Tag Archive | immigrating to Canada

Four years in Canada: Advice from the Professional Working Holiday-ers

This month marks four years since I left the UK for beautiful Vancouver. In some ways January 2011 seems so long ago, but in other ways the time has absolutely flown. My first Canada-versary was very special as one year living abroad was a huge achievement and a pretty big deal, if I do say so myself. My second Canada-versary was important as I was beginning to feel much more settled and was starting to see what my future life here would actually be like. My third Canada-versary was huge in that I was actually starting to live that future, what with my Permanent Residence and permanent puppy. My fourth Canada-versay feels….pretty much the same as last year. I’m still very settled, I still love living here, and I still don’t see myself moving home any time soon (sorry parents). I also still don’t have a Canadian accent, I still don’t watch CFL (or NFL) and I still haven’t been to the Rockies. Ho hum.

Celebrating with my amazing BUNAC-ers <3

Celebrating with my amazing BUNAC-ers ❤

I celebrated my fourth Canada-versary with my fellow BUNAC ’11 crew. There are six of us who met on the BUNAC group flight from LHR to YVR on January 11, 2011, who are still living in Vancouver today. Three of us are Permanent Residents, two are going through the PR application process and one found out she’s actually a Canadian citizen (jealous!). Booking that group flight remains the best decision of my entire life, and it’s fun to reconnect and remember that day with people who were there with me. We had some dinner and drinks at Brown’s Social House in Kits, where we spent a lot of time when we first arrived.

The girls. Just because.

The girls. Just because.

This year I decided my obligatory Canada-versary blog post should be a bit more interesting than just this bla bla about me, so I asked my working holiday companions what advice they would give to others who are planning or thinking about planning a move abroad. I waited until the end of the night to ask this and then recorded the conversation on my phone…the evidence of which I’ll keep just in case any of them any become famous some day. The short, clean tips are below:

  • Be prepared to take whatever work you can to get by. Living abroad is an experience in itself, and starting off with a less than ideal job still beats not living abroad. Think of it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things
  • Save, save and save some more. The more money you can bring with you, the better your experience will be. The minimum guidelines really are a minimum – you’ll be surprised how quickly a cellphone, deposit, first month’s rent and initial socializing and sightseeing will drain your support funds
  • Leave your expectations at home. Keep an open mind and try not to plan too much or set unrealistic goals. Living abroad is probably going to be nothing like you think it’s going to be
  • Celebrate your successes. Everyone has hard days when they move away from home, whether it’s missing family and friends or failing to meet any of the unrealistic goals you set yourself (see above). If it feels like things aren’t going right, just remember what an amazing achievement living abroad actually is. You did something AMAZING and it’s OK if every little thing doesn’t go right all the time
  • Say yes as much as possible. Moving countries is a life changing experience, and you’ll be surprised at how many other new opportunities come your way just from being open to them
  • Work hard. Whether you are trying to carve out a long term career or just save money for travels and beer, put your head down when you can and you’ll reap the rewards
  • Play up your accent! Sounding different to everyone else can be unnerving, but it can also help you stand out in a good way. When it comes to job interviews, meeting new people or just ordering take-out,you ALWAYS have a talking point, and being memorable is never a bad thing

There you have it folks, advice from the professionals. Good luck to all of you brave souls considering a move abroad, and here’s to my fifth year in Canada. Bring it on, 2015!

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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2011: The Year of the Maple Leaf

Here we are once again at January 1st, the beginning of another new year, a fresh start, and a collection of well meaning resolutions to help us on our way to a fitness/weight loss/learning a new skill/giving up a vice utopia.  I’m well aware that by the time I publish this post many of us will have broken at least one of our precious promises (probably the one involving chocolate or smoking), but for those of you who are working hard to keep your pledges, I thought I’d add a few of my own resolutions for 2011, or The Year of the Maple Leaf as it shall now be known.

1. Always say YES – This particular gem of advice was given to me by two lovely friends this morning, and comes with the tag line ‘you can always say no later on…’ Following this instruction too literally could obviously land one in all manner of sticky situations, however the general gist is to be positive, flexible and open-minded to new opportunities (both business and pleasure) as you never know where they might lead.

