'There's nowhere quite like Vancouver'
Canada Q&A: Rachel Healy moved to Vancouver on a one-year visa in 2009. Five years later she's still there and loving her lifestyle
Rachel Healy: "Most of us have completely changed our lifestyles here: working out, eating well, skipping the pub every other weekend in lieu of dinner and a walk on the beach . . ."
Why did you decide to leave Ireland?
I left in June 2009, soon after finishing up producing in TV. My then-boyfriend and now-fiancé Simon and I wanted to escape the recession and have a year-long adventure before settling down at home, but five years later we're still in Vancouver. It's too good to leave right now and we're not sure our lifestyle in Ireland would match it just yet.
We chose Canada as all the Irish at the time seemed to be going to Europe, Oz or South America and we wanted something different. Our friend from Lucan lived there with his girlfriend and now wife, and raved about it, and I also shared a flat in Dublin with a Vancouverite who offered to put us up for free for a month.
What visa are you on?
We came over on a one-year working visa (IEC) which we got through Usit. My employer offered to sponsor me for British Columbia’s provincial nominee program, which fast-tracks the immigration process, and I sponsored Simon, so we got a two-year extension. We became permanent residents last year so we wouldn't have a time limit to make any life-changing decisions.
Where do you live?
We live in the middle of downtown Vancouver, one block from the main entertainment district. We moved three times in three years, upgrading condos every time, until we got a puppy and had to settle in one place. It's great being so central and right in the buzz of things, but just ten minutes away you hit chilled out beaches with amazing sunsets at English Bay. We're surrounded by white-capped mountains for half the year. There's nowhere quite like Vancouver that I've seen before, and no-one ever wants to leave.
Where do you work?
Simon and I work for the same company and they've been really good to us. There's job stability, great benefits and the opportunity to grow as they encourage promotion from within. I'm a social media marketing manager, so it's a fun and challenging role that's constantly evolving. It keeps me connected with what's happening at home, from the controversial water charges to Love/Hate.
Rachel Healy videoblog
What opportunities are there for Irish workers in Vancouver?
There are plenty of opportunities if you work hard and do your best to integrate, although it can be tough without contacts. Some industries prefer hiring locally. The accent works for us as Canadians love the Irish, but it also works against us in a way as we're so obviously different.
We both came from a media background in Ireland, which was beginning to see major cuts, and it's virtually impossible to penetrate the industry here without a Canadian reference. I write for one of Vancouver's most popular blogs too in my spare time, Vancity Buzz.
How does the cost of living compare to Ireland?
Vancouver is very expensive. Food, rent and socialising all costs a lot. It’s manageable when you’re young, free and single, but we've had a few friends leave because it’s much harder to rationalise the cost with kids, especially when things seem to be picking up at home. Wages are certainly higher in some industries, but you get much more value for your money in Europe or even in the US; lots of people shop across the border.
Have you any experience of the education or healthcare systems?
College education is expensive, so I’d send my kids to college at home if we were still here then, but the healthcare system is beyond reproach. It’s mandatory for every British Columbian to pay the Medical Services Plan monthly, which is $125 each. It's Obamacare done right.
Is there an Irish community, and do you participate?
There's a huge Irish community here that's growing every day. When we first arrived we were in the minority, but now you see GAA jerseys and hear the brogue on every street or pub in the city. We've an ever-expanding group of Irish (and some Canadians who have the stamina to keep up with us), who we call the “Van fam”. We pack the pubs for games and take over the place for Paddy’s Day of course, but we haven't got a bad rep like you hear about from Australia. Canadians love the Irish, probably because most of them have some family connection to Ireland, but they're less vocal about it than Americans.
What's your favourite thing about Vancouver?
The mix of urban boho chic with the outdoorsy-kale-smoothie-hiking vibe. Most of us have completely changed our lifestyles here: working out, eating well, skipping the pub every other weekend in lieu of dinner and a walk on the beach… although that could also just be us reaching our thirties and finally growing up.
Are there any downsides?
It’s half the world away from Ireland, and there really is no place like home. If only we could click our heels whenever we wanted to go home for decent sausages or a Sunday roast with family.
What advice would you give other Irish considering a move to Canada?
Do your research and decide if you prefer the laid-back, outdoorsy west coast, the 9 to 5 faster pace of cosmopolitan Toronto that's half the distance to home, or if you want to make a lot of money living in the middle of nowhere with quite severe seasons in northern Alberta.
Have you made plans for the future?
We're living on a year-to-year basis. We're getting married in Mexico in November, with 30 relatives coming over for a beach do, so we feel really grateful we can take advantage of opportunities like these that we wouldn't be able to afford from home. I can't imagine leaving Vancouver - we're just not ready - but we plan to have a child here and take it from there. Your family always draws you to home, so only time will tell.