.

11.  Tone

The tone of your resume is something that can inspire a hiring manager’s first impression of you as a person – in positive or negative ways. Sometimes, in an attempt to highlight their skills and experience, a candidate comes across boastful and this makes me wonder how good they would be at working in a team. On other occasions, a candidate has come across as quite casual and informal, which has raised questions about how professional they would be in the workplace and as a representative of an organization. Such impressions might be made consciously, or they might be completely unintended and the result of a language barrier. Before submitting a resume, ask a friend to read over it to assess how “likeable” you sound.

12.  Too Much Emphasis on Hobbies

Listing hobbies helps give the hiring manager an idea of the type of person you are, but should be approached carefully. Some people mention hobbies because they think doing so will make them seem like a good cultural fit. For example, they’re applying for a customer service position at a cricket ground, and they happen to love playing cricket. While this may seem like a good match, the hiring manager wants to be sure applicants will work hard and are not just applying for the job for any perks (like watching cricket for free!). If this candidate devotes their cover letter to talking about cricket and not about their relevant skills and job experience, the hiring manager will likely be suspicious about their motives and hesitant to move forward.

It’s fine to mention your interest in what the organization does, but keep this brief. I also recommend avoiding listing hobbies like “Going out with friends” or “Watching TV” because these don’t add anything of value.

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I hope you find these tips helpful. Good luck with your application! 

Trail of Worth – FAQ

Before I head back to the UK for several weeks, I thought I’d share a Q&A about my book, Trail of Worth. Below are some typical questions I’ve been receiving!

How did you come up with the title?

The title came to me as I was halfway through writing the book. I knew I wanted something with three words that would reflect the themes of the book, namely that of self-worth, while also carrying a sense of mystery. “Trail” refers to not only the geographic location of the story’s setting and the significance of hikes and running in the book, but also to the main protagonist’s journey of finding her feet in a foreign country.

To work out a title, I wrote down two songs I not only really like but that remind me of the time being written about – River of Dreams by Billy Joel and Into the Mystic by Van Morrison. I then played around with some metaphorical phrases and Trail of Worth suddenly appeared in my mind!

How did you decide on the book’s front cover?

The cover of the book is actually a photo of me taken by a friend. The scene of the hike on which it was taken was initially featured in the book, but I decided to remove it during the editing process.

It wasn’t my initial idea to use this photo for the cover. I first provided the designer with an idea of an image and colours, but the result didn’t match my vision. It looked too much like a fantasy book. I then remembered this photo and thought it made sense to use it. It’s quite weird to think that a candid photo taken during the time written about ended up being used on the cover! As if it was all meant to be…

How did you come up with character names?

Creating new names was fun! I combined maintaining confidentiality with using names that I thought suited the personality of the characters. I used the name “Sara” for my character because I love the song by Fleetwood Mac. Its opening few lines seem to speak to me and a particular time and feeling in the story.

What were your favourite characters to write about?

I did enjoy the challenge of showing the personalities of both Harry and Will. Both are very interesting characters with unique traits. I also loved showing the friendship between Sara and Tyler. It was important to me that I highlight how possible it is for a woman to have great platonic friendships with males. Carrie is another character that was special to write about, because her introduction in the book signals a real sense of personal progress for Sara.

What was your favourite chapter to write?

Chapter 30 was my favourite chapter to write. It was admittedly bittersweet, but writing about falling in love was nice – those early stages where you get the flutters and it feels like a dream. There is also quite a bit of symbolism in that chapter when it comes to the hike and the surrounding wildlife. Interestingly, this symbolism wasn’t planned but rather was something I noticed during the editing process.

There are quite a few references to music in the book. What are some of the pertinent songs from that time?

There are a few scenes where references to music have been made to help set tone and convey emotion. For copyright reasons, musician names and song titles couldn’t be mentioned explicitly. I won’t give the exact names of the songs because it’s quite personal and I also think it’s more fun for a reader to try to guess what they are, but artists referred to in the narrative include Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Marley.

Trail of Worth covers a range of topics. How would you summarize it in a few words?

I’d describe it as a love story – not just love with others, but love with self. I say this because at the centre of all the varied topics and themes is a person trying to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment and self-acceptance.

What were some of the most challenging things about writing this book?

In posts before the book was published I’ve talked about the challenge of being selective with content when writing a memoir. I wouldn’t say I struggled with writer’s block per se because I had the inspiration of real-life events to write about vs making up fiction. Probably the most challenging thing was reliving some of the very emotional events – setbacks, loneliness, witnessing the mental health struggles of a partner, etc. But overall, it was a cathartic experience as revisiting those events after a while helped me see certain things in a new light. I wrote this book for others but I’ve also written it for myself too.

What are you most proud of as the writer?

I’m really pleased with the dialogue. I wanted to include authentic conversations – messy, awkward and vulnerable moments vs cliche, surface-level dialogue. This is an aspect of the book that people seem to really enjoy, which is great. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed recreating dialogue because I’ve always thought of myself as being a more descriptive travel writer. But I do find human behaviour very interesting, so maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

As the author, it’s also very fulfilling to know that the themes I wanted to portray have come across and resonated with readers. I’m really happy that people have been relating to certain details. Another thing I’m proud of is that fact that males are also getting something out of this book. I never wanted to target women only with this book, but it’s very much a female perspective and about the woman’s experience. It’s great that men are getting an insight into this and perhaps learning something or becoming more empathetic.

All this said, I haven’t read the printed copy of the book yet. I’m too scared to! As the author and a perfectionist, there are bound to be little things I don’t like that might make zero sense to anyone else.

Will you write a sequel?

I’m not opposed to writing a sequel but that likely wouldn’t be for a while. There are certainly some other topics and experiences since that time which would be interesting to write about. I’d like to write other books too – perhaps a little more fictional but still using real-life experiences for inspiration. I don’t feel any rush to do this though – when the time is right I’ll know!

If you’ve read Trail of Worth and have additional questions, let me know! I’ll keep updating this post as they come in.

If you haven’t read the book but are now curious to get a copy, it’s available online from Amazon (choose your country) and Barnes & Noble. If you live in Victoria, BC and would like to buy the book, I have some hard copies available! Please send me a message on the Contact page and I’ll arrange pickup/drop off or mail delivery.

For more commentary on the book, you can follow me on Instagram @shannelizabethco

Thanks for reading!

My 10-Year Anniversary with Canada

August 2nd, 2021 marked ten years since I first stepped foot in Canada.

I remember the teary goodbye with my mum at Gatwick Airport and sitting on the plane next to a mother and daughter from Quebec, smiling to conceal my nerves. As I walked into the the arrival lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport, I clutched my backpack as if holding onto the only friend I had. When I stepped off the bus in downtown Toronto and gazed around at the tall buildings, I felt tiny. For a moment, the sound of traffic blurred out as I took in my new surroundings. The hustle and bustle of the city was quite overwhelming, and I quickly got lost. The sight of drivers turning right on a red light confused me, and I was thrown off in a shop when I learned tax was added to a product’s price at the till.