2. Remember I’m in CANADA– Not that I’m likely to forget my geographical location at any point, but I can see already how all too easy it would be to get settled into a routine and simply replicate my life in the UK in Vancouver.  A working holiday visa is a once in a lifetime opportunity so I want to make sure I make the most of it and do things I wouldn’t be able to over here, like going to watch ice hockey, driving to the Rockies, rollerblading round Stanley Park and improving my snowboarding.

Wishful thinking...

3. Do what I WANT to do… – …not what I think I should do. For example, I could look for work at a University in Vancouver because that’s what I do at the moment so is a natural career step, however is that what I actually want to do? To be completely honest I’m not really sure what I really want to do, but when I work it out I’ll write it down in big red letters and stick it to my fridge so I won’t forget.

4. Have FUN! – Sounds obvious, but relates closely to resolution number three, in that if I’m not enjoying something then why do it?  I could get a sensible job at a good company working in a big office from 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday, but doing something boring for the sake if it is not the aim of the game. The point of moving half way across the world is to spend a memorable year living in a great city, doing and experiencing new things, all conducive to having fun!

I think four resolutions are enough for 2011, all of them specific enough to give me purpose yet vague enough to explain away if I fail. That’s if I fail, not when, as these are four promises I’m confident I can keep.  And if I don’t, they’re subjective enough so I’ll be the only one who knows…

The To-Do List of All To-Do Lists: Version 1.1

With one week and six days until my flight (eeeeeeek!), the time has come to update the to-do list of all to-do lists that I introduced you to last month.  It’s been a busy end to December, what with finishing work, moving out of my flat and of course Christmas, so I was a bit apprehensive about re-visiting the list.  Despite the constant, gnawing feeling that I’m incredibly behind and must have forgotten something, the list looks much healthier than it did last time I checked:

My Flat

  • Hand in written notice to lettings agent one month prior to move-out date (tick)
  • Get deposit back
  • Get reference from lettings agent (scan and save)
  • Get reference from previous landlord/housemates (scan and save)
  • Cancel electricity (tick)
  • Cancel council tax (tick)
  • Cancel TV license (tick)
  • Cancel Sky (TV and internet) (tick)
  • Cancel BT line rental (tick)
  • Cancel contents insurance (tick)
  • Book professional cleaning (fail – company didn’t answer the phone)

My Car (actually my boyfriend’s, so I don’t have to do much in this section)

  • Sell or store car (decided to store)
  • Book service/MOT (tick – extra point for passing!)
  • Cancel car insurance (tick)

My Job

  • Hand in written notice to line manager (tick)
  • Get reference from manager and other partners I’ve worked with (mostly ticked – just waiting for manager)
  • Make a note of contact details for key work contacts
  • Write my Canadian resume (more than one, tailored to job areas) (tick)
  • Send CV to recruitment agencies in Vancouver (half ticked – I’ve started)
  • Search and apply for jobs (tick – I applied for one)
  • Send off speculative applications to companies I’d like to work for

    Thing: EVERYTHING!

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All I want for Christmas…

Being that it’s Christmas Eve and all, I thought I’d get in the festive spirit by sharing my Christmas wishes.  I’m lucky enough to have been born in mid-December, so my list of presents gets to be twice as long, and this year it has a very distinct theme – if it can’t fit in my suitcase it won’t get under the tree.

Roxy Terry Snow Boots – These après ski boots have solved the one eternal dilemma that Ugg and Emu failed to do, and manage to keep one’s feet warm and above all dry in the rain or snow.  A must for Vancouver.

Roxy Fleece-lined Jacket – Also essential for Canada, and the one I chose is nice and bright too.

Roxy Iceberg Jacket, James and James Clothing

Roxy Backpack – As well as continuing the noticeable theme, a backpack is going to be far more useful for hand luggage, snowboarding, hiking and general outdoor activities than the Cath Kidston handbag that also made the list.

Padlocks – A bit of a boring one, but padlocks are necessary for securing one’s suitcase, as well as hostel lockers.

Skype Headset – 2011 is going to be the year of Skype for me, so I need a headset to be able to use it.  The one I asked for was Bluetooth and wireless so I can walk around whilst chatting.

