Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Thomas tells us about moving to Canada.
1. Hi, Thomas! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
Hi, my name is Thomas, and I was born and raised in Kortrijk. I studied English and German Linguistics and Literature at the University of Leuven, and after getting my Master’s there I also completed the Academic Teacher Training. After that, in early September 2016, I moved to Vancouver, Canada. I chose this city because I had been here before, as an exchange student at the University of British Columbia (and even before that, I’d always wanted to go to Canada).
To me, Vancouver is the perfect combination of city and nature. It’s a place with big city looks and small community feel, where you’re never far away from the mountains (half an hour by bus), the forest (a two-minute walk), the beach and the ocean (literally just a few meters from my house).
2. What did you expect from Canada and life there before moving? Did those expectations hold up?
At first, the idea was to find an English teaching position here. A couple of things got in the way of that, though – there are just way more teachers than teaching positions in this city, and schools look for BC certified teachers with Canadian degrees and Canadian work experience. Now, I work for a Belgian chocolate company, and I am a part-time teacher at a Dutch language school for children of Dutch and Flemish expats here in Vancouver and the area. Being flexible is key when you’re an expat!
Apart from that, I kinda knew what to expect: the weather is somewhat similar to Belgium (a little bit colder and wetter), people are all very laid-back, open-minded and supportive. Skiing, hiking, and yoga are such quintessentially Vancouverite hobbies that it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t do at least one of those.
Because I’d studied and lived with housemates during my semester here back in 2013, I had a small group of friends to fall back on during the first few weeks, and after that, I easily made more friends. After all, roughly half of the people living in Vancouver aren’t actually from here, so a lot of people are putting themselves out there, which makes it easy to meet new people. All in all, everything went pretty smoothly.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Canada and life in Belgium?
I’d say the biggest difference between living in Belgium and living in Vancouver (or any other big city in Canada, for that matter), is the concept of basement suites, families sharing houses, and the Friends-lifestyle: living with roommates and housemates. I live in a house with one other person, and I love it! We can just hang out together, cook together, or go for drinks.
Another big difference with Belgians is that, when it comes to food, most people here (or at least most of the non-expat Vancouverites) seem to have a hard time simply enjoying good food. Everything has to be organic, natural, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or at the very least local – even treats such as ice cream or luxury chocolate!
4. What’s the best part about living in Canada?
The best part about living in Canada is the nature! There is something for everyone. You can go hiking, skiing, swimming, snowboarding, surfing, or just enjoy the mountain views. It’s because of the nature that I never take the bus to work. The views on the way to work are just too good!
Canadians are also super friendly. It’s a stereotype, but one that is really true… People are genuinely interested in each other and want to know everything about your experience as a newcomer to Canada. (Also, people are extremely welcoming to immigrants and people from other cultures.)
5. What do you like least about living in Canada?
I’m sometimes annoyed at how people here are so afraid to offend each other. For instance, you’re not supposed to wish someone a ‘Merry Christmas’, because that means you’re assuming that that person is Christian and celebrates Christmas. Instead, you’re supposed to wish them ‘Happy Holidays’. Generally speaking, people here are too un-confrontational and too politically correct.
Something else I really don’t like is the fact that buying or renting – and actually just life in general – is so expensive in Vancouver. Vancouver is North America’s most expensive city, ahead of even New York and LA.
The last thing I’m not a big fan of here is the fact that taxes are never included in the price.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
One of the only things I sometimes miss about Belgium is the food! You can find pretty much anything here, and the food is amazing (nowhere else will you find sushi of such good quality for so little money), but the good, Belgian cuisine (such as for instance fries with stew, or even just something as simple as decent mayonnaise) is just not an option in this city. But honestly, I can’t complain – there are plenty of delicious alternatives.
One thing I find a bit more difficult here in Vancouver is that this is a pretty isolated city. There’s Victoria on the island and Seattle in the US, but apart from that, there are no big cities nearby. That’s something I sometimes miss about Belgium!
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
Can’t think of anything now… I guess a lot of people probably answer this question with “the weather”, but this city is nicknamed “Raincouver”, which pretty much says it all!
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Canada? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
I really love Canada, and living here is just awesome, and a dream come true! I’m currently applying for my PR (Permanent Residency)!
Having said that, however, I am also realistic about the cost of living here, and I don’t want to have to rent for the rest of my life (even though it’s very common here to do so). Fingers crossed that housing prices are gonna go down soon!
Maybe I’ll stay here, maybe I’ll move abroad again. Who knows, maybe I’ll even go back to Belgium someday – though I don’t think so… I honestly don’t think about the future too much at this point. I live in the present, and we’ll see what happens later. For now, I’m just enjoying life in this am-EH-zing country!
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to Canada?
One: I think it’s important to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that it’s not easy for foreigners here – that is to say, it’s easy to get into Canada, but once you’re here, it’s not easy to find a job without Canadian work experience or connections. I was lucky, I found my jobs because of the latter.
And two: do it! You’ll love Canada!
10. What are some tips you would give to people who are traveling to your region/city? Things they should visit or eat?
Regardless of when you come to the area, you should definitely rent a car to drive up North and go to Squamish and Garibaldi Provincial Park!
In the city of Vancouver, the three most interesting neighborhoods or areas are:
1) Kitsilano (aka ‘Kits’): young, hip(ster) neighborhood by the beach, with spectacular views of the North Shore mountains and the Vancouver skyline.
2) Commercial Drive (aka ‘the Drive’ and ‘Little Italy’): also a very young, happening part of town with loads of character! Bonus: views of the Vancouver skyline.
3) Gastown: Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood with a very ‘old’, European feel to it. The perfect mix of old and new, lots of pubs and restaurants, art galleries, souvenir shops and expensive fashion stores.
Other musts are Grouse Mountain (especially the snowshoe grind in the winter), Pacific Spirit and Wreck Beach, the Vancouver Lookout, UBC campus, English Bay and Stanley Park.
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This interview was done by Paloma García Miranda, a talented Master’s Student of Business Communication who’s helping Sofie out here on WonderfulWanderings.com.