MĂ©lanie Bourquin is a French expat currently living in Vancouver, BC. She is 29.
The following interview is the transcript of a conversation I recorded with MĂ©lanie on November 18, 2009. She has plenty of tips and advice to share with fellow expats, especially those who are looking for a job.
What attracted you to become an expat?
First of all, I wanted to improve my English â€“ I really love this language. Itâ€™s so different when you speak English when you are abroad compared to learning at school!
I just like travelling as well, and discovering new cultures â€“ so yes, these are the three main reasons why I moved overseas.
Youâ€™ve been in Vancouver for five months now. How is it going?
Letâ€™s say itâ€™s getting better â€“ slowly (laughs). Iâ€™ve had quite the hard beginningâ€¦ right now, luckily, Iâ€™m working. Itâ€™s my fourth jobâ€¦ and Iâ€™m looking for another one, so itâ€™ll be my fifth one â€“ in five months!
Iâ€™d say that finding a job has been the main challenge. Itâ€™s challenging because itâ€™s completely different from what I was used to â€“ the European way to find a job, like the traditional way to send a CV and cover letter, Iâ€™m not entirely sure thatâ€™s really what works here. Apparently networking is definitely the best way to find a job.
But networking is more long term; it takes a while to get there.
The difference is, in France, when youâ€™re looking for a job and you know someone whoâ€™s an executive or whatever, thereâ€™s a good chance that this person will find you a job even if they donâ€™t really need someone at that point â€“ at least thatâ€™s my point of view. Here, they will keep you in mind for when they need somebody, and check if youâ€™re still looking for a job. But theyâ€™re not going to create a job just because they know you.
Other than finding a job, what (if anything) do you find challenging about living in Canada?
Not much, really. I was lucky enough to find a room not even one week after I arrived. It was easy to make friends as well. Thatâ€™s the good thing about being an expat: you want to meet people but you donâ€™t know anybody, so you have to go up to people and talk to them.
At first of course, I went to my own community, the French, and then it opened onto other nationalities. Thatâ€™s the way it works, really: some expats in your community have lived here for a year or longer, so they can give you tips. Even if they arrived two weeks before you, theyâ€™re still ahead of you and they can give you very helpful tips.
I felt there was more fellowship between expats in Ireland, where I used to live, than here. I donâ€™t know why. It may be because itâ€™s harder here than in Ireland, but Iâ€™m wondering if expats here are not kind of selfish at the beginning – they want to settle down themselves first, and then they will help others. In Ireland, everybody was helping everybody else, right from the beginning.
Anything else that surprised you when you arrived here?
I think that Vancouver is pretty quietâ€¦ itâ€™s a very good place if you want to raise a family. If you are still single and want to go out, itâ€™s not veryâ€¦ funky. Maybe it is, maybe I just donâ€™t know the right places, or I havenâ€™t met the right people to go out with.
I canâ€™t really say anything about the Canadians themselves, because I havenâ€™t really talked to any Canadians. I donâ€™t hang out with many Canadians yet.
Is that because you have so many expats friends, or because you find it hard to befriend Canadians?
Maybe bothâ€¦ maybe they [Canadians] have the feeling that if they become friends with expats, those people will just leave Canada after a while, and they are going to lose friends. But really nowadays, if you have a friend anywhere on earth, you can stay in touch â€“ and itâ€™s a good opportunity to go visit that person at some stage!
Time for some tips! What helps you cope with the challenges of expat life?
It wasnâ€™t easy at first. I came here at a pretty bad time: it was the beginning of summer, there was obviously the recession, all the students had already taken all the summer jobsâ€¦ and I didnâ€™t have any Canadian experience.
I am an optimistic person to begin with, so that helped.
I kept in touch with my friends in Europe very, very often â€“ by phone and via internet as well.
I talked with new people, I got tips and new ideas, new websites where I could look for a job.
