I come from a very settled place. It’s a city, but it feels like a town. I know families who have lived in the same neighbourhoods for generations and grandparents who attended the same high schools as their grandkids. Even my dad has lived in the same neighbourhood ever since he was a kid. When this is how you grow up, people get to know your family and your history, and they get to know you. Or at least they think they know you. It’s not always a bad thing, but it made me feel like I didn’t have full control over my story.
So I packed up and moved to Vancouver six months ago in search of a clean slate. For me, this city represents the space I’m holding for myself, allowing me to learn and change however I want to and to explore what’s out there. It represents less ties to what has always been and more opportunities for what could be. I feel supported and encouraged by this city, like I’m being gently nudged and told to grow. And in the best way possible, I feel a little more anonymous here – a little smaller even. It allows me to sit back and quietly learn. In many ways, I feel like I’m gaining perspective.
Sometimes when I’m on the sky train or in a coffee shop, I look around and realize that I am a minority in the room. To be honest, as a white girl, this is pretty new to me. It makes me realize that for most of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who look like me and talk like me. I question how that has coloured my own thoughts and opinions. I like to think it hasn’t, but maybe just the fact that I have very seldom been aware of my own race means that it has. It makes me realize that I want to be reminded always of how many perspectives exist outside of my own. Of course, not everyone grew up like I did, speaks the language I speak, or sees things the way I see them, but I like the humility of being reminded of it. I like keeping this closer to the forefront of my mind.
I used to believe that there was a checklist of things to accomplish in life that allowed you to become the person you should be, and I’d feel alone any time I did anything off-list. But in Vancouver, I can’t help but feel that no matter your goal, your passion, your identity, you can be you. You can be different, the same, unique, new – whatever you want. The culture suggests it, and the city encourages it. There are universities, classes, clubs, community centres and co-working spaces bringing people together. You can be anything here, and you won’t be alone in it.
People warned me before moving to Vancouver that it would be a tough city to make friends in because, they said, the people aren’t all that friendly. I can’t say if this is true about Vancouver natives, because so far everyone I’ve met here is originally from somewhere else. And in my experience, everyone I’ve met has been kind, open and friendly. Maybe it’s the fact that we share the experience of uprooting ourselves and leaving the familiar, which somehow quickens the bond. Maybe it’s that we’re happy to indulge each other in stories of what it’s like back home, what our families think of us leaving or how excited we are to be away from the winters we know. Maybe it’s that certain humility that comes with being the new kid. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a shared understanding. There is a weight to realizing that the adventure you’re on can be as isolating as it is exhilarating, and the people I’ve met seem to get that.
I hear so many people say that Vancouver feels more like home than home ever did. I’m not sure if I’m there yet, but I’m also not sure if I ever want to feel that “at home” again. This experience has me more alone than I’ve ever been and yet more connected to so many who’ve felt the same things I have. Through the hustle and bustle of the city, I’m finding my centre. Through being on my own, I’m finding connections with others and realizing that none of us are all that different from one another. And as much as I miss home sometimes, I wouldn’t leave Vancouver. I love being part of a city that all different people from all different places call home.