British Expat in British Columbia - Interviewing Shelley

Published: 5 Feb at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Canada
Shelley Antscherl is an English journalist, trailing spouse and mother of four living in British Columbia, Canada. Prior to relocating to Canada, Shelley spent nearly three long years living in a remote village in North Holland, dubbed ‘Deliverance’... She has also lived in the US and Sweden. She is the book reviewer for and a freelance writer for various publications and websites. Shelley's expat blog is called Disparate Huisvrouw (see listing here)

Meet Shelley - Skiing on Cypress Mountain
Meet Shelley - Skiing on Cypress Mountain

Here's the interview with Shelley...

Where are you originally from?
Westcliff-on-sea, Essex, UK.

In which country and city are you living now?
In South Surrey, very close to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We've been here for 17 months and we hope this will be our final resting place!

Why did you move and what do you do?
We were living in the North of Holland because of my husband's job (he's a horticulturalist/ Pepper Grower) and he was headhunted by a horticultural firm in BC.

White Rock beach and pier
White Rock beach and pier
Did you bring family with you?
We brought our family: my husband and I, our four young children (who were at the time, 2, 4, 6 and 7 years old) and Donald the Jack Russell.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Leaving the UK to move to rural North Holland (Westfriesland) was extremely difficult for so many reasons. The language barrier just added to a very real sense of isolation, on so many levels. And the very closed society with rigid social customs that is typical of rural Holland, made it feel like a prison sentence most of the time! But we always viewed it as a stepping stone to North America so there are no regrets, and we made some good Dutch friends. Canada was our second big move in just under three years, but it was the place we'd always hoped we'd end up so moving to Canada felt like a wonderful adventure (albeit with some stressful logistical considerations!). It felt like we'd arrived in the Promised Land, and still does.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Making friends and assimilating into Canadian society was easy. You only have to go back a generation to discover that most people you meet have roots overseas be it in Europe, the Far East, Asia etc. It's a wonderful melting pot of nationalities and cultures and for that reason, I have never felt like an outsider here. And Canadians are very welcoming. There are also plenty of expats. Some who will go back, but others like our family, who intend to stay.

Mount Baker in the US, viewed from White Rock beach in BC
Mount Baker in the US, viewed from White Rock beach in BC
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Far too many to mention. In the Lower Mainland where we live, it's a 40 minute drive to downtown Vancouver - a wonderful cosmopolitan and culturally diverse city with all that has to offer. If you're a winter person, then there are some fantastic provincial ski resorts an hour down the road. Whistler is about a 3 hour drive away, and in the summer there are beaches all around us, and if you really want to turn up the heat, you can drive to the Interior and visit the lakes, wine regions etc. There is so much to see and do in BC that it would take a few holidays to cover half of it. And it's not known as 'Beautiful BC' for nothing. The scenery is simply breathtaking.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
That North American 'Anything is possible' attitude combined with a laid-back but sophisticated West Coast vibe. The excellent quality of life, the people, the cultural diversity, the mountains. Pretty much everything!

How does the cost of living compare to home?
It's an expensive place to live, but daily living costs are probably on a par with the Southeast of England these days. House prices are expensive especially in central Vancouver and parts of the Lower Mainland, but you get a lot more house for your buck here. Canadians don't do small houses.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The driving, definitely. Canadians' total disregard for drink driving laws is quite shocking, and motorists are extremely aggressive (and bad) drivers! Outside of a vehicle, people are charming, well-mannered, law-abiding and friendly so this really surprised me.

View of downtown Vancouver from Cypress Mountain
View of downtown Vancouver from Cypress Mountain
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Accept EVERY invitation you get when you arrive. The more people you meet, the quicker you'll make friends and the sooner you'll settle in. Locals are also an essential information resource for discovering everything about your new community i.e. schools, doctors, the best place to buy groceries etc. And you won't feel so isolated if you know someone to have coffee with.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Without a doubt it was moving to rural Westfriesland in 2008 with four children under 5 and becoming a full-time housewife and mother, literally overnight. I desperately missed my professional identity. And childcare!

What are your top 10 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps (in no particular order)?
  1. Network like crazy when you arrive. With everyone you meet at work, or at the school gates. Don't be shy. And if you need to know something, then ask. People are only too happy to be helpful.
  2. Join a club or sporting group as soon as you can, you won't feel so isolated and it's a great way to meet like-minded people. I joined the Peninsula Runners Group in White Rock.

  3. Download Skype and bully anyone you like or care for back home to sign up to it as well! It's a wonderful way to keep in touch with old friends and family back home.
  4. Make a thorough reconnaissance trip with your partner, and without children if possible so you can get more research done, before you move there. Your partner needs to see everything, and a happy spouse and children are the key to a successful expat experience for the whole family.
  5. Buy the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides to wherever you're moving to and read up on everything you can before making a list of all the essential things you need to find out before you arrive i.e. cost of living, good schools etc. etc.
  6. Make sure when you negotiate your work contract, that the relocation package you are being offered will cover everything, and if you plan to stay for good, make sure the company will sponsor your Permanent Residency application and pay related costs (and the cost of an immigration lawyer to file the paperwork). It's a very expensive and complicated process!
  7. If you're the trailing spouse, make sure the work contract/ relocation package includes a work permit for you too. You might not want to find a job immediately, but it's nice to have the choice and the company is less inclined to apply for a spousal work permit once they have their new employee in place...
  8. Find out about utility companies before you go. Who are the electricity/ gas/ water/ phone/ mobile/ internet/ cable providers and how do you get connected? And most importantly compare the costs to what you're used it in your country of origin.
  9. Take copies of important personal documents with you on the plane. Don't pack them away or send them with the removal company to follow you. You'll need them when you arrive to rent a home/ hotel room and car and to register kids at school, and apply for a BC driving license (birth certificates/ marriage certificates/ UK driving license/ a copy of your new work contract and visa/ passport photos for ID forms/ Children's vaccination records and recent school reports to name but a few).
  10. If you're planning to take a pet with you, they will require a pet passport and rabies vaccinations. They'll then have to have a blood test a few weeks or months after the injections to make sure it's taken effect. Make sure you get the right advice about what your pet will need to enter Canada at least 6 months before you arrive, or you may have to leave them behind...

A sunset boat trip around Vancouver
A sunset boat trip around Vancouver
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started blogging as Disparate Huisvrouw when I was living in Holland. I hadn't written professionally for years because I was running a business with my husband in England, but the sense of loneliness of being a full-time mum in a foreign country drove me back to the keyboard. It was cathartic writing about my struggle to cope with imposed housewife-dom, and it felt empowering to poke fun at some of the more amusing aspects to living in the Netherlands. By writing about everything in a humorous way, I began to look at things more positively and it kick-started my former journalistic career. I now write a book column for an Amsterdam-based online expat newspaper, and freelance as an editor/ proofreader for a European publisher, as well as copywriting locally.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I would be only too happy to offer anyone advice or information if they are considering a move to BC. The more info you have and the more people you know before you get here, the easier it is to settle in. You can reach me via my blog or twitter @S_Antscherl.

Shelley blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Disparate Huisvrouw has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Shelley, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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