The third instalment of our Laois Abroad series for 2021 is here and a couple from Mountmellick up next.
Lauren McCormack and Dylan Baxter departed Laois in January 2020 – a little over a month before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
There aren’t many places in the world that you can surf and ski all in the one day – but in Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada – Lauren and Dylan have found it.
Dylan works for a landscaping company while Lauren is an esthetician in a salon – and both are loving life with plans to travel further in the coming years.
We speak to Lauren below as she fills us in on their incredible story in so far:
Where are you originally from and when did you move away?
We are a couple both from Mountmellick town. We are both in our 20s and we moved to Vancouver here in British Columbia ,Canada in January 2020.
Dylan is working with a landscaping company out here and I work as an esthetician in a salon.
How did you end up in Canada?
To be honest, we had been thinking about coming to Canada for quite awhile before we made the move.
We were just sick of working the 9-5 and heading out at the weekends and wanted something more! We love to travel and have done a lot within Europe so it was time to go further.
Our real reason was just how vast both the country and landscapes are. It’s the second largest country in the world and the scenery is just unbelievable.
Irish people aged 18-35 can get a two-year Working Holiday Visa which is great. Both of us were always attracted to North America and Canada is just more appealing to live in for us than the States right now.
We were, however, stuck between Toronto and Vancouver. They are two totally different cities and we are glad we chose Vancouver.
The West Coast is definitely more our cup of tea. It’s a much smaller city than Toronto, you have the downtown core and then we live just a 15 minute walk over the bridge in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano.
It’s an old hippy neighbourhood just by the beach. It’s a wonderful place to live. The west coast is a much more chill slower pace of life and honestly you’ve got both the mountains and ocean here which Toronto doesn’t, it’s much more scenic, they don’t call it Beautiful British Columbia for nothing!
Also the weather is A LOT less extreme in Vancouver compared to other parts of Canada, no -40 winters here!
Best thing about living abroad?
Honestly the best thing about living in Vancouver is the lifestyle . It’s a very outdoors based lifestyle.
In the winter you spend your time on the mountains skiing or snowshoeing and in the summer you take trips to the islands or are spending your time on the beach or by the lake.
We have tried so many new things since we moved here. We’ve been skiing which is great craic, literally 30 minutes out of the city and you’re skiing down a mountain. It’s fantastic.
Dogsledding was also such a bucket list experience! Getting out on the water is also very popular in the summertime. Jet skiing, SUP, kayaking etc.
However, Hiking has become one of our favourite hobbies since coming here. The views at the summits are just unbelievable. The mountains are definitely our favourite part about living here.
There’s not many places in the world that you can surf and ski all in the one day!
The wildlife here is also something else. We’ve seen everything from Brown Bears to a Canadian Lynx, Bald Eagles, Orca and Humpback Whales – even in the city we’ve seen racoons and coyotes just walking around which is wild.
The weather is definitely one of the better things about living abroad. To be guaranteed a whole 3-4 months of a proper summer is unreal.
Also for me working in the service industry here is definitely another positive! Tipping is part of the culture in North America and it’s considered rude not to. So every service you receive you typically tip anywhere between 15-25%.
So I usually make anywhere between $300-$500 plus of untaxed tips a week. That’s before your weekly wage. It’s great, you’re definitely way better off over here if you’re in the service industry.
Have you visited Laois much since you left?
We haven’t been home since we made the move. We had planned to visit home for Christmas but Covid made it impossible.
That is definitely the down side to it all. Family and friends had also planned to visit us during the summer but obviously that never happened.
What’s the COVID 19 situation like over there?
We’ve been so lucky here. We had 3 months here before the pandemic hit so we were settled.
We have friends that moved during all this madness and it definitely would have made it harder if that was the case with us. We had jobs, an apartment, a friend group and knew our way around the city.
We had 6 weeks of initial lockdown mid March to early May 2020 and ever since we’ve been pretty much up and running.
Dylan remained working throughout those 6 weeks as outdoor and construction based work is deemed essential, however the salon I work in was closed. I received Canada’s Covid benefit for that time.
To be honest, I saw it as a blessing in disguise as we had literally worked right up until we left Ireland and we were working within one week of landing in Vancouver which was very full on. So It was nice to turn off for a little while and explore a bit around Vancouver, plus the weather was so nice!
The Canadian government acted very fast, they shut the borders almost immediately and also the land border we share with the US was shut and still is.
We are only a 30 minute drive from the US and that was definitely a worry at the time as they were faring badly with the virus, so I feel everyone wanted the land border to close.
You can only get into the country if you are a visa holder , a permanent resident or a Canadian Citizen. Also I feel people took everything very seriously very quickly here, there’s definitely a different mentality here than back home I feel.
Other parts of Canada aren’t doing great. We are definitely in the best place in Canada we can be right now. British Columbia has a similar population to Ireland only its 10 times the size so definitely the space we have has helped with the number of cases!
They are treating it provincially over here. The vaccine rollout has been slow to start but they say everyone willing over the age of 18 will be vaccinated by the end of June/ start of July so that’s hopeful.
Cases are low enough, we are taking it day by day but so far so good!
What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you on your travels?
At the time it definitely was not one bit funny but we laugh looking back at it now. We were on a hiking trail in Brandywine Falls Provincial Park near Whistler back in the summer. It was quite busy. There were a few families with small kids around etc.
One part of the trail was a total climb, there was a hill you couldn’t see over the top of it. It was a very skinny path. Dylan was leading, with me behind him than two friends were behind myself.
