13 Reasons Why I Moved to Victoria, Canada

Canada Day is quickly approaching, and now that I’m a permanent resident it feels even more fitting to celebrate the qualities that make this country so loved. Why did I decide to move specifically to Victoria on Vancouver Island? Victoria has many great qualities, but below are 13 of the main reasons it has stolen my heart.

1. Landscape

As I walk home from work along Fort St, a quick glance down a side street will often reveal views of Washington State’s towering Olympic mountains, snow glistening on their jagged peaks. Head towards their direction and you will eventually come to witness the vast Pacific Ocean stretching before you. When I lived in London, my social life seemed to revolve around going for food and drinks, but here a walk along the coast with friends will satisfy your social and physical needs, with no money-spending required.

Go inland and you are immersed in a sea of dense forest with tranquil lakes hiding here and there among the hemlock and Western red cedar trees. The landscape on the Island is so natural and unspoiled, and it never gets tiring to see. If you like photography, you will be in heaven here!

2. Weather

Victoria has a moderate climate with winter temperatures usually remaining above negative. Compare that with -30 degrees Celsius in many of the other provinces and you can understand why so many people choose to move to the West Coast! Snowfall in the city is minimal, and when we do receive a mere couple of inches, the collective panic that erupts is quite amusing.

Summers are mild with temperatures rarely going over 30 degrees, allowing for sun-kissed comfort rather than sweltering torture (especially for someone fair like myself!). The lack of humidity and mosquitoes is also greatly welcomed!

If you’re into ocean sports, you will benefit from clear waters for diving and great wind speeds for sailing and kiteboarding.

Rain is less common here than in Vancouver, but even in the rain the surroundings are beautiful. Most places look dismal under grey skies, but Vancouver Island isn’t one of those places. Drifting fog over a bed of water dispersing slowly against a backdrop of evergreen trees is a trademark of the Pacific North West.

Brentwood Bay

3. Hiking

Drive 30 minutes outside of downtown Victoria and you are entering hikers’ paradise.  A variety of hiking options are available, depending on how far you are willing to drive to get there and how far/steep you want to walk. Mt. Doug is accessible by bus from downtown Victoria and offers 360-degree views over Greater Victoria and the surrounding Gulf Islands of the USA.  My favourite places to explore include John Dean Provincial Park in North Saanich, Mt. Work in Gowland Todd Provincial Park in the Highlands, Mt. Finlayson in Goldstream Provincial Park, Mt. Wells in the Langford area, and Matheson Lake in Metchosin. There’s nothing like a great hike to recharge your batteries and keep you smiling!

Mt. Finlayson

4. Lake Days

While England has the Lake District in the north and Hampstead Ponds in London, summer swims in lakes were never really a big thing when I was growing up.  Over here, you haven’t experienced summer if you haven’t had a lake day. Surrounded by forestry, Victoria’s surrounding lakes have authentic rustic settings that give off strong ‘Dirty Dancing’ vibes. (Because we’ve all at some point day-dreamed about re-enacting that scene!)

For a fun day out, you can pack a picnic and take a drive to Sooke to explore the potholes. More daring types can often be seen jumping from the rocks into the clear pools of water. Those searching for a quiet spot should head further upstream. Durrance Lake is a relaxing place to cool off after a hike in Gowland Todd Park, while Thetis Lake is a great option for chilling with friends, floaties and dogs. An hour’s drive up island, the Cowichan River is renowned by tubing lovers. If you’re bringing booze to any of these locations, please be respectful and take your cans away with you.

5. Wildlife

During a hike, you can expect to see bald eagles, turkey vultures and other birds of prey roaming over the trees with silent authority. Pickle’s Bluff in John Dean Provincial Park is a particularly great spot to witness a flying show.

Black bear sightings are also common as you head further inland, though the closest most people will get to one is from almost stepping in their berry-studded poop! Making regular gentle noise on the trail is typically enough to keep them away. Victoria also recently made headlines when a young cougar was spotted in the Gorge area. Thankfully, I am yet to come across one!

Between October and November, Goldstream Provincial Park is home to an annual salmon run that sees thousands of Chum salmon selflessly battle upstream from the Pacific Ocean and give up their lives to spawn. Watch closely and you can see the female digging her nest with surprising strength. You can’t help but admire these fish as they battle resiliently upstream against the current only, after after all that effort, to sacrifice themselves for the sake of making some babies. But at least it gives the other wildlife a meal!

Otters and seals are some of my favourite wildlife to see on the water, but if you’re looking for something bigger, you’re in the right place. Orca whales call this stretch of Pacific Ocean home, and it’s common to see a pod of them appear during a journey with BC Ferries over the Salish Sea to the Mainland or Gulf Islands. No matter how many times you might have seen them, the sense of awe never fades as you watch these beautiful animals rise up majestically from the water.

Humpback whales are another mammal that I’ve been fortunate to see by boat. Whale-watching trips operate out of Victoria, but as a firm believer in supporting local businesses, I tend to go with Sidney Whale Watching. The guides are knowledgeable and friendly, and they show respect for the whales’ well-being by adhering to regulations for viewing distances. I wish the same could be said for the private American charter boats.

6. Beaches

“I’m going to the beach” used to be something I’d say during an annual holiday in the Mediterranean. Now it’s something I say on a weekly basis. Why would I go drink in a rowdy pub on a Friday night after a busy week at work when I could instead soak up an opportunity for a quieter unwinding?

Within Victoria, Gonzales Bay is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an evening of sand, serenity and sunsets with a book or a guitar. Slightly bigger, Willows Beach in Oak Bay is a favourite for dog-owners and dog-stalkers-that-wish-they-were-dog-owners. A good place for seal sightings, it’s also a great place for a first date (speaking from experience!). On the eastern corner of the peninsula, there are many other quiet little coves to discover during a romantic evening walk.

If you are looking for rugged West Coast inspiration, the pebbled beaches en route to Port Renfrew will deliver. Perfect for a weekend of camping, there are a few options to choose from. Sandcut Beach and Sombrio Beach are two of my favourites. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours on these beaches appreciating the waterfalls, collecting driftwood or pebble souvenirs, looking in tide pools for small sea life, playing with seaweed (aka chasing your friend with it), and admiring the sheer number of clams and mussels. The odd surfer might be spotted braving the waves too.

Willows Beach

7. Road Trips

Whether you’re heading to Tofino for the weekend, taking a day trip to Port Renfrew, or making the long trip to Port Hardy, a road trip on Vancouver Island allows the above elements to be combined into one memorable adventure. The Island may seem small, but whether you are going solo or with friends, there is so much to discover and explore! Stopping in a few small towns such as Cowichan Bay is a great way to get a taste of the Island’s history and discover local art or trades.

Another bonus of road-tripping from Victoria is that the main highway is much quieter than the motorways of England, allowing for a more enjoyable driving experience.

Cowichan Bay

8. Food

Every road trip needs a great picnic, and Victoria is spoiled with places to stock up on snacks. Most importantly, it supports a variety of local restaurants, cafes and delis, meaning there’s no need to visit the big corporations like Starbucks or Tim Hortons.

Red Barn Market makes fresh sandwiches to order using local meat and vegetables, and offers generous servings at the ice cream counter. For this (latter) reason, the location on West Saanich Road has become a must-stop for me after a hike in Gowland Todd Park.  If you’re on a road trip to Port Renfrew, a great place to stop for coffee and sandwiches is Shirley Delicious. I’m pretty sure the South African barista has been on ecstasy every time I’ve gone..but he’s got great customer service!

One of my absolute favourite places for a post-hike treat is My Chosen Cafe in Metchosin. Tasty pizzas are made on site, and while you wait you can pet the adorable goats and donkeys nearby. Make sure you leave room for dessert, as its Sugar Shack really is the place where candy-filled dreams come true. Delicious and REAL milkshakes, mouth-watering fudge, and a variety of baked cookies, cakes and pastries await you. I personally love the Caramel Pecan Brownie and cry a little inside whenever it’s sold out.

While I don’t drink coffee, my penchant for tea has grown since moving to Victoria, thanks to the number of independent coffee shops around that create a cozy ambiance. Wild Coffee on Yates St, Bubby Rose’s Bakery on Cook St, Demitasse Cafe in Oak Bay, and Moka House on Fort St are nice places to catch up over a brew. And because there are so many coffeehouses around, I’m yet to discover more of them!

Then we have the bakeries. The window of Crust Bakery on Fort St is forever enticing drooling passers-by with its unique selection of pastries and tarts. A couple of doors down you have the Dutch Bakery with a variety of sweet treats on offer. If you like marzipan, the Dollar Rolls are delicious! Patisserie Daniel on Cook St has mouth-watering cinnamon buns and makes fantastic cakes for special occasions. Pure Vanilla Cafe and Bakery on Cadboro Bay Road tends to attract Oak Bay’s more affluent residents, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying its selection of breads, muffins and special cakes. Empire Doughnuts is fortunately (and unfortunately for my waistline) located one block from my office, and tends to be my go-to when the menstrual hormones are raging.

Summer in Victoria isn’t complete if there haven’t been several occasions when you’ve gone straight from work on a Friday to Cold Comfort. Located on North Park St, its ice cream sandwiches with their unexpectedly ideal flavour combinations are a wonderful end-of-the-week treat. My favourite flavours include Citrus and Coriander, London Fog, Raspberry Rose, and Hoyne Dark Matter (I don’t drink the beer…unless it’s in ice cream). On Fridays they pair up with Empire Doughnuts…uh oh!

9. Fitness

I love Victoria for its many scenic paths and trails. When I went on runs in London, the sounds of traffic, the air quality and the crowds of people I had to get through before reaching the park often left me frustrated. Here those irritants don’t exist. My favourite running route takes me along a beach, through a leafy creek area, and along a quiet road with gorgeous houses to distract me from the distance.

Whether walking through the pretty neighbourhoods of Fernwood or Oak Bay, running along Beacon Hill Park’s chip trail and grassy routes, or cycling a coastal route from Cordova Bay to downtown, you are bound to find something that keeps your mind happy and your body healthy.

For indoor fitness, Victoria has a huge array of gyms to choose from. I train at at Studio 4 Athletics on Yates St, where there are great options for personal training, individual workouts, and group classes. Victoria is also full of yoga lovers; in three minutes of walking around downtown, you can guarantee to see at least two people carrying a yoga mat.