With some inner pep talks, I began to find my feet. I pushed through the nerves to approach a group of people sat on my hostel’s patio. The next morning, I smiled with relief when two Italian girls on the same Niagara Falls tour as me invited me to join them for the day. When we approached their stop on the way home, I held a scrap of paper in my hand with my name on it, only to smile with relief once again when they turned and asked the question that seemed so common in those days of, “Do you have Facebook?” A couple of days later, I shared a cab with a stranger after both of us missed the bus to the airport.

It was when I flew west to the Rockies and bussed through BC that I realized this country would remain special to me for all the memories made. But I definitely didn’t expect that ten years later, I’d be a permanent resident soon to be applying for dual citizenship, with a book published about my experience of moving here.

In reflecting on that first visit to Canada, I feel a corny sense of pride because I realize just how much I kept putting myself out of my comfort zone. Finding my way around unfamiliar places, introducing myself to a room full of chatting people, asking strangers on the street for directions, reacting to unexpected changes, moving forward after losing my backpack.

I always think of that time in Canada as the time when “life really became fun.” It was definitely fun before then, but that experience spawned a more confident and adventurous me – someone who saw the world as her oyster, who realized that we’re just tiny specks of dust in a huge galaxy and there are so many bigger issues than a few minutes of us feeling awkward or embarrassed. I began to approach new experiences with less worry and more faith that “things will work out.”

When I consider the increased rates of anxiety among younger generations today, I sometimes wonder if some of these cases stem fom these individuals having been too sheltered and having not put themselves out of comfort enough. I think back to the time I was fourteen years old and my mum drove me to a school friend’s party in the nearest town. We arrived late because it had been snowing, and when we pulled up outside the town hall, I heard loud music and laughing from inside. For some reason that I still don’t understand, I was suddenly overcome by nerves and asked mum to drive me home.

I could have done the very same thing at Gatwick Airport when I caught my mum crying, but instead, I swallowed the emotional feelings and turned around to walk towards departures. How different my life would be if I hadn’t turned around that day.

I truly believe that making progress towards a more fulfilling life (however you personally define that) comes from challenging yourself and putting yourself out of your comfort zone. At first it feels daunting and awkward and uncomfortable, but when you take the plunge and make those little steps, you start to realize that the world isn’t as scary as you might have once thought. Sometimes you need to push aside your ego and push through your anxiety and take the opportunities before you. Progress won’t be achieved without taking some risks and navigating some challenges. It’s these experiences that build character and make you a more confident, competent person.

It’s because of the associations with increased independence and confidence that I have such a soft spot for Canada. I grew up a lot during those five weeks in the country, and I’ve continued to grow up since moving here almost five years ago.

I write this post with an awareness of the privileges I have as a resident of Canada. I can love and appreciate this country for my own reasons while also knowing it needs to do better for others. I respectfully acknowledge the Indigenous peoples, on whose unceded territories I am fortunate to live and explore. I wish for more harmony and less hostility in the ongoing process of reconciliation.

New Book Available for Purchase | Trail of Worth

It’s been a busy couple of months balancing my full-time job with finishing up my book, Trail of Worth. After 18+ months of effort, I’m very excited to announce that this book has now been published!

In writing Trail of Worth, I’ve tried to:

  • Give an honest portrayal of moving overseas and the various challenges it entails
  • Take a candid look at relationships and their fascinating complexities
  • Capture the way people (especially women) can perceive themselves during their twenties
  • Provide a commentary of travel experiences
  • Demonstrate the importance and influence of family and friendships

In writing this piece of creative non-fiction, the most important thing for me was to be authentic – to show the main protagonist’s flaws and strengths, the mistakes and moments of vulnerability as well as the little wins. There is genuine dialogue and I have not catered to a “mainstream” narrative. I’ve tried to create something that is both realistic and relatable.

Trail of Worth covers many themes and topics – travel, immigration, careers, running, friendship, relationships, mental health, and self-worth. Some of the content will make you smile, some will make you think, some may trigger sad or painful memories, and some I hope will inspire. If you’re a member of a book club, this story would be a great choice for initiating meaningful conversations.

Trail of Worth is written from the perspective of a female, millenial expat. It’s based on actual events recorded from the time, but identities have been changed. Interpretations of events and behaviours in the story will be influenced by the readers’ own attitudes and life experiences. I would simply encourage anyone reading the book to try to read it with an open and reflective mind.

Here’s a summary of what my editor had to say when she read the manuscript.

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Something my editor mentioned when reviewing Trail of Worth was how relatable the story would be for women in their 20s-30s. However, she also said that as an older woman, she really enjoyed the story – it made her reflect on her younger years and the experiences she had.

I think you would enjoy this book if you:

  • Have experienced or would like to experience moving overseas
  • Like to travel or have travelled solo as a female
  • Have experienced what has felt like a quarter-life crisis or a loss of self-worth
  • Have been in a long-distance relationship
  • Have struggled with emotionally difficult relationships, including those impacted by mental health issues
  • Are a competitive runner or simply find fulfillment in this activity
  • Have worked in recruitment and HR
  • Have struggled with age bias and Imposter Syndrome in your career
  • Can’t relate to any of the above but are curious 🙂

Links for Purchase:

Trail of Worth is available to buy online in Kindle or paperback format from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and some other small online retailers.

If your country doesn’t have an Amazon site, you can get worldwide shipping from amazon.com

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon US/EU/Worldwide

Amazon Australia

Barnes & Noble (US customers)

Book Depository

If you’d like to receive more commentary on the book and further insights into the topics discussed, you can follow my main Instagram page @shannelizabethco

And if you’re interested in completing and publishing a book review, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Thank you in advance for reading Trail of Worth. I hope you enjoy this story that is very special to me 🙂

Publishing a Book | Cover Design

Thanks for following along on my book publishing journey. In my last post I talked about the editing process. That’s probably the most important part in the whole complex process of releasing a book, but perhaps the most exciting part of the process is the cover design. That’s when it starts to feel real!

To get started, the publishing company asked me to fill out a questionnaire that outlined my vision for the cover. In my mind I very clearly pictured a path winding through tall trees with a small figure walking under their gaze. I really liked the idea of a blue-grey colour that captured the moodiness of a British Columbia forest.

I tried to give as much detail as possible for the designer. Doing this virtually through a questionnaire rather than in person was quite challenging. What seems clear to you might not seem clear and comprehensible to another person.

