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A Day in the Life of Me

Today has been one of those days where I’ve been having some of those moments. The ‘oh right, I live in Canada now’ kind of moments.

It’s easier than it sounds to forget that on any given day I’m over 4700 miles from home as I’m not only settled inVancouver, but firmly established in my own work/life routine.  I often find myself sitting on the bus checking Facebook on my phone (nothing new there) when I’ll see that it’s a friend’s birthday, or an annual event I used to go to, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’m travelling down West Broadway, in a hockey jersey, on my way to work at Canada’s only national cancer charity. Crazy. Six months ago I left my old life in Southampton so excited but completely unable to imagine what my new life inVancouverwould be like.  Now I know, and I love it. Here’s a little taste of a day in the life of me:

6:30am – The alarm goes off, it’s time to get up.

7:40am– Leave for work. My daily commute involves a 10 minute walk to the bus stop, a 20 minute bus ride, a wait for another 10 minute bus ride, and a 10 minute walk to work. But hey, at least I’m not sitting on the tube.

The CCS Greater Vancouver Region team celebrating Daffodil Day 2011 - http://www.cancer.ca

8:30am – Arrive at work. I work for the Canadian Cancer Society BCY (British Columbia& theYukon) and the Greater Vancouver Regional office is on the border of Vancouver and Burnaby, another city to the East. My job as aVolunteer Engagement Coordinator involves attracting, recruiting and managing volunteers, as well as working with the rest of the team to improve the volunteer experience and make us the charity of choice in BCY.  My day can include everything from interviewing volunteers and designing training modules to discussing campaign progress with our Revenue Development teams  and organizing a volunteer recognition event. Yes, I’m a geek. But I love it!

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Price Match: Five things that are cheaper in Vancouver

Here comes Part Two of my Price Match observations, and just for you I decided to save the good news until last. And there is good news. Although the cost of living is most definitely higher in Vancouver than the UK (yes, even London), there are a few saving graces in a city of soaring prices. See below for my list of five things that are cheaper in Vancouver than the UK:

Fuel

The price of fuel is a much talked about topic in both the UK and Vancouver, though there is one clear winner in the cost-per-litre battle. The average price of regular petrol in the UK is currently £1.34 ($2.09), but you’ll only pay the same amount in dollars in Vancouver as the latest average is $1.34 (85p).  The price is rising on an almost daily basis in Vancouver, but still – can you remember the last time petrol was 85p a litre in the UK?

Sushi

Sushi and Starbucks are well known as Vancouver’s staples.  Starbucks is comparable in price and hasn’t made it onto either of my Price Match lists (though we do have Wi-Fi in all stores over here), but I’m delighted that sushi is most definitely cheaper in Vancouver than the UK.  A particularly great lunchtime deal on our local high street is 16 pieces of California Roll for $4.99 (£3.20), but elsewhere the average price per 6-8 piece roll usually weighs in at $5 (£3.20) compared to £7 ($10) in Southampton. With great quality, variety and original creations including my favourite prosciutto and cream cheese roll, Vancouver definitely wins the sushi battle.

Sushi? For me? And it's cheaper? Yes please!

Live Music Tickets

Tickets to gigs, concerts and live music in general is another surprising addition to the list, particularly as this seems to include both larger, mainstream concerts as well as smaller, local gigs. Tickets to Rhianna’s Loud Tour start at only $32 (£20.44) incl. fees at the Rogers Arena, Vancouver, with the cheapest tickets for the same show at The O2 in London costing £40 ($62.50). I could catch Ellie Goulding in Vancouver this month for $20 (£12), or in London in July for £28 ($43). Canadian Bryan Adams is at the Paramount Theatre in May for $46.50 (£30) and at the Manchester Evening News Arena in November for £45.50 ($70). The list goes on, suffice to say that going to gigs has gone up on my list of things to do this year after clocking the price.

