A little background…I’m a New Yorker-turned-Sydneysider. I’ve been living in Sydney, Australia since October 2015. The process of becoming an American expatriate is a complicated one. I’ve titled this piece “Why Australia?” because I’ve been asked this question regularly, since announcing my decision to live abroad just over a year ago.
I first visited Australia in 2014. I booked a two-week vacation with the mindset that I would embark on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I made my way through a few regions including, Sydney, Melbourne and Hamilton Island in the Whitsunday Islands. I unexpectedly fell in love with Australia, and found myself dragging my feat as I boarded the airplane for the 16,000-kilometer, 20-hour flight back to the United States. I experienced typical jet lag, and vacation re-entry blues upon my return. I found myself thinking about Sydney on a daily basis…daydreaming about what it would be like to live abroad.
There was a lot to consider. I had spent nine years living in Manhattan, building lifelong friendships, a solid career and a robust professional network. I also lived within five hours of most of my family members, which made it convenient to spend time together. Despite all of these things, I couldn’t shake my desire to live abroad…something I felt I would regret when looking back on my life’s decisions. Naturally, I made a second trip to Australia in 2015…spending time in Sydney and Hunter Valley (both in New South Wales). The visit confirmed my feelings; it was time to get out of New York City.
By this time there was also another factor in the mix that influenced my decision to move…my partner, Mark. He is an Aussie who I first met through a mutual friend in 2013 (thanks, JT). We met in New York while he was visiting with a few of his mates. Over the next couple of years, we fostered a friendship that eventually grew into a partnership. He has helped me transition into Aussie living in a way that would have been impossible on my own.
THE REACTIONS: AMERICANS VS. AUSTRALIANS
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the contrast in reactions that I’ve perceived throughout the migration process.
Most Americans: “Why Australia?” “That’s so far away.” “Aren’t you going to be homesick?” “Why don’t you just go to Europe? It’s so much closer.” “What does your family think?”
I was surprised to discover that many of the Americans that I told about my plans skewed toward the negative side when reacting to the news. There was a palpable judgment that bubbled to the surface (at least from my perspective). I didn’t fit neatly into anyone’s set of expectations for a young professional in my early 30s. I was driven to break free from convention, while *everyone seemed hell-bent on convincing me that a decision of this magnitude would invite chaos into my life.
Most Australians: “What brought you over here? “Do you like it?” “When are your family and friends coming to visit?” “What have you done so far?” “Let’s catch up for coffee or go to the beach once you’ve settled in!”
I immediately noticed juxtaposition in the reactions from Australians. It was overwhelmingly positive. I would share about the fact that I was nervous about all of the change…about finding work and about finding my way. Each reaction was more positive than the next: “Don’t worry, it will all work out.” “Just take some time to ease into life here…get to know your way around.” “Enjoy the beaches and local events first, because it will all fall into place.”
Perhaps the contrast can be attributed to the lifestyle here. Many Aussies are accustomed to traveling and living far way from home. It is not unusual to meet an Australian who has lived abroad or travelled abroad for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans that I know would have to use most — if not all — of their vacation time to make the trip over to Australia. Many view it as a trip of a lifetime. I know this to be true from personal experience.
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It hasn’t always been easy. I miss my family and friends every day. Living abroad feels like starting all over again in some ways, which can be a strange experience as an adult. However, there is also much opportunity for growth. I’ve already learned to be more vulnerable…to get outside of my comfort zone, and to adapt to a new way of life. I’m thrilled to be living in Sydney, and I’m excited to discover what the future holds!
*Everyone, in this case, refers to those who didn’t know me on the same level as my closest friends and family members. I received heaps of support on my decision to move from people whom I consider my closest family, friends and colleagues. It was peppered with a proportionate amount of concern, which came from a deeply caring place.
UPDATE : I thought I would share some additional reading for anyone interested in reading more about the perks and challenges of living abroad. Jill Fillipovic a contributor at Condé Nast Traveler perfectly captures many of the same issues that I’ve faced while living abroad. Check it out: My Life as an Expat: Why I Left New York and Moved to Nairobi