Towel – Not very glamorous, but I’m going to need one of these so it might as well be a nice, fluffy, new one.

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The Long Goodbye

So, chapter one of my Canadian adventure is over – I’ve finished work, moved out of the flat I shared with my boyfriend and driven out of Southampton for the last time for a very long time, if not ever.  I’m now well into chapter two, which is living with my parents over Christmas and new year until the start of chapter three, which will see me leaving the country on January 11th (assuming there’s no snow on the runway of course).  What happens when I land is a currently a source of panic, anxiety and extreme fear which doesn’t bear thinking about, at least until the last of the cold turkey sandwiches have been eaten.

Most of the milestones in the journey so far have come and gone just as I imagined, with the major exception of saying goodbye to friends (I haven’t got onto family just yet).  I didn’t quite anticipate just how many people there were to go for dinner, drinks or both with, and how busy I would be in my last few weeks before I left, to the extent that I can count the number of times my boyfriend and I cooked in our own flat in December.  Even then there were people I didn’t get to see, and people I still have yet to meet up with over the holidays (get me – I sound Canadian already!).


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about my social life suddenly rocketing through the roof, but there are definitely pro’s and con’s to an endless string of leaving do’s.  The more time I spend going out for lunch, drinks and dinner the more food and alcohol I consume, the more money I spend, and the less time I have to go to the gym to burn off the food and alcohol I’m consuming, which I’m also still spending money on a monthly fee for.  A vicious circle if ever I knew one.

Despite losing pounds and gaining pounds (geddit?) at such an alarming rate, it’s been fantastic to see so many friends for one last time before I go.  Making an effort to get up and get out of the flat every evening when all I want to do is curl up after an exhausting day of handover at work was definitely worth it, as I have that many more memories to take with me.

I guess what I’m getting at here is that the most important thing isn’t how you feel at the time (tired, stressed, panicked), but how you’ll feel weeks and months down the line when you look back on the long goodbye with happiness or regret.  For me it’s definitely happiness, and I’m already planning what I’m going to say in my first postcards home.

Climate Control

This week I’ve been lucky enough to have not one but two days off work as a result of ‘adverse weather conditions’ (just about the only positive thing about working for a UK University at the moment – the ConDems can take our funding but they can’t take our snow days).  Every time the snow starts to fall within inches of our coastlines the buses and trains stop running, the schools start closing, and every man and his mother has something to say about how terrible it is that we’re so unprepared for winter weather.  This usually involves comparing the UK to somewhere like, for example, Canada.

Whilst it’s true that other countries seem to fare much better during ice and snow, Vancouver was also taken unawares at the end of November when an unexpected drop in temperature caused delays on the SkyTrain, Vancouver’s public transit system.  The SkyTrain is an electric and fully automated train line that operates largely on an elevated tracks across 47 stations on three lines.  It seems that an accumulation of snow and ice on the SkyTrain’s power rail is enough to temporarily cripple the service, which is unfortunately what happened when two trains stalled in separate places on the Canada line during the morning rush hour (read the full story here: http://tinyurl.com/2umht3s).

This Canada Line train couldn't cross Vancouver's Fraser River Bridge because of ice and snow.

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There’s no place like home…

This is definitely one post I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to write just yet, but I’m pleased to announce to the big wide blogosphere that I leave the country in five weeks and five days, and in five weeks and six days I will be moving into my very own (well, for six months anyway) Vancouver apartment.  More specifically, a third floor, hardwood floored, third floor in a walk up heritage building, in Kitsilano, with all utilities included Vancouver apartment.

Kitsilano is just south west of Downtown

For those of you who haven’t been religiously studying maps, guidebooks and reviews of Vancouver neighbourhoods for the past 18 months, Kitsilano, or Kits as the locals (soon to be me!) call it, is a laid back, trendy, former hippy enclave south west of Downtown.  As Lonely Planet aptly put it ‘the hybrid SUV was invented for the kind of people who live here’ – better buy some ‘yoga pants’ then[1].