When Dylan got to the top of the hill his body completely froze. We were all like … What’s wrong, will ya move on! Dylan turns and the colour had drained from his face and he just goes B..B..B. BEAR !!! and we all went legging it warning all the families and everyone else behind us as we were running.
It was like a scene from a film. He was literally about 5 metres away from Dylan but luckily enough not facing us. We were pretty much hiking amateurs at the time but now we ALWAYS carry bear spray and have a bear bell on us.
We did exactly what you are not supposed to do, so for anyone reading this that ever encounters one don’t be stupid like us and don’t go legging it!
The funniest thing also is the translation of certain slang words and the Canadians look at you like you have 10 heads. I have to say I now say words like garbage, laundry, sweater etc.
It kills me but you just have to adapt. Honestly if you say certain simple words to Canadians they look at if you are speaking a different language.
What have you Learned most since leaving Ireland?
I heard once that the best way to learn about the country you’re from is to leave. And I honestly agree. It really irks me when Irish people over here dis Ireland and talk it down.
It truly is a fantastic country and a great place to grow up. I am definitely aware that we left by choice and not because we had to. As fantastic as Vancouver is, it’s not perfect. There’s a huge opioid crisis here amongst the homeless population. I’ve never seen anything like it!
Also I’ve learnt how good Irish workers are! Even the Canadians say it. We are just grafters by nature and definitely sought after here! Dylan works in landscaping and literally so many Irish people are in construction and landscaping here.
Also as it’s so international here, working and having friends from all over the world has definitely taught us a lot. Ireland is just a tiny little dot on the planet and it definitely makes you realize!
Do you meet many people from Ireland or Laois where you are living now ?
The Irish are everywhere! There’s a huge Irish community out here. We often joke saying they should rename it Irish Columbia rather than British Columbia! North Americans definitely have Ireland so romanticized, once they hear your accent they immediately love you it’s mental.
We are a part of an “Irish and new in Vancouver” forum on Facebook and it’s great for literally everything. Apartment hunting, finding jobs, general questions and advice – it will have you sorted!
Vancouver is such an international city – it’s rare you meet an actual Vancouverite! But that’s the good part about it. Even in the small company I work for there’re very few Canadians, there’s Irish, English, French, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Indian, American, Malawian and Chinese people. It’s fantastic.
However, the Irish definitely stick to the Irish and support each other. My manager is actually a Limerick lady and because of that we get a lot of Irish clients because Irish just love to support fellow Irish.
You rarely meet a Laois person. I had a client in work one day that clearly had an Irish accent. We were chatting and she asked me where I was from.
When I said Laois she nearly hopped out of her skin. She has been living here 7 years and had never met another Laois native. It was hilarious.
We are definitely rare, but we are here!
What do you miss most about Ireland?
Our family and friends! I have quite a few nieces and nephews and a lot of them are small. When they are quite young they grow up so quickly so it’s hard to be away from them for two years.
Dylan is also very close to his grandparents in particular, he’s definitely a Nannies Boy (he will murder me for including this) and it’s hard to be away from them.
So yeah it’s hard not seeing everyone but we’ve got FaceTime and can chat to them on WhatsApp whenever which is great.
They’ve been great sending over care packages full of goodies for our birthdays, Christmas etc. It’s so nice to get them!
Apart from the obvious (our family and friends) – FOOD! We never thought we would miss certain food items but we definitely miss some home comforts!
Chipper chips from Rob’s in Mountmellick, proper cups of tea, nice Irish soda bread from Nora’s Cake Shop in Mountmellick with real butter … to name a few.
We haven’t been eating much meat the past couple of years but the quality of meat here isn’t great and neither is dairy. We were so spoiled at home. Ireland’s produce is top notch and we definitely didn’t appreciate it.
It takes forever for things to ‘go off’ over here too, especially bread, and it’s kind of scary. But everything is nearly imported from the States or Mexico if you read the labels.
Vancouverites are very healthy people and eat very well so it’s not like the States where everything is sugar pumped but everything is still definitely processed.
Will you return to live in Laois at some point in the future?
The short answer is no. (Sorry Ma!)
Ideally we would love to get to New Zealand in the next couple of years and do a stint over that side of the world, get a bit of Oz in, Fiji and some of Southeast Asia etc. It definitely looks appealing to us!
We are also keeping our options open and looking into permanent residency here in Canada which would allow us to stay here for a further 5 years.
It’s so hard to know. As Irish citizens we are so lucky that we have the opportunity to take part in lots of Working Holiday visas around the world and we should definitely take advantage of that while we are young and we can. Permanent residency would be more of a plan B.
We definitely will go back to Ireland at some stage in the future but we are unsure if we’ll go back to living in Laois long term. To be honest, apart from our families and friends, there’s nothing there for us.
Coming from a small town in Ireland to a big city in North America is quite the change and I’m not sure if I could personally 100% settle back in Laois again.
Also, living by the ocean has spoiled us and I’m unsure if I’d ever be able to go back to not being at least near the ocean.
Who knows, but we definitely won’t be coming back to Laois long term for another while, the world is wide! But we definitely will get back to see our Mammies at some stage!
Anything to add?
When we were looking into moving here I did a lot of research into visas or how to even go about it and to be honest I couldn’t find a lot that was specific to Irish people and the visa we were looking into. I had to contact people I knew living in Canada for a heads up.
As of March 1, Canada has started back processing new Working Holiday Visas. If anyone was looking to make Canada their new home and needed some visa advice I would be more than happy to help!
My Instagram handle is here if anyone had any questions.
Also if you haven’t added Canada to your Post Covid list of places to travel, do it!
If you are from Laois and living abroad please get in contact with us to tell your story.
Anyone who is interested can contact us on any of our social media channels or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.