GIRL is just a four letter word

Skateboarding is an art that I have idolised for a long time. Since I was a kid I’ve always loved everything about the scene, from the actual sport itself, to the fashion, culture and lifestyle surrounding it. I found myself gravitating towards music, movies, brands and people associated with. Yet, I never seriously tried to pursue it, mostly because I was scared- I mean, I’m a GIRL.

So, I found myself attracted to boys in the sport instead. If I couldn’t do it, I could at least watch them do it. I could feel pumped every time they landed a trick, every time their efforts were recognised, right? I couldn’t do any of that stuff myself- I’m a GIRL.

At home I made friends with a couple of decent guys on the scene. They were rad and I was permanently mesmerised every single time I saw them effortlessly drop in on a vert ramp. I wish I could do that stuff, but I couldn’t… GIRL.

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I always figured that everyone would look at me and say I was a poser. I was just doing it for attention, or for guys. That part sucks the most. The fact I formed a relationship with a guy who skated, and skated fucking brilliantly, didn’t help either. I wanted to do it for myself, but of course if I want to participate in a male dominated sport then of course; it must be for the male attention. It must be to wow the boys, for a boyfriend, for a partner. Why? Oh, yeah, because I’m a GIRL.

The burning desire to nail skating for myself just grew stronger though, and no amount of anxiety about what other people thought could put it out. Moving to Canada was the biggest step for me. I’d already done something super scary- the scariest thing I’ve ever done actually- and I’d succeeded. So here I am, in Canada, and who cares what people think? This GIRL is going to be herself.

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Prior to my arrival in the country, my amazing pal Ben had taken me out a few times on a shitty £30 penny board that I bought, mostly because I was too scared of the judgement I would get for buying a real board. And he was super supportive. He saw how much I genuinely wanted it, and he continuously pushed me to practise, and eat shit, and get back up again. And he promised me that it didn’t matter if I was a girl or not- it just mattered that I was trying.

In Toronto I found an awesome group of girls who go by the name of the Babes Brigade. Formed in 2015 for the sole purpose of finding ladies with a shared interest in skating, they meet twice a week and welcome all abilities.

Arriving in the winter probably wasn’t the best time for me to practise, but luckily the girls meet once a week at an indoor park not too far from where I live called The Skate Loft. And Monday night is GIRLS ONLY night (5-7pm).

Going along and being welcomed by a mix of women who had been skating from 10 years right down to six weeks really motivated me. Everyone was super friendly and supportive and no matter how many times I fell on my ass- or anyone did for that matter- it was all about getting back up and doing it again.

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So the next day I dashed between skate stores in the city, pricing up and subsequently buying my perfect first board. I picked a shop complete from So Hip It Hurts– Toronto’s first and oldest skate store. And I’m obsessed.

I’ve likened the feeling to falling in love. Wanting something so desperately that you just want to keep trying. It’s exciting and scary and exhilarating. Hitting the ground and getting back up with more determination. It leaves my legs shaking and my heart racing.

My desire to progress has truly been ignited, and now I don’t think the flame will go out for a very long time. And I don’t care what anyone says, I am a GIRL and I like skateboarding- and I’m fucking proud of that too.

 

AimeeXO

Winter

Today I realised, for the first time, that I am a winter person. I’ve never been someone who is particularly keen on winter. For me winter, once the holiday season was over, was always grey, miserable and a little depressing.

Winter in the North East of England was about gale force winds and drizzle. It was walking home from school at 4:00pm in the dark, so drenched in rain that your tights clung to your red raw legs. It was having no money after Christmas, but wanting to get drunk in the same club you’ve been frequenting since you were a teenager, because anything to speed up (or blackout) those months was a bonus. And the rare occasion that it did snow, the wet flakes would fall to the ground and turn into a brown mush within hours, for the most part anyway. Those rare days of pure white snow seem more like a distant childhood memory than anything.

I guess the grey weather, partially to blame on living by the sea, is why I always kind of hated winter and why I self-diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

But since arriving here, everything has changed.

Winter is so magnificent here. I mean, yeah, there are those days with freezing ice rain, which clings to the wires overhead, creating a deathly tightrope for the birds brave enough to come out this time of year. The days when the TTC are thrown into a state of disarray and angry commuters are forced to try and make it home by foot, if a trusty subway line cannot rescue them.

