A walk down Brick Lane and Shoreditch

You get out of the Shoreditch High Street station, only to be met with street art to the likes of Berlin’s graffitied utopia.

You wander around the streets, to find yourself drawn towards a parking lot.  No, not just any parking lot.  This one has two cars stacked above shipping containers, flanked with colorful furniture and industrial bins that looked like it was added there thoughtfully to add a block of color.  One of the cafes is pumping out music, you’re not sure of the genre but it sounds pretty cool and laid back.   A CRYPTOPARTY LDN catches your eye, you wander through a door thinking that it was an art gallery only to realize it was an office space.

People are staring at you.  But, they’re not really people though.

You stop for a moment to adjust your backpack.  You look behind you and notice a shop.  The colorful art and black clothes draws you in.  You go inside and admire a giant, leather hoodie dress that was handmade by the artist.  A man wearing a black collar and paper crows smiles as he explains the designer’s work.  You meander down the stairs to find yourself in an art gallery space filled with the most profane things ever drawn.

Leaving the stores behind, you cross the street.  Up ahead, a figure in graffitied and clad in gold.  You are not sure if this figure is a real person standing very still or a sculpture.  You stare unable to look away, looking for signs of life.  This was not a real person.

Shoreditch is both a creative and also a tech hub.  An ominous warning by the tech gods is posted on the walls.

Welcome to Shoreditch!

A visit back in London after 3.5 years

First impressions

It has been 3.5 years since I last left London.  I was really excited to see what the city was like after living there for two years.

So much memories have come back to me, prompted by the little things.

I remember the first time I walked up the stairs of Kings Cross St. Pancras – it was the first time going ‘above ground’ after braving the Underground for the first time wearing heels and lugging two pieces of luggage with me.  I was both tired from my long flight from Australia and delirious that I had finally made it in London. After a bit of wandering around, I stayed at a nearby hotel, had breakfast and I remember my first jetlagged ‘night’ waking up at midnight.

When I walked down familiar paths, I remember thinking that the image I had kept in my memory was different to the real thing.  I remember the first time walking to work at Regent’s Park after my first night in an apartment in St John’s Wood, with the sun shining through, giving the nearby apartments this dreamy, creamy colour.  And yet, as I traced what would have been my usual path from my old workplace back to my old apartment in St John’s Wood the reality of it had changed. There was the traffic to contend with, the walk was longer than I thought going past blocks of apartments and there was none of that dreamy, morning light as it was late in the afternoon.

My visit to London felt like it was just a visit, as if it had not been that long since I left.  There were some new sights, but nothing much has changed.  I think that the major changes have all happened within me.  The way I experienced London on my recent visit was just so different to how I first experienced the city nearly six years ago.

My visit in London was pretty low key.  I didn’t really have any particular agenda but I was pretty happy that I was able to see the city again after a few years being away.

Would I move back to London again?

I wouldn’t cancel moving back to London entirely out of my mind, but I am not really in a rush to go back.  The situation in the city today is completely different to what it was like when I lived there.  The biggest one being Brexit.  I’d rather just wait and see to see how things play out.  One thing that has changed is that since I was renting an apartment in Notting Hill, catching public transport and not really doing a lot of ‘tourist’ things I got an idea of what it would have been like to go back and live there again.

Frieze Art Fair 2017 and sculptures in the park

Unfortunately, I arrived on the last day so I was not able to experience Frieze London and Frieze Masters again. However, I saw in the programme that they now have sculptures in Regent’s Park which was an excellent way for more members of the public to view the works.

Day trip to Oxford

I missed out on visiting Oxford so decided to go again. You can easily catch the GWR which is part of the National Rail network and walk to Oxford Castle and the various colleges that are part of Oxford University.

Got A Question About Working Holiday Visas? Some things to keep in mind when you are information gathering!

It has come to my attention that there are quiet a number of blog posts and forum posts out there from WHV holders, including potential holders. I am also seeing threads created in general expat/immigration type of forums.

The issue with obtaining WHV information online (outside of what’s on the consulate), and that includes my blog, is that you don’t know if this info is relevant to you.

In addition, the main issue about creating threads looking for advice in forums is that frankly, many of the commentators out there are not at all familiar with the WHV.  You then run the risk of getting advice that’s just completely-out-there-wrong.

If you are looking for information about WHV, I highly recommend that you get information from current and past WHV holders.  WHV is a very specific and unique visa category and many people are not familiar with the nuances involved in this category.

As a current and past holder of working holiday visas for Canada, the UK, Ireland and Germany (as of May 2017!), I know that while I do look for advice, I’ve also found advice that I know is either inconvinient, or incorrect.

