Welcome to Part 2 of my ongoing series featuring real life stories and advice from living breathing expats. It’s a thinly disguised way for me to store up wisdom from others which I can use when I have an absolute freakout about what I’m embarking upon. I thought I should do the right thing and share it with the internet at large, just in case it helps anyone else out. Enjoy.
Today I’m particularly delighted to have two more blogger friends who are in the interesting position of having switched countries with each other. They even have a series on their blogs where they talk about the ins and outs of this, which I would highly recommend:
Kristen is an Aussie gal living in America whose blog is a must-read of mine. She writes about all sorts of things in the most engaging and relatable way. I always love reading her posts, I love how real she is, and I also love how much she loves books. If I’m ever short on book inspiration, I know where to go. I can’t wait for Kristen’s trip to Sydney later this year so we can actually meet IRL at last!
Why did you become an expat?
Short story of why/how I became an expat is my husband is an American:
The long story is that I’ve been obsessed with America ever since I discovered The Babysitters Club. After the BSC, it was Sweet Valley, TV shows, movies, musicians – I wanted to live where all these things I loved were from. I always joked I would marry an American because clearly I was meant to live there. I settled on living there for a year and that was my lifelong dream. Although, as I got older it kind of fizzled out, partly because people scoffed at it and partly because I had no idea how I was going to do it. You can’t just go move to another country for a year all willy nilly with zero plans.
When I was 20 I got a job replacing some American girl who was going back home. She participated in my interview and we discovered we’d both been to the same concert the night before (Justin Timberlake). I got the job and started the next day. The girl and I got along like a house on fire. She ended up deciding to stay in Australia and we spent the next few years joined at the hip.
Eventually, she went back home for real. I booked a trip to visit her in June of 2010, and we decided to go to the CMA fest. I accidentally bought 2 extra tickets so she invited her childhood friends. Thankfully we all hit it off.
On that same trip, my bestie introduced me to the guy she had been dating and his best friend – KC.
We also got along – as I’m sure you can tell in the photo. We spent probably 5 days together total, and I was already talking about coming back before I’d left. I booked a trip for November, but I ended up coming again in September. Then I met up with the 3 of them in London. The next year I was able to visit a few times, one of those to attend my best friend’s wedding.
Unfortunately, long distance sucks balls and even though we had an end in sight – I was moving there in 2012 for a year thanks to a specific visa meant for Australians/Kiwis to live in the US – we broke up. I’d already paid for the visa and my flight, and I had 3 good friends that I could spend that year with. I went ahead with the trip and knew I’d be home again in less than a year.
Naturally, life had other plans. KC and I got back together at a St Patrick’s Day parade in 2012.
I still had no idea I was staying until later on in the year. There was too much up in the air and KC and I were still fairly new – we’d only been in the same country for a few months. But then we got engaged, got a cat and an apartment, so I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. We got married in 2013. Also, I dyed my hair brown.
We’ve been home once in 2014 – we are going back in June and I can.not.wait. Mainly because I will be able to meet Rachel & Erin!
What advice would you give to a brand new expat?
I know I’ve talked long enough, but I just wanted to impart a little bit of wisdom before I finish up. Being an expat is really hard. Moving away from home and your family is always hard, but moving an entire country away, even if you speak the ‘same language’, it’s just really hard. It costs a lot of money and involves an insane amount of paperwork you’re bound to get wrong. It’s a lot of waiting and hoping someone else grants you permission to stay. People make fun of your home and ask you ridiculous questions, or judge you for something your countrymen have done. You drive on the different side of the road, you use different words, places are closed on days that they are never closed at home, food tastes different even if it looks the same, food you’ve eaten all your life doesn’t exist anymore, there are different rules and laws and people look at you like you’re an idiot when you say the wrong thing or use a word they don’t know. You stop using your words from home because you know people don’t understand them, and to keep using them is just a jerk move. You start pronouncing things a little different because – well, it just happens. You lose a little bit of yourself every time you do this.