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is Canada’s beloved outdoor clothing and equipment store. It’s like a toy store for adults. Located on Johnson St, the store also organizes running/cycling meet-ups, clinics and races. Before a series of niggles influenced me to hang up my running shoes for a while, I went to the Tuesday run meet-ups and found them to be good fun and a great way to socialize while keeping fit. They also inspired me to get back into racing!

Racing at Elk Lake

10. Second-Hand Shops

On the subject of cycling, I bought my second-hand road bike for $600 from UsedVictoria.com. This website is awesome for buying used items, from cars to couches. It’s also how I’ve found many of my room-shares/roommates.

The thrift stores are also a real highlight of Victoria for me. Some people might turn their noses up at the idea of wearing clothing previously owned by someone else, but I personally think it’s awesome! Bagging a deal while helping the environment…what’s bad about that? Some of my favourite work blouses, jeans and summer dresses have come from Value Village or the Salvation Army. The Patch on Yates St is also amazing for vintage dresses. If you plan to go in there only buying one dress, good luck.

These thrift stores are also great for buying furniture and art, whether you are looking for an extra bookcase or some antique ornaments. I’m a big fan of landscape canvasses and paintings, and could spend a good hour browsing through them.

As someone who enjoys reading, I love visiting Russel Books on Fort St just to browse their huge collection of new and second-hand books. Whether you are looking for historical fiction or horticultural guidance, you’re bound to find a cover that catches your interest. It’s a perfect place to kill time if you’re waiting to meet up with a friend!

11. Events

Victoria holds a range of events throughout the year that emphasize the idea of supporting local businesses and fostering a multicultural population.

My favourite event to attend is the Oak Bay Night Market, which runs on every second Wednesday of the month from June to September. With live music, food trucks, and local vendors selling original crafts and baked goods, this market has a real community feel. It feels more personal and welcoming than any of the events I attended in London. It also seems to attract all the local “hot dads”…and their even hotter wives.

Oak Bay Night Market

Annual events like Canada Day, Car-Free Day, Oak Bay Tea Party, Pride Parade, and the Symphony Splash are naturally a little busier, but they all highlight Victoria’s friendly and diverse… (cue next point)…

12. Culture

“You folks in this town are very friendly, tank you,” spoke an Irish man recently when I offered him some help after noticing he and his wife starting perplexedly at a map. It’s become a habit of mine to proactively approach people when they look lost. I ultimately do it as a way of paying back the help others have given me here.

People visiting from Vancouver or other big cities might mock Victoria for the fact that it still accepts change for buses. I however like the fact that Victoria is a little “behind the times”. It makes it cute and endearing. It’s also a welcome change from London to have a friendly bus driver who says hello and advises tourists when they should get off. Likewise, it’s nice to hear passengers thanking the bus driver when they get off. Further, it’s refreshing when you can speak freely with a fellow passenger without feeling the alarmed eyes of others on you assuming you’re a psychopath. (Yes, that was another dig at London.) In fact, striking up conversation with a woman who used to take the same bus as me in the morning is how I made one of my friends here! I also love the fact that when I’m walking to work, I often see the same smiley old man pushing his trolley who gives me a wave and comments on the weather.

When it comes to my friendships here, I definitely fit the mould of “quality over quantity”. But that’s fine with me, because the friends I have made are some of the most open-minded, easy-going, down-to-earth, adventurous, and generous people I’ve met.

13. Proximity

Even when you live in such a beautiful city, you sometimes need a change of scene. Luckily, Victoria is conveniently located. A 40-minute bus ride takes you to the sleepy town of Sidney, where you can spend a few relaxing hours browsing bookshops, reading in a cafe, and walking along the pier.

Take the bus further to Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, and you have your gateway to a mini vacation on the Gulf Islands. If you’re craving some time in a big city (or a trip to IKEA), you can take the 90-minute journey to Tsawwassen and head up to Vancouver from there.

From Victoria, there are daily ferries to both Seattle and Port Angeles, with the latter being your pit stop en route to Olympic National Park.

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If you’re a foodie who loves spending your free time outdoors exploring nature or getting active, Victoria really does have it all. Please feel free to add your questions about or tourist recommendations for Victoria below!

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A 20-Something’s Guide to Getting Permanent Residence in Canada

My soft spot for Canada developed when I travelled through the country in August 2011, aged 19. It was this country that instilled in me a new sense of confidence, independence and adventure. Soon after my trip, I moved to London to start university, graduating from King’s College London in summer 2014 with a BA in History. I spent that summer in Canada and road-tripped through the USA, without a clear vision of what I wanted to “do” or “be”. Through a mixture of luck and initiative, I was offered a staffing and recruitment role in 2015, and found it to be a field I thoroughly enjoyed working in for the next two years. My relationship with London and England in general wasn’t blossoming quite as well, and I maintained my love affair with Canada through a trip in between contracts. The big and bustling city just wasn’t for me; I dreamed of mountains and lakes of British Columbia, of hiking on the weekend and smelling the ocean’s scent on evenings. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be doing with my life in 30 years’ time, but I did know that moving to this part of Canada would bring me much more happiness than my life in London. I identified for myself that I needed a big change. Neil Young sang “24 and there’s so much more”, and that was how I felt. Some people aspire to have a certain title, make lots of money and have a big house, but for me, living a healthy, active and happy life in a beautiful part of the world was the goal.

Canada is understandably one of the most popular choices for people looking to work and travel overseas; it has beautiful scenery, it’s relatively safe, and it has an immigrant-friendly government. Aged 24, I moved to Victoria in late December 2016 on a two year working holiday visa. Happily settled into a Canadian life, I submitted my application for permanent residence in June 2018 and was granted this status in December of that year.  Below is my guide to the process.

Peyto Lake, Alberta

Getting to Canada

When looking for information on the available opportunities for immigrating to Canada, the only website you should be consulting is the Government of Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website. The easiest way to start your quest for Canadian permanent residence is to go on this website and apply for a working holiday visa via the International Experience Class system, which is open to applicants aged 18-35. Depending on your country’s agreement with Canada, you can get either a one or two-year work permit that allows you to work for any employer (barring those in the sex trade…). Applying for this is fairly simple and just requires you to enter some personal information including your age and citizenship. You are then entered into a pool from which candidates are randomly selected to apply for the visa, typically after two or three months. You then submit an application form with your personal details and the addresses/occupations of your family members, have a police criminal background check completed, and pay the fee. If your application is approved, you have a year in which to arrive in Canada, where upon arrival an immigration officer will ask you a few questions. You must be able to prove you have sufficient funds to survive for a few months without a job, and have purchased medical insurance to cover the duration of your visa.

Establishing Yourself in Canada 

I was lucky when I moved to Canada in that I already knew the area I would be living in and had a (now-ex) boyfriend whose family I was able to live with for the first few months. If you have enough money saved to rent a place from the beginning, there are usually many house-share listings available on websites like Kijiji or Craigslist. If you don’t have any handy connections and are worried about funds, consider signing up for work exchange programs like Workaway, HelpX or WWOOF. In exchange for around 5 hours’ work a day (gardening, labouring, looking after animals etc.), you receive free food and accommodation. This is a great way to save money while helping others, meet people and get to know your new neighbourhood. Some families really show their helpers an awesome time during their free time, whether it’s taking them camping, sailing or horse-riding. Just make sure you aren’t having too much fun that you’re not putting enough time into searching for a paid job! It’s worth pointing out here that because I had already seen a lot of Canada on previous trips, I was more eager to jump into hunting for a full-time job than I’d expect of someone who was completely new to the country.

Finding a Job

There are a few different programs through which you can apply for permanent residence, with certain criteria needing to be met in order to qualify for each. Naturally, work experience has a huge influence on whether or not you will be granted permanent residence.

The Canadian Experience Class program is a good option for 20-something applicants who only have a couple of years’ skilled work experience in total but have a full-time job in the same field in Canada. The Federal Skilled Worker Program suits older applicants with a solid education who lack Canadian experience but have worked in a skilled role for the past 10 years. Experienced carpenters, electricians, plumbers and so on should check out the Federal Skilled Trades Program.

Because of my age, amount of professional experience in England, and the permanent position I received with a Canadian company, I opted to go through the Canadian Experience Class for my PR application. This program requires applicants to have 12 months’ of full-time (1560 hours minimum) work experience with a Canadian employer in the past three years before applying. The job must also fall within the skills category of 0, A or B in the National Occupation Classification (NOC).  ‘0’ refers to managerial jobs in any field, whether this is Human Resources, hospitality, health care or construction. ‘A’ refers to professional roles that typically require completion of a degree, such as a physiotherapist, engineer or teacher. ‘B’ refers to skilled jobs that typically require post-secondary education or training, like legal assistants or electricians. To be brutally honest, working as a server or retail assistant won’t cut it. If you want another country to accept you as a permanent resident, you need to prove that you will bring skills required in the job market that are perhaps lacking among the Canadian population in that region.

If you are struggling with your job search, considering registering with an employment agency. After learning about your skills and preferences, staffing consultants will send you details of job leads with their clients. These are typically temporary roles but can often lead to permanent opportunities if the client decides the temp would be a good long-term fit for the company. I myself signed up with a local employment agency and completed a few temp assignments with the provincial government. While the wage was lower than I was used to and the work less challenging than I was used to, I knew that it was worth it in order to make useful contacts, enhance my resume with some Canadian experience, and ultimately increase my chances of finding a permanent job as a foreigner. Funnily enough, a few months after registering with them, the agency offered me a position as a staffing consultant when a vacancy opened up, and it remains my job to this day! While I definitely had some luck with the timing, I wouldn’t have been offered the role had I not made a good impression during my temp assignments. Moral of the story: let go of your ego and who knows where you will end up!

Sooke, Vancouver Island

Preparing for your Application

If your job is going well and you are confident in its longevity, half the hard work is done! The rest mostly requires organization, patience and frankly, quite a lot of money. To apply through the Canadian Experience Class program, you need to have worked continuously for 12 months. If you work on a shift basis, make sure you are getting enough hours to total the minimum 1560hrs amount at the 12-month mark. If you work a consistent Monday to Friday schedule, use your free time to focus on the other application prerequisites.

While there is no education requirement for the Canadian Experience Class program, getting your education assessed (if it was completed outside of Canada) will boost your points in the Express Entry pool. The Education Credential Assessment (ECA) verifies that your foreign education is equivalent to Canadian standards. It takes up to four months to be processed, so get organized early. Contact your old university or college requesting they send your certificate and transcripts to the organization conducting the assessment (I used the University of Toronto Continuing Studies). You also need to upload a copy of these certificates to the organization’s website, before paying the fee of $271 (as priced in 2017).