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But then there are days like today, when the snow begins to float down and blanket the world in white. Everything looks better when it’s covered in snow. Like all of the blemishes and imperfections of the city vanish and everything becomes surreal.

It turns me into a child again: my feet searching for some fresh, not yet trodden in snow, just so I can hear that satisfying crunch, crunch, crunch.

And everything is so peaceful that it’s hard to believe that you’re in one of the biggest cities in the world. I don’t know if there is some kind of scientific explanation as to why the sound becomes dulled (there probably is), but everything is just so serene.

It isn’t difficult to get around, and as long as you bundle up, you are pretty free to walk wherever you want and take in the beauty.

Back in England, if the temperature dropped below 5 degrees, I wasn’t impressed.

Now I can run for miles on a -11 day and feel nothing but satisfaction.

Back home winter was something to dread and despise, but here, finally, I want to apologize to winter. I guess you aren’t so bad after all.

 

Aimeexo

Friendship.

Friendship. It’s a weird thing, and often something we take for granted. It’s only in situations when things become extreme that you realise what friendship truly is. Whether that situation is a time of hardship or a time of immense joy, whether it is distance or time difference.

When I left the UK my best friend wrote me a letter- one which I’ve avoided reading since I arrived in Canada because I knew it would make me become so aware of just how much distance was between us. And between me and all of my friends. And everyone back home.

In the letter she wrote a quote from a book that I had bought her for Christmas.

When I bought the book, although I saw the quote as I flicked through its pages, I didn’t realise quite how poignant that quote would become.

“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.”

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Granted, I have only been away from home for two weeks right now, but it honestly feels a lifetime. Perhaps because so many aspects of my daily life have changed. I have picked up a new routine and found new familiar faces, and so that old life has become so very far away.

One thing I have become increasingly aware of is how difficult it is to make new friends as an adult.

When you’re a kid, you are thrown into constructed social situations, which almost force you to make friends- kindergarten, nursery, school, playgroup, after school programmes, dance classes, college, and university. Everything is laid out in front of you like a puzzle, all you need to do is put the pieces together.

Things get a little more tricky when, as an adult with no set job offer, you decide to move thousands of miles from home.

I’m super lucky to be living with my family here. However, my cousin and best friend, J, my soul sista and twin, has moved from Toronto to Vancouver. And being here without her makes me a little lost. We share the same interests, from music to fashion, books to bars. I get on with her friends and she gets on with mine.

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Without her here, it’s feeling hard to find my people, and forge my own path. Though we’ve both agreed that it is best for us both. I’m finding my own feet.

I think the key thing to take away is the importance of friendship. It really is something we take for granted day-to-day as humans, when life gets a little hectic or boring or you just need some entertainment, it’s easy to forget how blessed you can be just to have a friend who is always there.

Missing home

So I’ve successfully hit the one-week milestone. It feels a little weird to think that I’ve been living here for a week. On the one hand, it has completely flown by, and on the other hand, the day I left the UK feels like a lifetime ago.

I suppose I haven’t had the time to be homesick, and missing home won’t really sink in for a while. I’m in a constant state of contentment, and think that once I find a job and get myself into a routine, this will continue. But I’m also anticipating the day when it does sink in. Everything feels a little too good to be true. I’m trying to live my life with a positive mantra right now, always looking at the best in things and trying to keep any negativity out of my mind. Over the years I have suffered a lot of anxiety, and I guess that this kind of thinking helps to keep that at bay, but I am still waiting. Waiting for that grey fog to transcend and engulf me…. what if it doesn’t though?

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Although I loved my friends and family and home in the UK, I was never truly happy. While I was at home, I never really felt like I was at home. I wasn’t where I was meant to be.

I see so many people so content with their life at home. They’re happy with the job they have now, going to work, coming home. They will probably be happy with that job for many years if not for the rest of their lives. They have partners and houses and a routine that they are quite comfortable in. I just never was.

From being a kid I’ve always felt like there was so much more out there, way more to see and do than what we were confined to in that small northern city where everyone knew what everyone was up to. Who was dating who and working where. Who was friends with who, and who wasn’t.

I think I’m finding my feet and finding out who I really am. I can escape negative influences and really carve out the life I have always dreamt I would have.

