Discovering the Pacific Northwest

I remember running in the rain along the Arbutus Greenway – an old railway line converted into a pedestrian and bicycle path – and despite the pouring rain that had plagued the city for weeks, a thought kept repeating itself in my mind: I love you, Vancouver! I was living in Seattle, WA and occasionally came to visit the family of my husband who is from Vancouver. This deep affection for Vancouver counterbalanced my weariness with the American political context following the election of the new President. In November 2017 I was starting my ninth year in Seattle, and my husband and I were ready for a change. It was a big surprise when a few months later my husband accepted a job offer in Vancouver.

A year has already passed since I arrived in Canada. When I reflect on my integration and compare it to that lived in the United States, I feel a whirlwind of emotions and conflicting feelings.

These last 10 years lived outside of France, where I am originally from, have taught me that it is by sharing the social and cultural values of a community, and therefore of a city or a country, that make me feel anchored or connected to a place. I have never felt a sense of belonging to the United States. Immigrating to Canada, I believed that promoting diversity, respect for the environment and equal opportunities (such as access to health or education) were intrinsic values of this country. I respected these values and that reassured me. I envisioned that my “imprinting” would be easier in this new country. This proved to be true.

As well, my two children are of mixed race, and Vancouver is an ideal city to raise them in. The city will allow them to explore and maintain their origins by continuing to speak French and by being close to a large Asian community. My son goes to a francophone public school, an opportunity that did not exist in the United States.

However, Vancouver, like Seattle, faces similar social and economic challenges, such as lack of access to housing and increased poverty. As a social worker, I cannot ignore these issues. In particular, I cannot ignore the drug problem that is eating away at Vancouver. I can still recall my 5 year old son, looking intrigued, with an empty syringe in his hand about to play in a public park. Despite the beauty of the city, destitution is clearly visible in Vancouver. In Seattle, I was shocked to see the speed with which the homeless camps were growing along the highway that led me to work. Vancouver also has its share of poverty and filthy streets.

More personally, moving to a new country also means learning to accept the inevitable moments of loneliness and daring to reinvent oneself, especially professionally. Finding a job abroad means rebuilding a professional network, evaluating opportunities that correspond to one’s skills, getting training or changing jobs. However, for the first time in 10 years, it seems to me that speaking French in a French-speaking country such as Canada could open up new professional opportunities that I could not covet in the United States.

Finally, after these last 12 months in Vancouver I have often been touched by the humble, welcoming and respectful attitude of the people I have been fortunate enough to meet. I note that despite the difficulties and inequalities mentioned above, Vancouverites are generally interested in innovation and social progress. The protection of the environment is at the heart of social and political debates. Articles about well-being, ecology, integration and so on, abound in local newspapers and blogs.

It is therefore in this city full of paradoxes that I wish to see my children grow up – hoping they will be proud of their cultural and ethnic diversity. I will encourage our family to embrace Canadian values of respect, friendship and tolerance. So, despite the fear of the unknown that I struggle with sometimes, and aware that there is no perfect city, when I wander along English Bay with my boots full of mud, venture into the damp and woolly paths of the UBC Endowment Lands, or rediscover the beauty of the Stanley Park shoreline for the thousandth time, I once again find myself whispering “I love you, Vancouver.”

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