A language test must be taken before a candidate is eligible to apply for permanent residence. Yes, you read correctly: if you were born and raised in England, you must still take a test to prove your proficiency in English. I opted to just take the English exam through IELTS. Taking an additional French exam will give you more points, but it will also cost more money, so it’s not worth doing unless you’re super confident in your abilities. This exam involves a Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking element, and requires half a day of your time (but you can take them on weekends!). Results are mailed out around two weeks later and are valid for a year. It cost me $309 to take the IELTS test. You might be thinking, “This is ridiculous, I’ve communicated in English for 24 years, I shouldn’t have to take a test”, but don’t expect to receive full marks on each test; I didn’t, and I’m a literary nerd. If I could re-take the test I would practise writing in pencil beforehand, especially because some people already struggle to read my handwriting in pen.

While you wait to reach the 12-month mark with your job, it’s also worth contacting your former employers in your home country to ask for references or copies of your contracts, as these will be required when proving your work experience later on in the process.

Applying for Express Entry

Express Entry is a points-based pool system that considers candidates’ age, education, work experience and language skills when assigning them with a rank. Draws take place throughout the year and candidates with the highest number of points are invited to submit a residency application. There are federal and provincial Express Entry options available, with the Provincial Nominee Program meaning a province can nominate you to apply. In the interests of money, I just went through the federal system.

Certain criteria need to be met before you are eligible to create an Express Entry profile. Once you have been employed for 12 months, completed your language tests, and had your educational credentials verified, go on the IRCC website. The ‘Come to Canada’ wizard has a questionnaire which determines what immigration programs you are eligible for. It asks you for your age, citizenship, marriage status and so on before inquiring about your work experience, education and language test results. Eligible candidates will receive a personal reference code to start their Express Entry application. You will only be eligible to apply through the Canadian Experience Class program if your dates of employment show you have held your position for 12 months. Entering the pool is free. (“Finally, a free component of applying for PR!”)

Submitting an Application for Permanent Residence

It’s important to remember that being in the Express Entry pool doesn’t guarantee you will receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for residency. It ultimately depends on how your points compare to other candidates. Some people wait for months to apply, others never get the invitation and have to re-apply the next year. I was fortunate (and pleasantly surprised) to receive my ITA after one week. Candidates have 60 days in which to submit an application so once again, organization is key. Candidates must request that their home country’s police force complete a criminal background check. This cost me £45 and the certificate took about 10-14 days to arrive in the mail. They must also complete a medical exam (including an x-ray, blood test and physical) to confirm they have no contagious diseases and will ultimately not be a drain on the country’s health system. The IRCC website helpfully lists all the clinics in your area that are authorized to perform medical exams for immigration purposes. I booked mine the day after I received my ITA because spots can fill up quickly, and all the tests were done within 10 days. The total cost of the medical exams is $340. Ouch. That’s an expensive way to find out that you’re in good health.

When applying through the Canadian Experience Class, you are asked to list all your previous work experience that falls under your current Canadian job’s NOC. Proof of this experience must be provided, including signed contracts or references that note your position title, duties, hours of work, and salary/wage. Your current employer must also write a reference letter verifying your employment status. Reading that my boss valued my contributions and intended to keep me employed for years to come definitely made all the work for the application seem worth it!

Employers wanting to hire a temporary foreign worker for a specific job must typically complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to confirm that a Canadian citizen is not available to perform the job, and this costs money. However, candidates currently in Canada on a working holiday visa obtained through mobility programs like the International Experience Class have an open work permit, and because this is a reciprocal program between the UK and Canada, their employer is subsequently exempt from needing to complete a LMIA and does not need to pay any fees to sponsor the application.

A passport photo, copies of your passport, your medical exam results and criminal background check results must also be attached in the online application, before you pay the submission fee of *gulp* $1050. You’d better really want to stay in Canada!

Whistler, BC

Next Steps

You’ve submitted your application and have collapsed on your sofa with a glass of wine. Now it’s a waiting game. Applications are usually processed within six months. While easier said than done, it’s best to try and forget about your application over the next few months. Unless you have a very dodgy criminal past or you do have a contagious disease, it’s likely that your application will be approved in time. Do yourself a favour and don’t call IRCC every few weeks in hopes this will make a difference; you will simply get through to an automated system and be told that your application is being processed, with no further elaboration provided. After a month or so you might get an email from IRCC and gasp in excitement…but it will likely just be a confirmation that you passed the medical exam.

Following submission of an application, you are considered to have ‘implied status’, which means you can continue working until a decision is made on your application. For additional peace of mind, you can apply for a Bridging Work Permit. I paid the $255 fee for this in October 2018, knowing that my visa was set to expire in late December and you cannot extend working holiday visas. On reflection I don’t think it was necessary for me to do this because my application was due to reach the 6-month mark on December 1st. Had I submitted my application in September, it would have been a different story. But given how close we were getting to December, I just wanted to be safe rather than sorry. (And frankly by this point, what’s a couple more hundred dollars matter anyway..?) Typically, my PR application was approved before I even received confirmation my BWP application was approved. I’m still waiting to hear back about a refund…

Confirming Permanent Residence 

A few days before reaching the 6-month mark, I received a letter from IRCC noting that my application was in the final stages. After reading this I think I did a little jig in my office. Candidates at this stage are instructed to send an Express post parcel to an office in Ottawa with copies of their passport, a form confirming their current residential address, two professional photos* taken for their PR card, and a self-addressed return envelope.

*When getting your photos taken, don’t make the mistake I did of going to London Drugs. I asked the employee in the photography section if the store took photos for permanent residence applications and he confidently told me they did, only for me to find out a month later that the $14 I paid was for two photos that were rejected because they didn’t meet the specifications for the PR card. Thankfully this had no impact on my application, but it was still stressful to find out. I also received no response when I emailed the customer service department with constructive feedback. 

On December 5th, a week after the initial letter, I received the email from IRCC confirming that my application for permanent residence had been approved! Even though deep down I had known there was no reason I shouldn’t be successful, it was still an overwhelming moment and I immediately broke into tears of both joy and relief.

Shortly after receiving this email, your parcel from IRCC will come back with your ‘Confirmation of Permanent Residence’ landing visa. Just when you think you’re all done and can put your feet up and write your emotional Facebook post, you are told that you need to show this letter to an immigration officer and have it signed and approved before officially obtaining PR status. There is an option to schedule an appointment with an officer in your town, but this can take up to 30 days. The other option is to leave the country and speak with a border officer on return. Living so close to Washington State, I decided to get things over with and paid $60 for a US day visa and return ticket for the Coho ferry.

On return from a sunny couple of hours in Port Angeles, I showed the border officer in Victoria my landing visa and then sat down with another officer who signed the forms and informed me of the terms I must follow in order to maintain PR status. While it can take up to several weeks for the photo card to arrive in the mail, the signed landing visa is your official proof that you have permanent resident status. The border officer also touched on the process of applying for citizenship (as if I wasn’t exhausted enough from this process to start considering that!) He was absolutely lovely and I particularly appreciated his recognition of the effort that goes into getting permanent residence. It truly is a long process that requires a lot of organization, patience and dedication. It was as I walked home from the immigration office, passing Victoria’s distinctive legislature buildings on the way, that I felt a weight lift from my shoulders.

Ultimate Dos and Don’ts

  • Do make sure you consult the IRCC website for official information on anything related to Canadian permanent residence. There are lots of visa-assistance or immigration law websites that don’t always give 100% accurate information, and many of them are ultimately looking to make money off people without visa success being guaranteed.
  • Do be organized with looking for a job, getting all your documents together and booking exam dates etc. Two years goes by quicker than you think, and timing can make all the difference. Save all relevant emails in one folder and keep any mail correspondence related to the application in one place, in case you need it for future reference.
  • Do be smart with your finances. Obviously you will want to enjoy your free time, but keep the main goal in mind before you splurge out on trips across the country (domestic flights in Canada are not cheap!). Consider setting up an application fund and putting some money from each pay cheque towards it.
  • Don’t apply for PR unless you are 100% sure you want to stay in the country for the next few years. Applying for PR is a big commitment and an expensive process if you are funding yourself independently. If you are in a relationship with a Canadian, ask yourself what other factors attract you to the country and if you would genuinely want to be there if single.
  • Don’t immediately consult an immigration lawyer for advice. Applying for PR is already costly before paying additional fees for the sake of having to do a little less work. The IRCC website isn’t perfect and ESL speakers may find it confusing, but at least try to understand it first before paying for advice you might personally not need.
  • Don’t complain to immigration officials about the processing times. Everyone is in the same boat, so being petulant and demanding about the status of your application won’t do you any favours.

Approximate cost of applying for Permanent Residence (application submission, medical exams, language tests, educational credential assessment, postage and other expenses)$2500

Salt Spring Island, BC

 Good Luck with your application!

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Please note, this post is an unofficial guide to the process of obtaining Canadian permanent residence, based on my personal experience. The writer of this article cannot be held accountable for the outcome of a reader’s application.

Have you successfully obtained permanent residence in Canada? Please feel free to share any additional tips or experiences below.

Guilty Compromises and Quarter-Life Crises: Lessons in Living Overseas

When I turned 25 last year, I was proud to feel able to say I had reached my quarter-century having accomplished many things in both a personal and professional sense. Had you known me 10 years ago, you would never have imagined I’d be living and working halfway across the world right now. I was a very shy child. My best friend was my family’s Labrador, Tom, as was Milly, my spaniel, who was not actually a real dog but a bag I took everywhere with me. My siblings tell me I had an imaginary friend called Jinky who I’d talk to under the barn steps. Much of my time was spent wandering around our fields in a daydream or incessantly scribbling down pony stories in notebooks. Like many children, I was bullied for a few years, and my way of dealing with it by saying nothing, casing myself in a shell and trying to distract myself with my imagination, has contributed to my quiet voice and love of writing. As a teenager I didn’t really fit in with the catty group of girls I found myself in a friendship group with. While they loved shopping and make-up and got attention from boys, I did sports, felt more comfortable in scruffy hand-me-downs and believed my broken nose made me ugly.

