In discovering Vancouver, I discovered myself

I was born on November 14th, 1990 in Belgium, a small, lovely country, where the highest summit doesn’t reach 2300 feet. My parents speak Flemish. It’s very close to Dutch, only the accent is different. I was six when my parents decided to divorce. That’s when I moved to the South of France. From then on everything would be French: my studies, my romances, even my dreams. Two languages, two families, two cultures. To my family, I am not really Belgian anymore, but neither am I French, first because my ID doesn’t say so and second because I have the best (French) friends you could wish for who never forget to remind me where I come from, ain’t it la Belge? So, who am I?

The popular adage “travelling is about meeting others but foremost about finding yourself,” drew me in, and I started travelling on the 13th of June 2016 when, after months of preparation and over seven hours of flying, I landed in MontreaI. There, I wandered, worked and tasted whatever Quebec had to offer. I pushed the limits of discovery further and traveled along the Canadian East Coast for six weeks in a rusty white van with 65-square-feet of accommodation that my partner and I built and decorated. Our journey consisted of haphazard planning, beautiful encounters, many surprises, an Indian summer and maple leaves that turned red and gold. And suddenly winter came.

On the last day of 2016, I once again took a flight, this time to Central America, after finding myself under four feet of snow and in minus 27° Fahrenheit weather. Ten weeks of sun, in backpacker mode with no beaten path to follow. I took my first swim in the turquoise sea of the Caribbean, experienced the waves of the Pacific Ocean, and of course a few misadventures. But that’s when you really master a road trip, isn’t it? I dusted off my Spanish skills, learned how to surf, ate Gallo Pinto almost every day and heard reggaeton non-stop on the radio. A true dream life (except for the music maybe). I felt happy, yet I still couldn’t find myself. There was nothing new under the sun.

Outside a café on Commercial Drive. | Photo by Grant Harder

I found the answers to my questions on the days following March 17th, 2017, when I landed at YVR. I was told about the great geographical assets of Vancouver, the ocean and the beaches bordering the city, the dense forests with trees so big you can’t seem to find the top, and plenty of nice hikes. I also knew about the rain. No one, however, told me about tolerance being a Vancouverite’s main mindset. Neither was I told that multiculturalism was widespread and a key characteristic of the city. All of a sudden, Belgian or French, it didn’t matter anymore. I wasn’t at home, but I felt that I belonged. I found my place.

My new home was on the Drive, in East Van. It has an abundance of independent coffee bars and breweries, convenience stores (where the cheese is good and affordable), the best ice-cream in the city (very subjectively), the 99 bus and remnants of Little Italy are distinguishable at every street corner. But most of all, it’s the slight boldness, its progressivism and nostalgia, and its heterogeneous personality that fascinated me. It is the people and their open-mindedness. This characteristic indeed exists in the entire city, but it’s by living on Commercial Drive that I became fully aware of it.

Whatever origin, colour or faith, yoga or not, coffeeholic or rather Chai tea latte fan, people are very different, yet they live in a perfect symbiosis and with a respect of freedom that I have seldom experienced before. That’s when I found myself in tune with my questions, when I actually, and simply, found myself. I was part of something bigger and didn’t feel the need to justify myself anymore.

Now back in France, I yearn to be back among you. Obviously, nothing is perfect. Nonetheless, while I was looking for myself I also had the chance to find a country, a city and a people whose open-mindedness, tolerance and concept of freedom make some other countries who believe themselves to be the guardian and the exemplar of those values blush in shame.