For example, I have written some blog posts preparing for my move to Germany (preparation, apartment) and doing these have made the process smooth for me.  There are posts out there that talk about not getting your visa until after arrival – which would make things unecessarily difficult for you since there is the added issue of finding housing and potential risk of getting your paperwork wrong.

I also recommend finding and securing an apartment online.  Now, someone replied back to me saying that there are scams online.  Yes, I am completely aware of these scams (I have even reported some myself), and at the same time, I also know of several people who were scammed even after viewing the apartment in real life.  Just have your common sense and wits about you when making these types of decisions.

Anyway, I just thought to write this post in case someone out there is looking for WHV info.

Working holiday visas does not necessarily mean unskilled work!

There is a common misconception that people on working holiday visas are undertaking unskilled work. There is also the common misconception that only unskilled work is available for those on working holiday visas.

In some cases, this may be the reality but it is completely dependent on your skills, aptitude, attitude, flexibility, CV-writing skills and interviewing skills.  Not only that, but it also helps to have good interpersonal skills when working with global teams and different types of people. You get an added bonus for being able to obtain skilled work if you’ve had previous industry experience in the field, if you’ve attained education (including certifications), your ability to prepare for the job market in the area and also the job market in that particular area.

Skilled work is also not in any specific domains.  Some people will say that technical roles will land you the most opportunities but I’ve found cases that span across other many industries – the arts, not-for-profit/charities, travel, entertainment, media, advertising and more.

About me

I’ve done highly skilled work on the two working holiday visas that I was on – one in marketing in the UK which led to an award for the work and a lot of industry/global experience.  Another in software SaaS for a US/Canada company while based in Toronto and after doing a career and industry change. Both opportunities also included additional educational opportunities – paid courses (including a paid course offered by University College London) and ability for me to easily attend meetups and industry events.  On my 3rd working holiday visa (Ireland) I was interviewing for skilled work opportunities before settling on my current role which is closely aligned with my professional interest and I am also currently pursuing certification in the field also.

In all the countries, I’ve had no issues getting interviews for the skilled work though some didn’t want to talk further once they find out that my visa was temporary. Ireland was challenging because Australians can only work for 6 months but I came across short term contracts in software companies. Germany may have the additional challenge of being able to speak German but so far I don’t see this as a dealmaking obstacle.

It’s all about preparations

There’s a few ways to start reaching out and do your job search before the move to give yourself a head start:

Tips and inspiration for those on short-term, temporary work/resident visas

In addition, make sure to also read up on my other entries on other ways that you can prepare – such as housing, banking and more.

Home search in Ireland, some reflections on housing in Canada, Australia and the UK

Home around the corner near my old flat in Primrose Hill, London.

I am embarking on searching for rentals on my fourth country (Ireland).  I know what it’s like in London (UK), Australia (Brisbane, mainly and a short while was seeking in Sydney), and Canada (Vancouver and Toronto).  Going through this process can be exciting, tedious and stressful all at the same time.  It’s exciting because you are imagining what the end is going to be like and you relish the novelty of living in a new place.  It’s tedious because you have to figure out an entirely new locale, whether or not it meets your requirements and all the details that need to be considered.  It’s stressful because you are out to meet that basic Maslow hierarchy of needs requirement – physiological and safety – while dealing with other stresses and constraints such as time and budget.  I am getting all these feelings now searching for a place in Ireland!

On the way to Camden Town, I look over the bridge and see this...
On the way to Camden Town, I look over the bridge and see this…

Anyway, while waiting on a few responses and paperwork to arrive, I just thought to have a think about what the rental ‘scene’ is like in all the other countries that I’ve been in…



Brisbane and Sydney, Australia

I went to university in Australia and worked in the industry for two years after.  During university, I rented a house with friends – the first one was those typical Queenslander-style homes and the second one was built by the owner who was an architect.

After university, I rented in a condo (or apartment) which was right in the CBD (central business district) and overlooked the river.  I could even spy someone from my window working at his office desk!  It was a bit of a weird sight because since I was on the ground level, the outdoor pool was also on the ground level and if I sat upright from my chair, I could see people dive into the pool.

Now, if you were searching for properties around Sydney and look at Google Maps, you will see that Sydney has a very unique natural setting.  I haven’t lived in this city, my sister has and she lived in Bondi Beach where you can see a glimmer of the beach and ocean from the apartment.  When I walked outside during summer, I seriously felt like I was in some sort of resort city. When I look out of the window of the airplane and see the harbor, it is absolutely magnificent seeing the boats on the harbor and the Sydney Opera House.  Make sure to grab a seat by the window!

London, United Kingdom

London is hands down THE best city in the world.  And if you can lock in that rental property in the right part of London that suits your needs, you will guarantee that the rates pay themselves off.