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That’s not saying I won’t miss home. I miss the little things. The smell of my bedding at my mum’s house when it is freshly washed, walks along the beach and the smell of fish and chips, even the constant notifications telling you that “the metro is sorry for your delay”. I miss my best friends and my mum and forcing my dog to snuggle in bed with me. And I think this feeling will only get stronger the longer that I am here. But it’s worth it.

I had my first real dose of homesickness the other day after facetiming with my mum. I was telling her how happy I am to be here, and she looked like she might cry. Not because she was sad, but because she was happy and proud. And that’s all I could ever want- to make my parents proud.

The leap I have taken in relocating almost 4,000 miles away from home has been huge. It’s a little scary at times, but I know I’ve done the best thing for myself at this time in my life. In your early twenties, it is important to be a little selfish, in order to pursue the life you want. I know how I want my future to be and I truly hope that this will shape that.

I’ll never stop missing home though.

What is IEC?

The IEC visa is considered one of the easiest ways to travel and work in Canada on a legal working visa. IEC stands for International Experience Canada. It is considered a young persons working holiday, and while there are a limited number supplied to participating countries, it is pretty accessible if you are prepared in advance and apply as soon as the entry pools open.

For me, I have always known that I wanted to come and spend some time living in Canada, with Toronto being almost a home away from home for me from a young age. As time has gone on, and especially since my arrival in the country this time round, it’s starting to dawn on me that, if things go to plan, I could want to stay here for the rest of my life. Now, I’m sure that will be a far more difficult process. For now, my IEC visa allows me to live, work and travel in Canada for two years, which I think is a great jumping off point for myself personally, to see if I settle into life here and if I feasibly think I could make this my forever home.

For some people though, two years is all they want- just a taste of life in another country, and an extended period of time to explore all that Canada has to offer.

When the initial pools open (for example, the 2017 program opened on October 17, 2016) candidates can apply of consideration. All places will gradually be filled over the following months. In countries where the demand is high, the program will likely close in the spring or summer, with some countries exceeding the limit and filling up earlier.

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I guess it is important to be prepared, apply as soon as possible and have everything in order to avoid disappointment. My first attempt at applying was at the end of summer 2015 and, as you can imagine, I was too late and missed my chance for that year.

A ‘pool’ is the new name given to the different country and category types that are on offer. There are currently three types of IEC Canada visa – the Working Holiday Visa, the Young Professional Visa, and the International Co-Op visa. You can be a member of as many different pools as you qualify for.

If successful, a candidate will receive a notification in their My CIC account (the platform through which you apply) known as an ITA, or invitation to apply. From there you can begin the process of submitting your personal details, including passport, resume and various family details. An application fee of CAD $150 is also required after a candidates ITA is received.

Applications must also secure a police certificate, basically a criminal record check, from their country’s police department.

Candidates are now selected at ‘random’ and not on a first come first served basis, meaning that all candidates who have applied on time have an equal chance of being considered for the IEC scheme.

If you are lucky enough to be accepted, you will receive a Port of Entry letter or POE, which will be required on your arrival into the country. This is not your visa and does not mean that you will necessarily be allowed straight into the country at immigration. That is up to the immigration officer granted that you have purchased two years of suitable insurance and have proof of CAD$2,500 funds on your arrival in Canada.

If you’re looking for more in-depth information about the entire process, visit moving2canada.com, which is a great resource site and has a wealth of information on everything to do with coming to Canada.

Aimeexo

Getting started

Usually when I come to Toronto on vacation I go straight into ‘holiday mode’- that means shopping, wine, dancing and visiting some of my spots. This time though, my first few days have felt very different, and I couldn’t feel further from ‘holiday mode’.

While I am still settling in and creating my new life here, I already feel very at home, and I’m starting to find my feet in a routine similar to one I had at home. I’m very lucky because I have the support of my mum’s cousin, V, and her husband, B, who is letting me live in a beautifully comfortable basement room. I also have her oldest daughter sharing the basement with me, in her own room, which means that I always have the support of someone similar in age if I ever need to talk about anything, or go shopping (or partying!)

I think there are a few things, which were extremely important in the first few days, and will be important to anyone else on a working VISA during their inaugural days in the country.