Like with many people, my experiences of being mocked through school instilled in me a quiet ambition to aspire for greater things. I truly believed that something better was waiting down the line if I kept working hard, and I was determined that in later years I would look back on the past and be the one laughing at how insignificant the events and those people inside it all seemed. I still experience moments of Impostor Syndrome when I wonder how my shy young self grew up to be who and where I am. However, the question I am most often asked as an expat is: “Don’t you miss home and your family?”

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The answer is yes, of course I do, but I was fortunate in that my parents encouraged all of my siblings to travel and see the world. They presented time away from home as something to be excited rather than worried about. As a result, I never struggled with homesickness when I went on school trips overseas. The last time my whole family was together was in 2013. To some families this would seem indicative of a dysfunctional dynamic; for us it’s normal. We are adults in our 20s and 30s who have all fled the nest to go in different directions around the world, and we were brought up to understand that this is simply how life goes.

Even with an independent mindset however, this doesn’t mean living in a foreign country doesn’t have its extremely challenging personal moments. A lot of travel bloggers will glorify the expat life, presenting their lifestyle as a trouble-free haven to which we should all aspire – “I quit my 9-5 job for paradise”. What these people aren’t telling you is that difficult personal experiences follow you wherever you go. Everyone goes through complex emotional stages in life. Place yourself in a foreign country away from your family and there is a whole new dimension involved. Gone are those unconditional physical comforts and avenues for support. Gone is the certainty of what steps to take next (and in some cases, which steps you are entitled to take as a foreign resident). Under the impression that they should always be smiling because of living in a beautiful new country, I personally believe that a lot of expats struggle to identify when they are unhappy. I was one of them at the end of 2017.

This post is not intended to invite sympathy out of an implication that I have a difficult life, because I don’t at all. I debated sharing it for a while because some of the content seemed too personal and conceited. Then I realized that if I was to rewind back two years to when I started my visa application in the midst of a long-distance relationship, the experiences I’m about to share are things I wish I had been more prepared for. But of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and life is unpredictable. On the whole I don’t have many regrets, and I am a believer that things happen for a reason. If I could go back however, I would approach some things differently.

While my decision to move overseas was also largely based on a desire to leave England and experience working abroad, having a boyfriend in Canada inevitably had an integral influence on the type of experience I had in my first few months here. Realistically, both members knew we were no longer a good match and were simply staying together because of history. Regardless, I clung onto a failing relationship for a long time, and on reflection I know it was because I didn’t feel secure enough in my own life here to brave going it alone. Around this time I didn’t have a stable job, I didn’t have many of my own friends, and I didn’t live separately in my own apartment. I didn’t feel I had enough independence to become independent. All break-ups are hard, but it turns out that ending a long-term relationship while living away from home is really hard. In losing a boyfriend I had first met aged 19 on my first trip to Canada, I had also inevitably lost the strength of connection with what I had considered for a long time to be my second family. As much as a partner’s family members might insist on keeping in touch, realistically things can never fully be the same. Gone were the guaranteed Thanksgiving and Christmas invites, collections from the ferry or airport, and advice on Canadian systems and laws.

In spite of this huge change in my circumstances, I thought I was doing pretty well in the break-up’s aftermath. In a September blog post, I discussed how content I was with my Canadian life. Little did I realize how much this was more me trying to convince myself everything was great, underestimating how much my confidence had been unsettled. This was largely because I didn’t have family and close friends around who knew me well enough to understand and suggest how I was really doing. I also didn’t realize how much the break-up had affected me because I had been quickly distracted by an attraction to a new person who seemed to come along at a perfect time near the end of the relationship, when I had felt so much uncertainty about my future in a foreign country. Excited by the new attention and comforted by the prospect of immediate company, I let myself get caught up in a complicated romance without realizing that my current mindset was not in a strong place to form a new relationship. My emotionally needy self clashed with someone emotionally unavailable. The impact of the emotional collision was drawn out over a confusing period, and the final broken remnants left me questioning many things about myself and my ability to form fulfilling relationships in which my level of care would be reciprocated. Having always prided myself on being an independent person, I didn’t recognize the clingy person I had become. I had invested so much time and effort caring about someone, when really it was myself I needed to take care of. The soundtrack to my 2017 Christmas was Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’. Aided by a dose of SAD, I felt lonely, tired, pessimistic and unmotivated. Trying to understand my self-esteem was like trying to decipher a face through a cracked mirror.

Around the same time, I also went through that “quarter-life-crisis” stage common to people of my age. I was a few years into an unexpected career field, living away from home being a true “grown up”, and yet there was still a shy, indecisive person inside me who was scared by the prospect of a structured work life and unsure of where my life was going. We are constantly pressured to aspire for more – more money, more titles, more living space, more materialistic possessions – yet I didn’t feel ready or interested to follow that trend; I was drawn to the idea of a life where I could just take off whenever I felt like exploring a new place. To afford to travel, you need to work. But to have a worthwhile travel experience, you need time. And when you work full-time in a permanent role, time doesn’t come easily. When unemployed, we crave having a permanent job, and yet when we have it, we long for more freedom. The prospect of my future consisting of days spent at work seemed so confining. I was very grateful to have a job that I love, but my priorities and plans in life went through a period of feeling muddled. Billy Joel’s ‘River of Dreams’ was added to my soundtrack. (Evidently, rivers are pretty symbolic.)

I’d never planned to go home for Christmas 2017, and the same plan still stood even when I became single. Flights seemed too expensive, I wouldn’t have enough time there to make it worth the expense, I figured better to wait for a visit in the summertime, “it’s only Christmas”. Yet another underestimation of how difficult things would be. I put on a brave face to family because I didn’t want them to worry about me. I had a stubborn desire to prove that I was fine and could be a “big girl”.

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A last-minute decision to get away for a few days of solo travel time helped pick me up. Corny and cliche as it may sound, my trip to Kelowna helped restore my understanding of myself and rejuvenate my sense of purpose. Heading into 2018, I resolved to look forward. A single 25-year-old young professional in a foreign country – I had so much freedom to carve out the type of lifestyle I wanted. I realized this was an exciting time for me, not a sad one.

I started focusing even more on running and fitness, and even started swimming occasionally again – a sport I was not known to enjoy during my teenage days as a Modern Pentathlete. I got stricter with my diet after having let meals slip into lazy choices during December. I turned off the sad soul and acoustic blues – the Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and Neil Young – and turned on more optimistic Motown and funk. I started making use of my creativity again and writing more guest posts for other bloggers.  I focused on quality and not quantity when it came to socializing with people. I won my first 5k race of the season with a better time than I’d expected. As my sense of self-worth rose again, I shook off my scepticism about male intentions and relationships, and let myself give a guy I’d been wondering about a chance that turned out to be worthwhile.

As the days get longer and the spring flowers start to bloom, I now feel like I’ve truly established my own life here in Canada. I feel truly content and independent. I’m blessed to have some fantastic people in my life, some fun hobbies, and some beautiful surroundings. I feel like I’m having the lifestyle and relationships that I wanted, and it feels great.

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So after everything that’s happened in the past few months, why do I sometimes feel bad saying that I’m happy?

Every so often, I’ll experience what I call ‘The Cycle of Guilt’. The guilt relates to being far away from home as my parents get older. Even if parents are fortunate to be in great health, the distance from family makes worries about the future that most children experience throughout their lives a little more pertinent when living overseas. A recent article on long-term expat experiences even suggested that a desire to look after parents often influences family members to return home, even if they struggle to readjust to their old lives themselves.  A thought of happiness I have will sometimes be followed by a voice of judgment. The voice tells me that I am being selfish and inconsiderate. It reminds me of the wonderful childhood my parents created for me and my siblings – one that wasn’t filled with many materialistic things, but with health, adventure and encouragement. How can I just get up and leave them when they did all this for me? How can I act so ungrateful?

On UK Mother’s Day in March, Victoria saw its warmest day of the year so far. I walked around in a t-shirt along the oceanfront and bought ice cream at the park. The sound of an English woman’s accent ordering an ice cream had me involuntarily spinning around to catch a glimpse of this familiar stranger, and the sight of an elderly lady on her own, fumbling with her purse and trying not to drop her walking stick, consumed me with a sudden feeling of guilt. I envisioned a similar (and very far away!) future scene featuring my own mum and, irrational as I knew it was, felt bad for having a lovely day over here rather than being at home with her.

One of the biggest challenges as an expat (or Canadian resident who has moved to the other side of this huge country!) is maintaining strong relations with people back home while investing in new ones in your current place of residence. Despite all the technological options for keeping in touch with people around the world, doing so still takes a lot of work. I will not deny that I am bad at scheduling Skypes with friends and family outside of Canada. It’s not because I’ve forgotten about or been forgotten by them, but because life gets in the way. With a Monday-to-Friday work schedule, the 8-hour time difference with the UK is very restrictive. A time might be planned on a weekend, only for something to come up and my priorities be cast into doubt. Do I miss out on a unique opportunity for an interesting outdoor or social activity, or catch up with a friend overseas I haven’t properly spoken to in a few weeks? While I’m very organized when it comes to sending cards for special occasions, I Skype my parents only every few months. The ending with my mum always seems to follow a “You hang up”-“No you hang up” pattern, and the end of every call is followed by a little cry before I snap myself out of it and get on with my day.

Although these cycles of guilt will be an inevitable occurrence while I am away, my rational self knows I should not punish myself with such feelings. I also know that as soon as they read this post, my parents will email me insisting I’m a silly billy who shouldn’t be worrying or feeling bad. Realistically, I know that my parents are happy for me. They want me to be happy, and they know that being here makes me happy. I’ve come to realize that the best parents don’t ask their children to stay close, but encourage them to go far. By trying to persuade children to stay nearby, it’s the parents that are actually being selfish. Had I stayed at home, I would not be feeling guilt over others, but I would be feeling discontent with myself. I’d be frustrated that I’d only wondered about a life overseas and not actually attempted to pursue the dream. Guilt is a natural antagonist of joy. More than guilt I feel pride in the things I’ve accomplished,  and the parents that helped me accomplish those things by “letting me go”. The past year has taught me the importance of not wasting time, of taking advantage of opportunities and trying to fill life with as many memorable experiences as possible. Life involves compromises, and time with family is a big one you have to make if you decide to move abroad. But awkward as it feels to say it, when you look at the bigger picture, the compromise is worth it.

