I am from Dublin, Ireland and I have lived in Canada for more than three years - nine months of that time in Surrey.
I started my private practice in Surrey this January - I had been working as a financial advisor in Ireland and in mid-2009, I lost my job to the recession.
This was a difficult time for me and was a huge wakeup call. I had grown up in middle-class Ireland and my societal conditioning had taught me that all I needed was some education and the work would be there. Little did I know until this point in time that my prosperity was reliant on so much more.
It felt as though the bricks were literally tumbling down around me as young people fled the land to places like Australia and North America. I had heard of the stories of this happening before, but to my generation they were like tales of folklore. The only difference now was that instead of boats, we were leaving on planes.
For those who could not leave, due to having families and a mortgage noose around their necks, their stories were the talk of office coffee rooms or morbid pub chat. Small talk with neighbours was no longer about the terrible weather, it was "so did you hear Mary's son left for Australia?"
So, in September 2009, I made the decision to get out. I had no idea how long I would leave for, where I would stay when I arrived and what I would do for work. Nonetheless, I bought a one-way ticket to Vancouver and waved farewell.
Looking back, I am not sure how I did it or where I found the courage to go alone. On my arrival, I heard Canadians speak of the recession and how bad it was for them. I had to exercise great restraint as I felt called to inform them that they really had not experienced what I knew as a recession.
Since being here, I have lived in downtown Vancouver, South Granville, North Vancouver and East Vancouver. I love Vancouver very much, but in June 2012 my partner Cory and I were fed up living in what I consider sub-standard rental accommodation. We have two small dogs and our options were limited within our budget.
This is when I came across rental listings in Surrey. Friends strongly cautioned me to not move to Surrey.
"It's a dangerous place," they said, adding, "I know people who have been mugged there."
I had heard East Vancouver described similarly and from my experience, there are no places in the Lower Mainland where I have ever felt unsafe. It is all relative I guess, because for me and where I come from, a dangerous area is far worse.
The image Vancouverites and the like conjure up about Surrey is similar in a way to how many North Americans have come to envision Ireland. However, my experience of Ireland is not one of frolicking through green pastures with Leprechauns, while car bombs explode on the horizon. Just as much as my experience of Surrey is not one of danger, drug-riddled pavements and cars mysteriously vanishing from parking spaces.
I am by no means saying that Surrey does not have its problems. I am saying that perhaps the distorted image of a place, allowed to hang around like a dark cloud, could be a far greater reason for why a city struggles to heal than we give it credit for.
We moved to North Surrey and have not looked back. In fact, I cannot sing its praises enough.
It is a rapidly changing city with big plans and I can honestly say that I am excited. Its rapid evolution is vividly apparent between grandiose apartments and disheveled sex shops. For the first time, I can actually say I know the name of a city's mayor and, not only that, I really like her and what she is doing.
I have witnessed the rapid expansion of Dublin and its consequential demise, but there is something very different about how this city is moving. There is delicate precision in the choices being made and a well-thought out plan for every step.
Perhaps I am lucky to be looking at Surrey with new eyes and to have experienced what happens to a city when its eyes are shut tight. I have the benefit of not having to let go of any old grudges toward this city and the experience of a hard-earned lesson to now be able to spot the potential in something new.
My fiancé is Canadian and finds my newfound admiration for this city almost comical. We live beside the King George SkyTrain and the beautiful Holland Park.
Across the street from me is my local convenience store, where the owners greet my dogs and I most days. Local eateries serve fantastic Indian food and pizza at great deals.
My dogs, not surprisingly, are most fond of Serpentine Park. The new library is a fantastic resource and the SFU building is architecturally beautiful.
I can feel the positive energy in this city. My hope in writing this is that readers might feel a little extra pride for their city. Maybe an outsider's perspective may help residents to dust off their city's old coat and hold their heads a little higher.
Perhaps I may even succeed in planting a seed in the minds of residents of neighbouring cities to begin to consider how unrealistic our images of a place could be.
For, if not, and they are to visit Ireland someday, they will be surely disappointed to not find a Leprechaun anywhere in sight.
Sarah Flynn is a counsellor and life coach in private practice (LimitlessWellness.ca) living in Surrey's city centre.