Getting your SIN: Your SIN is your social insurance number and is vital as without one you can not work. I think, for a Brit, the best way to describe them is as similar to our national insurance number back in the UK.

Of course, like anything with me, it wasn’t straightforward in getting my SIN. I researched the location of the office, on College Street, and V came along with me. She dropped me off outside of the office and looked for a parking spot while I went in and began the process. Turning around, after stepping out of the car, I gazed up at the office. And there, in white lettering said the words “moved location” and a new address. Being that it was only my first day in the city, I didn’t have a cell phone yet, so I couldn’t contact V and let her know. And so I stood, in the cold (although thank God Toronto was mild that day) and waited for V’s return so we could try the suggested location.

With great relief we drove to the second, new location, which, as luck would have it, was just around the corner. Once again, V dropped me off and went to look for a parking spot. This office seemed far more promising, for a start it was open, and there was a couple of people inside waiting. I approached the desk and explained that I was there for my SIN. “This is the wrong office,” said the woman, not a flicker of happiness on her face. “You need to go to the office on college.” But, I had just been to the office on college. That office told me to come here!

Not one to argue, I trotted back out of the store and once again waited for V on the street. She was just as confused as I when I explained, and she went back in to query.

Turns out, we had been to a Service Ontario office- “it’s Service Canada you need”, explained the woman in a monotone voice. This made far more sense, but meant another journey back up to College Street.

I did finally get my SIN, and it was a fairly straightforward process once I actually located the right office. I was asked basic questions about my parents and my current address and date of birth, and then handed my SIN on a piece of paper. The process is nothing to worry about, and so I guess my only piece of advice, and lesson learnt from my experience is to really check the address and office and make sure it is a service Canada office!

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Setting up a bank account: Of course this is one of the most important things you can do in a new country. It gives you somewhere to store and access your money, a card so that you can spend and withdrawn, and is necessary when you get a job.

Since you have to pay to withdraw cash from ATMs in Canada, unless it is your own bank, it is a better idea to set up with a bank that has a branch close to where you are living or where you are working. I picked a bank that all of my family are also with. The tellers in the bank have been extremely friendly and helpful, and since I’ve been visiting every single day to sort out depositing cash and various mishaps, they already know me by name. I think we’re going to be great friends (haha!)

The only issue I have ran into with my baking is that I haven’t yet been able to purchase things online, and some stores and establishments have declined my card, as I have a basic debit right now and am still waiting on my credit/debit which I will be able to use online. I am pretty desperate for it though because I want to set up my gym membership and honestly, I’m not sure how much longer this mild weather will hold out and allow for my morning runs before the snow hits- and when it hits boy does it hit hard!

hyfdbos-o2y-ana-bernardoSetting up a cell phone: A Canadian cell phone is necessary for a bunch of reasons. So you can contact friends and family without paying huge costs using your UK plan. So that you have a valid contact number when applying for jobs.

The plans in Canada and their costs vary greatly from those in the UK. In the UK you can find yourself a pretty affordable sim only plan with a great deal of data, calls and texts. However, with only three main providers- Bell, Rogers and Telus- stretching the whole of the country, plans in Canada are far more expensive, and for far less.

I went to a Best Buy cell phone store, where the guy who helped me was totally transparent, friendly and genuinely wanted to get me the best deal that was right for me. Now, most companies here want to see at least one piece of Canadian identification to set up a plan, and this does not include your SIN. Luckily, he recommended a $50 plan with Fido- a cell provider owned by Rogers- who was happy to accept me using my UK proof of identity. My phone was set up straight away and actually, despite the price, it isn’t a bad deal- just lacking a little in data, which I’ll learn to live without.

Finding the right job: I decided to start looking for work before I came to the city, both jobs relating to my journalism degree, which are a little harder to find and a bit of a longer process, and part-time jobs in retail and hospitality to give me a bit of money and something to do while I am setting up. I’m not sure I would even recommend beginning your job hunt before you come to the city. I got lucky, in that I was offered an online interview for a fashion brand, before my arrival. On my arrival I was asked to go along and meet with the manager, which I am due to do today. Who knows how it will turn out, but I think it is important not to rush into the first job you are offered. It’s probably better and to wait and make sure you find the job that best suits your personal needs and schedule. After all, in a new city and country, you want to make the most of being able to explore and meet new people, instead of working all the hours of the day.