In June I’m heading home for a couple weeks to visit family and friends. It will be my first trip back to England since December 2016. The time together will be brief, but I know I will greatly cherish every moment of it.

 

 

Locked Out & Snowed In: A Winter Welcome from Kelowna

As the plane began its descent, billowing clouds dispersed to reveal the sight of snow-dusted, tree-studded mountains flanking a shimmering lake. A rush of frosty air hit me as I descended the plane’s steps and walked into the airport. With no checked bags to wait for, I headed straight to the line of yellow cabs outside. Yes, cabs. No longer am I the super frugal 20-year-old student always looking for the cheapest mode of transport. There was no direct bus route from the airport, and I didn’t fancy waiting outside in this weather.

“So what are your plans for Kelowna, visiting family or friends?” asked my driver.

“Ah no, I’m here alone,” I replied brightly. “Just going to wander round, do some hiking, you know.”

“Do you ski?”

“Nope.”

At this point the driver must have decided I was a weird person, because he didn’t ask me anymore questions.

This was my first trip to the Okanagan Valley in six years, having previously spent a week doing a Workaway exchange in a tiny town called Cawston. In bitterly cold late December, it was hard to remember how hot it can get in this region during summer. I had almost come to Kelowna in the late summer of 2017, but since it was mostly on fire, opted for the slightly less smoky Rockies instead. It was actually at the Kelowna Greyhound bus depot where my backpack went missing. But hey, that was six years ago, no grudges.

The 15k drive into downtown Kelowna saw us pass large department stores, car dealers and warehouses. I paid my $40 fare and walked up the steps to my airbnb motel apartment  – an excellent choice for a solo traveller looking for simplicity and convenience. (If you’re new to airbnb, you can get $45 in travel credit by following this link.) I dumped my things and headed out to wander through City Park, located close by. Traffic roared over the bridge that leads to West Kelowna. The beach, scattered with bathers in the scorching summer months, was now swathed in snow and there were super pretty views of the mountains across the placid lake. I walked along the lakeside passing squealing children on an ice rink, a small marina, Canada geese gathered on a hill to escape the icy waters, and a Cactus Club Cafe pumping out music while its guests celebrated Boxing Day. Near Waterfront Park, two boys with hockey sticks zoomed up and down a frozen pond against the backdrop of a casino.

Tip number 1 when travelling to a new place it to research the nearest supermarket before arrival. Bernard Avenue had a nice array of bars, cafes, bookstores and boutiques, as well as a Safeway. By now my face had probably frozen into an awkward expression and through my jeans my legs stung with cold. Thankfully there was a Starbucks inside the Safeway, as if the store manager had anticipated the visit of naive English girls to Kelowna in the winter. Normally I’d prefer to support local independent coffee shops, but right now I was desperate for a sugary liquid to warm my insides.

Setting off back to my apartment unashamed to concede defeat to the -10 temperature, I pulled out my keys and inserted them into the lock, excited for warmth. But the door wouldn’t open. I blew on my fingers and tried again, but to no avail. At first I laughed about it, until a further five minutes of failure inspired me to ask for help for one of my neighbours. Five different doors and no response. Worry levels starting to rise, I tried the lock again only to cuss in frustration when the door didn’t budge.

Suddenly the door two rooms down opened and out peeked a dozy looking topless guy, followed by a strong wift of weed.

“Oh, hi! I’m sorry, I was trying to -” The door shut before I had a chance to ask him for help, although that was probably for the best…

Looking around me, there seemed no other option but to ask one of the (slightly better off-looking) neighbours across the road. An elderly lady wearing bright red lipstick opened the door.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” I began in my strongest English accent, “but I’m staying across the road and can’t seem to unlock my door.” *Rolls my eyes self-deprecatingly*

The lady “Ooohed” sympathetically and ushered me inside before calling down her husband. “Marcel, come help this nice young lady here.”

Marcel followed me back to my door, asking with a French accent where I was from, which inevitably led to the “long way from home” spiel I’ve heard many times the past year.

“I’m pretty sure the top one is unlocked, it’s just the bottom one that’s really stiff,” I explained.

Marcel took the keys and opened the door immediately. My mouth fell open. “More power!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, silly me!” I laughed, thanking him and apologizing profusely before he went back to his wife to mock silly young English girls.

Tip number 2 (or maybe that should be 3 after “learn how to unlock a door properly”) is to make the most of good weather for hiking, even if it’s been your plan to complete a certain activity another day. I awoke the next morning to see snow falling and wind blowing the tree branches. Appropriately layered, I walked up Ellis St towards Knox Mountain…only to realize I couldn’t actually see it too well. I had a head lamp and suitable footwear, but decided a solo hike wouldn’t be a smart move if I couldn’t see the trail. I should have gone the afternoon I arrived, when skies were clearer and I’d still had a few hours of light left. Lesson learned.

Instead, I headed back south and walked down Abbott St past cozy houses and small lakeside parks towards Mission Creek Greenway, where I commenced a 6k walk on a snowy path alongside the frozen creek. It was a nice walk during which I encountered dog walkers, runners who were somehow finding traction, and elderly couples.  A pleasant oasis from the town, the greenway would make a lovely running route in the dryer months. About 3k into the walk, the views on both sides of the creek changed from residential properties to open spaces with hay barns and horses. Upon reaching Mission Creek Greenway Regional Park, I now had to find my way back to downtown. Returning the same way seemed a little pointless, but my only other choice was to walk along the fairly busy Springfield Rd. Most of this 6k walk was spent inhaling car fumes and focusing intently on the ground, because I did not want to slip on my backside in front of swarms of traffic.

I made it back downtown with my legs exhausted from around 15k of snow-walking. As I collapsed on a bench in City Park, I was greeted by a cheery elderly couple. Then I looked up to see a handsome hunky runner, who also looked at me but of course said nothing, because handsome hunky runners do not simply initiate a greeting with shivering pale people. And then a middle-aged lady jogged by and jovially remarked, “Now you just need a Starbucks cup!” Indeed, that seems to be the Kelowna attitude towards winter weather: get yourself a hot drink, and get on with it. Thankfully, it only took two minutes for me to unlock my door this time.

On my third day there was a snowfall warning in effect. It looked like I wouldn’t get any of my mountain hikes in afterall. I guess I should have been a little more realistic. Still, missing a hike wouldn’t detract from the trip. Ultimately I had a good idea of what views I could expect; it would just be a rewarding bit of exercise. Instead, heavy snow days are for art galleries, museums and cafes. Luckily for me, admission to Kelowna’s art gallery is free on Thursdays. While I’m not talented at creating them myself, paintings are something that I have recently realized I really appreciate. Based on Water St, the gallery had some lovely oil and acrylic canvases, as well as a rather dark but interesting exhibition exploring existential themes.

Outside the gallery, cars drove along the snowy roads as if there was nothing slippery on them. I spent the remainder of the afternoon reading in Pulp Fiction Coffee House on Pandosy St. Featuring a vintage bookstore and antiques section, this retro cafe played music by the likes of Johnny Cash, Jackie Wilson and Del Shannon. I resisted buying a cinnamon bun until I left. All for the good cause of supporting local, obviously…

I didn’t hike Knox Mountain and see views of Okanagan Lake from the summit; I didn’t see the trestles at Myra Canyon or witness the waterfalls at Crawford; I didn’t climb the extinct volcano of Mt. Boucherie, but I still got something out of the trip. I fulfilled my need to get off Vancouver Island for a few days and spend time alone exploring a new place at my own pace, with time to process recent feelings and events that materialized during what I found to be quite an emotionally challenging December. In the age of Instagram (which I foolishly joined recently), there is so much pressure to do the BIG things and get the BEST shot. This takes the attention off simply enjoying the experience of being somewhere different. Aimless wandering is an underrated activity. Sometimes you just need to get away to clear your head.

The next morning I booked another cab for 11am, my airbnb checkout time. My driver quickly commented on the volume of flight cancellations caused by snow the day prior. “Oh no!” I replied, not for a second considering that these circumstances might repeat themselves. The queue for security was huge. I got chatting to a man who hadn’t flown for 10 years and looked perplexed when he saw signs with the rules on liquids, and a lady originally from Liverpool going to visit her boyfriend in Cranbrook. 30 minutes later her flight would get cancelled. And then other flights were delayed…only to be cancelled because planes couldn’t land in the snowstorm. I soon learned that the stereotype of Canadians being sweet, passive folk is very misleading…

“Oh dear, what will you do?” asked one lady I’d gotten chatting to, after my flight was officially announced as cancelled.

I shrugged and smiled. “I’ll probably just sleep in the airport and get the earliest flight I can tomorrow.”

“I’d offer you a place to stay, but I’m all the way down in Summerland.”

“That’s very kind of you, but it makes sense to just stay here so I can leave as soon as possible tomorrow.”

Of course, I soon learned that all Saturday’s flights with my airline were fully booked. The next available flight was Sunday at the same time of 15:45. Oh good God. I quickly checked the Greyhound website to assess the possibility of an awkward reunion with the Kelowna depot, but all buses to Vancouver were fully booked the whole weekend. I saw little point in  paying money to go back into Kelowna when I had no guarantee of a place to stay, and I didn’t know anyone who lived there. I mean, there was a hunky guy who also missed my flight and was in front of me in the queue to chat to the airline staff. He left the airport soon after, and I figured it might be a wee bit forward to tap him on his shoulder and ask if I could invite myself to a sleepover. It was official: I was going to slum it in an airport for two nights.

‘Kelowna really doesn’t like me,’ I thought as I headed towards Tim Hortons to commence my longest relationship with this national chain, the only catering option in the airport aside from a White Spot restaurant. As I ate my crispy chicken meal combo, I looked around at the other passengers with their disrupted travel plans and couldn’t help but wish I at least had someone to keep to company – to watch my stuff when I needed the washroom, to fetch me snacks, to make me laugh. Travelling solo definitely has its challenges in certain situations.

Airports are already draining enough when you’re waiting for an on-time flight. By 7pm I had already had enough of my temporary home, and in an act of desperation, I went to the next level of abandoning my frugal principles and booked a room at the hotel opposite the airport for the next evening. As I entered my credit card details on the reservations website, I tried not to think about the weeks of groceries I could buy with this money. But screw it, when do I otherwise have a reason to stay in a hotel? Why not treat myself to a bit of relative luxury?

