My Life Abroad: The Adventures of Two Birds
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Aug '12

Expat life in Melbourne

I don’t often talk about how I came to live in Australia, but a recent email from one of my readers has prompted thoughts about how I got here and how I have gotten to where I am today in general – from a “mindset” perspective.

I suppose I easily could have stayed in beautiful Chico,California– the Sierra Nevada Mountains– and continued partying with my same old friends, playing on the pool league with my best girlfriends, singing in a band, and ultimately going no where in “life”.  Fun is one thing but I think I was definitely dying to have my own life, career, and be in love with someone that loved me back exactly the same as I loved him. All of the things I was desperately missing in California.

I’ve always loved travelling. From the time I joined the US Navy in 1988 – I knew I really wanted to get out and see a bit of the world.  I was lucky enough to have travelled quite a bit while I was in the military and I loved every minute of it. My favourite places were Italy and Bahrain.

But, when I met up with Birdie in 2004 some 18 years after we first met, I knew it was meant to be. His offer to come visit turned into what I hoped for – an engagement and invitation to come live in Melbourne permanently.  I do think that we considered living in California but with the job market, cost of living, and economy in a downturn it was the best choice to move to Melbourne.  In my mind it was never a choice.  I don’t think once that I have regretted coming here.  Certainly the support of Birdie’s family and friends made it easier for me and the support of my own family was important to me as well, they wanted me to “be happy”, and sometimes being happy means you have to go far, far away.  I think each year they are finding out that I am not so far away, we visit, and my Mother comes to Australia to visit often.  My best friend in Cali comes to visit and I keep in touch with my friends on FB and through this blog. I will have to say that this blog for me is therapeutic – it is a way for me to share my life with my family (as meager as it is). I believe some think my blog is a bit indulgent, but for me it’s a way for my family and friends to know what I’m doing and know that I am okay here.  I recommend to my expatriate friends to keep a blog and open a portal of communication with your family if you can.  It’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself since I have come to live here.

My visit to Melbourne for the first time, a 2-week visit, was the most awesome experience I can remember.  Birdie was so good, he took me out to see every part of the city, and we did all the touristy things here and went out to eat in the city and suburbs every night.  He did however, remind me that “it’s not going to be like this if you move here” meaning getting the extra special going out every-night treatment.  But it was a great experience to see a good chunk of where I’d be living.  Melbourne is a metropolis, densely populated with immigrants from all over the world and certainly the South Pacific region. The food here is incredible, some of the best from all over the world – for sure, it’s a foodies paradise. Melbourne hasn’t let me down once, there’s so much to do here and it is by far the best destination in Australia (yes I’m bias).

When I left, I remember giving my car away, packing my things, choosing what to keep and what to get rid of, I even kept some things in storage for over a year in Californa.  Cleaning out that storage unit was a nightmare – Suggestion #1 – don’t keep things you don’t need in storage for over a year especially if your not planning on definitely coming back to live.  We lived in a very small second-rate apartment when I got here… but after I started working and Birdie got a new job we were well on our way to acquiring the things we needed to make our house a home.  It only took 5-years to collect enough shit to furnish a 4-bedroom 3-bath home, and we bought our first home after being in Australia for only 4-years.

My friends, they are still around, some are in my life more than others.  Some I wish were in my life more but ultimately people deal differently than others when “someone is leaving”.  Some didn’t want me to go, some probably couldn’t wait until I left but ultimately you find out who your real friends are when you leave.

Making friends in Australia is something I’ve talked about in detail before – it’s a hard task.  Things are just different here, attitudes are different, and it’s culturally different. – Suggestion #2 – don’t expect Australia to be just like the U.S. (so far from it), it’s a foreign country and just because they speak English (sort-of) here,  doesn’t make it anything like America.  I’m talking about making friends, but also in general – things are just plain different.  I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been so career focused when I got here.  I easily adopted Birdie’s friends, girlfriends, and wives – and some are still around.  But making friends for yourself is something I found hard here, and something that came very easy to me at home.  It’s taken me the entire 7 years to figure out how to make friends here.

Here’s my two cents of good wisdom for finding friends in Australia (this is what I did):

~ Don’t depend on your partner.
~ Get out of the house and find a hobby, club, or other way to meet new people.
~ Get involved in sport, either playing, or participating as a board member.
~ Work!  Even if it’s only part-time.
~ Once you find a friend, hang on to them – arrange a coffee meet up once a week/fortnight.
~ If you have a child join a local “mothers group”
~ Join an Expat group on Facebook or MeetUp, there are tons online, it enables you to make some friends or connections from your own country – this can make things much easier when it comes to needing a shoulder to complain on… er, I mean cry on.
~ Let your guard down a little, I know you don’t want to get hurt but if you can’t let your guard down and open yourself up to making new friends – it will never happen.

I never would have made it if I didn’t have the friends I have now.  And although most of my friends are expats from other countries who understand the pain of leaving their home country – my Aussie friends are as important as anything to me  – Suggestion #3 – if you think you can make it here with no friends, your kidding yourself. I’ve seen American expats come and go and the ones that make a good go of it would swear by this – you need friends to help you get through the hard times.

I’d say I struggled for about the first 2-3 years.  I start out working a job way below where I was in the U.S.   Until I got one job under my belt, figured out how to put together CV (resume) to work in Australia, and got the courage to go out and look for a new job (which was hard and outside my comfort zone), I really didn’t have much of a chance. Finally, I got a job that enabled me to travel for about 10-months straight all over Australia.  I started getting to see more of Australia than my partner had seen.  Perth, the outback, Sydney, and Tasmania… I’d been everywhere!  I started having to make friends on my own because I was spending weeks away from my husband.

I used to remember flying home on Friday nights to see Birdie, and as I was driving from the airport toward the city, I would see the buildings of  Melbourne and think “Ah, I’m home”.  That’s when it finally hit me that Melbourne IS MY HOME.  I love Melbourne.  And as much as my husband wants to live in the U.S., I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.  Someday I guess I’ll give up those dreams to go live in America once again to give my husband the opportunity to live in America and have his own expat experience there… but not for many more years (I hope).

Ultimately, I am not disappointed with my decision to move here and I made such a good choice in my partner, Birdie has been so supportive of me in this new country.  He understands my plight, when I have to have a good cry – I have his shoulder, good times or bad he’s there for me and I have to give him props for that because I’m not the easiest person to understand – Suggestion #4 – pick a supportive partner, and know them well before you make a move so far away from everything you know and love.  

When I first came over to live, Birdie and I made an agreement that we would live together for a year before we got married.  I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake that would land me alone in a foreign country with no way to get home, no family or friends. Our agreement included that he would pay for me and all my crap to fly home should things not work out.  Luckily, after being apart for 19-years it felt like we were able to pick up where we left off and create a life together. I am thankful every day for our meager beginnings here, because it meant that we had to rely on each other and it gave us the struggles we needed to make sure that we were a fit.

Ultimately, to all expats planning to move to Australia in the future… ensure you have a good support system outside of your relationship with your partner and be willing to be open to change, think outside the box and be prepared for everything to be different.  It truly is mind over matter!!