It took a week for the first draft to come back. I had been told that the first draft was unlikely to match what I was looking for, and sure enough that was the case. While the designer had included the elements I’d mentioned, they weren’t presented in a way that matched my vision. I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing this book cover on the shelves.

I immediately started to leave notes on the cover to help the designer make changes. A little less blue, a smaller figure, taller trees. In doing so, I had doubts about how effective how my feedback would be, and whether the proposed changes would be enough.

Then I recognized the main flaw. The cover image was more suited to a fantasy or horror genre, not to a memoir. While I still liked the idea of the setting, the colours were very mysterious and quite haunting. Even the font seemed more like the style you’d see on a sci-fi book. The cover didn’t match the theme of the book at all, and it was because my vision hadn’t matched the theme.

I reluctantly accepted that my initial vision for the colours would need to change slightly, in order to avoid confusing readers about the kind of book they would be reading. I began to consider the different colours I could use, but none left me inspired.

In my moment of contemplation, I suddenly remembered that a photo had been taken on my camera a few years ago that matched the vision I had. A small figure on a trail under tall trees. The crazy thing is that this photo was taken in the period featured in the story. Maybe it was all meant to be..!

Feeling inspired again, I decided to send this photo to the designer so they could use it for the cover. I also requested changes to the text font, size and positioning. At first I felt bad for potentially seeming picky and demanding. Then I reminded myself that I am paying for this service, and that the book cover is extremely important.

This isn’t the book’s cover image, but it’s definitely got some similarities!

The revised cover came back just under a week later, and it looked so much better! The designer had done a fantastic job of adapting the photo to the front and back cover. And because it was a photo owned by me, the book suddenly felt even more authentic and special. I began to feel really excited at the thought of people holding the book in their hands.

At this stage I edited the blurb slightly and requested a few minor revisions to the text styling. There were just a few small things that I felt could be tweaked before I felt 100% comfortable. The updated version was returned to me in less than a week, and it looked spot on.

Now I’m just waiting for my editor to finish the copy edit. It’s been three weeks since I sent my updated manuscript for the edit, and I’m feeling restless! The end is in sight and I just want to be reviewing those edits. However, I’m also very aware that high-quality editing takes time, and my book is around 120,000 words. I’d of course prefer the editor to put a lot of care into the process, than to rush through and compromise quality. But it will definitely be an exciting day when that email comes in…

I look forward to sharing Trail of Worth with you, once complete!

Publishing a Book | The Editing Process

In my last blog post I shared that I am in the process of publishing a book. Since December, I’ve been working on editing my manuscript. Today I’m going to talk a little more about that part of the process.

The most challenging things I’ve found about the editing process are 1) being selective and 2) not being too much of a perfectionist.

I used journals to frame a lot of my manuscript’s content. Having these references was super helpful for dialogue and structure. The downside was that I sometimes struggled to decide whether something should or shouldn’t be included. I almost seemed to feel a need to do justice to something that had happened in real life. I might feel compelled to write about an interesting side-event, even though I knew it didn’t necessarily fit in with the course of the narrative.

It was this challenge that particularly influenced me to request an editorial evaluation from the book publishing company. This is where a professional editor reads your manuscript without making any changes on the document, and then writes a summary of its strengths and weaknesses.

It took two weeks for my editorial evaluation to come back, and I really appreciated the editor’s input. I’m fairly confident in my writing ability and had been pretty satisfied with my content, but hearing an external person’s perspective was really valuable. I really came to realize that some of the content I had didn’t add much to the story and its purpose. It might have been an interesting detail, but oftentimes it was actually disrupting the flow and pace of the story. Having the impartial eyes of someone I didn’t know really helped me cut out the needless content I felt committed to!

A highlight of my editorial evaluation was seeing that the editor felt the central theme of the book was clear and believed in the importance of its message. I’m sure a lot of writers go through moments of doubt during the process where they wonder if their story is “even any good” and worth sharing. After getting the editor’s feedback, I felt encouraged. I also felt like her feedback wasn’t given for the sake of being critical, but was given with my best interests and those of my book in mind.

One of the great things about an editorial evaluation when self-publishing is that you have the power to do what you want with the feedback. You might elect to request a substantive edit where the editor studies your content in-depth to suggest changes to the flow, voice and characterization etc., or you might just make a few minor changes and then request a copy edit, or you might not make any changes and just go straight to publish.

In my case, the editor recommended a copy edit (which is standard). She also recommended some changes to the content, and said that if I didn’t feel confident making these changes on my own, she’d be happy to help with a substantive edit.

I chose to work on the changes myself. I loved the challenge of it. I almost felt like I was back in school, improving a draft of a story an English teacher had read. It was a really fun project for me because it allowed me to test my skills as a writer while maintaining creative control.

I spent two weeks working on the edits while continuing to work full-time. Some of the edits were pretty quick and simple changes, while others took more thinking and a few tries of different approaches. Overall, it was a really rewarding process. I had a goal of finishing the edits in two weeks, but I also felt it important to be flexible. As mentioned in my last blog post, the editing process shouldn’t be rushed.

On the day I went to re-submit the manuscript to the publisher, I found myself having last-minute thoughts of “Maybe I’d better read that section one more time”. I would then find little things to change – adjective or adverb replacements, rephrasing of a sentence, removal of a word. That’s where the perfectionist in me comes out. Even after re-submitting, I’ve made notes of little things I want to change once I get the copy edit back. I don’t think this is a bad thing; I just hope I won’t be doing it once the final copy has been sent for interior layout design ;). There’s definitely a fine balance between putting effort into ensuring something’s quality and obsessing unnecessarily over tiny things!

Tips for Other First-Time Writers (from a Non-Expert!)

·  Be selective. Journals can be a great source of inspiration for creating content and dialogue, but it’s important to keep the content relevant to the narrative and purpose of the story.

·  Take your time. Having a deadline to work towards can be motivating, but be mindful that life happens and things can get delayed. Once you are finished writing, don’t rush to send the manuscript off to an editor. Take time to re-read and make revisions until you are completely satisfied.

·  Get an editorial evaluation. Even if you consider yourself a skilled writer, getting a summary of the manuscript’s strengths and some recommendations for improvement is really helpful. It gives you a base off which to make more edits that will only make your book better!

·  Before submitting your manuscript for an editorial evaluation, prepare notes for the editor. Explain the story’s purpose and your goals for the book, provide context behind the style and methods you’ve used, and summarize the key areas you’re looking for feedback on. This helps ensure you get as much value as possible from the evaluation.

·  Be open to feedback. Hearing the opinion of a stranger about something so personal to you, even if it’s constructive criticism, can be daunting. But the feedback is ultimately coming from someone who cares about quality writing and good stories. It could be extremely valuable to you, not just for a current project, but for future projects as well.