After achieving a PB of four hours’ sleep in an airport, I spent the morning just watching all the people passing by heading off in various directions (when their flight wasn’t cancelled, that is). I was pretty much lying across a row of seats in the same clothes as the day before with my hair greasy and messy, looking like a true hobo and not giving a damn.

At 3pm I walked up to the Four Points at Sheraton Hotel, doubtlessly entertaining drivers as I struggled to walk through the knee-deep piles of snow at the junction island. While I don’t believe my room was worth the money I paid for it (and there was no complimentary breakfast!!) it was also so worth splashing out on. Privacy, a bath and a proper bed should never be taken for granted. I enjoyed reading the comments friends had written on my Facebook status about my situation. It hit me that evening that it was a year ago that day, December 30th 2017, that I had arrived in Canada full-time to start this crazy new adventure. My circumstances were a lot different then, and most of the people commenting on the status I hadn’t known back then. It’s crazy how one’s life can change so much in the space of a year.

On Sunday morning I watched out of my window to see planes taking off. The skies were a little clearer. Hopefully I would be back in Victoria before 2018! I naturally took away the room’s pen and toiletries (because hey, I mayaswell get my money’s worth!) and went to check out. My aim to get my money’s worth also included taking advantage of the free hotel shuttle that runs to the airport, even though I’d probably have walked there just as quick. A lady called Svitlana with a thick Ukrainian accent was driving the shuttle, and I happened to be the only passenger at this time. Svitlana seemed a little nervous, and I soon began to wonder how often she had driven the van in snow, if at all.

“What asshole!” she exclaimed at the 4-way junction when the driver opposite pulled out instead of letting her go. I settled myself back in my seat having been thrown forward by her jamming on the brakes, and laughed politely. As we precariously descended the hill towards the airport, I had to bite my lip to refrain from suggesting she use the engine brake a little more.

Having arrived in one piece, I went to check in for the second time. My flight was delayed by an hour, and with the airline having an open seating policy, never have I rushed up so quickly to get on a plane once the boarding call has begun. It was a tiny plane with one seat on each side. We set off down the runway to depart, only to turn back again so the pilots could double check the wings didn’t need de-icing. I’m a pretty chilled person when it comes to reacting to delays that are caused by safety-related issues, but at this point my weary soul was ready to have a tantrum. Thankfully no de-icing was required. We touched down at Victoria airport around 6pm on New Year’s Eve, and a friend kindly gave me a ride home where, exhausted, I went to bed at 9pm.

Getting away from Victoria and the Christmas-time blues for a few days (plus two extra) left me feeling mentally rejuvenated on the first day of 2018, but never have I felt so glad to be back in my Canadian home.

 

 

 

 

Relations & Realizations: An Expat’s Summer in Canada

It’s been ten months since I left England for Vancouver Island, Canada. Summer with its droughts and wildfires has now passed, and I still have no desire to return back to London. Not only do I have a permanent job doing something I love, but my time in Victoria has opened my eyes to a lifestyle I was missing before when I lived in London.

In the first house I lived in upon moving to Victoria, I’d wake up for work in the morning and open the blinds to see a deer just hanging out in my front yard. He became known as ‘Stanley’. On the walk to the bus stop I would pass runners and dog-walkers who would smile and let me pet their pooch. I would recognize people on the bus who were open to the concept of smiling and engaging in brief conversation. I admired and participated in the culture of saying “thank you” to the driver upon exiting the bus. I established that my favourite driver was a former pilot called Dan who provided weather updates, scenic commentary and probably even birthday shout-outs if requested.

I learned through my interviewing of various people at work that a lot of Canadians can’t decipher between an English and Australian/Kiwi accent. I made friends with a Persian family who started a new restaurant a few steps away from my office, to the extent that they wave at me whenever I pass by and look in.

I learned (and soon forgot) the rules of softball and that “good hustle” and “you got this” are a quintessential feature of Canadian vocabulary.  I experienced how wonderful it is to spend evenings after work on the beach, in a park or doing exercise, and not in a setting that requires consumption of alcohol. I learned of various locally owned bakeries and cafes that made such a refreshing change from the large corporate chains such as Starbucks, Pret and Costa Coffee that can be seen on every street in London. I realized just how fame-obsessed and media-mobbed life in London was in comparison to the easy-going, outdoor-loving West Coast lifestyle.  I also learned that I’m addicted to thrift stores.

With regards to self-esteem, I stopped wearing mascara in late April after suddenly feeling more comfortable in my skin and realizing I no longer cared about looking younger or less attractive with my naturally fair features. And at the end of the summer, I went to an open mic night at a small pub up island attended by a handful of locals, and ended up singing Neil Young ‘Harvest Moon’ with a bunch of old boys playing guitars.

The kindness of Vancouver Islanders in comparison to Londoners really came to light during a bus journey on a Saturday in June, when I happened to be suffering from severe cramps. Shortly after boarding a bus crowded with passengers on a sweltering hot day, my head started spinning and everything suddenly started to go black. I closed my eyes in defeat as if to say, “Take me angels, I’m ready.” Next thing I knew, there was the sound of a man’s voice and someone’s hands supporting my shoulders. I opened my eyes to see a few strangers peering down at me uncertainly, with one of them casually holding my raised legs by the ankles. A lady placed a damp flannel on my forehead and asked me a series of questions, one of them being: “Are you on your period?” Once she had kindly confirmed to everyone on board that I was indeed enjoying the shedding of my womb, she decided that my apparently ghostly white face warranted calling an ambulance, even though I had had vasovagal episodes like this before and was pretty confident all was fine.

The lady continued to ask me a series of questions, including: “Where are your parents?” I told her they were in England. “They’re not here with you?” – “No, they’re in England. I’m from England.” – “Oh…what are you doing out here without them?” – “I’m living here, I work here. I’m 25.” – “Oh! Well what’s their number?” – “They’re in England, there’s no point. They’re asleep right now.” Suddenly I had one of those stirring moments of realization I’ll occasionally get where I remember where I am and how far away I am from home.

Once it was established that I was not a minor and had other emergency contacts in the area that could be called, things seemed to relax a little. While the bus waited on the side of the highway, those passengers that had opted to stay near me naturally got talking, asking where everyone was heading to. The poor man tasked with holding my slightly prickly legs mentioned that he was heading to the airport. Like a lady in labour feeling an unexpected surge of willpower, I shot bolt upright and gasped in horror, “You’re heading to the airport?!” The man laughed and said, “Oh I’m not catching a flight; there’s an old bomber on display I want to see.” Heart rate slowly restoring to normal, I allowed my weary self to rest back down on the seat. The paramedics arrived and as they escorted me off the bus for a quick chat-and-release, I smiled a sheepish apology at the few passengers on the back looking rather miffed that their journey had been disrupted by the menstrual cycle. The lady who had taken charge later texted to ask how I was feeling. To my grateful response she replied, “Don’t thank me, just pay it forwards.”

So I did.

A few weeks later I was reading at the beach minutes from my house when a little girl ran over to her mum to inform her that reckless Sally had taken a tumble at the playground and cut her toe open. “Oh God oh God,” gabbled the mum like an alarmed chicken, “Is she okay? Is it broken? Is there blood? You know I can’t handle blood, Lucy!”

And so Lucy ran back to assess the extent of damage further before returning with a report. “Oh God oh God,” began the chicken-momma again. “Why would she do this to me? Does she need an ambulance?”

At this point the lady spotted me observing the situation with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment, and decided to reiterate to me that she was bad with blood. “I can go help her if you’d like?” I offered. Without hesitation, the woman replied, “Oh would you? That’d be great.” She handed me a band aid sized for a large gash on the leg which I swiftly replaced with a smaller sized one coincidentally found in my bag. Little Sally sat calmly on a bench and rolled her eyes at me as if acknowledging her mother’s batty ways. I cleaned up and covered the 1-inch cut on the top of her toe and then her mum approached, only to shrink back at the sight of a slightly-bloodied wet wipe. “Thank you so much! I just can’t deal with blood when it’s on my kids; with anything else it’s fine, but not my kids.”

I decided not to ask what she would do if her child was in a life or death situation, but did insist she shouldn’t need to take her daughter to the doctor.

All in all it was a great summer, and the best thing was that I got to show my life here (and some humpbacks!) to my mum when she came out to visit for a week.

The worst thing about the summer was the part where my boyfriend and I decided to call time on our 3-year relationship at the end of it.

No relationship is perfect – there will always be struggles, and for a while you will rightfully try to work through them. Then comes the time when you have that highly needed yet highly unsettling moment of realization that someone you have loved and cared about for a long time just isn’t right for you anymore and vice versa.  Your personalities, interests and goals no longer align, and you no longer recognize them as the person you felt an instant attraction for upon meeting. No matter how much you try to compromise and persevere, you cannot find the sense of content you are looking for, and it’s time to concede defeat.  But it’s terrifying to leave the comfort of something that has always seemed so simple, natural and ideal in so many ways. As an expat far from home, questions of, “Why am I really here? Do I actually want to be here?” arose in my mind. The future seemed unclear and scary.

Then I thought long and hard about all the big things I had experienced in Canada since December, like new friendships and a fulfilling job. I then thought about all the little things I had experienced just this summer – the friendly interactions, pleasant sights and snippets of conversation – that made being here so much more appealing than returning to London and England. Why would I give up all these things I’m lucky to have in my life? Why would I return to a place and a lifestyle that doesn’t make me feel as happy? More than ever, I knew that I wanted to remain in Canada.

I started making a list of goals for when I would become single. One of them, of course, involved going back to running – that old faithful ally of mine through which I’d met many of my closest friends at university, and experienced so many memorable feelings of elation that outweighed any frustration. I missed what it felt like to run fast alongside others and feel that pre-race surge of adrenaline fueled by a competitive spirit. I tried two running groups. The first didn’t do much for me running-wise, but it gave me a hilarious new friend I held onto even if I no longer attended the group. The second meet I tried gave me exactly what I had been looking for; it got me enjoying running again. I signed up for my first race in over two years for late September, and regardless of the fact that I ended up being the first lady home in my race, I enjoyed the whole experience immensely.

Another goal included making more use of my free time to travel. It had been over a year since I’d completed a solo trip. After passing my work probation I booked a few days off for the beginning of September. It was time to leave the Island and return to the place where I first fell in love with Canada: the Rockies.