Getting on your feet isn’t easy, and I’m pretty lucky I have a good family support system around me. I guess you just have to be organized and do your research and have your wits about you. I suppose it’s pretty lucky that the Canadian’s are some of the nicest people in the world, ‘cause there always seems to be someone ready to help.

xo

The Journey

Well, I am finally here, and three days later it still feels strange to say that. However, my journey to Canada wasn’t without its mishaps, although surprisingly not for the reasons I expected.

I left my home in Sunderland, with my lovely mum and my little dog, on the morning of January 23rd– three days after my 23rd birthday. Perhaps 23 is going to be my new lucky number. My flight was due to take off from Newcastle, heading to London Heathrow where I would catch my connection to Toronto, at 7:00am. My Toronto connection was due to take off at 11:30am. Sounds pretty simple right?

I figured the hardest part was going to be saying goodbye to, firstly, my dog who I knew I wouldn’t see for a very long time. Y’know, given that dogs can’t really just hop on an international flight whenever they choose. I could get super sentimental about how much I love that little happy fluff ball, but I won’t, I guess that isn’t the point of this post. Secondly, I thought that when the time came at the airport to say goodbye to my mum, who honestly has been my rock through a lot of crappy teenage and young adult years, that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Driving to the airport I had this weird sense of anticipation. Like I was excited, and I knew I was excited, but I was holding back tears, and my anxiety was playing up a little. It was never enough to make me not want to leave, but it was there, dancing on the peripheries.

But when we said goodbye, and hugged at security, I didn’t cry. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a crier- happy, sad, angry drunk- I’m a crier. But I didn’t break down into floods of tears, and honestly, once you get through security and on your way, you don’t have too much time for tears.16299502_10209847074505879_7836790103142506296_n

Or so I thought, until I boarded the plane at Newcastle. This time, the tears were stress and anxiety. My Newcastle flight was delayed due to bad weather conditions for two hours- TWO. FUCKING. HOURS. My Toronto flight was to take off at 11:30am, so there was no way I was going to catch it. I feel so bad for the people sat next to me on that Newcastle flight (where we sat in our seats for the full delay, on the runway, awaiting further instruction). Those guys got stuck next to some little girl clearly having a breakdown and stressing out over the phone.

 

Of course, as anticipated, after speeding from the plane to flight connections, I was turned away by a grumpy looking woman at the desk. I had missed my flight. My bags had been sent straight on, and so I feared that they would get to Toronto before me, or worse, they’d get to Toronto and I wouldn’t make it at all!

I really thought the hard part was over. I’d said my goodbyes; I’d set off to begin a new adventure and a new part of my life- why were so many obstacles getting in my way?

I’m pretty lucky in that my mum works for British airways, and so she’s seen this happen a thousand times, and so was really good help in the situation. She directed me upstairs, to departures, to a staff help desk. I’m not sure if it was the sheer distress in my voice or my tear stained cheeks, but the lady at the desk had me on the next flight (5:00pm) in a matter of minutes.

Although it did mean a much longer wait, it gave me time to get my shit together and calm down.

My mum emailed a note to the cabin crew operating my flight, to explain to them that I might need a little TLC after my stressful day. Not to mention the fact my emotions were running high anyway- it isn’t every day you relocate 3,483 miles across the world!

From then on my flight went really well, and I was incredibly blessed to have the help and support of the crew on that flight, who kept stopping to chat to me and ask about my plans, and if I was feeling okay. They even took the time to email my mum and let her know everything had gone well.

16195714_10209813819394522_3988170915724831285_nI figured the next step would be immigration. Best-case scenario: I’d have all of my paperwork in order and they’d let me straight through with my work permit. Worst-case scenario: I’d be back on the next flight to London.

Luckily for the immigration was pretty quiet, with only one other British guy getting his permit, and then a couple people from the Hong Kong flight which landed at the same time as ours. The officer who dealt with me was really friendly, and after checking my port of entry letter and a few personal details, I was on my way.

Seeing my work permit in paper, inside MY passport, it made all of the stress worth it. I’d been dreaming about this moment for the past year. It’s all I had worked and saved for. It’s all I’d spoke about. And now here it was, I was IN Canada. This was it, the beginning!

 

AimeeXO