Staying and Going

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The flu is all over Vancouver. It’s another year. It’s rainy grey winter. Everything slows down and there is time to make giant pots of soup and to think.

Over the last ten years, until coming here, life was always planned in maximum increments of one year. Semester by semester, contract by contract, visa by visa. The main reason, if you must know, that we talk about more than a year right now is probably because of the passport situation. Continue reading

This Could Really Be a Good Life

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This guy is getting all kinds of press.  I would read his book, though specifically I hope if he were to write one that it would be more than a listing of experience and would explain more about the logistics of his life and the inner workings of someone carrying out marathon travel.

When we got back to Canada, my friends summed me up to people I was being introduced to in ways I didn’t expect.  “This is T.E.S., she just came back from taking years off to…”  Often, what they were saying was not necessarily an accurate summary of what I had spent my time doing or what the point was, but made me seem pretty well-traveled. Continue reading

The Adjustment Phase

One of the things we talked about a lot is that a move to any place probably comes with an adjustment period. This is written about frequently in expat/TWC circles. Moving a lot doesn’t necessarily shorten the amount of time it takes to settle in, but it does make the adjustments more obvious. I can now tell myself “you don’t really hate it here, calm down”. Vancouver took more time than usual to settle in for both of us, to the point sometimes it didn’t seem like it was going to fit, ever… Continue reading

Summer in the City

We haven’t left the city all summer. Reading that is crazy, how can almost three months have passed without venturing further than the Skytrain tracks go? What happened to plans of mountains and island beaches?

I am genuinely impressed with the people I know who hustle all week in this city and then throw everything in the car for weekends spent cooking things over fires, running marathons and climbing mountains. Onwards, luon army. I figure the secret of how this is accomplished will magically appear somewhere between now and 2014.

So what was summer spent doing? Well, mostly working. Continue reading

Get the Money: Finding a Job

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The scariest part of repatriation was not really knowing how the job market was.  You can ask people, read papers, look for evidence forever, and still not really know.  HR rules of thumb like “one month for every ten thousand dollars” float around.  The bank balance swirls around the drain.

It was not as bad as I thought it would be, my search ran less than two months.  Even though it was a big, fat, stressful part of repatriation worthy of documentation — I didn’t want to get into it until the dust had cleared.  Here’s what I found.

I didn’t temp, but at a certain point I was going to find some random temp job to take up time and bring in some extra cash.  In Vancouver, I know under-thirty-five people working with Pristine Labour who have used it to pay the bills and have heard fairly good things.  If you’re going to work as an office temp, you may want to brush up on your Microsoft Office before the “interview” which from the couple I’ve dealt with was more like a screening to ensure you’re passable followed by typing and other quaint administrative testing. They will do this testing even if you’re not applying to be an administrative temp, and in many cases whether you pass or fail will be a mystery.

I dealt with a selection of recruiters, they seemed like nice enthusiastic people but few had the awareness to follow up with me following their request to put my details forward for some job or another — to be blunt, if I know you only put three people forward for a job and you’ve asked me if I would consider the job, your failure to let me know what has happened even if the result is negative is a little tactless.  Additionally, it causes me to question whether your networking skills are actually as good as you say they are and whether you are representing yourself honestly, and I’ll probably never refer anyone to you ever.  It’s useful to know what a recruiter will make off placing you — in my case it was a pretty significant amount of money and that changed how I viewed things and made me less interested in dealing with that part of the industry when I could just use my own networks and sales skills.  I thought the right recruiter would be able to serve as my calling card, smoothing my expatriate absence, making introductions.  In fact, I got myself several interviews on my own… recruiters sought several for me but no one could come through.

Job posting in my industry seemed wildly disorganized.  The good old days of an ad in the local paper are gone, replaced by search engines that feed on other search engines. Craigslist is now a place you can find a legit $80K job. Who knew?!

Networking.  Networking is like… going to a make-out party when you’re twelve.*  Everyone knows what’s going on, it could get embarrassing.  There’s potential to walk away feeling a little scarred or dismissed, and even the small victories don’t mean you’re in a relationship.  But there is a best case scenario where it ushers along something that would have been in the works naturally and that’s why you show up.

I feel like I was able to translate some of my MacGuyver overseas optimism and skills into my job search.  It also helped that I came reasonably financially prepared, expecting the worst, and open to the idea of doing whatever necessary to make this move work.  Some days sucked, and there is no guarantee my new job will be amazing, but by three months in I have something like a life coming together.

*You know, the kind where someone has planned in advance to play spin the bottle or seven minutes in heaven.  I’m not even sure this happens anymore.  They happened in the nineties, I’ll tell you that kids.

Being a Member of the Bank Card Souvenir Club

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Coming home, liquid financial assets were split in three countries and currencies.  Aside from the involuntary stock-market type experience that daily currency monitoring creates, some practical things that have gone well and less well:

1) Banks with international networks.  I have an account with A Global Alliance partner that has saved me a lot of fees over the last year.  It’s actually such a decent travel account that I’m keeping it open and thinking about ways I can use it even though it’s in a currency I’m not likely to earn in for awhile. Consider:

  • A good bank (ahem, not my Blue Logo Canadian bank) is open about what rates it uses and the percent commission made on exchange.
  • The usefulness of a given network depends a lot on your plans.  Mine was useless in Asia – on every trip I wished I’d just bit the bullet and brought more cash – but very useful in places that I tend to visit long term or spend more money in.