After the gross mixed-dorm experience my sister and I had in Whistler in October 2015, I vowed to avoid hostels for future trips. Unfortunately on this occasion I’d left my flight-booking a little late to organize an affordable airbnb. Instead I had a terrible sleep in a hostel in Calgary, that city of skyscrapers plonked smack bang in the middle of flat nothingness; a place, nevertheless, that was more aesthetically pleasing than I expected. I woke myself up during my Greyhound bus journey to Banff by banging my head on the window, only to recognize the prestigious mountains rising up in the distance, albeit this time with a faint cloak of smoke hovering over that had drifted up from the forest fires in Washington State.

Banff was flooded with tourists out for Labour Day long weekend. At one point during my battle through the crowds, I realized I’d passed a girl I went to school with ten years ago. There was now a McDonalds on the main tourist strip which made me cry a little inside. Banff was even more commercialized and tacky than six years earlier. I hiked Tunnel Mountain and lamented the fact that few people reciprocated my “hi” or even had the common sense to make space on the trail for my approach, too busy they were in their Lulelemon leggings taking selfies and choosing their Instagram filter. But the main thing for me was that I was somewhere different, alone, and enjoying being alone.

The next morning I sat at the same spot on the Bow River where I’d perched six years ago as a less confident and more naive 19 year old. I thought about all that has happened in the past six years – travelling, moving to London, completing my degree, commencing a long-term (and mostly long-distance) relationship, starting a job that developed into a career field, moving to Canada, and returning to single-hood again. I felt a sense of pride remembering all that I’ve experienced, learned and accomplished in that time, and suddenly the world felt like a map in my pocket, with me in control of my life route and excited for what lay ahead in my chosen path.

Exploring my Backyard: A Weekend in Sooke

Since I was 19, I’ve had a personal “rule” that I should visit a new country every year. Adhering to this was easy when I lived in Europe, but now I’m living in a country only fractionally smaller in square kilometres than that entire continent, not so much. However I’ve come to appreciate that you don’t have to go abroad to find something new and inspiring. I ask myself which is better – to get a vague idea of several countries, or to truly get to know one?

To celebrate my 25th birthday, I spent a long weekend in Sooke, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Although only 38 kilometres from Victoria where I currently live, it’s not necessarily a place one would consider going to for just a short visit. And yet it’s a place where you are suddenly exposed to swathes of tranquil forests, an abundance of pleasant hikes and a bounty of intriguing wildlife. It’s a place that proves you don’t have to go far to find beauty and adventure.

En route, my friend and I stopped at Walmart in uptown Victoria to buy some bedding. It was a hot day and as I tested the side of my face against five different pillows all with marginal variations in style,  the white-walled, air-conditioned environment of the huge store suddenly made me begin to feel restless. Victoria is a cleaner and quieter city than most, but there are people and cars and buildings nonetheless. Having grown up in the rural countryside, I need shots of rugged nature from time to time to rejuvenate myself. It was time to see more green.

On entering Sooke River Campground we stopped by the reception where a large lady sat in a rocking chair on the deck, peering over her newspaper with a suspicious frown. She resembled one of those GI Jane-types you probably wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of. We had booked one of the three rustic cabins…and rustic was a very accurate description. However we seemed to get the better deal as based on the number of Canada geese around, it would have been difficult to find a piece of ground to pitch a tent on that wasn’t speckled with poop. I haven’t been in a campground since 2014 and just being amongst tents and campers got me excited, stirring memories of  childhood holidays and the smell of barbecues and refreshing feel of morning dew on bare feet.

A lovely place for a relaxed evening stroll is Whiffin Spit, just down from Sooke town. The south side looks across the Juan de Fuca Strait towards Washington State and the north faces Sooke Basin. With the latter, it’s just unfortunate that the ugliest hotel you’ve ever seen was built on the water. Its huge white frame stands out in gaudy contrast to the green surroundings. The architect seems to have gone for a European look but a rustic brown would have done nicely.

For breakfast the next morning after a cozy night’s sleep in our cabin, we stopped at The Little Vienna Bakery which had friendly staff and an authentic Austrian decor. We ordered a tasty cinnamon schnecke and a filling breakfast bun to share. The cafe seemed to be a fond favourite with the elderly local population who would sit with their coffee and cakes reading the newspaper.

Then it was north towards the Sooke Potholes, where you can either stick to a gravel path that follows the river or take a wilder route closer to the water’s edge. We chose the latter, clambering over rocks, ducking under branches and darting over gaps in the rock over the water to cross to the other side. Other hikers would peer at us sitting on the other side of the river with expressions of awe, as if thinking, “How did they get there?” I noticed how when crossing over to the other side of the river via gaps in the rock, I would hesitate upon seeing a fast section of the current swooshing below me. Even if I had fallen in, there are many calm pool sections of the river where I, a pretty strong swimmer, would have been able to stop myself going further downstream. I feel like I’ve become more cautious in the past year or so, more likely to reconsider the sensibleness of doing certain physical activities instead of just going for it without worrying so much.

Instead I seem to be developing interests in more static things, such as bird watching. (Is this what happens when you reach a quarter century?!) We observed the routine of a bluish grey bird that would zoom over the water and through the gaps in the rock, only to return to her nest around a minute later to feed her chicks. Then we spotted two birds, with the dad presumably the one perching on a stone in the water as if scanning the area for safety. It brought back childhood memories of when a blackbird once made a nest in my family’s garden wall. Everyday when I got home from school I would eagerly peep through the cracks to see how things were progressing. I remember the devastation and guilt I felt when one day I saw the eggs had been abandoned.

As we left this section of the park and headed southwards, a couple on the side of the road ahead waved us down awkwardly. “Hey! We’re not hitchhiking, it’s just our car’s parked back that way,” the man said, pointing in the direction we’d come from, “and we spotted a bear and her cub on the side of the road.”

“Oh!” we replied in surprise. How typical that we had been too busy talking about something to notice two bears casually strolling nearby. We invited the couple inside our car and drove them back to the parking area, peering into the bushes in hope that we’d see the animals. No sign.

Nevertheless, it became our de facto duty to warn others of the sighting. When we spotted the men we’d seen earlier bathing in the river walking along the road in the direction of the bear, we wound down our windows and told them to jump in. We would stop oncoming cars to pass on the information, and tell others stood in parking lots. “Oh wow!” “Where were they?” “Were they big?” began a series of questions. It was like being the geek in school who suddenly becomes super popular once he claims to have seen a famous actor in the street. You could say we became quite proud of our services, even though we hadn’t actually seen the bear ourselves. It was easy to imagine a game of Chinese Whispers ensuing, with us by the end having concocted some wild story about how we had to fight off a ginormous bear that pounced on our car and grabbed one of us by the arm, dragging us out of the smashed window…

Further down stream, a gang of four elderly cyclists were taking a dip at the serene beach section. It was lovely to see a range of ages at the potholes, whether it was families with young kids, elderly hiking groups, or even young adults like our friend we spotted showing some visiting pals around.

For lunch we ate in town at Mom’s Cafe, an American-style diner with blue leather booths, black and white tiles and female-only servers. I was torn between the Hawaiian burger and fish and chips, but ended up going for the former. A minute later, a server walked out with a plate of fish and chips and I instantly regretted my decision.

“More water, honey?” I was asked while eating by our server who looked a few years younger than me. Servers over here seem to like using these pet words, but I personally find them quite irritating. Minutes later, the same server approached the table in front of us and asked cheerily, “How are you ladies doing here?” only for her face to drop in horror when the mother replied curtly: “This is my son.” Ouch. To the server’s defence, any 8 year old kid with long hair in a ponytail is going to be easily mistaken for a female.

I’d had my eye on the dessert counter since we arrived, and ordered a slice of the chocolate cream pie. “Two forks?” asked the server, occasionally glancing over warily at the table in front. My friend shrugged a half-hearted response, holding his stomach like a woman in late pregnancy while I sat up excitedly in anticipation. Back came a huge slice of rich chocolatey goodness smothered with whipped cream. Buddy conceded defeat after two bites and thereafter watched me in bewilderment with a small hint of both admiration and disgust as I proceeded to clear the plate. I definitely have a second stomach for these things.

When we went up to pay, our server was still in a state over her incident with ponytail-boy’s mum. I told her to keep the change.

Driving along Sooke’s winding coastline is a real treat, offering breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Washington State’s Olympic Mountain range. It’s beautifully rugged and untouched, and made the plastic, suffocating atmosphere of Walmart feel almost like something imagined. The provincial parks in Sooke are perfectly maintained too; there are pit toilets and useful information boards, but otherwise the nature is undisturbed by commercial projects. We pulled into French Beach Provincial Park and the big lunch finally hit me. I dropped off in the car, mouth open and all. I can never usually nap in the afternoons. Sooke was becoming more and more impressive.

On French Beach I discovered my unknown appreciation for rocks. “There’s… so many, all…so different….so…pretty,” I gasped to myself in awe as I began forming a pile that would later become the source of a stressful decision about which ones to keep and which to leave behind.

We drove on towards China Beach, and on the way pulled over to admire another view. Suddenly something in the water caught my attention. I realized it was a seal, powering through the waves with a slow yet defiant bobbing action that resembled the Loch Ness Monster. It was the longest seal I’d ever seen. It stopped in the shallows and we walked down onto the rocks to get a closer look. The seal had attracted the attention of others, as a man followed suit with his dog by his side, phone out to take a photo. ‘What a cute dog,’ I thought, looking at the golden spaniel fondly. Then it started barking and darted towards the water where the seal bathed.

“Hudson, come back! Hudson!” the dog’s owner started yelling. But the dog ignored him, splashing through the waves with barks of naive curiosity.

“That seal is going to destroy that dog,” my friend remarked matter-of-factly. We could only watch helplessly as the dog rushed towards the seal, its owner shouting madly. Then the dog suddenly looked back at its owner as if having had second thoughts and began to return to shore. We breathed out in relief.

Seconds later, it bounded back towards the water.

“Hudson!” shouted the owner desperately. His friend joined him and threw rocks in the dog’s direction, but he wasn’t interested, persevering through buffeting waves to get close to the seal, which was beginning to kick up a splash in panic. I held my breath and prepared to block my eyes as the dog got within 10 feet of the seal, only to once again retreat. The owners turned back and the dog trotted beside them, grinning at them with his tongue hanging out as if to say, “Chill guys, I was just playing with you.”

The Canadian version of ‘Fenton’ in Richmond Park sprang to mind.

