And So She Joins The Vancouver Exodus

You may remember my article about the Vancouver Exodus.

Yes, THAT article.

Why I Am Ready To Join The Vancouver Exodus, better known by the version republished by Vancity Buzz, The Great Vancouver Exodus, Why I’m almost ready to leave the city.

I wrote that article shortly after a 6-month solo trip across Europe, which culminated in my very reluctant return “home” to Vancouver in December of 2015. I received a job offer less than 24-hours after I landed and barely had time to sleep off my jet lag, much less consider the weight of my decisions before the holiday daze set in.

The January cold startled me awake.

It was one of those Sundays in early January when you wake up to bright, stark sunlight streaming through your blinds.

My fellow Vancouverites might know the one. It’s been grey and dreary for months. You open your curtains to a brave new world and see, with sudden clarity, all of the dust that had gathered in the cracks of your life while you had been hibernating through the long winter.

I needed to get out of the house and go for a walk to clear my head.

You all know how that went.

I decided to join the Vancouver Exodus.

As of November 2016, I made it to London, U.K.

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Aerial view of downtown Vancouver and the surrounding oceans and mountains

Why I chose to leave Vancouver, my home for the last 20 years

It was the most logical explanation to my situation. I was 27 and had career and travel aspirations beyond what the city I called ‘home’ could offer. I didn’t see any option other than to start planning my long-term, possibly permanent, departure from the city I grew up in.

Such a life-changing decision needed to be rationalized and rationalized again. And so I sat down at my bedroom desk with a large cup of coffee one late Saturday morning soon after my wintry stroll and rationalized my decision in the form of THAT article about joining the Vancouver Exodus.

I did not, however, anticipate what would happen next.

My Viral Vancouver Exodus Op-Ed

I wrote the piece assuming an audience of 50 people, all of whom would know me personally. I shared the piece on my personal Facebook page and it quickly started going viral. Something about the cost of living in Vancouver versus wages and job opportunities must have struck a chord. A few days after I published it, I received an email from the editor-in-chief of Vancity Buzz, the largest online news publication in Vancouver, asking to republish my piece.

“…sure?” I thought. “What could possibly happen?”

It didn’t occur to me exactly how painful of a chord I struck, but oh, what a chord it was.

Vancity Buzz, now known as Daily Hive, has a Facebook audience of 350,000, a Twitter audience of 200,000, and an overall daily readership of 250,000. The piece went viral across Canada. It was shared over 10,000 times within 2 days. This very blog had thousands of visitors every hour and the entire city was talking about my piece. Friends were calling to tell me that their entire office was discussing it.

In the days to follow, the term “Vancouver Exodus” seemed to have been popularized across Canada. Major North American news sources started publishing pieces about the exodus of millennials from Vancouver due to housing costs and the ensuing fear of impending labour shortage.

My piece was also republished by urban studies news source New Geography, owned and operated by Joel Kotkin, an internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends.

All of this was, to be perfectly honest, terrifying.

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The glass towers of Yaletown at dusk

Public Response to my Op-Ed

During this time, both I and Daily Hive received numerous letters from strangers wanting to tell their own stories of Exodus.

One particular email stood out to me echoed my sentiments clearly. I asked the sender if I could have permission to republish his words.

“I was born in Cyprus, where most of my immediate and extended family is too. I studied and worked in Vancouver for 11 years, became a Canadian citizen, and always called Vancouver my home. I left in 2010 to return to Cyprus, mostly because I knew that if I had stayed then, I’d never summon the courage to leave again.

Vancouver is like a garden of Eden. But if you’ve had a chance to live outside the garden walls, then that garden is no longer what it used to be. There is so much more out there that extends far beyond the natural beauty of Vancouver and the artificial kindness of Vancouverites. It may not be as “easy” or “convenient”, but it sure as hell colours life in different ways too.

I live in Cyprus but travel all over the world for work, from Middle East to Europe and North America. I keep what Vancouver gave me close to heart, but I’m taking in so much more through my travels. I was in Vancouver a year ago and although for the first few days I felt like a kid standing at the gates of Disneyland, after experiencing everything again, I quickly realized that I was too old for it. Been there done that. Magic Mountain seemed like a better choice.

