Recently, I was invited as Special Guest on XpatGirls.com to talk about my experience as an expat living in Vancouver. The editorial team was kind enough to allow me to publish the interview on my blog, but here’s also a link to the original article: I fell in love with Vancouver the minute I got here and have stayed in love so far …
I moved to… Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) approximately 2 years ago.
Before that I lived in… Romania: Bucharest (for 2 years) and Iasi (for the first 24 years of my life).
The reason for moving here was… Love! The kind of love that hits you, knocks you down (in a healthy way!) and you just know you’ve got no choice but to listen to your heart 🙂 Now, don’t imagine that was an easy decision to make. What matters now is that, looking back, I can definitely say that was the best decision I’ve taken in my life.
If I were to describe my current city in one word, that would be… I might be biased because I recently stumbled into this word and remembered how much I love it, but I’d choose “eudaimonia” as in “human flourishing”.
I honestly feel this city has so much to offer in terms of helping people flourish. Talking about flourishing, the definition that is the closest to what I have in mind is: “the epitome of mentally healthy adults having high levels of emotional well-being; they are happy and satisfied; they tend to see their lives as having a purpose; they feel some degree of mastery and accept all parts of themselves; they have a sense of personal growth in the sense that they are always growing, evolving, and changing; finally, they have a sense of autonomy and an internal locus of control, they chose their fate in life instead of being victims of fate”
Additional info: Vancouver has constantly been considered the best place to live in North America, ranking third worldwide in 2013 (according to The Economist Intelligence Unit).
The first thing a new expat needs to know when moving here is…Tough question as it definitely depends on where you’re moving from and also on you personality. There are significant cultural differences between Canada and Romania and I felt them both in the work environment and in daily life, but they didn’t really make my adaptation hard. Here, people mind their own business more than they do at home and, despite being very friendly and sociable, can often feel cold and distant.
Anyway, on a totally different note, here’s a funny (and, of course, partially exaggerated) video on how to be a Vancouverite that might serve as an answer to this question:
The language issue… No major language issue – I’ve been learning English since I was little and was pretty good at it even before coming here. However, I’m constantly trying to improve my vocabulary and pronunciation and reading a lot in English surely helps.
The nice part about speaking English here is that over 50% of Vancouver residents have a first language other than English so you don’t really get to feel bad about your accent. This is one of the most diverse cities of Canada as far as ethnicity and language are concerned.
One thing I’d like to mention (because many people have asked me whether I live in the English-speaking part or French-speaking part of Canada) is that over 90% of the French speaking Canadians resides in Quebec. As Wikipedia says, 70% of Canadians cannot speak French. Thanks God for that because I know zero French and no interest in learning it (there’s no chemistry between us :)).
Since I moved here I stopped… Smoking. Eating way too many carbs and unhealthy stuff. Not moving for long periods of time. Wasting too much time online doing nothing when I could read something useful/interesting. Getting angry too often from stupid things. Not minding my own business. Thinking I’m cool and smart instead of analyzing what I need to improve about myself and doing something about it. Worrying so much about the future and about what others think. And so on…
Since I moved here the new thing I stared doing is… Skiing. And it was love at first slope! 🙂 Although we seldom have snow in the city, Vancouverites are lucky enough to enjoy some of the best ski facilities in North America, with the closest ski resort located at just 20 minutes distance from downtown.
My biggest lesson learnt was… It’s never about how much money you make or how busy you are. Working your ass off without getting paid for people who really need help can bring you immense satisfaction and change the way you look at life, what you have, what you wish you had and where you stand as a human being. Also, put a little love into everything you touch.
P.S. More than half of Canadians contribute their time, energy and skills to groups and organizations such as charities and non-profits and over 20% donate.
Some weird habits at the locals… Smoking pot. Although the drug is illegal in Canada (with exceptions for medical uses), its recreational use is often tolerated here. It’s quite common here to walk on the streets and feel the smell of pot coming from people who look absolutely normal, on their way back home from work, dressed in suits and/or having normal conversations over the phone, etc.
What makes it weird is that this happens in a smoke free city where only around 12 percent of people are cigarette smokers (the same city in which a pilot program to recycle cigarette butts – the first in the world – has just been launched). A city in which smoking is prohibited in so many places that you literally feel a criminal as a smoker (at least that’s how I felt and I’m happy for that because it helped me quit quite fast).