·  Get a copy edit. If you don’t want to pay much for editing services, it’s still recommended to get a copy edit at minimum. This helps ensure a polished and professional finish to your book. I consider myself a pretty strong writer, but I knew there would be grammatical or structural errors I’d made.

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Thanks for following my book publishing journey! I’m now waiting to get the copy edit back, after which the editing process will be complete. My next blog post will be about the cover design process!

If you’re a published author or are in the process of publishing a book, feel free to leave your thoughts and tips on the editing process below 🙂

I’m Publishing a Book!

Many people seemed to spend their free time in 2020 making a baby. I spent it writing a book, and I’m excited (and nervous!) to share that I will be publishing it in the coming months 😊

I’ve been writing since I was a kid – pony stories, poems, journals, articles in the local paper. There was a time when I wanted to be an author, but it quickly got to the point where it didn’t seem like a realistic way of making a living. However, the dream of one day writing a book lived on. The issue was that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. I had ideas for novels, but never one that really inspired a devoted effort. So, I just carried on writing my blog and journaling. Through journaling, I’ve always enjoyed the process of identifying interesting trends and themes from daily life.

Scribbling next to my childhood best friend, Tom

Then I moved to Canada at the end of 2016 and experienced a big life change that led to some interesting experiences and challenges. Some experiences were unique to my situation, while others exemplified life events and scenarios common to women in their mid-twenties.

In December 2019, I was home alone for Christmas. During a state of restless boredom, I felt a sudden motivation to write. I thought back to my first year in Canada, and the experiences in my first year overseas ended up giving me the inspiration I was looking for. So, I decided to write a piece of creative non-fiction. I opened up my laptop one evening and set myself a goal of finishing writing a draft manuscript by the end of 2020.

About the Book

An honest portrayal of moving overseas, this book creatively explores the various themes and challenges that accompany both an expat life and the general life of a woman navigating her mid-twenties. From adjusting to a new environment, seeking a fulfilling job, establishing oneself in an occupation, and handling complex relationships, the book’s theme centers around self-worth during a quarter-life crisis. It’s a story that will make readers reflect on their own experiences, with the purpose of inspiring and uplifting them.

The Writing Process

A year may sound like a long time in which to write a manuscript, but when you have a full-time office job and don’t want to spend all of your free time staring at a computer screen, it starts to feel more reasonable.

Before starting, I had a good idea of how I wanted to structure the book, the key content I wanted to include, and the main theme I wanted to be conveyed. Some people know what they want their book’s title to be right from the beginning. I personally didn’t have a title in mind when I started, but it came to me a few months into writing.

The social distancing regulations that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic became a strange convenience, because they gave more reason for me to focus on writing in my free time.

For some reason, I’ve always been secretive with my writing. Even as a kid scribbling pony stories, I would hide them away when my family came to look. I think it was because I was shy about others reading what I wrote. During this writing process, it was only my partner that knew I was writing a book. Our suite doesn’t have a separate office for work or writing, so I quickly came to appreciate how great he was at leaving me to it! The reason I decided not to tell anyone else was because I wanted avoid any requests for updates, and just focus on the book without feeling any intrusion or pressure.

One thing I noticed was how easy it was to get fatigued while writing, especially if covering a topic that was complex or emotional in nature. Sometimes my creativity seemed to be lacking. The longest break I took from writing was around 3 weeks. However, there were other times when the words just seemed to flow freely and before I knew it, it was almost midnight!

I met my goal of finishing drafting the content in December 2020, but then my own revisions and edits started. This is such an important part of the process. I found that there were many things I’d written almost a year earlier that I wanted to change, particularly with regards to content and structure. Some of the content no longer seemed to be relevant or add value. In some areas, there was a lack of flow, or I felt things could be written more creatively. I ended up re-writing several sections of the manuscript.

The revisions process took around two months until I was satisfied with the manuscript. In addition to content editing, I also did copy editing to the best of my non-professional ability. Sometimes during my work day, I would suddenly think of something that I felt could be edited or added, and I’d make a note in my phone for later. The revision process is something that really can’t be rushed. It’s amazing what a rested pair of eyes can see! Even if you plan on getting the book professionally edited (which I have), it’s important to ensure you have a relatively polished manuscript in advance.

Choosing a Publishing Path

The next step in the process was deciding how I wanted to publish the book – the traditional route or self-publishing. I’m lucky in that I had knowledge of two experiences. My brother’s book, The Rule (Jack Colman) was published by Harper Voyager in 2015, while my dad self-published his memoir, The Right Thing? (Dr. Richard Colman) in 2014.

Both routes have their pros and cons, depending on the writer’s goals. Getting published the traditional route still carries more prestige, while self-publishing is sometimes termed “vanity publishing”. I get why this term is used for some self-publishers, however, I think it’s also quite offensive to the talented writers who simply feel tired of waiting to hear back from agents, or worry that their book will lose its integrity if managed by someone with a different priority. Does “vanity publishing” mean that artists who sell their paintings at local street markets are “vanity artists”? Are people who turn their passion into a business “vanity business owners”? Frankly, it’s the “stars” of trashy reality TV shows who seemingly have no problem securing a deal to publish a book about their life that are the vain ones.

Here are the reasons I’ve decided to go the self-publishing route (in case anyone is debating the options for their own manuscript):

  • I like the idea of having ownership over something I’ve created (this book is literally my baby!) instead of having it be owned and managed by someone else.
  • Because the book is based on real-life personal events, it’s important to me that I maintain a large amount of control over the content. With self-publishing, I can maintain full creative control. I have the final say on any edits suggested, whereas traditional publishing can take away a lot of the writer’s control. I would hate for someone to try to change the content of my book to make it fit what they might see as a more mainstream (aka $$) narrative.
  • Self-publishing does not mean you’ll have a terribly written book that’s filled with typos. You can have your manuscript professionally edited with a polished design. You have to pay for this service, but if you believe the story is worth sharing, why wouldn’t you invest in its success?
  • It is extremely competitive and can take a long time to get a literary agent and/or be offered a deal by a publishing company. This isn’t a reason not to try, however I’m personally at the point where I don’t want to wait months to hear back from an agent (or not hear back at all!), only to then wait even longer for the work to be published.
  • I’m not writing this book to launch a new career as a full-time author. I’m writing it to share a story that I believe (and have been told my editor!) has an important message. I’m also writing it to tick off something from wish list. Perhaps that’s the vain part 😉
  • You get higher royalties when you self-publish. Who doesn’t like being rewarded more for their writing skills and hard work?!
  • One thing the pandemic has highlighted is the importance of supporting local.

If I write another book in future, I would definitely be open to trying the traditional publishing route. But for this particular story, self-publishing seems to work well for me. Plus, if I did want to write more books in the future, having an already published book could be helpful in securing an agent.