Itâ€™s hard to motivate yourself every single day, to be honest. You have to take a break sometimes. When you have to look for a job, and youâ€™re in front of your laptop, and itâ€™s beautiful outside, at some stage you have to say â€śWell, even if there are new job postings, thereâ€™s only going to be a few â€“ I can go to the beach for one hour.â€ť And you just go relaxâ€¦ or try to relax (laughs) and then you come back and start over again.
I donâ€™t know if I can give any tips â€“ justâ€¦ believe in yourself! Keep going, keep smiling. Itâ€™s not always easy, but donâ€™t hesitate to talk with your friends and your family, if they understand you and if they support you and your choice.
Then if there are some signs that show you that maybe this is not the right place for you, you can make the choice to leave, and maybe come back later.
Just keep going. The more you look for a job, the more tips you learn and the more you learn about how to deal with life here and how to adapt to North American ways.
What are the most important lessons life overseas has taught you?
– Humility, because you start from zero again every single time: job, friends, getting to know the placeâ€¦ everything.
– Not to pay attention to material things, and care more about your friends and your family instead.
– I donâ€™t make plans â€“ at least not long-term. Maybe a few months ahead, but thatâ€™s it. Thatâ€™s how my life is. I know for sure that I will be here until March, and after that I donâ€™t know, itâ€™s a surprise! Anything can happen. Thatâ€™s the good thing â€“ itâ€™s so unpredictable!
– I realised yesterday that I havenâ€™t panicked in a long time. I donâ€™t know what panic is anymore. Whatever may happen, I think my reaction would be surprise at first, but then,Â just breatheâ€¦ thinkâ€¦ actâ€¦ and call 911! (laughs)
– When you go live abroad, you look very brave in the eyes of those whoâ€™ve never done it before. Itâ€™s very good for your self-esteem! Even guys â€“ some of them have told me â€śOh my god, I couldnâ€™t do what youâ€™ve done, leaving with just your suitcase and not knowing anyone over there.â€ť Itâ€™s kind of normal for you, because youâ€™ve done it before and you love travelling, so youâ€™re not afraid to do it again!
Another frequent comment is â€śYouâ€™re so lucky that you get to live abroad!â€ť Do you agree?
Itâ€™s good that youâ€™re asking this question â€“ I was talking about this with someone only yesterday. I actually hate people telling me that, because that is not luck, that is a choice. I have chosen to go through hard times for the last four months, and I just didnâ€™t give up. But it was a choice â€“ I chose to start everything from zero every two years, or every year and a half.
Itâ€™s not about luck at all. Itâ€™s about working hard, saving money and being driven enough to go.
Maybe itâ€™s just me being prideful, butâ€¦ I just donâ€™t give up. I am stubborn about certain things. Although, I was about to give up last Septemberâ€¦ I really was about to book a flight out of here, and somebody called me regarding a job!
Any advice that you would like to give to fellow expats or future expats?
– Prepare before leaving. Mostly for the job market, but also regarding your visa: how long does it take to get it, how long can you stay?
– Explore everything Internet has to offer. There are so many good resources. There are things like meet-ups and associations, or you can volunteer, just to meet people, have a drink with them. I also found some people who live in Vancouver and have a blog, and I contacted them before moving here.
– Donâ€™t be shy. Talk to people. They can give you tips, or they can help you stay motivated not to give up. They can tell you â€śhave a look hereâ€ť, or â€śI know somebody who might know somebody who might need an employee.â€ť
– Save a big amount of money before you leave, because you donâ€™t know what is going to happen.
– If youâ€™re feeling down, call your friends, or go for a walk or a run. Do something to take your mind off your situationâ€¦ everything will be alright.
– Everything works out in the end, thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve learnt! And if it doesnâ€™t, then it means youâ€™re just not meant to be here and you have to make some other plansâ€¦ but itâ€™s going to be OK!
Thank you MĂ©lanie for a great interview, which I am sure will be very helpful to other expats!
Please donâ€™t hesitate to leave your comments or questions for MĂ©lanie in the comment form below.