Oh, and let’s not forget about April 20th, “4/20”, “Mary Jane Day” or “National Weed Day” when they all gather downtown to openly celebrate pot. Living downtown, I can tell you that is clearly a day of joy and happiness (too bad for the ones who toss their cookies on the sidewalks) 🙂
My biggest cultural shock was… Low power distance! Coming from a quite hierarchical and formal culture (Romania), I felt (and still feel to a certain extent) that Canadians are a little too informal. Don’t get me wrong – I prefer this to the way we do things in Romania, but I guess I need more time to adapt my communication style and attitude. Titles, status, ranks don’t matter much here and everyone is entitled to their own opinion (and is encouraged to share it as long as they do so respectfully). Also, I was greatly impressed by the locals’ attitude towards helping others (both through volunteering and donation). And I felt first weird but oh-so-great being hugged on the street by people who survived cancer or lost someone to cancer and wanted to thank me for volunteering to fundraise for this cause!
My funniest/weirdest/scariest experience was… I was doing some volunteer work fundraising for Canadian Cancer Society and met this other volunteer I had to work with called Doug. 86 years old. He had had 25 different jobs in his life and had been in the army from ’44 to ’71. He survived prostate cancer but lost a partner to liver cancer. Also, both his ex-wife and his son had cancer. He lost a daughter in a car accident and has had 3 cataract surgeries. At 86, he went to the gym 3 times per week and did cardio, strength and stretching. He looked 60 and said he felt great (he sure seemed so). Despite all these and being both a cancer victim and caregiver, he was the most lively and optimistic person I’ve met over the last couple of years and we had lots of fun while working together.
Now the funny/weird/scary part of my story is that he eventually became too fond of me and told me he’d rather not see me for a while, out of respect for me and my husband. Oh well, I guess there’s no age limit for that, right?! 🙂
What I miss the most from home is… My family. I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with a truly loving family…
I go home as often as…I wasn’t able to go home for almost 2 years while I waited for my permanent residence here, but in the future I would like to go at least once or twice a year.
I keep in contact with my friends and family… Email, Facebook, Skype, Viber, phone. Thanks God for today’s technology!
My favorite dish/local food is… Smoked sockeye salmon, halibut (in fish & chips) and grilled squid. Funny thing, I used to hate fish and seafood (I still am very picky with both). P.S. This city is pure heaven for foodies!
My favorite places in town are…Vancouver Public Library, Sunset Beach, English Bay Beach and Stanley Park. I also love to see Vancouver from above when I go skiing at Grouse Mountain. I fell in love with Vancouver the minute I got here and have stayed in love so far…
I get around the city by… If the destination is downtown, I often walk. If it’s farther, by car or public transport.
Street fashion? We’re talking about a multi-ethnic city with 40% of its residents being immigrants (mostly from China, India, Philippines, Hong Kong). The consequence is a quite diverse street fashion because many immigrants tend to stay true to their origins. There are also many rich people wearing high-end fashion brands, but also many hipsters and just … regular people. I think what matters the most here is that you can wear whatever you want or think is fashionable without having people stare at you or judge you.
My view on people: Vancouverites are generally kind, very polite and very friendly. They enjoy making conversation with strangers, they’re quite eager to help with directions and they’re seldom intrusive. However, despite all that, it’s quite tricky to make new friends here – at least the kind of friends we’re used to back at home in Romania. I guess all this friendliness is rather superficial. People somehow keep you at a distance – they have no problem in talking and laughing and playing something with you but as soon as the party’s over, that’s it. Don’t expect to be invited for dinner too soon and don’t invite them to your place too soon or they might think that you’re weird or that you have a hidden agenda 🙂
Friendship is significantly related to context here; in most of the cases, your work colleague that is also your friend will stop being a friend soon after you stop being work colleagues. I might exaggerate though as I come from a collectivistic culture and Canada is a highly individualistic one. Nevertheless, I’m not complaining and, of course, not all Vancouverites are like this! Plus, I’ve only been living here for 2 years…
Being an expat… As I was saying above, I’m an expat among expats here so I don’t actually feel weird or bad about it. There is a difference between me and the ones who were born here though and that’s never going to go away. I don’t want to delete my cultural background or turn into someone non-genuine; on the contrary, I tend to feel repulsion towards those who do that. And why is it bad to feel different?!
I did change after moving here and, as objective as I can be, I tend to say that I changed for the better. Becoming an expat takes you out of your comfort zone and eventually makes you spend more time with yourself. To a certain extent, you start from scratch so you have to redefine your priorities, re-organize your dreams, inventory your skills and knowledge, etc. If you’re lucky enough, you might actually discover a new You 🙂
In 5 years, I see myself living… Vancouver. I don’t necessarily see myself living here for the rest of my life (though I wouldn’t mind if that happens), but 5 years is not such a long time and I don’t see myself making another massive change in my life too soon. Victoria (on Vancouver Island) sounds great, too! And I wouldn’t mind living closer to the Rockies, either 🙂 But let’s see where the future takes me…