Side note: I recently learned that The Martian was initially self-published in 2011, before a traditional publishing company bought the rights a few years later. Then it was turned into a film! That’s pretty cool.

To get things going, I researched two local publishing companies in Victoria. I contacted both for more information. Ultimately, I opted for the one whose website content spoke more to my interests and goals, whose publishing consultants seemed less sales-driven, and whose publishing package offered better value for what I was looking for.

Journalling

I’m currently working on content edits, and am excited for the next stage! I’ll be posting updates on my Instagram page if you’d like to follow along 🙂

Have you written and self-published a book? What tips would you share?

15 Great Hikes to try on Southern Vancouver Island

Happy 2021! Although we are in a new year and vaccinations are underway, the coronavirus isn’t showing signs of going away anytime soon. With this in mind, it’s time to continue exploring local. For me this means enjoying the various hiking options around Victoria on southern Vancouver Island. If you’re planning a visit in the future, I recommend incorporating a few of these hikes into your itinerary!

Matheson Lake Regional Park
Located in the quiet region of Metchosin, Matheson Lake is circled by an undulating scenic loop trail, from which you can connect to other parks and trails, including the Galloping Goose bike trail. It’s a nice option for a peaceful after-work hike in the summer months, and a good swim spot too. On the way home, you can enjoy either a hearty meal or a tasty treat at the locally owned My Chosen Café. 

A lake surrounded by trees

Pickles’ Bluff Loop
Located in John Dean Provincial Park in North Saanich, this hike leads to great views of the Saanich Peninsula and surrounding ocean. It’s not uncommon to see eagles flying overhead as you sit on the ledge admiring the view in front of you.

Joceyln Hill via Caleb Pike
On a sunny summer morning, get up early for this hike in the Highlands. Fairly challenging at points, the trail offers some awesome view points overlooking Finlayson Arm and the Saanich Inlet. If you feel like a really long hike, you can follow the trail all the way over to the north side of Gowlland Todd Provincial Park. Doing this will take you to our next spot.

McKenzie Bight
Accessed either via the Timerbman Trail coming from Jocelyn Hill loop or from a wider trail starting at the north end of Gowlland Todd Provincial Park, McKenzie Bight is a surprise gem at the bottom of the forest. This picturesque ocean inlet is a great option for a swim and if you’re lucky, you may even spot some sea otters. In the winter months, a fog hangs over the distant evergreens, evoking classic Vancouver Island vibes. There are two trails you can take on your way back up; the Cascade Trail to the right of the bridge is a real thigh-burner, but in the winter season you will pass the pretty Cascade Falls.

Ocean with snowy hills in the background

Mt. Tzouhalem
A short drive east of the town of Duncan, this hike offers some great views of the sprawling Cowichan Valley. The hike involves an uphill climb before winding through forest to the famous white cross lookout point. This area also has several dirt bike trails, so don’t be surprised if you see a bike whizzing through the trees!

Mt. Wells Regional Park
Located past Langford, the fairly challenging hike up Mt. Wells takes you to a mossy rock outcrop that overlooks the Sooke Hills, Victoria, the Juan de Fuca Strait, and snow-capped mountains of Washington State. A good workout with great views as a reward. This park is also a popular bouldering spot. 

Snow-capped mountains behind fir trees

East Sooke Regional Park
Located just before the town of Sooke, this park is home to several trails of varying difficulty and length. The coastal trail is a popular option for dog-owners and endurance-walkers. If you’re looking for a more accessible trail or don’t feel like walking far, the easy walk to Iron Mine Bay takes you to a scenic beach with clear ocean water.

Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park
The 10k flat loop around Elk Lake is a lovely outing for walkers or runners, especially during the autumn months when the fall colours are in full bloom. Accessible via public transit, this lake is home to Victoria City Rowing Club, and is also popular with windsurfers and water-skiers. Horseback riders tend to enjoy the trails around Beaver Lake.

Tree hanging over a lake on a sunny day

Mt. Douglas
Mt. Doug (as it’s more commonly known) is appreciated by many for its easy access from downtown Victoria. Various trails will take you to a viewpoint with stunning 360 views over the city, ocean, and surrounding Gulf Islands. Accessibility-wise, there is also the option to drive up to the top. A great place to watch a sunset, go for a run, or catch up with friends.

Mt. Finlayson
One of the most challenging hikes in the area, Mt. Fin as it’s known by locals has 360 views of hills swathed in evergreens. The steep trail starts in Goldstream Provincial Park, a short drive from downtown Victoria. If visiting in October, you can loosen your stiff legs after the hike with a leisurely stroll to the riverside to watch the yearly salmon run.

A rocky outcrop overlooking green hills

Mt. Work Regional Park
Adjacent to Gowland Todd Provincial Park, the steep hike from this park leads you to views over the Saanich Inlet. On a summer’s day, you can finish your hike by driving back down the road for a refreshing dip in Durrance Lake, and then follow it with a sandwich made fresh in front of your eyes at the Red Barn Market. 

Mystic Beach
Located along the Juan de Fuca Trail, this long beach awaits you after a 2k hike through tranquil forest. The trail is well-signed, however it is not wheelchair-accessible like some of the paths that lead to other beaches across this section of the coast. Mystic Beach is popular for its waterfall and rope swing, but it’s the vast collection of mussels covering the rocks that catches my eye whenever I go. 

Sandcut Beach
For a shorter and more accessible beach hike, consider Sandcut Beach which is located just on from French Beach Provincial Park. Depending on recent weather, a waterfall may flow onto the pebble beach. On the way home, consider stopping at the locally owned Shirley Delicious for a warm brew and tasty snack, or stop in Sooke town for a hearty meal and delicious slice of pie at Mom’s Café.

Sooke Potholes Regional Park
Enjoy exploring the rustic trail that leads up the river with its clear water and inviting pools. Expect to see varied wildlife (maybe even bears!) and people jumping off the cliffs. The turn off for this park is just before you reach the town of Sooke.

potholes

Gonzales Hill Regional Park
I include this one last because it really is the ideal option if you want to stretch your legs and see a nice view, but don’t feel like venturing far. Located off Fairfield Road and just up from Gonzales Bay, a short steep walk (or drive) up a side road will take you to the distinctive observatory, from where there are wonderful views of the neighbourhood, distant hills, and Juan de Fuca Strait. Although another great sunset spot, it’s equally enjoyable to watch moody skies brew over the ocean.

From beach scenes to mountain views, southern Vancouver Island offers so many great hiking options, and there are still many more I have yet to experience. Making a wishlist of places or trails to explore in your region can be a handy way to keep motivated and upbeat during this strange time. Which other hikes would you recommend in this area?