So, my tip is – and one I wish someone had told me – is to find yourself, your new expat self. Find something of your own, your own community, your own friends, a new hobby – whatever it is, you need to find something that is all yours and not something that you found or someone you met through someone else. Otherwise you start to feel like a novelty, a punchline to a friend’s joke, no identity except that you are different and don’t belong here. So before that feeling sets in, find your belonging. Find something that is just yours.
Erin is, you guessed it, an American gal living in Australia. Erin also blogs about all sorts of things, and is just as honest and relatable as our girl Kristen. I know I keep going on about this stuff but these are rare qualities in blogland these days, ok? I particularly love visiting Erin’s blog for some musical education (apparently I am a philistine when it comes to decent music) and more book inspiration. She’s also a great one for book chats and I’m looking forward to being in one place long enough to participate in one of her book challenges. Erin lives in Sydney, and we have already arranged to meet up for tea on a regular basis. I can’t wait!
Why did you become an expat?
How did I become an expat? Short story is that I moved for a man, that relationship didn’t work out, I stayed, and now, I’m married to another man that is an Australian.
Longer version…I might’ve had a form of a mid-life crisis. I took a huge risk without a lot of thought…I was running away from some things and running towards a new life. I ran so far that I moved to the other side of the world.
My first visit to Australia was September 2008, I decided to move in October 2008, and did so December 2008. I left behind a good-paying job, a large circle of friends, and a loving family. To echo what I said in the paragraph above: “I took a huge risk without a lot of thought”.
Let me make this clear: this is the absolute worst way to become an expat.
The full details of this mid-life crisis isn’t exactly something that I’m open to sharing on this wacky world of the web. And, I don’t want anyone to think I’m using that term – “mid-life crisis” – jokingly or flippantly. A lot of things happened over a few years that were painful, hurtful, destructive, and beyond ugly. I went to therapy. I was diagnosed with depression that I’d most likely been experiencing for much of my adult life. I dealt with hurt and issues that I’d avoided for decades.
It wasn’t the most positive experience, but it got me here to a place that I love with a man (and his kids and 5 fur babies) that I love, and for that, I am deeply grateful. I learned a great deal about myself and have been on a journey of growth and self-awareness and am a better person because of it.
I love the scenery and landscapes; the animals and the plant life; the cultures, the lifestyle, and the attitude; the hikes and the beaches.
Sure, I miss home. I will always miss home. Texas is a very special place. No one and no place will ever take away my love for Texas. I am still waiting for a teleporter to exist, so I can go home more frequently. And, damn, I wish airfare didn’t cost so much.
Technology can be a wonderful thing to stay in touch with those loved ones. Apps like viber and what’s app. Skype. Email. Facebook. Even looking at people’s pics on instagram. All of these forms of technology allows us to keep in touch with our friends and family. Oh, and let me be honest, not everyone makes the effort. It can be easy to feel like “oh, I’ve moved far away and now these (certain) people have forgotten about me.” Life just takes us in different directions, and that’s okay. As an expat, I put effort into maintaining relationships with people who reciprocate.
I have been lucky that some Texans that are special to me have come to visit. This allows me to share a piece of my life here and show some of the things that I’ve fallen in love with in Australia. I consider myself fortunate to have experienced two homes, two places that are very special to me.
What advice would you give to a brand new expat?
What is my one tip for an expat? I guess I sorta kinda gave a tip already about keeping in touch and putting in the effort with those that are giving effort back. But, here’s another tip…Kristen listed above a lot of the different things an expat may encounter. She and I have discussed with one another that sometimes we feel “different” in our new home. Different does not mean wrong. These words are not synonyms. Embrace the differences. View the differences as a new experience, as something new to confront, to learn, and to try. Encourage others around you to accept your differences.
Before we leave today, just wanted to give a huge thank you to Rachel for having us and wish her all the best in her expat journey! Our next post in our swappin’ countries will be up on our blogs in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!