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Price Match: Five things that are more expensive in Vancouver

I’ve been contributing to the Canadian economy for nearly three months now, so I can’t help but notice the often overwhelming price differences between products and services in the UK and Canada.  This list of top five things that are more expensive in Vancouver is unfortunately somewhat longer than its coming-soon counterpart, but I thought I’d start with the bad news first:

Toiletries

To be fair I did have advance warning of the cost of toiletries before I left the UK, however the Recommended Retail Price of certain products was still a shock on arrival.  On my first visit to Shoppers Drug Mart I clocked a pack of Neutrogena Facial Wipes for $9.99 (£6.36) which I know I can get for £4.07 in Boots.  My £3 ($4.70) bottle of Herbal Essences shampoo/conditioner is $5.99 (£3.81) here, whilst my cheapo shower gel still set me back $1.99 (£1.26) rather than 59p (92c). And they don’t even have spray deodorant. On the plus side, drug stores always have some sort of sale running, so I make sure I stock up on my favourite products when they’re cheap to counterbalance the price increase.

Groceries

Unfortunately I had no idea of the horrors that lay on the other side of the Safeway entrance doors when I undertook my first food shop.  The number of pricing atrocities is far too high to list here, but items of note include a value tin of tomatoes for $2.29 (£1.45), own brand Shreddies for $4.99 (£3.17) and a bagged loaf of bread for $4 (£2.54).  And that’s not including tax. The same three items in the UK would come in at 33p (51c), £1.30 ($2.04) and 47p (73c) respectively, saving me £5 on these three products alone. My Tesco food bill in the UK was on average £120 for two people for a fortnight of meals. The same shopping list in Vancouver runs to approximately $350, or a staggering £222! It’s no surprise that Vancouverites eat out a lot, it can be cheaper to go to a restaurant than to cook the same meal at home.

Yes, that's $2.29. For a tin of tomatoes.

Wellington Boots

In the UK wellies are donned by farmers, festival goers and…well…farmers and festival goers.  I left behind a multi-coloured polka dot pair from Brantano that I purchased for £12.99 which served me well for four summers at Reading and four winters walking the dogs in the mud. The wet climate in Vancouver has led to wellies (or ‘rain boots’) becoming more than just a necessary way of keeping your feet dry; they are a fashion statement, with a stylish price tag to match. I had been in Vancouver for two weeks before I realised that a) my Ugg boots were not going to get me through to summer and b) I was the only female on the high street who had only just figured this out. I refused to conform to the $200-a-pair Hunter trend, instead settling for a ‘bargain’ pair with peacock print and ribbons at a cost of $69 (£43!).

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The Great Job Hunt

Two months into my big adventure and I’ve committed the cardinal sin of being so busy I barely have time to think about, let alone write, my blog posts.  The downside of this is that I have so much to share and tell that the topics keep building up and up, and sooner or later I’ll have missed the boat and the moment will have well and truly passed.  The upside of my current predicament is that my jam packed schedule is the result of finding a full-time, permanent job in a sector I love. Yessssssss!

When I arrived in Canada I brought with me low expectations packaged up in a worst case scenario.  My plan was to secure some sort of temporary work, ideally admin but retail would do, and volunteer in some high level roles to keep my skills up for my return to the UK in December 2011. Anything else would be considered a bonus. Despite this I decided to aim high and applied for some ‘proper’ jobs before I left the UK, receiving an invitation to my first telephone interview whilst sitting at Vancouver Airport waiting for my luggage to appear on the carousel. The next morning I found myself talking to a nice lady from HR from a payphone in a hostel, using a phone card, with a stinking cold, after no sleep, surrounded by Australians playing football over my head. The role had also been downgraded to part-time which was far from ideal. Needless to say I did not expect to hear back.

I will admit to not even looking in newspapers for jobs...

After the obligatory 14 day ‘holiday’ period I set myself a target of the end of February to find some sort of work, and started contacting recruitment agencies about undertaking some temping. Temping in Canada is much more competitive than in England, and I didn’t hold out much hope for getting an assignment any time soon after finding out that I’d have to interview for every half-day receptionist shift I was put forward for. Luck must have been looking favourably on me as a week after registering with my first agency I was offered a four week data entry placement at a charity in Vancouver (no interview necessary).