We carried on to China Beach, where most of the park’s signs seemed to warn of recent cougar sightings. Despite the bear sighting that was not sighted by us earlier in the day, I’ve been advised a few times that it’s actually cougars that residents of Vancouver Island have to worry about. (And not just the human kind.) Bears are supposedly more reactive in their aggression, only attacking if they feel severely threatened, whereas cougars will apparently just go for you no matter what, leaping down unexpectedly from trees, pouncing from behind etc. And yet when you’re walking along a pretty trail, it’s surprisingly easy to forget about a blood-thirsty predator lurking in the bushes.

At least, it was that evening on China Beach, which was empty apart from two surfers braving the coastal chill. On the Sunday morning we headed to East Sooke and stopped in Roche Cove to hike to Matheson Lake. The trail starts on the famous Galloping Goose bike trail and then descends into forest. Strange noises began to enter my ears. Was it a bird calling…or something else, something bigger? The crack of a twig would send my head swinging to the side in suspicious alarm. The sounds seemed to increase in loudness and frequency. I heard footsteps, they sounded like an animal…coming closer.

Suddenly a brown spaniel bounded over a little hill towards us. He carried a thick piece of branch in his mouth with his head and tail held high in an expression of stubbornness equivalent to a toddler adamant they are going to drag their cot all the way into their new room instead of moving into a “big girl’s” bed. His owner followed suit, rolling her eyes. We watched fondly as the dog struggled to fit through a narrow gap between two trees, all the while never once considering abandoning his new find.

This trail had many ankle-twisting forks, which led on to an interesting debate about many times I’d have to stop and rest if my friend got injured and needed piggy-backing to the car. Later we drove on to the quieter western edge of the park, where there were several plots of land for sale to build houses on. I observed through green eyes the dreamy views anyone building a house here would have. If only my generation could look forward to affording such a piece of property…

Our final hike was an easy 30-minute stroll from Pike Point to Iron Mine Bay. Sweet birdsong accompanied our final few steps down to the small pebble beach, where dogs we had passed by on the road earlier fetched sticks from the water. Glistening blue water stretched out before us all the way to the snow-capped Olympic peaks. I felt truly blessed to have views like this pretty much on the doorstep of a provincial capital city.

I had been spoiled by the weather in Sooke and came away smitten with the stunning coastline I’d witnessed. I returned home to my apartment in Victoria to learn of the terror attacks in London, and suddenly felt a sense of guilt for having spent a peaceful weekend exploring quiet trails and gorgeous beaches while friends and relatives of mine were potentially getting caught up in the horrific events. London and my old life there felt so far away and yet this news hit really close to home too.

No matter how big and busy your city, having a few days away in quiet, nature-filled surroundings will make you feel rested, recharged and even more appreciative of the variety of life that exists on our planet.

Finding Happiness as an Expat

It’s been a while since I posted something, partly because of being busy and partly because of not knowing what to write about. I always thought my first post about living and working in Canada would be entitled something like, “Why I Left London to Live in Canada”, with a list of all the great things about the move and my new life overseas. But as the weeks went on after arriving, I realized writing this would be untruthful. Many blog posts enthuse about the joys of being an expat, encouraging readers to ditch their full-time city job and move to another country for a “better life” (the definition of which, it should be added, differs between everyone). Everything seems all rainbows and daisies, and achieving the “dream lifestyle” is so seemingly easy. I’m sure they exist, but rarely have I come across a blog post that has delved into the difficulties life as an expat can bring.

The first challenge is making friends. In this regard, I’d argue there is a difference between being an expat whose purpose is to travel or study, and an expat whose prime purpose is to work full-time in a professional role with the intention of eventually applying for residency. The first two contexts offer environments where one is more likely to encounter and interact with people of similar age and with the same academic/recreational interests and levels of life responsibility. When I backpacked through Canada in 2011, I had no trouble meeting people in hostels, on guided tours or on help exchanges who I developed friendships with, and I’m sure it would be the same today. When you’re trying to get your foot in the career-door however, putting time towards meeting people can’t always be a priority, and depending on where you work, you can’t always guarantee meeting people you can form friendships with. As an example, I worked as a temp for the provincial government for a few months, where only 7% of the entire staff were aged under 30. My chances of meeting a new buddy were low.

On the one hand I am very lucky. My boyfriend is Canadian, and upon arriving here in late December 2016, I was not forced into the unknown territory of a hostel, but instead welcomed by a second family that I’ve lived with for my first few months here. On the other hand, having and living with a partner – especially one you haven’t seen in several months – offers a comfort that can prevent you from making much of an effort to meet new people. Living in a relatively remote area where access to a vehicle is often required to get around can also play a limiting role here. The friends I have here so far I have met through my boyfriend. While this doesn’t mean they are not friends of mine in the fullest sense of the word, and while I can safely say that these friendships are not contingent on there existing a relationship, I’m aware of the value there would be in having friends I met independently of him.

In March I was fortunate to meet a Belgian girl who was staying with my boyfriend’s family for a month on a Workaway exchange. Being the same age and having shared similar experiences, we clicked and at a time when I was in between temp jobs, she became my dog walking-companion, brunch-buddy, yoga-chum, movie night-mate and dancing-sidekick at our own little spontaneous 90s disco party. My experience in Canada was definitely enriched by the short time I spent with her, and yet there are no photos on social media that have captured these memorable moments together and can therefore “prove” that we shared a fun and supportive friendship. Nor are there photos depicting the times I have tried out a new cafe with other friends, gone for sunny group hikes or seen the Chili Peppers play in Vancouver. In fact, there aren’t really any photos of me on Facebook anymore that show me in sociable situations surrounded by others, and in this day and age, it almost seems like this is something I should be concerned about. No photos, it seems, indicates no social life, and no friends.

My Facebook news-feed is filled with an array of photos: pre-night out pouting selfies; impressive plates of food from fancy restaurants or the latest trendy Shoreditch pop-up; tilted head-smiles with cocktail in hand; couples on dog walks; group selfies from house parties. There have been times since living in Canada when I’ve looked at my page in comparison, and wondered if my lack of “socializing evidence” means I’m not fun, that I have a boring life which will wither away without anyone noticing. There have been times when this has made me feel sad and lonely. The rational part of me always soon remembers that Facebook is a superficial social platform, and that my life isn’t boring and that I do have friends, even if they are spread all around the globe and I can’t see them often. Nevertheless, I now make a conscious effort to only spend time on Facebook if it’s for a communicative or informative purposes, and not for aimless browsing of other people’s lives. I also maintain my stance that there is no obligation (or desire from others) for you to share photos of every single sociable thing you do online.

Along with the expat’s challenge of making physical friends (i.e. not those met and interacted with through a blogging forum), there is the challenge of the job hunt. In London, I was paid a good salary for a job that I enjoyed doing and that gave me a desirable level of responsibility and valuable management experience. It was also a job where I had met and worked alongside one of my closest friends. I knew I couldn’t count on being so lucky in Canada, and based on economic factors, I also knew to expect fewer job openings and a pay cut in the small Canadian city I was moving to. I was also aware that it likely wouldn’t be a case of just sending a company my CV and being offered a job within days of arriving. However the difficulty I faced in landing a job still came as an unsettling reality check. Upon starting that tedious task of writing cover letters, I discovered a surprising amount of stylistic differences between British and Canadian English. I soon learned that while my visa made me eligible for any job, adapting myself to the Canadian job market would require more effort than I’d expected. I would apply for jobs that I knew I could do with my eyes closed only to be “ghosted”, and it began to hurt. I knew I was putting pressure on myself and that this was maybe unreasonable considering the small job market I was searching in, but I wasn’t one of those expats content to get a part-time job in a cafe or house-sit while living modestly out of a backpack. I came here aiming to earn a living and develop a career further with the intention of applying for permanent residency later.  Temping proved to be a good solution when it became clear that finding a permanent job with my temporary work visa wouldn’t be so easy. Almost five months after arriving in Canada, I have been offered a permanent job that I am thrilled about, but the journey was a long and often demoralizing one.

It was always my plan to move away from my boyfriend’s place and live with other people after a few months, so that I had more space and more of an incentive to meet other people. Now I am living in a lovely place near the ocean and closer to downtown. In contrast to London, the value for money when it comes to rent is excellent, especially considering that it’s really a student apartment. (“Detached? A garden? A spacious living area? Nice clean furnishings and utilities that work? This must be a dream!” I initially thought when I first saw it.) The neighborhood I’m in is ideal for me too. I can sunbathe in my garden without feeling like neighbors are peering down on me, walk to the beach and breathe in the clean air and pet cute dogs and chat to their friendly owners. I can go for runs along pleasant trails and smell blossom trees and nosy handsome houses and get on buses where the drivers smile and passengers say “thank you” before they get off.

Does this mean my life is perfect and I am the happiest I have ever been? No. I still haven’t met many new friends, and while with my new home and new job position I am feeling in a better place from which to explore new places, try new things, and meet new people, it’s inevitable that I will still have moments of loneliness now and then. But do I ever wish I was still in London? Hell no! I obviously miss friends, I miss the theater and ‘Time Out Offers’, and now that it’s summer, I kinda miss scenes of “village cricket” during post-work runs around my favorite Regent’s Park, but my life here in Canada is so much more preferable for my personal interests. While I will definitely feel even more settled once I meet more people, I am one of those ambiverted characters who prefers having guaranteed tranquility and alone-time along with the option to be around people, instead of having no choice but people and noise constantly around me.

New surroundings

The first few months of being an expat looking for permanent professional work are bound to involve challenges. I was lucky in that I was already familiar with this country, wouldn’t have to learn a new language, and had contacts prior to arriving, but this didn’t mean things would be a walk in the park. My boyfriend recently introduced me to an American comedian called Louis C.K. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, he humorously explained how, in a time when people crave instant contact with others via their cell phones, we should be more accepting of loneliness and sadness as inevitable feelings in life. Now that I seem to have overcome a major challenge I’ve faced in my first few months as an expat, I’m able to reflect on any setbacks or disappointments as useful experiences: experiences that were not simply reflections of unfixable shortcomings of mine nor an indication that my coming here was a mistake, but experiences that are a part of growing up and have helped develop my strength of character. Living and working abroad is definitely not for everyone and I imagine many people do call it quits and return back to more familiar surroundings. But if everything in life came easy, that would be a boring life. Soon I will turn the milestone age of 25, and when I look back on the life I’ve lived so far, the challenges I recall will be valued just as strongly as the moments of happiness.