July 11th marked my six month anniversary in Vancouver, and also tipped me over the half way point of my first year living abroad in Canada. How time flies when you’re having fun, and fun I have most definitely had. Work, friends and travel have taken over my life to the extent that I can hardly remember what living in Southampton, England, was like, and definitely can’t imagine being back there.
The first thing to report at this major milestone is that my visa has now been approved for 2012, and my Letter of Introduction (the document I had to immigration on the way into the country) is sitting in my inbox waiting to be activated on January 11th2012, the day my current visa expires. I was pretty certain at the three month mark that I wanted to stay here for longer than my original year, and now I’m at the half way line there’s no going back. To England that is. I’m still not sure yet whether Vancouver could be a permanent home, but home it is for the time being.
On the flip side, a number of our original group from the BUNAC flight have now left Vancouver, with more and more ‘biting the dust’ the further into the year we get. Some have gone on to further travel, some to University, and others back home. Some have shortened their trip, and some have extended it. Many were only ever here in the short term whereas others, like me, have applied for their 2012 visas and are looking to stay past Christmas. Either way, January 5th 2011 seems like a lifetime ago.
This week marks the three month anniversary of my arrival in Canada, which seems about the right time for a general update – a ‘maple musing’ if you will. The realisation that I’ve been in Vancouver for a quarter of a year already has come as somewhat of a surprise, as time seems to move at an entirely different speed here. On one hand, I cannot believe the time has flown by so quickly. A quarter of a year? Mid April? Really? It seems like just yesterday I was standing at the airport, laden with luggage and saying goodbyes. On the other hand, I cannot believe it’s only been three months, as the longer I live here the longer it feels like I’ve been here forever. And that I could be here forever.
As they say, forever is a long time, and perhaps too strong a word at this stage in the game, but it’s definitely safe to say that I’m very much enjoying my time in Vancouver and that I have no plans to run back to Blighty for the time being. I have a great job, great apartment and I live a minute’s walk away from a great beach. I’ve done some great things and had some great experiences, including a Canucks hockey game, a trip to Seattle, an Olympic anniversary celebration and day trips to the ski slopes. I’ve met some great people, particularly in my team at work, and I’ve planned a lot more great things to come, such as a weekend in Whistler.
That’s not to suggest that everything has been, well, great. At least not totally, all the time. I wouldn’t say I’ve been homesick as such, but I do miss my family and can’t wait for them to come and visit. Three months is long enough for my trip away to be more than just a trip, and I’ve been here for the right amount of time to miss my British friends but not to make Canadian ones. My fellow BUNACers from the group flight are starting to head back home one by one, and by the summer I’ll be one of the only few remaining. The cost of living in Vancouver is much higher than I anticipated, making my dream West End apartment with gym and pool seem even further out of reach. With my new job I can now afford to travel to the places I read about in my guide book, but I no longer have the time to. And don’t even get me started on the banking system.
Of course, all of these annoyances pale into insignificance when thinking about what I’d be doing now if I was still in Southampton. My point is, since arriving in Vancouver there have been far more downs than I thought there would be (making new friends is proving difficult) but far more ups too (fantastic job, lovely apartment). Moving to another country definitely hasn’t been easy, but it’s also the best thing I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t take it back. So much so that my second Working Holiday Visa has been applied for and conditionally approved, and it looks like I’ll be staying for an extra year. In 2012 the world might be flocking to London, but I’ll be heading straight back to Vancouver.
This time in 4 days I’ll be beginning my descent into Vancouver International Airport, which is for some reason abbreviated to YVR. It’s getting pretty close now, and the final countdown has well and truly begun this week with the release of the contact details of other BUNAC participants booked onto the group flight. It just so happens that I’m running low on reading material for the plane, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to matter as there will be 37 other people to talk to!