 

10 Tips for Future Au Pairs

In November 2014 I made a spontaneous decision to work in another European country as an au pair. The decision was made partly because I wanted to put off the shoulder-drooping reality of needing to find a full-time “grown-up” job after university. I signed up with a free website (I believe it was aupair.com) and created a profile. I was open to any country that I hadn’t been to before, but I did like the idea of being able to speak German, having taken it as an elective during my degree.

Just over a week later, I boarded a flight to Geneva and from the airport I was collected by my host. Along with her came her two kids that I would be looking after and teaching English to. I worked for the family for about two months. The initial plan was to work for three months, but I was unexpectedly offered a job that would start in mid-January.

My experience as an au pair was a mixed bag. There were definitely some great things about it. From the family’s house there were amazing views of the Swiss Alps over Lake Geneva. I got to practise German (the host father was more confident in this than English) and French. On two occasions I met up with two friends I hadn’t seen in a few years – one in Basel and one in Bern. The job taught me a little more about parenting and raising kids. It taught me that I don’t love cooking, and that that’s okay. And it honed my ability to persevere.

The negatives of the position included issues that couldn’t have been predicted, but also included issues that could have been avoided had I approached things differently. Here are my tips for anyone that is thinking of becoming an au pair.

A highlight of my au pair job – exploring parks with views like this!

1. Decide which ages you are comfortable looking after 

Before working as an au pair I had quite a bit of experience volunteering with kids. However, the age range I had worked with had been 8-16. And I think I should have kept it that way. Everyone is different; some people are better with toddlers than they are with pre-teens. It’s about identifying your own strengths and preferences and sticking to them.

2. Make it clear in your profile what you are and aren’t willing to do

Doing this risks reducing the number of messages you’ll get from hiring families, but it also reduces your chances of being unpleasantly surprised by your responsibilities when you start the job.

Example: I started my job assuming that the children I would be taking care of would be potty-trained. As it turned out, I discovered (in German) that I would be required to help with toilet stuff. Had I known this sooner, I honestly don’t think I would have taken the job. It’s not that I am too proud to…get my hands dirty (ugh) but a heads-up would have been courteous. I quickly concluded that this requirement had been kept from me on purpose.

3. Take your time in choosing a family

It wasn’t long after I created my profile that I received a message from the Swiss family. The mother liked my education and the fact I spoke British English. I think the interest went to my head and got me excited too quickly. I was eager to get on a plane again, but really I should have waited to find and speak with a few more families before confirming anything. It’s a bit like looking for a new roommate or house – the first viewing might seem to go well, but it hasn’t been compared to anything. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to the first family that makes an offer.

4. Money isn’t everything 

I fell for the rookie mistake, and it’s one that I warn friends and clients of to this day. Each family’s profile would include their monthly wage. The family that hired me appeared to be offering a lot more money than other families (and the mother didn’t hesitate to point this out when we spoke!). The mother was high up in a bank, and I figured this explained the reason for the seemingly generous amount. However, it wasn’t long after starting the job that I realized there was probably more to the high wage than that. In fact, it wasn’t long before the wage didn’t feel that generous anymore!

Had I taken a lower-paying job, I might have had more free time and a less stressful experience. Since then, I’ve been a firm believer that work-life balance is the most important component to consider when looking for any job.

5. Ask for a employment contract

It’s thanks to my work in HR that I’ve come to appreciate the importance of this. By accepting a paid job, the hours of which were determined by someone I would be reporting to, I was entering into an employment relationship. Some families already send NDA’s to au pairs, but I should have asked for a contract that outlined my job duties, confirmed my hours of work and confirmed my wage/payment schedule. I should have made sure this contract was signed and dated by both parties. This would have helped with #2 by giving me more leverage in refusing to do tasks that I hadn’t expected and wasn’t comfortable doing.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the kids

There have been many times during my recruitment career that I’ve thought a candidate seemed perfect on paper or made a great first impression, only for red flags to be raised during an interview.

After replying to the Swiss family’s message, we set up a Skype video call. The camera came on to show the mother sat between two quiet kids, who of course looked really cute with their big shy eyes and toys in their hands. I asked about their age and whether there was anything they needed special assistance with (hmmph), but I didn’t probe about their temperament or ask what previous au pairs (if they’d had any) had had challenges with. Perhaps I was wary of causing offence. Either way, I should have been more thorough because it was a two-way relationship.

7. Look for reviews from fellow au pairs

Following on from the above, reference checks play an important part of deciding whether or not to hire someone. The function of leaving reviews is available on various work-and-travel exchange websites like Workaway. They allow hosts and host-seekers a chance to see some feedback on the other party. I don’t recall if the au pair website I used had this function (possibly not because of confidentiality and non-disclosure issues), but it would have been very useful. If you’re looking for a family that’s hiring and former au pairs have left a brief line of feedback on their personal experience, see if there’s a way you can contact them to get more detail. Some people hide their real full opinions when posting reviews they know will be seen by their former employer.

8. Clarify what “free time” means and make plans for those times

Example: I was initially told I’d have weekends completely off, in addition to any remaining time in the evenings after the kids had gone to bed. On some weekends I didn’t have plans and would instead find myself staying around the house with plans to read or Skype friends. However, I found that being in the house on weekends always led to me being asked for help with the kids. I found this puzzling, as I assumed the parents would want to have some quality time alone with their children. Requests might also include helping with housework that fell outside of the standard courteous offering to do dishes, etc. Was this time spent working included in my monthly wage?? Regardless of my confusion, I felt obligated to help when asked since I was in their house. I would then find myself sneaking downstairs to my bedroom, hoping I wouldn’t be requested again. (Sometimes I was.) It seemed there was a lack of mutual agreement on the definition of “free time”.

There were a few times when the family kindly took me on a nice trip to a park or town. I appreciated this inclusion, but I also felt there was a lack of respect for my need to have time away from the family. Au pairing can be intense and it’s important to have boundaries! The dynamics were such that I sometimes felt guilty for going off somewhere without them.

There was also one unfortunate occasion when the mother suggested we go to Montreux on an approaching weekend to see the Christmas lights. A couple days later, she and her husband had an argument (in French) and she didn’t return home from work on the Friday evening. Although I’d had no idea what they were arguing about, I could tell from the father’s body language that he was shocked and worried by her departure. She didn’t return until the Sunday evening. Having not been informed about any changes to our plan and unsure when the mother was returning, I found myself spending the weekend at the house doing barely anything. It seemed like such a waste of free time.

On reflection, I should have made plans for each weekend in advance and clarified my weekend plans with the family before starting the job. I should have booked trains and accommodation to guarantee I would get away from the house and do the travelling I wanted to.