Our building…check out the sea to the right (via Google Street View)

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The To-Do List of all To-Do Lists

With seven weeks and two days left until I leave the country, and three weeks and two days until I leave my flat and job to go and stay with my parents for Christmas (not that I’m counting of course), it’s about time I started doing things.  I’m a great believer in lists (ticking off accomplished tasks makes me feel better about having lots to do), and a move such as this requires the ultimate of to-do lists.

I’m sure this list will change dramatically in the next month as unforeseen things get added and unnecessary tasks get removed, but here is version 1.0, nicely divided into areas of my life:

My Flat

  • Hand in written notice to lettings agent one month prior to move-out date (tick)
  • Get reference from lettings agent (scan and save)
  • Get reference from previous landlord/housemates (scan and save)
  • Cancel electricity (tick)
  • Cancel council tax (tick)
  • Cancel TV license (and get refund)
  • Cancel Sky (TV and internet) (tick)
  • Cancel BT line rental (tick)
  • Cancel contents insurance
  • Book professional cleaning

My Car (actually my boyfriend’s, so I don’t have to do much in this section)

  • Sell or store car (decide which!)
  • Book service/MOT
  • Cancel car insurance

My Job

  • Hand in written notice to line manager (tick)
  • Get reference from manager and other partners I’ve worked with
  • Make a note of contact details for key work contacts
  • Write my Canadian resume (more than one, tailored to job areas)
  • Send CV to recruitment agencies in Vancouver, and arrange appointment for January
  • Search and apply for jobs
  • Send off speculative applications to companies I’d like to work for

Every list has to start somewhere...

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No one knows you’re up there…

In my last post I mentioned that telling other people about my Canadian adventure was making it seem all too real, however nothing could prepare me for the trauma that was to take grip after watching Adam Green’s Frozen (2010)[1] on DVD last week.  Without giving anything away for those of you who haven’t seen it, Frozen tells the tragic tale of three skier/snowboarders who find themselves stuck on a ski lift after the slope has been closed down for the week.  If you don’t want to know what happens when someone jumps off a ski lift, don’t watch this film (or look at the back of the DVD case).  It’s not pretty.

Funnily enough, despite moving to Canada it wasn’t the thought of actually being stuck on a ski lift that terrified the living daylights out of me (I’m planning on going snowboarding a few times but I’m not doing a full on ski season), more the knowledge that if I was to find myself in a sticky situation, my family would be a 10 hour flight away.  I will of course be in the more than capable hands of my horror film obsessed boyfriend (who knows all the rules and would make sure I won my fight for survival as the final girl), but the thought of being in a different country to my family just makes breaking a limb, getting burgled or catching some sort of airborne illness seem all the more terrifying.  Of course, these are minor ailments compared to being stuck on a ski lift for 5 days and nights (depending on the airborne illness), but still.

Frozen (2010): How not to end a Sunday on the slopes

Realistically I am fully aware that Vancouver is really not that far, and a 10 hour flight is nothing compared to the likes of Australia or New Zealand.  On a bad day it can take me 5 hours to drive to my parents’ house from home, and the fastest I could get to Edinburgh on a coach is 11hrs 50 minutes.  Unfortunately such logic and rational thinking does not always prevail at 4am in the dark when one is convinced they can hear wolves in the kitchen.

After thinking for far too long about endless ‘what could go wrong’ scenarios, I have come to the conclusion that the answer is: anything.  Indeed, anything could go wrong in Vancouver, but it could also go wrong in Southampton (my house). Or Ipswich (my parents’ house).  Or anywhere else in the UK at any time whilst I’m getting on with my everyday life.  And if I was on a bus in Edinburgh when the unthinkable happened, it would take me even longer to get home than from Vancouver.  Worrying about what could happen abroad is silly, unnecessary and counterproductive, and I hereby resign to move on from this phase of the emigration thought process.

Saying that, maybe I’ll walk the Grouse Grind[2] up to the top of the mountain instead of taking the chair lift when I first go snowboarding, just in case. No point tempting fate is there?

[1] Frozen is out on DVD in the UK now: www.frozen-film.com

[2] The Grouse Grind is a 2.9km trail up the face of Grouse Mountain: http://www.grousemountain.com/Winter/vancouver-bc-hiking-trails-trips/