emigrating to Vancouver

The Olympic Effect

A while back I wrote about the Facebook Effect, which we all know and love, I suppose.  According to Facebook all our friends have much more exciting, fulfilling and generally marvelous lives than us, and it’s sometimes hard to put all that marvelousness into context.  Anyway, today we have been wondering about The Olympic Effect.  A friend in England posted his opinion about the Winter Olympics in his usual diplomatic, thoughtful way; “Watch some toffy-nosed bint sliding downhill on a plank cheered on by all her Hooray-Yah mates?… No thanks!”  And of course, in England, winter sports are, by and large, for those who can afford them; the ones who take a couple of skiing holidays every year, buy expensive equipment and send their children to train overseas.  There’s little chance of getting some support from the Government and no chance of a serious training program through the school.

When we moved here, one of the things we really enjoyed getting used to was the accessibility of sports, equipment and facilities.  How can we explain to someone back in the UK that skiing at Whistler is not really a big deal when it’s just a 2 hour drive up the road, and 2 of the children ski for free through the Government sponsored sports schemes?  Ok, it’s still a big deal because it’s fabulous, beautiful and awesome, but we don’t really bother with Whistler anyway because its more expensive than the 3 ski resorts within 30 minutes of our back door and for novices like us, they’ll do just fine.  When we were flying back from Heathrow after Christmas we were in the line-up behind the British Bobsled Team.  I asked them if they were traveling to Whistler to compete or to train, and they said a bit of both.  “Where do you train in England?” I asked. “I don’t remember hearing about a British sliding centre.”  “There isn’t one,” said one of the athletes, a bit ruefully.  “We mostly train on things like go-carts down a hill.”

So when our friend watches the Winter Olympics, he is likely to be watching well-heeled British athletes who have paid their way to the top of the profession, or are living and training overseas and competing for Team GB when the occasion arises.  They are no less dedicated for all that, but it’s hard to really get behind someone competing in a sport you can’t afford to try.  When we watch our Canadian Olympians we are cheering on people just like us and our children, who all have a chance to make it to the Olympics if they have the talent and the commitment.


Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, Gold and Silver at Sochi 2014


Move on, Nothing to See Here…


Yesterday I was catching up with a bit of reading on the British Expats site.  This is a great website, with a lot of links to good blogs about moving to and living in Canada, and every one of them gets a reaction from me.  Yesterday, it was the turn of “10 Years And A Change Of Heart”, written by a couple who had moved in their 40s to the west coast of Vancouver Island, looking for the idyllic lifestyle of the holiday retreat.  Guess what they found?  First, there is no employment in idyllic rural retreats, unless you are a fisherman, writer or connected to the tourist industry.  Second, there is no-one to make friends with.  Third, there is nothing to do.  I guess everyone dreams of the quiet life.  We all imagine living on the land, going to back to basics, and sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we really imagine it can work, but usually we are on our holidays and reality is a little warped.  The lesson I took from this blog was, Be Careful What You Wish For.

Before emigrating to your dream retreat, consider the following:  What are you going to do for money?  What are you going to do for company?  What are you going to do for entertainment?  When I told my husband about the blog, he was speechless.  Then he said “Nothing to do? In Vancouver?”  No, not Vancouver.  Vancouver Island.  A space as large as the UK with the population of Cardiff.  A place where families travel every summer to their cabins, where they spend blissful months living the basic, uncomplicated life before returning to the bustle of real life.  One of the things we love about living here in Vancouver is that, if you want to get away from it all, you can.  A quick ferry ride to an island or a slow drive into the interior, and here are towns with a population of 1,000, where you can live for 20 years and still be the outsider, where the best excitement all year is when the local constable shot the cougar that had dragged a deer carcass under the next-door neighbour’s deck (this happened to a friend of mine, the day she moved to her new house with her new baby and her 2 year-old son, from the sophistication of Vancouver to the Wild West in one day).

Some days, like yesterday, when I have dropped off the youngest child at her Musical Theatre class and I am making a quick dash to the Art & Craft store for a gift card for the friend of the middle child, who must be dropped off at her party before I go to a jewellry party at my friend’s house, stopping to collect a friend of the eldest child who is coming to sleepover, but I can’t do any of these things because I am stuck in Saturday shopping traffic, nose to tail around the Mall, and I’m already late to collect the youngest… these are the times I wonder whether we are really any better off than if we lived in England.  But yesterday morning we were at the peak of Mount Seymour, playing in a pure white snowdrift and planning our next skiing trip, and this morning we were downtown, walking the seawall from Science World to Yaletown for coffee and pizza and seal-spotting.  The eldest and her friend took themselves off into the chaos of Chinatown to see the New Year Parade, to buy steamed pineapple buns and lemon triangle cake from the street vendors.  To get there, the two 14-year olds walked through the poorest area of Vancouver, and I did not feel a moment of worry for their safety.

We do not find ourselves outsiders, because in this multicultural melting pot, pretty much everyone is an outsider and we all enjoy our differences.  As Vancouver feels more and more like home, and the UK becomes a distant memory, we sometimes take our life here for granted and find ourselves grumbling.  The comforting thing is that we are grumbling about real life issues, because we are living life to the full.

Where do you dream of moving to, and is it a realistic dream?

When Canada Sucks…

What will make today even better than yesterday?

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!

Schooldays… finally

Back to School

Nine weeks of summer holidays has flown past (no, really), and here we are in the “OMG One Week Left?” phase.  The Weasels are either going to try and pack in everything they thought they would like to do 10 weeks ago, but have been too lazy to organize, or they are going to lie about like dead bumblebees, complaining of boredom.

Laurel is going into Grade 9, her second year of high school, so she is looking forward to sneering at the terrified Grade 8ers, but still junior enough to be a newbie herself.  Katie will be in Grade 6, two years off graduating from elementary and still very much at home in the laid-back lifestyle of the junior school.  Lily is in Grade 3, with years before she needs to worry about anything much.

At dinner tonight, Dim asked where Laurel would have been if we had stayed in England, and we were all brought up short by the answer, once we worked it out.  She would be Year 10, her final year of intense tuition before her GCSE year which is mostly revision and exams from January onward.  She would be one year off the magical “Sixteen” when, according to UK 15-year olds I have spoken to recently, the Government recognizes you as an adult, you can leave school, leave home, get married, legally smoke, and generally put aside all childish things, including any pretense at respect for your parents.  Phew.

Katie’s friends in the UK are preparing themselves for their first day at Secondary School; all those tiny, skinny, prepubescent kids, mixed in with the giants of Year 11.  I look at my little girl and shudder at the thought of her trying to find her way in that world.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not overprotective, but I want my weasels to enjoy their childhood, to play and have fun for as long as possible.

So, when Laurel’s friends in the UK are finishing their A Levels, she’ll just be graduating from high school, ready to start 2 years of college courses, followed by at least 4 years of university.  While she is doing that, she will volunteer for charity organizations, take leadership roles in summer camps, find work in retail and sports, and develop a (hopefully) impressive resume.  We also hope that she will continue to spend time with us and her sisters, waiting to fly away when she, not society, feels the time is right.



I’ve been invited to be a featured blog on the website InterNations.org.  The website is set up to create support networks and exchange news with others taking the big step of moving across continents and oceans for a new life.

For more information about moving to Vancouver or about experiencing culture shock when moving to a  new country, please visit InterNations.org!