If you are ever passing by Cyprus do drop me a line. I’m sure a long coffee by the Mediterranean Sea, reminiscing about the mess on Granville Street* will be just the thing to do 😉

Good luck. Get out of there.”

*Granville Street is the main nightlife district of Vancouver and is lined with clubs and bars.

The words of this stranger still haunt me to this day. A trip Cyprus is in order.

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Downtown Vancouver and the iconic Harbour Centre

The “Big Idea” Contest at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

I was contacted by a member of the Company of Young Professionals at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade a month or so later. The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade was concerned about the future of Vancouver’s young workforce and decided to run a Big Idea video contest for their Company of Young Professionals to propose ideas to attract and retain talent in the region.

One particular team asked to interview me for their video. Their idea was based on how people are drawn to Vancouver because of the lifestyle the city offers and suggested that companies could provide lifestyle benefits such as gym memberships and sabbaticals to attract and retain talent.

I agree with my team wholeheartedly. Vancouver is not a hub for finance or travel in the way London or New York is. Vancouver is, however, a great place for those who value the outdoors and a good work-life balance.

I, however, had already enjoyed the laid-back nature of Vancouver for 20 years and was itching to find some ladders to climb and late nights to work.

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Interview with the Company of Young Professionals at the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Preparing for My Own Exodus from Vancouver

Eventually, the frenzy around my piece died down and I happily returned to anonymity to seriously consider my own Exodus from Vancouver.

Technically though, I had been considering my own Exodus for the past 10 years.

I had written my SATs at age 16 and was prepared to do my undergrad in California but couldn’t afford it. At 21, after graduating from the University of British Columbia with $20,000 in student loan debt, I tried to make the move to Asia. I spent a year in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, then found myself back in Vancouver where I started a career in marketing. At 24, I wanted to move to Singapore to look for further career opportunities but stayed for a relationship. At 26 when the relationship ended, I went on a sabbatical hoping it would be my Exodus. I didn’t quite make it, but as of January 2016, at age 27, I decided that I was finally truly ready to go.

And yet, I had taken on a new position—the one that had essentially hired me off my flight from Europe—and was dedicated to performing in my role to the best of my abilities. I was committed to my team and my duty to the company, despite being headhunted and offered an attractive position with a 70% pay raise half a year into my employment, and of course my consistent eagerness to leave Vancouver.

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My last office in Vancouver, the iconic Marine Building, in the early spring sun

Joining the Vancouver Exodus

The year wore on.

Come August, possibly spurred by the recent widespread discussions, debates, and complaints about how foreign buyers were driving up the Vancouver housing market, a 15% real estate tax was introduced targeting foreign homebuyers.

Then came September, wherein I was the last mid-level marketer left in my company across Canada. I decided that the time had come.

London had never been on my list of options. I had focused on Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taipei in the decade that I had considered getting out of town. More recently, I considered Amsterdam, Berlin, and Munich. London never appealed to me. The roads are too winding, and the culture too similar to my own to be fascinating but too different to be worth the hassle of an intercontinental move. That is, if I was going to make the effort to move to a new city that was still relativity similar to my own, San Francisco or New York were better options.

Yet somehow, at this point in my life, the fine lines of my logic, ambition, and wanderlust intersected and pointed me to London. And so I filled out a long series of forms, made an appointment at the British Embassy in Vancouver, and received my visa in the mail 3 weeks later.

After an event that took up most of my October, I was on a plane to London.

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Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster

Settling into London, UK

On December 1st, 2016, exactly 1 month after I landed, I interviewed for a position that would become my first trans-continental job that aligned with my career. I then sat down for lunch with a man who would become my first serious partner in years. This happened within the span of 2 hours.

November had been one of the more difficult months in recent memory but everything was slowly falling into place.

It is now late February. I have a stable job, a little flat just outside of city center, and solid plans for my future.

This entire process has not been easy.

But then again nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Rewards are earned through hard work and careful planning. Opportunity happens to those who have spent countless hours preparing for the challenge. Those who know me understand that while I may take risks, all of my risks are calculated. I have contingency plans that stretch 10 years and 3 continents.

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The London Eye at dusk on one life-changing date, December 1st, 2016

So, here I am.

I joined the Vancouver Exodus.

If you’re ever in London, please do give me a shout!

I’d love to get a cuppa and listen to all of your stories.