Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
READER STORY: How Annina ended up as a horse guide
One of the biggest challenges for a first-time traveller to Canada with limited knowledge of the English language is trip planning. Find out how Annina came to Canada to learn English and ended up as a horse guide.
Annina’s dream was to learn English on a ranch. While searching the Internet she came across my blog Authentic wilderness ranch vacations in Canada and knew that this was what she had in mind. A language school in one of the big Canadian cities was not what she wanted.
The ranch I suggested to Annina gave her the unique learning experience she was looking for. I helped with the booking and planning and made sure she had all the information she needed and knew what to expect. Annina booked an eight-week ESL ranch experience and stayed on as a Volunteer after she finished the program.
Confident with her newly acquired English language skills and lots of knowledge about the Canadian lifestyle, Annina rented a car and went on a road trip with a friend after leaving the ranch. On the way, they dropped in at my ranch for a night.
Here is what Annina has to say!
Thanks for doing this Annina! Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Annina: I’m from Switzerland and I grew up near a small village, close to the Swiss Alps. After high school, I did a 3-year apprenticeship as a Florist and following that I worked for 4 1/2 years at a small construction firm. The construction job made it possible for me to finance my Canada trip and the ESL school. I am 24 years old now.
Why did you choose Canada?
My main reason to come to Canada was to improve my English. Canada is known for its incredible wilderness and scenery. I love the outdoors, nature, and wilderness and I wanted to learn western horse riding. I also have relatives in Canada which might have been a factor.
What was your perception of Canada before your trip?
I heard that Canadians were friendly and helpful and I know now that this is true. I was in a few situations when I needed help and people helped me before I even had a chance to ask. I was told that everything in Canada was BIG! Coming from Switzerland this is definitely something I noticed right away. I saw big trucks, enormous machines around Fort St. John, endless forests, large fields, and no houses as far as I could see. The picture I had of Canada was actually similar to reality.
How would you describe Canada in three words?
Huge – Wood (forests, log cabins, etc) – helpful (people)
What makes Canada different from Switzerland?
The size of the country and the size of lots of things, like parking spaces, and fields. House construction is totally different from how we do it in Switzerland. We are more “piano builders” and Canadians are like “wanna get the job done”. Canadians on the streets are more helpful than what I’m used to in my country.
What problems did you faced in Canada as a foreigner?
I felt welcome from the beginning. People helped me with the language and used word descriptions so I could understand. I had no problems as a foreigner (apart from the car story in Vancouver).
What will be your answer if someone asks “Why should I visit Canada?
I saw LOTS of wildlife and amazing nature and wilderness lots of people can’t even imagine. You have to experience it to know what I mean.
Would you recommend going to a wilderness ranch to learn English, and why?
If you are a person who prefers learning by doing and doesn’t like boring classroom lessons, then this is for you. I would do it again! You have to be flexible and adaptable in almost everything. When you decide to learn English on a ranch, animals can become a priority before your lesson starts. Or a planned English lesson can change at the last minute to a carpenter experience because they are replacing a roof on a building and they need more help. If you are flexible and like to learn English in a ranch work environment, you not only will learn English, but you also will have an experience of a lifetime.
What was a typical day like at the ranch?
Typically, I had three lessons in the morning where I learned English grammar. The lessons were interesting because the themes of the lessons were all related to Canada, Ranch life, and Canadian wildlife. Not only did we practice English grammar during the lessons, but we also learned about bear safety and western horse riding. We listened to Cowboy songs and watched the lyrics. I learned by listening, watching movies, and talking. I also took my homework seriously and did some self-studies. The morning lessons were not the only time when I got to practice English conversation; I got to talk all day long.
From the first day on I was involved in ranch life. I learned how to drive a tractor and got to teach others how to drive. I learned how to saddle a horse and afterward gave riding orientations to new guests. Combining classroom learning with practical ranch life made this learning experience so special.
So, how did you become to be a horse guide?
I came to the ranch as an ESL student to improve my English for two months. At the end of my study time, I was offered to do a two weeks horse guide school. I learned how to shoe horses, how to pack, different knots, and the basics required to be a horse guide. I experienced difficult trails riding through mountain ranges past waterfalls and through meadows covered with wild potatoes and tiger lilies. We jumped creeks, rode over fallen trees, and through deep snow to the frozen lakes. I got to experience horse camping and campfire cooking.
After returning to the ranch I was invited to do a 4-day bushcraft course and learned more about outdoor life and survival skills.
Two weeks later I was working as a horse guide assistant on a horse pack trip with two guests. It was impressive to see the changes in the landscape, only two weeks later. The wild potatoes had faded and were replaced by balsam root, Indian paintbrush, arnica, Arctic lupine, and forget me not. The bear berries had flowers and bright green shoots were showing on the trees. We had a Grizzly visiting our camp and we used bear bangers to chase him off. After the bear visit, the camp atmosphere changed and everybody stayed close. Using the outhouse in the dark was becoming a challenge. Later on alone in the tent, I needed a bit longer to fall asleep than normal.
The next morning we left camp heading back to the ranch. I was riding in front leading a pack horse. That wasn’t easy at all but I tried to keep calm. Back at the ranch, I was exhausted but happy about all that I experienced during this trip.
What was your experience regarding food?
Lucky me I’m not a vegetarian, although the ranch caters to vegetarians with special menu choices. At the ranch, I ate bear meat, moose, and deer meat; I definitely never had this before. The home-cooked ranch food was good and plentiful.
How many places in Canada have you visited so far?
During my time at the ranch, I had the opportunity to go to the Williams Lake Stampede and experience a real wild west rodeo. I stayed near 150 Mile House with friends for a night. I also got to visit Kamloops on the way to Vancouver. But even more amazing than the road trips where the horse trips into the South Chilcotin Mountains, Eldorado camp, Leckie camp.
After leaving the ranch, I travelled with my friend to Jasper, Banff, Fort St. Johns, and many places in between. Now we’re in Lumby exploring the Okanagan Valley, but we have a long way to go yet. The last two weeks in Canada we will spend on Vancouver Island before heading home.
Do you have plans to visit again?
The Boss of a large Ranch in Fort St. Johns offered me work for next summer. He got to know me a bit and trusts my work ethic and I could stay there between my travels. If I would come back, that would be the place I would go to. To acquire work experience on a farm would be my main reason.
How did Backcountry Canada Travel influence your trip?
I found your website while browsing the Internet for English schools and learning English in Canada. The first thing I printed out was Canada Facts You Want To Know. To be able to write to you in German helped a lot. Your valuable information and support guided me in the right direction and I’m so thankful for that. We emailed, texted, and talked on the phone, so I had a good idea of what to expect. Because all the ranch documentation and booking information was in English I was happy that you gave me guidance on this. Also knowing to have a contact person in Canada gave me peace of mind. For everyone who wants to learn English in Canada, your contact services are the best. Thank you for making this all possible for me!
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