I got a surprise this week when I went to track down a blog I was following. I thought I had subscribed, and so should be getting updates, but then I realized The Budgie Spirit had been very quiet for a while, so I dived deep into the blogosphere to find her.
Turns out I’ve missed quite a bit. After 4 turbulent months in our fair city, these new immigrants returned to England in 2011, and should by now be enjoying the benefits of great cheese, cheap wine and a new baby. Their decision was hard to make, and Budgie’s writing is thoughtful and somewhat regretful. What I particularly like (being very sensitive about my wonderful home) is the very positive way this couple left us and how happy they are “back home”, but a few of the comments about their struggles with Vancouver sounded very familiar.
Budgie talks about how hard it is to make friends in a new city. They lived at the University of British Columbia (UBC), which is somewhat isolated, then in Kitsilano which is anything but isolated. Although the speed of life in Vancouver is nothing compared to London, Paris or even Basingstoke, this is still a city, with city attitudes and busy people. The only ones not busy are the panhandlers and crazies, and even some of them seem to have a packed schedule of mumbling, cussing and stumbling into the road. We had the advantage of the Magical Introduction Makers, otherwise known as children – wherever we go, we will make friends through school, playdates, kids clubs and random people our kids attract on the beach. Without them, we would not have moved to the complex we chose because of the large number of children living there, thus immediately making some great friends. Without them, bless their hearts, I think we would have struggled in the same way. Without children, try setting up some contacts before you come; expat websites like Internations, or friends of friends who might be willing to lend a supportive hand.
Another factor was the job market. Mr Budgie (Ed) was let go from his job after only a few months, which was a devastating blow. Emigrating is an expensive business, and when you need that job, it is no comfort to read on the ex-pat forums that it can take 6-9 months to get a paycheck. Dim is job hunting again after his last company went under, and it’s a depressing business. He’s been going to a few workshops and at one, they discussed the unionized environment. Through my work in HR, he has heard enough about my opinions of Unions, but his co-searchers at the workshop were surprised that the existence of strong Unions is often the reason fresh blood can’t find a way into the company. “But I thought Unions were supposed to help!” cried one confused jobseeker. They are, but they help those who are currently employed, and that means a lot of internal promotion and moves, and few opportunities for those who don’t want to come in at the ground level. The flipside of that particular coin is getting a job in a non-unionized company, and losing the stability because they can let you go too easily. One of the statistics Dim learned was that 80% of positions are never even posted – they are filled through networking or internal moves, so make sure you make friends, join professional associations and follow up contacts.
And finally, Food. The Budgie Spirit is written by a Frenchwoman, and if anyone appreciates good food, it is the French. I really sympathized with her initial reaction to the Vancouver grocery scene – over-priced, over-packaged foods in silly over-large stores. We also suffered when we realized that our new life would not include as much chicken, no orange squash, no decent cheese and no chocolate. We couldn’t even drown our sorrows because the wine was so expensive, and why would it be expensive? It’s made right here in BC!
Gradually we came to terms, found substitutes where we could and learned to live without where necessary. We changed our shopping habits to find the best value and discovered many wonderful new foods and dishes. When we returned to England last year, the younger children could not even remember orange squash. It helped that we were not passionate foodies, in the same way that we are not passionate about pubs or football or soap operas, the other major ingredients for expat misery and homesickness. I covered this in “What You Can’t Get”, and it’s worth considering what is really important to you before you even make the decision to emigrate.
This couple had the worst experience of emigrating, but in no way failed. They discovered a lot of great things about Vancouver – free stuff on Craigslist, yoga, the great outdoors. I am still convinced that a smooth emigration is 90% luck, and you can plan as much as you like, but if luck is not on your side, you may have to accept a long, hard struggle, or a short stay and a quick return. Don’t go burning any bridges – you might find yourself heading back over them sooner than you might wish!