9. Choose your season

A lot of people see their mood dim a little over winter in the northern hemisphere when the days are darker and the weather colder, and I am one of them. I’ve also never been skiing in my life (fun fact), which might lead one to ask why Switzerland was my choice of destination. The answer? I wanted to see snow. (I saw hardly any.) I feel like my outlook on my au pair experience would be slightly more positive if it had taken place in the spring or summer time. I would have had more options for entertaining the kids outside (and wearing them out). I would have been able to get out of the house more on the evenings for a walk and some fresh air. I would have probably felt more motivated to make plans for the weekends. My overall mood would have probably been more optimistic.

10. Speak up if you’re having ongoing challenges with the kids

One day I’d love to read a book by someone with twenty years of au pair experience. I bet it would be filled with terrific and terrifying stories. My persistent challenges included having the daughter obsessively try to pull my trousers down/lift my sweater, and having the son bite and kick at me. This was on top of the standard refusals to follow orders, followed by screaming tantrums and shouts of “You leave this house!” when I took away their toys or turned off the TV.

The problem was, these kids were smart and cunning little devils. They had worked out when to play sweet and innocent, and when they could afford to be cheeky and rude. This would show itself in the way the daughter would say “Oww!” as I was gently brushing her hair while her mum stood by the door getting ready to leave for work. It would show in the way the son would give me death glares only to start beaming lovingly when the door opened and his dad walked in.

Why didn’t I inform the parents about the issues? I felt awkward and embarrassed. I didn’t want them to interpret it as me criticizing their parenting. Also, something told me they would think it was an issue on my end – especially when the little darlings were so good at putting on the waterworks.

I think it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to quit. Specifically, when is the job no longer enjoyable and worth your time and effort? When does the toll outweigh the reward? I can be quite stubborn and don’t like to feel like I’m “giving up” on something. In looking back I’ve realized that others in my position would have quit within the first week. Check in with yourself and remember to put yourself first.

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I’ve heard a lot of great accounts from people that have worked as an au pair. Maybe they got lucky, but maybe they also didn’t make the same mistakes I did!

Have you worked as an au pair? What other tips would you recommend?

Seeing out Summer on Saturna Island

When my flights to England were cancelled this summer due to COVID-19, I had to make new plans for how I would spend my annual leave. I changed my dates and booked a staycation week for September, with little planned other than day trips and hikes. After a friend mentioned the Gulf Islands surrounding Vancouver Island, BC, my mopey self felt a spark of inspiration. I had only been to the famous Salt Spring Island, so decided to explore a different island. After doing some research, I booked myself two nights in a B&B on Saturna Island. Just 12 square miles in size, Saturna is one of the most scenic and untouched of the Southern Gulf Islands, and this was part of its appeal to me. An enthusiastic hiker, I was also really interested in experiencing one of its best natural features – Mt. Warburton Pike.

The day before my trip, I woke to smoky skies in Victoria. The smoke had blown over from wildfires in the United States, and I feared it would cloud my views on Saturna. However, when I set off to the Swartz Bay BC Ferries terminal early on September 9th, the skies were clear and blue. The two-way ferry ticket for a car and one passenger cost around $46. I felt a sudden sense of childhood excitement as I drove onto the 9:10 ferry in my 1989 Toyota (it’s older than me but it still received compliments from one of the BC Ferries traffic handlers). The direct journey lasted just over an hour, and there were only around 12 other masked people on the ferry.

I don’t use GPS in my car, and instead will study maps before a trip to get a rough idea of where I need to go. Saturna is so small that a sat-nav system really isn’t necessary anyway, as it’s impossible to get lost. After leaving Lyall Harbour, I followed East Point Rd towards the top of the island, winding along roads lined by large swathes of forest. Since my check-in time wasn’t until 3 pm, I drove all the way to East Point Community Park on the eastern tip. It’s so convenient when nobody is around and you can just take off your trousers and change into shorts outside of your car instead of writhing around hopelessly in the backseat to avoid being seen by people.

Now better dressed for the heat, I followed a short path down to a bluff where I was greeted by a wide view of sparkling blue ocean. This area is known as the Whale Trail because of the potential for sightings of Orcas and humpbacks. Unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with any appearances, but the view of the vast ocean and distant islands was still delightful. The snowy head of Mt. Baker even rose up in the distance. I sat for a while taking in the view while snacking on an apple and some cheesy bread. A local woman walking her dog stopped to comment on the weather, and shortly after that, an elderly man from the ferry whose car had been even older than mine took a seat on a bench with a large sketchbook.

A sail boat on the ocean with a mountain in the background

On the other side of the hill was a grassy area perfect for picnics, and below that was a sandstone shoreline with tidal pools. I decided to lie down on a smooth face of rock, and before I knew it I had dozed off under the sun. It was that quiet and peaceful. As I made my way back to the car, the water at Shell Beach contained patches of turquoise that looked like a scene from the Mediterranean.

An ocean bay surrounded by forest

I left the park around noon, just before a group of older lycra-clad cyclists from the ferry were about to take up half the road. Families of deer grazed along the grassy side of the winding road as I made my way back to Winter Cove, on the north-west side of the island. A picnic area looked out over a quiet bay dotted with sailboats. The Xwiwxwyus Trail is a simple loop through the forest that leads to a look out point over the Strait of Georgia. As I lay under the sun on a rock in yet another spontaneous doze, I could hear sea lions grunting to each other in the distance.

After spending a quiet half an hour reading under the shade of a tree, I set off back towards Four Winds B&B on East Point Rd. A short but fairly steep gravel track led down to a wooden cabin that overlooked the ocean. I typically choose budget accommodation options when doing solo trips, so to have a place as nice and well-kept as this suite was a real treat. Cooking wise it had all the simple amenities I needed – a fridge/freezer, hot plate, microwave, utensils and cutlery. The host didn’t offer breakfast at this time of year. This was fine with me as I had brought my own food anyway, but after reading comments from previous visitors in the little guest journal, I have a feeling the breakfast would have been delicious.

After admiring the view of the water and outline of Washington State’s mountains through the large living room window, I put on my swimsuit and walked across the field to a small beach that I had all to myself. The water was cold but refreshing. I left the water to see a man walking down to the beach. I said hello and he said “Sorry to disrupt your privacy.” He was a friend of the hosts and had come down to collect his crab traps. As I sat against a piece of driftwood in yet another doze, another voice came and I turned to see the host approaching to say a quick hello and check everything was okay in the suite. I commented on how lovely and quiet the island was, and she said it was pretty much always like this, aside from when it hosts the famous Canada Day Lamb BBQ. She left me with a “Sorry to disturb you. Enjoy!”

Saturna Island had put me in such a relaxed state that I almost felt like lounging in the suite for the rest of the day with a book. Something told me I would regret doing this, so just before 7 pm I got in my car and drove back in the direction of Winter Cove. After passing the turn-off I’d gone down earlier, a sign on the right led me down a short gravel road to a small parking place. From here I walked down to Veruna Bay, which the map in my B&B had recommended for sunset-watching. Although there were a couple of private property signs around this area, it still had a welcoming feel to it. I didn’t get the sense that someone was going to come storming out of their house telling me to keep away from their fence.