When I first arrived, I was renting temporarily right in the heart of London – Barbican. You can see the brutalist style architecture in Barbican as well as the arts centre.  It’s quiet amusing that my place didn’t have a laundry so I had to go to the outside laundromat. On one hand I was living in the area well-known for the prestigious arts centre but at the same time I had to go outside to do the laundry.

If you wander the streets of London, you can easily run into so much history in the place all juxtaposed with new developments.  

Cute houses at one of the streets in Primrose Hill
Cute houses at one of the streets in Primrose Hill

After Barbican, I moved to Primrose Hill.  I was only there for about six months until the landlord decided that he didn’t want tenants to do renovations.  Primrose Hill is an absolute dream.  Just walking across the Primrose Hill Park (when you walk up the hill, you can see the CBD) from my work at Regent’s Park to my flat just put a smile on my face.  I chose this area because it was walking distance to and from work and because I wanted to live near a park.  I secured a viewing while I was travelling in Dublin and didn’t even realize how beautiful this area was until I arrived.

Cafe Rouge, St Johns Wood
Cafe Rouge, St Johns Wood

When it was time to move, I was at St John’s Wood and I lived in those historical red brick apartments. I chose this area since it was also near a park and within walking distance to and from work.  For the first week or two, I was mourning over the fact that I was no longer in Primrose Hill but eventually fell in love with St John’s Wood.  I loved the flowering trees that bloomed, the High Street, the houses and mansions and Regent’s Park.

St Johns Wood High Street

The three areas that I’ve lived in London was perfect for me.  But, there are so many other choices that it really didn’t matter too much because those choices were great anyway.  I had a flatmate that moved to Old Street, another at Brick Lane, co-workers in Brixton, a friend who semi-squatted in this artsy type of commune living space in Hackney.  At the same time, I have seen some pretty depressing places when compared to its asking price since the need for property in London is always high.

And, living in London is always so interesting and since the connections to travel to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa is fantastic.

However there is one thing that bothered me while living in London.. and that was the lack of seeing blue skies because of the weather.

Vancouver and Toronto, Canada

I really only took one look at the rental market in Vancouver when I decided that it really was not for me. This is further supported by the real estate price bubble driven up by foreign property investment that the city is being addressed.  However, Vancouver has a beautiful backdrop with the mountain skyline always in your view, even if you are way out of the city.

Toronto had more choices, but the one main item that I couldn’t wrap my head around until I arrived was the concept of the GTA, or the Greater Toronto Area.  

My rental experience in Canada was not the same as before.  It was more a reflection of my thought process rather than a comment on the state of the rental market in Toronto.  I decided not to live nearer to the downtown area and opted for living in a house way out in the suburbs and it has been years since I last lived in the suburbs.  If I were to repeat this process, I would have done a bit more research into all the different areas in Toronto and I would have stuck with characteristics that makes a place turn into a ‘home’ to me.

In terms of culture, Toronto is a multi-cultural city and I was exposed to completely new cultural groups such as the Caribbean, Central and South American influences.   In contrast, you get the suburban Walmarts and the plaza malls.

In terms of Toronto and Vancouver proving its livability (as promoted by those Top Cities To Live In guides), there were some glimmers of it.  But, for the majority of the time, I didn’t really experience it in the same depth as something like London.  This was especially pertinent during the Toronto winters when, at some stage, the temperatures had gone down to -26C.

On the other hand, there are other absolutely beautiful areas outside the major cities.  For example, you have the absolutely beautiful Kelowna region in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.  If circumstances permit, I would opt to be in these regions.

Now on to Dublin and Ireland!

The last time I was in Dublin was in 2012 for a three week trip from late May to early June.  Something close to Primrose Hill or St John’s Wood would be the most ideal!

Generation Y Expat Q and A with James R.C. Smith

How did you land your first international gig?

During my university degree I took part in an international student exchange program, which took me to Kansas City, Missouri for 11 months and I absolutely loved it. The long period abroad really opened my eyes to a life away from the UK. After graduating, I took an admin assistant position in a finance office, which I was instantly bored with. I applied for all the jobs that took my fancy, including a cruise ship Videographer position. They called me in for an interview and meeting which went fantastically. A couple of weeks later, I was filming tour excursions in Acapulco.

Continue reading Generation Y Expat Q and A with James R.C. Smith

Gen Y: Make yourself recession proof

I have most recently learned that this is my 2nd or 3rd recession and I am Gen Y.  The first involved migration (cross-country, cross-continent) by my parents when I was really young and it came at a good time – just mere months after leaving the country, the company both of my parents worked for over a decade went bankrupt.  Second being by myself, most willingly but for another reason – professional development.

Continue reading Gen Y: Make yourself recession proof