My propitious streak continued as three weeks after my disastrous telephone interview I was invited back for a panel interview.  A second interview soon followed, and six days later I was on my way to my first day at work as a Volunteer Engagement Coordinator for the Greater Vancouver Region of a very large and well known Canadian charity. The icing on the cake came when I received my official offer letter stating that the job had been reinstated to full-time, with a salary that far exceeded my UK equivalent. Best. Day. Ever.

I’ve been in my new role for just over a month, and I absolutely love it. It’s a challenging role with a lot to learn, but it’s a great career step and I’m working alongside a fantastic team. I think it’s safe to say that my prospects in Vancouver are looking better than I ever thought possible, so much so that I have applied for a second work permit to stay for 2012. Two months ago I was wondering whether I’d ever see the inside of an office again, and now I’m the newbie with the ‘cute accent’. I know, right?

 

Advice You Can Bank On

Today saw another milestone in my Canadian adventure, as I received my very first piece of Canadian mail!  The privilege of checking the mailbox has been taken away from me already (I lost the mailbox key on our third day living here and am now not to be trusted with it) so it was my boyfriend (the newly crowned keyholder) who opened the little brown door to reveal two shiny envelopes containing our brand new bank cards.  Granted, there are more exciting things one could find in one’s mailbox (tax refund cheques, magazines, chocolates), but the day I received my first piece of mail also turned out to be the day I became a fully fledged member of the Canadian banking system.

This second notable milestone was another easy one to achieve, with the most difficult decision being which bank to go with.  The four major banks in Canada are TD, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Scotia Bank and Royal Montreal (RMO), and SWAP recommended TD and RBC as the ones to check out.  We decided to go with RBC as we have a branch two blocks from us, for which the importance of this will soon become apparent.

So, off we went to our local RBC branch and made an appointment to set up our account.  We turned up bright and early on a Thursday morning, armed with two pieces of ID and the somewhat worrying knowledge that we were booked in for a two hour appointment.  Luckily we were done and dusted in a little over an hour, no thanks to our personal banker and relocation advisor, Reiner.  Now repeat his name with a more than slightly camp Canadian accent, and talk a lot about Vegas shows and trips to Europe, and you’ll have some inkling of how it took us a little over an hour to complete our applications.

Not one but two RBC cash machines, the holy grail...

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The Trials and Tribulations of Canadian Cell Phones

As anticipated, when I arrived in Vancouver there were a million and one things to think about, organise and sort out, which wasn’t quite the paradise that you might imagine the geek in me to jump at.  The epic to-do list that I worked my way through before I left was suddenly on the increase again, so on my first full day in Canada I decided to start with a task that was small, manageable and didn’t involve a bank account or social insurance number – I got my very own Canadian mobile number.

There are a lot of mobile phone providers in Canada (way more than the UK), but a lot of these are smaller networks that run through the few national providers e.g. Chatr use Rogers.  They all offer similar deals and I decided to go with Fido (owned by Rogers) as they came recommended by other BUNACers.  I always thought that North America were more advanced than the UK when it came to technology, but with mobile phones I could not be more wrong.

This about sums it up...

In Canada you pay for everything. I mean everything. I signed up for a SIM only contract so I could use my unlocked and Canada compatible UK handset, which is just as well as the most basic cell phones (think pre-Snake) cost $50 and up over here.  I paid $10 for my SIM card, with a $35 activation fee.  I signed up for the $35 a month plan which includes unlimited worldwide text messages (useful), free evening and weekend local calls, and 350 weekday minutes.  These minutes cover not only calls you make, but calls you receive as well (crazy), and only for local calls (in the Greater Vancouver area).  For my first month I get free caller display and free voicemail, but after that this ‘value package’ will be added to my overall plan at an extra $10 a month.  If you have an iPhone and want to actually use it, add another $25 for 500MB of data.

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