The sun was slowly lowering as I crossed the empty sand beach and took a seat on a log. A heron posed quietly fifty metres away. A moment later, a cheerful dog bounded down the path, splashed in the water, and then raised a leg against a tree. His owner came down the path calling him. Upon seeing me, he said “Sorry to disturb your peaceful evening.”

Sunset over the ocean

I returned to my B&B where through my bedroom window I could see the pink sky in the distance morphing into an orange colour. As my pasta slowly cooked on the hot plate, I looked further into the hike up to Mt. Warburton Pike. Standing at 1340 feet, this is one of the most popular hikes among the Gulf Islands. None of the B&B’s pamphlets explained how to access the hike, so my main source of information was TripAdvisor reviews online. It appeared that everyone leaving a review had driven up to the summit via Staples Rd, and then walked along Brown Ridge from there. Staples Rd was described as a bumpy, steep, single-lane track that took about 15 minutes to drive. Reading this concerned me slightly when I considered my old car’s suspension and cracked windshield (it was like this when I bought it for cheap, I’d like to add). I didn’t want to cause any further damage, so looked for other ways to access the summit. One blogger had written about an unmarked path further down the road, but the process of finding it sounded a little confusing.

I got into my comfortable bed and set my alarm early with the intention that this would give me time to find the right starting point and get me to Mt. Warburton Pike’s summit before it got too hot and/or busy. Before setting off the next morning, I took a few minutes to admire the pink sun that was starting to rise up behind some trees on a distant island. On the drive along East Point Rd, I had to pull over to get another look because the view was so beautiful!

Sunrise over the ocean

After turning onto Harris Rd, the surface soon became gravel and wound upwards to the left. ‘Is this already Staples Rd?’ I thought in surprise as I steered past bumps and potholes. Then I saw a sign pop up on the left for said road. There was a flat grassy space on the right before the track started to climb, so I impulsively decided to park there and walk up the track. It was 7:15 as I set off along the trail enclosed by the quiet forest. The track grew progressively steeper, but aside from two squawking crows that looked a little suspicious, it didn’t pose any particular challenges. This route certainly doesn’t compare to some exciting trails out there, but the anticipation of reaching the summit kept me motivated. As I neared the top (continuously guessing out loud how much further it would be), some feral goats bleated and ran further into the trees. I reached the summit just before 8 am and was quickly reminded to not base decisions on Trip Advisor reviews.

As expected, the views from Mt. Warburton Pike were breathtaking. One of those views that reminds you how beautiful this planet is and how lucky you are. After a few minutes of looking around in awe and trying to identify which island was which, I started to follow the narrow path along Brown Ridge. Unused to the human company at this time of day, several goats were on the path, and I stopped to give them time and space to wander away calmly.

Feral goats on a mountainside overlooking ocean

Islands in the ocean

As I continued along the ridge, the views gradually changed to show the San Juan Islands of the United States. I spent a good hour on the summit just admiring the views and appreciating the fact that I had them all to myself. Sunlight over mountains and ocean

As I walked back down the track, I saw just one car heading up to the summit. I wonder how many people arrive at the top and wish they had just walked. If you don’t have any mobility problems, I recommend doing this. Good exercise, good for the environment, and good for your car!

It was 10:15 when I spotted my beloved Ronnie waiting for me at the bottom of the track. I approached only to discover that I’d forgotten to lock the doors, but when I looked inside, my debit card was still in the storage box next to my seat. There aren’t many places where you could leave your car unlocked for three hours and return to find it untouched!

Further down Harris Rd is Thomson Park, described as the locals’ favourite community park, beach, and sunset spot. Because I was keen to avoid more bumpy gravel roads where possible, and I prefer the more secluded spots anyway, I decided not to bother visiting it. Instead I turned east onto Narvaez Bay Rd which, ironically, soon turned into gravel road for a few kilometres. Poor Ronnie. From the parking area, I followed the easy trail to the viewpoint at Monarch Head for more glistening ocean views. Sadly, the whales still refused to wave at me. Narvaez Bay has a quiet campsite and was a lovely tranquil spot for a picnic.

A quiet bay surrounded by forest

By the early afternoon, I began to feel tiredness creep in from my early morning start and large amount of walking. I drove slowly back along the gravel road and on to my B&B, reminding myself that I had paid $150 per night for the suite, and I should enjoy spending time in it if that was what I wanted to do. (A very different outlook from the hostel days!) The host had thoughtfully provided binoculars for guests, so I sat by the window for a few minutes observing a small pod of seals playing with each other in the water.

After another quick dip in the ocean, I ran a bath. The bathtub was probably my favourite thing about the suite; it had a sloping back, a head rest, and a skylight above. I lowered my tired legs down in the warm water and it was heavenly. The bathroom also had great acoustics for singing, and I updated my karaoke/open mic list so that it now included ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ by Billy Paul, ‘The Look of Love’ by Dusty Springfield, ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’ by Tom Jones, ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Let’s Stay Together’ by Al Green, and a few songs by Neil Young. (The list is regularly reviewed and updated.)

In the evening, I walked back along the field towards the beach. Although I couldn’t see the setting sun from this area, I could still watch the changing palette of colours in the sky and the silhouettes of islands and mountains. It was all very relaxing.

Sunset over an ocean

After an early night, I woke naturally at 6:30 and opened my blinds to see the sun just starting to pop up. I quickly threw on some clothes and went to sit outside to watch. The sky was more hazy pink today; smoke was starting to blow over again. I was extremely lucky that I escaped its presence and had amazing sunny weather for the two days of my trip.

Sunrise

I loaded up the car with some reluctance. Although I had seen most of what I could on Saturna Island in the two days, it was such a relaxing and rejuvenating time away following a busy year of working mostly from home during the pandemic. When I used to visit Vancouver Island as a tourist, I always thought of it as one of the calmest, friendliest, and slowest-paced places. Since living and working there, my level of exposure has increased and my view on that has changed slightly. Saturna Island is now my new example of easy-going island life!

When I pulled up outside Lyall Harbour terminal, I loved how the BC Ferries representative that went up the cars asking COVID screening questions would say “Hey, Judy!” or “How’s it going, Bob?” to customers she recognized. There was a yellowish smoky haze in the sky as the ferry pulled away from the harbour. That was too bad, as I’d have loved to look back up to Mt. Warburton Pike and remind myself of that lovely experience. The weather was gloomy and grey in the days after I got back to Victoria. It seemed that Saturna Island had offered me my last slice of summer, and I was grateful to have finished it there.

If you’re a BC resident who is looking for a solo getaway and a peaceful place to recharge your batteries, Saturna Island is the place for you!