Was expat life all you expected it to be?
I’ve been mulling over this question like a Werther’s toffee over the past six months, trying to decide how to advise would-be expats. I’ve moved internationally over six times now, and have lived in four different countries, in both hemispheres.
I know quite a bit about expat life.
The good stuff, the bad stuff….and the tears. I know what it means to yearn for someone who is on the other side of the world, but may as well be resident on Mars. I know the thrill of packing your life up and starting again. Oh the possibilities! That wonderful liberating feeling that you could be anyone, anywhere.
That kind of starting over, can be addictive. I should know. I might be doing it all over again, fairly shortly.
So I’ve decided to start a new series here on the blog, called Moving Stories. In it I’m going to feature interviews with some of my favourite expats, and I’m going to share a series of posts on how to Move Worlds Without Losing Your Mind. Keep an eye out for it, if expat life could be in your future, or if you just want to dream about the possibilities. Check back later today for a subscribe link so you can be notified when the series starts, so you don’t miss out!!
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But first, I’d like to introduce you to Russell Ward, a British expat who moved from Hampshire to Sydney, via Canada. His blog In Search of a life Less Ordinary, is a no holds barred real account of expat life.
You should read it. But first, here’s what he has to say about life in Australia.
Q: Why did you move to Australia/New Zealand, originally?
I moved here primarily to bring my Australian fiancee (now wife) home to be closer to her family (she’d been away for 8 years) but also to experience the country and lifestyle for myself. I’d visited here but wanted to experience the beach lifestyle first-hand.
2) What your concerns about moving were? What did you think your biggest challenges would be?
My concerns were about the distance – from everything that was familiar to me but mainly from my parents. My concerns also revolved around moving my two dogs all this way and putting them into quarantine. I was also concerned about finding work here given I had no ‘Australian’ experience and there were so many Brits moving here. I wasn’t particularly concerned about housing or the people. I’d been with my partner for 5 years and had holidayed here before so I felt that I was familiar with the place.
3)What did you think you would miss most about England, apart from family?
The culture and traditions. Pubs, seasons, sense of humour, just being around my own people. Basically all those things that make up the ‘Britishness’ of the UK. I love where I’m from and I knew I’d miss the things that made it what it is.
4) Have you been surprised by what you really have missed about England?
I’ve continued to miss all of those things but the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ holds true so it hasn’t been as bad as expected. The main issue for me has been that of ‘separation guilt’, at being so far from family and unable to truly involve them in my life. I’ve suffered a deep sense of pining for my homeland. It’s hard to explain but it simply feels like a part of you is missing and I often yearn for familiarity in my surroundings.
5) Do you see your old age in this country or in England, and was moving a ‘for life’ decision or ‘for a while’ decision?
Moving was a ‘for a while’ decision for me. We’ve always lived by the motto ‘never say never’ which means we may always return to where we’ve come from in the future. It’s funny, but I can’t see old age in Australia but then, equally, I can’t necessarily see it in England. Maybe this comes from having moved too many times but, to some extent, I’ve been influenced by the Australian perception of the UK and I’m sure that’s played a part in putting doubts in my mind about choosing to return to the UK.
6) Aside from the weather, what positives about life Down Under can you tell us about and were the challenges the same as you envisaged or not?
A major positive is the fact that so much time is spent outdoors. We both love being outside rather than being cooped up and, with the weather and the light here, you find yourself always outside exploring or just being active. We watch far less TV as a result. The food is very good here and the positive attitudes of people towards life in general are a refreshing change.
The challenges related to moving the dogs were not an issue in the end – it was a smooth process and they were both fine. The challenges with the job have been a problem for me – there is much less variety here and opportunities are fewer than in England. I find the work culture a challenge – here, it is about working hard and playing hard, and I’ve struggled with working 10-hour days when I moved here for a better work-life balance. I’d say the size of Sydney has been a major challenge and I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to move to for a quieter life. What comes with size is traffic congestion, poor public transport, and a high cost of living. I’d have preferred a smaller city and probably underestimated Sydney’s size.
7) What surprises have you had – good and bad – setting up your new home in Australia?
I was astounded at the price and quality of housing here. Absolutely blown away by how much you pay and how little you get in return. It is highly competitive and not what I’d expected at all. In terms of the people, aside from their positive attitudes to life which is a good thing, I’ve also been surprised at how much anti-British sentiment there is here. I’ve grown used to it and have found strategies for dealing with it but the English are not generally well liked here. You have to work hard to earn people’s affection and prove to them that you’re not just another ‘whinging Pom’. I’ve also been surprised at how much focus people place on sporting success and the ability to be good with your hands in your career (e.g. having a trade) over having brains and intellect. There is simply no value placed on academic excellence, brain power, and using it in the workplace. If anything, the guys here aren’t interested in that at all and conversation can be quite basic and dumbed down as a result. The good surprises have probably been around the high quality of the food and the abundance of amazing coffee wherever you go. An average bakery can turn out the loveliest cup of coffee and I was not prepared for that at all.
If you experienced conflict between you and your spouse about moving, or aspects of resettling, how easy did you find it to resolve them?
We didn’t experience conflict with moving here. We were both in agreement about this. The conflict, if any, is now arising from the ‘where to next?’ question. I’m keen to spend some time back in the UK (I have my rose-tinted glasses on of course!) and my wife is more of a realist. She looks to what the day-to-day living will be like, where as I dream of a big country house and a career as a writer sitting around supping on fine ale. I can therefore predict more conflict in the future.
9) When you think of home, which country comes to mind now?
I think of England as my one true home. The motherland. Australia however is my current home. When you still have parents and other family back in your birthplace, it’s hard to trade it in for somewhere else. You may have set up home in a new country but your real home is where you were born. I don’t think I could ever see here as my proper home but it is my wife’s home so it is very special to me.
10) In what ways do you think your family life, and your relationship/marriage, has become stronger after undertaking this adventure?
We’ve had to go through things emotionally that other couples won’t have had to so that has strengthened us (moving internationally, leaving family behind etc.). We’re about to have a child here which will be a fantastic and a unique experience given our nationalities and journey so far. I’ve learned what it feels like to be without my own family and my wife has experienced that in the UK so we’re on a shared wavelength which is different and deeper than most couples. I know how she felt and she knows how I currently feel. It creates a deeper bond and understanding between you.
Thanks Russell, it’s good to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Are you thinking of moving overseas and becoming an expat? If so, leave us a comment or question in the dialogue box below.
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