I was expecting 10-15 others to have booked onto the flight through BUNAC, but it’s great to see that there’ll be even more of us turning up to the airport decked out in ski jackets, bulky hoodies and a million and one layers dragging the world’s biggest suitcases and weeping relatives (just me?). What’s even better is chatting to everyone and realising that I’m not the only one who hasn’t quite finalised my CV, told my bank I’m leaving the country, or chosen how many pairs of shoes to take with me.
Whilst I have noticed that I’m sleeping less and grinding my teeth more (classic anxious Lizzie) I’m also thinking about what to wear to the airport and planning my first few days in the city (classic excited Lizzie). The more I worry the more I realise that there are dozens of things I haven’t done that I could have, or even should have, but the more I also recognise that none of these things are likely to really make a difference in the long run.
Anyone who knows me (and anyone who doesn’t but has been reading this blog) will know that I like to plan. I’m not a total Monica Gellar, but part of me definitely subscribes to the notion of ‘organised fun’. As a result, most of my anxiety stems from the fact that in 4 days time I’m going to be in a brand new situation that I cannot possibly imagine let alone plan for; in essence, there is no plan! It’s not that I’m not prone to moments of spontaneity (I have a list as long as my entire body of items I purchased on a whim but never used, and it includes a violin and CDJ decks) but I do like to know what’s happening next, so jetting off to live in another country with no job is going to be a scary but liberating experience.
I’m jumping head first into a scenario where I won’t know what the coins in my purse are worth, how to turn my mobile phone Canadian or where to get the bus to the mountains, but the thought of living without any trace of a plan is strangely refreshing. And if it all goes wrong, at least I’m in good company…
Today my flight confirmation pack arrived from BUNAC!
A confirmation letter detailing my flight information (AC855 Air Canada), my BUNAC Moneywise Guide to North America (I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve read it), two BUNAC luggage tags and a BUNAC Global Phonecard with 15 minutes pre-loaded. BUNAC-tastic!
I received this pack because I booked onto the BUNAC group flight. BUNAC group flights leave London Heathrow once a month (more during peak times like June, September or November) and include the following:
- A BUNAC rep at the departure airport
- Transfer to your pre-booked arrival accommodation (the price includes one night’s stay in a hostel)
- T-shirt and phone card
- Contact details of fellow BUNAC-ers on your flight before you leave the UK
There always seems to be a lot of debate about whether the BUNAC flights are good value or not, and as I’m flying back from Toronto I found booking this return flight to be cheaper than booking two one-way tickets. I like to think I’m a confident flyer and know my way around an airport (or at least the duty free section), but I still liked the idea of sitting with other travellers on the plane – it’ll be a bit like University halls of residence, where you’re put on a corridor with people you might not have anything in common with, but you all talk to each other because you have no choice, and (usually) end up great friends at the end of the day. I admit my own University experience didn’t go quite like that, but I have faith in BUNAC’s seating plan!
Knowing myself as I do, I imagine I’ll be far too jet-lagged and overwhelmed to even remember the name of my hostel at the other side, let alone get on the right bus to downtown, so I was also encouraged by the inclusion of one night in a hostel and pre-booked transfers to get there. The hostel accommodation will of course be in a shared dormitory with my new friends, as I think I’ll be entitled to call them by then – there’s not a lot about me that they won’t know after 11 hours in economy class.
If you decide not to book onto the BUNAC group flights you have the freedom to travel on whichever day you want (unlike the group flights) and with any airline you like. BUNAC use Air Canada for the vast majority of their flights, but other airlines to fly from London to Vancouver and you may find a bargain, particularly if you don’t fly direct. Try GS World Travel (http://www.gsworld-travel.co.uk/) or Canadian Affair (http://www.canadianaffair.com/) for some good deals, but be wary of hidden fees for changing the date of your return flight (BUNAC charge a flat rate of £35).
At least one thing’s for certain now – there’s no turning back for me!
 BUNAC Work Canada website – www.bunac.org/uk/workcanada/flights.aspx