Exploring another country and culture is a rich and rewarding experience on many levels.
Courtany Martin, 20, knows this firsthand. From Brighton, England, she’s spending about a year working in Red Deer. Her father lives here, so there is certainly a family connection. But the move had another purpose – Martin wants to save up some money, return to England and find a way onto the ‘property ladder’.
These days, that’s a tough thing to do with England’s economic woes, she said. The country remains a costly place to live and a particularly difficult place to move forward in terms of housing.
Interestingly, Martin was actually born here but moved back to England as a child with her mother and sister. “I was born across the road – in the Red Deer hospital. But I grew up in a place called Ravenfield, England which is up north in Yorkshire.” The family cottage was built in the 1600s. She remembers a peaceful and secure childhood in a quintessentially English community.
Then she reached her teens and got a tad rebellious.
“I thought my dad is in Canada; I’m out of here.” She settled in with her dad and started attending classes at Hunting Hills High School.
But when she heard her mom had left northern England and resettled in the lovely, bustling, seaside city of Brighton, Martin left for home in 2007. Brighton, with all its energy and alluring atmosphere, was just too good to miss.
“I had always heard of Brighton as being the cool place in England. And England is and always will be my home. I love it. I’m homesick everyday.”
That’s not to say she isn’t enjoying her time here. Taxes are high in a highly subsidized environment in England, she said. “We need to find a way to be a little more conservative, but avoid the rioting – it’s hard to take away when you’ve been giving, but it has to happen.”
The diminished strength of the British pound, combined with wages that haven’t kept pace, have also had an impact.
“Many people are living cheque to cheque. And you see a lot of people, who during the last week of the month, are literally penniless.”
Brighton is one of the world’s most expensive places to live. “It’s getting on the property ladder that is so difficult in England. They aren’t just handing out mortgages anymore, so it’s a great opportunity to come back here, save some money and see a different culture.”
Still, Martin did land a wonderful opportunity in the restaurant business back in England. “When I was 17, Scott Ward, the former general manager of Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant chain, trained me in London. He gave me every tip I ever needed.”
Ramsay is of course a familiar face to North Americans via his show Hell’s Kitchen. On the show, he’s typically fired up about something, and seems to be have quite the mercurial personality. But Martin said he’s quite an affable chap.
“He’s actually a really cool guy. That whole persona is only on American television. He’s not like that – he’s really lovely. He’s very social, and he’s happy to help.
“Don’t get me wrong – he’ll come in and if it’s not up to par he’ll hit the roof basically,” she laughs. But thanks to her training and connection to his name, she landed a position at the Richmond Champagne and Seafood Bar at the prestigious Goodwood Race Course in Chichester, about an hour or so from London.
But even with working there on the weekends and back in Brighton during the week, it was tough to get by. Add to that the long working days, and the pressure became too heavy.
Here in Red Deer, she’s working at One Eleven Grill, and recalls how wonderful it was to first receive tips. In England, customers don’t tip as it’s usually included in the price of the meal. But not always.
And although there are similarities between the two countries, there are a range of stark differences as well. England is replete with centuries-old houses, castles, monuments, landmarks and historically-rich sites. Canada doesn’t have that kind of colourful history, and unfortunately there’s a penchant for getting rid of much that is old in favour of new buildings.
But with that emphasis on the new can come a lack of atmosphere; a lack of character. The English also have a love of community; of getting together after work for a drink and a chat, for example. Martin is struck by how folks here tend to just go home after work. Everyone promptly goes their separate ways.
British pubs offer lots of interaction and opportunities for conversation. “We look forward to getting off work, because we are going to walk up the street and there will be about six pubs with mates shouting at us to get in there to come and have a pint.”
Meanwhile, she does have a sense of national pride in regards to Canada when she’s home in England.
Martin plans to stay in Red Deer into early 2013, and then it will be time to head back. As exciting as that will be, there will be things she misses about her ‘second home’.
“I like the openness and the fresh air. You walk outside and it’s fresh. It’s like a crisp air, and I love that. I’ll also miss the lifestyle – everyone is chilled and laid back here. I come from a rat race – it’s all ‘run, run, run’.”