2) Multiple accounts.  The obvious downside is that more accounts means potentially more monthly fees.  It is also difficult to easily open accounts in certain countries.  However, I think multiple accounts have ended up being useful for my purposes so far.

  • Money in different places can serve as a hedge against currency fluctuations.  One currency has currently devalued 25-30% since returning to Canada, it’s possible to leave that money alone.  Another has increased in value by 6% and is getting better, it makes sense to live off this account in the interim.  (This is not financial advice, just a personal choice. Your comfort with currency flux may be different from my own.)
  • The hassle of various international transactions is greatly decreased.  Things like health insurance pay outs and tax refunds can often be managed by direct deposit.  Similarly, restarting a life in Canada was easier with some funds remaining in my account here and a Canadian credit card.
  • Interest rates on savings vary all over the world. My non-term savings rate in Australia is better than any term deposit currently on offer in Canada.  (In fact, in comparison with Australia I found personal banking in Canada woefully inadequate. Just saying.)
  • Diverse accounts mean more options in case of emergency – when one account gets shut down due to a security breach, some card isn’t accepted, your everyday wallet goes missing, you discover your bank has a different policy or customer service availability than you had thought. Sh*t happens.

3) I didn’t do it on purpose but keeping my credit history (and cards) alive in Canada was probably a good idea.  I didn’t come back with a large amount of immediately liquid Canadian funds, so I was able to use my existing credit to finance whatever was necessary while I sorted stuff out.  Although it’s probably easier to blow the budget repatriating with a credit card, my life would have been more of a hassle and more expensive the last couple of months without my plastic cards.

How to Furnish Your Post-Arrival House

(1) Find a long-suffering friend who lives in a massive apartment complex who will let you commandeer his Netflix and sleep on his pull out.

(2) Discriminately collect items from the area that says DO NOT LEAVE HOUSEWARES HERE in the apartment parking garage, feel as though you are doing a good deed because should the items be traced the tenant would be severely fined.  These collected items should include a lampshade sans lamp, some granny style dishes, a large mirror and a rather stylish modernist wooden tray you will use in your bedroom for morning tea and feel classy about.

(3) Spend far too long examining Ikea website pictures in an attempt to discern what is stylish and worthwhile and what going to result in ill-fitted pressboard sadness.  Email virtual shopping lists to yourself, feel Martha Stewart circa 2001 levels of productivity.

(4) Laugh uproariously at what people believe their used furniture “with just a tiny rip” is worth on Craigslist and Kijiji.  Caution self at using ‘great resale value’ as a reason to blow furniture budget.  Wonder at how it is possible that everyone has used whatever item for only “six/nine/two” months before listing it or whether they are toying with you.

(4)(a) Realize the people with the best stuff are sometimes giving it away free on the internet.  Get high end kitchen table with an unnoticeable chip for free from expensive suburb.

(4)(b) Obsessively stalk free listings until you are sucked in to picking up something, perhaps an analog television set, that inevitably seems like it was a poor choice.

(5) Rediscover the Dollar Store varieties, abandon previous principles regarding not supporting certain international trade forms with glee, gradually become snobby about which Dollar Store is superior due to selection and good value.  Similarly, begin to rank various Winners outlets in your head.  Compare things such as Winners pricing on bamboo cutting boards with dollar store pricing on bamboo cutting boards.  Feel victorious while purchasing a $1 cheese grater from Wal-mart, dismayed on discovering they were selling three forks for one dollar instead of $1.25.

(5)(a) Refuse to let your significant other purchase small teaspoons because normal teaspoons suffice.  Relent.

(6) Have your long-suffering friend over for drinks, preferably from your over sized duty free supply, offer a folding chair as finding a couch has proven incredibly annoying, allow long-suffering friend to have a couple of drinks and lay on the floor.  Feel moderate discomfort/sofa envy.

(6)(a)  Finally locate the perfect sofa, way outside initial couch budgets yet massively on sale, determine it will be available only in a month to six weeks.  Lay on the floor, less discomfort.

(7) Slowly put all of your things in the ample apartment storage space, so much space that you do not need a dresser or wardrobe and can put your California Closet fantasies to rest.  Lay on your low range mattress, resting on it’s prefab bed frame, and feel peaceful. You have nested, this is home.

Big City Life: Vancouver

Two long flights, broken up by one of those ‘go into a city in a foreign country for a few hours‘ mini trips that seem like a great idea at booking (productive layovers!), and three days of the worst jet lag I have ever had – including nausea and spontaneously falling asleep during the day – didn’t exactly bring me somewhere familiar.

Returning ‘home’ actually means deciding to live in a big city properly for the first time ever.  I’ve done student life in a couple world-class cities, for a few months at a time, but have never put together an actual city life (or…. signed a full year lease).

Vancouver is a great accidental logical choice for the ex wanderer.  Reasonably diverse in both people and food, moderate seaside climate, and accessible to a lot of interesting places when the need to flee escape for awhile hits. Right now, out the window all I can see are sixty foot pine trees and rolling hills, magic.

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