Fiona, a post graduate student at the University of Warwick, recently completed BUNAC's 12 month Work Canada programme. Here she tells us how she met friends for life, how she fell for Toronto and how she definately wants to return to live in Canada once again:
I caught the travel bug after spending a couple of summers working in the States. So when contemplating what to do after graduating from Edinburgh University in 2009 I decided to take advantage of having no fixed plans and embark upon a gap year.
I had never really considered Canada as a destination until my final year at university when I happened to meet some people who had spent their gap year there and couldn’t stop talking about it. They said they found the people some of the friendliest in the world, the country diverse and dramatic, and the cities cosmopolitan and thriving. It was hearing all of this that made me want to explore it for myself.
As I couldn’t afford to go away for the year and not work, I looked into getting a working-holiday visa. I had worked and travelled in America for a short stint in 2007 and 2008 through BUNAC. I found that they also offered a working-holiday visa for Canada which, allowed you to stay for a full year. I booked myself onto the Work Canada programme and decided to set off on my travels in September 2009.
All summer I had been brimming with excitement, until about a week before I was set to take off and I suddenly got the fear…big time! What was I doing upping sticks and travelling to a country I had never been to before without a job or permanent accommodation arranged? I had booked into a hostel in downtown Toronto for a couple of weeks, but after that I was on my own.
Finally my departure day arrived. I arrived anxiously at Heathrow and met up with the others who were on the same flight as me. I had never met them before but was able to spot them easily due to their huge backpacks and worried faces. I soon learned they were just as nervous as me and having each other for company did make the journey a lot less stressful.
Upon arrival in Toronto we boarded the bus that took us downtown to our hostel. I was placed in a dorm with 5 other British girls I met on the flight, who were also out there on working holiday visas like me and we clicked right away. We decided we would search for accommodation together and after about a week of hunting we found a lovely house on the east side of the city specifically for students and travellers.
Having sorted out housing so quickly, I could now turn my attention to finding a job. After a couple of weeks and a couple of interviews I was offered a job in a bookshop in the north of town, ideal for me as a fanatical reader. There were many Canadians of a similar age also working there, who by the end of the year I considered to be very close friends.
Come spring and summer, the city really came alive, with the glorious weather and the abundance of summer festivals and events. There was a jazz festival at the beaches, a Greek food festival, a world food marketplace, a gay pride festival, Canada Day celebrations, to name but a few.
What was really beneficial about the year was it gave a sense of direction to my life. When I first arrived in Toronto I decided I would do some volunteering, to build up some more experience in my working field and perhaps give me some concrete ideas of what I wanted to do. I started volunteering with a scheme run by social workers which involved visiting an isolated older person each week to keep them company. I was paired with a woman in her mid fifties who suffered from Cerebral Palsy and had no living family left. Each week I would go to her apartment and we would chat for a couple of hours. After a couple of months doing this, combined with the fact I ended up living with a social worker student, I decided that I wanted to pursue becoming a social worker and so applied for universities in England starting in 2010 to do a MA in Social Work. The social workers that I worked with through the visiting scheme helped me with the application process and when I heard I had got a telephone interview with Warwick University, they gave me some useful tips. In May, I was offered a place at Warwick starting in October 2010. It wasn’t an actual epiphany, but very close. Canada really was an eye opener for me, and gave me the chance to take my time and properly consider what I wanted to do.
I think travelling really is important. It allows you to experience a completely new place, give yourself some time to consider what your next step in life will be, and gain a whole new host of friends and places to stay when you go on holiday!
I was very sad to leave Canada, I had completely fallen in love with the country and its people and I found it hard to adjust back into UK life. But now I am really enjoying my course at Warwick, and feel certain I made the right decision in undertaking it. I am going back to Toronto in the Easter Holidays to visit friends for a couple of weeks and then someday I hope to move back out to Toronto on a more permanent basis as I don’t think my experience there will ever leave me.
Work Canada gives you the opportunity to work, live and breathe the Canadian lifesytle for 12 months. BUNAC offer you support and guidance from applying for your visa before you leave to job searching and accommodation hunting once you get there.
Want to tell the world about your BUNAC adventure? Send your stories, photos and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org