Expats in London: Stephanie from Toronto

A few months ago I made a call-out for fellow expats in London who wanted to share their stories of life in the city. I’ve loved hearing about where everyone has come from, what brought them to London and what keeps them here.

Quick off the mark, Stephanie was one of the first to offer a helping hand. She shared what her life has been like since moving from Toronto, Canada just over three years ago.

What made Stephanie’s story stand out was just how much it reminded me of my own. We both always knew we wanted to live in Europe. We gave up our stable jobs after three years in our home cities, scared of living out the predictable life. Asking ourselves ‘Will I regret not doing this when I’m 80?’ spurred us both on.

Today Stephanie chats about the challenges of making (and keeping) friends as an expat, how a ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ mindset can help you thrive, and her mission to visit 50 countries before turning 30.

This is her story.


Why I moved to London without a job

I went to a very demanding job at a management consultancy after I graduated from university. I’d been doing that for about three years before I started to feel weighed down by the business travel obligations and the long hours of the job.

I’d always wanted to move to Europe. Originally I thought I might do it through an inter-company transfer but ultimately decided that I wanted to move to London to enjoy the country. I didn’t want to be tied to such long working hours in professional services.

I tried to find jobs in Canada before I decided to leave, but everything that was interesting and exciting was either in the U.S. or in Europe. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I didn’t have much to lose. What was the very worst that could happen? I’d go to Europe, not find anything suitable, and move back home. At least I could say I tried rather than buy a home in suburban Toronto, work a 9-5, have a family, and live out the predictable path that was the rest of my life.

I was young, single, mortgage-less, and child-less. So I left my job, applied for a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa when I was 25 and booked my tickets to London. Three years later, I haven’t looked back.

People often said that it was bold of me to move to London without a job. Perhaps hindsight is 20/20, but if we’ve done some research and have organised ourselves and then frame things in the context of “what have I got to lose?”, “is the thing I’m afraid of really that realistic or scary?” and “what am I going to regret not doing when I’m 80 and looking back?” then perhaps our inhibitions feel less rooted in fact.

To be honest, I felt maybe a bit excited and a bit anxious, but I was pretty calm.

I had taken a few months off work to sort the whole thing out. I got my CV ready, packed and just mentally prepared myself so I was just ready to hit the ground running. Frankly, I was excited to break the routine and start a new chapter in my life!

When it comes to making new friends, you need to try often and try hard.

I think the biggest challenge for expats in London, or any expat living away from home is the transience. People who move abroad often self-select into a group of people who are open-minded and ambitious. which makes meeting new people easier. But it also means that people will stay for a few years and move on to another city.

In the span of the last three months, nine of my friends have gone off to do their masters, moved to a new city, or moved back home (and I can assure you that the common denominator is not me!) The only real way to overcome this, and perhaps and occasional sense of loneliness, is to try often, and try hard.

I’m finding myself mining the existing acquaintances I already have, and finding ways to build consistency and regularity in the way we interact.

For example, I’ve started a “Sunday Roast Club” where I make bookings a few months in advance every two weeks, and invite my lady friends to join.

Friendships, while hard, require effort and consistency.

The first step is really taking the initiative to organise something and finding people who are committed to making new friends as well!

The best thing about living in London is…

The culture, history, and the fact that there’s always something to do! I’m exposed to so many more artists, plays, music, history, and everything in between. That’s because London is the destination for pop-ups, traveling exhibitions and new ideas. All while retaining a bit of that European charm (throwing some shade at New York City, here!) There is no place quite like London.

Since there can never be just one thing, access to travel is another bonus. I’ve made it a mission to go to 50 countries before I turn 30. I’m already at 40 countries all because of the discount airline fares and short flights to new worlds from London!

If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t do anything differently.

That’s no claim to perfection, but rather that I’ve found joy in the sometimes flawed decisions that I’ve made on my journey to, and in, London. In saying that, nothing particularly catastrophic has happened to me in the last three years. So, if anything, I might have appreciated that fact more throughout my time here.

I have to be open minded about my future

While I have a rough three year plan, things can change in an instant. For now, I plan to be in London for at least the next three to five years. My career doesn’t have many options back home in Canada and I’m not a fan of the working culture of Asia or the States.

I’ve recently joined the property ladder as well. So I see myself making a home here until the point I might be ready to start a family – which is certainly a conversation for another day!

My best tip for soon-to-be expats in London is ‘Mind over Matter’.

The way we think and perceive situations often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A little nervousness, fear and anxiety are all normal feelings to have before moving away from home or familiarity. However, the key is to acknowledge that those feelings are very normal. You must recognise that those feelings are a temporary state.

The last thing you want to do is set yourself up for failure by believing and ruminating in all the worst case scenarios.

Being prepared for challenges is one thing, but ruminating will mean that you’re already expecting not to thrive in the challenge.

Even if you don’t have a lot of confidence in making the move, do your research and some sensible preparations. Then fake a positive mindset until you make it!


A huge thanks to this month’s Expats in London interviewee – Stephanie, for sharing all her expat wisdom and advice! If you have any questions or thoughts, leave them in the comments below.

You can find Steph on Instagram @travelingpixel, Twitter @cheungstephanie, LinkedIn, or you can also read more on her blog www.stephcheung.com


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