I started this blog to talk to moms in Shanghai who are in a similar situation as me—away from family and friends, potentially for the first time, and trying to figure out how to make a life for themselves in a totally foreign land. After a year and a half meeting friends from all over the world, I have seen friends repatriate back to their home countries and heard about new friends leaving home for the first time. I decided to expand my interview circle a bit and talk to some women who are expats in other countries as well.
My first interview with a non-Shanghai expatriate is with Abby, an American living in Australia with her husband. Abby and I used to work together, and her expat experience came about the same way as mine—her husband’s company had a position open that he couldn’t pass up. Six months after applying for the job “on a whim,” they were heading from cold Chicago to sunny Sydney!
Abby, I’m so excited to hear about your life in Sydney. Tell us how long you’ve been there. “I’ve been here for about 10 months (can’t believe it’s already been that long!) and we are planning to be here for about three years. Our time here doesn’t have an exact end date—but we feel as though we can experience everything this side of the world has to offer in three years and then we will start planning for the next stage of our lives.”
I’ve written a lot about what it was like for me to come here as a first-time expat and all the questions that brings up before the move. What were your feelings before you left, during the settling-in period, and now that you’re closing in on one year abroad? “I had actually already lived in Australia for a semester in college at Bond University (which is in the Gold Coast, near Brisbane) so I had an overall understanding of what I was getting into living in this country. It is very similar to living in the US, but with a more laid-back style and warmer weather, so honestly how could you turn it down?! But it was six months in the making between waiting to see if my husband was going to get the job, to our visa approvals, and then packing and planning for the move, so it was a struggle with all the uncertainty and waiting.
When we first arrived, it was much harder than I thought to find an apartment. Sydney is much more spread out than I imagined, and it took a couple of months before we narrowed down the neighborhood we wanted to settle in and then find a place. It probably took about five months in total to feel completely settled in our place, and I would say after month seven I started to feel like Sydney is my new home and my life here is more complete with a good group of friends, a work/life balance, and routine.”
Before moving across the world, you moved across the country to settle into a new city when you and your husband were engaged. Did that transition from your home state to a new place in the US help you acclimate at all to a new country? “Yes, absolutely. The fact that I had already made the decision to uproot myself from Boston to Chicago made this decision to move to another country much easier. There are obviously much bigger challenges moving internationally, but mentally I feel like I was already prepared for the change and knew that I could do it. Also, the move to Chicago was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It was daunting at the time but was such a great experience. I made a lot of new friendships and it gave me a greater perspective on the US…and I knew that I would feel the same about moving to Sydney.”
As with most expats here in Shanghai, you have goals for your time abroad. What are they? “To see and do as much as possible in Australasia! Australia on its own has so many amazing places to visit, but we are also trying to make the most of being so far away from home and visit places that we likely wouldn’t be able to see if we were still in the US. Asia travel wasn’t high on my list when we lived in Chicago, but the cultural influences are everywhere in Australia (especially all the Asian influences on food here) and I would love to see China, Japan, Vietnam… the list is endless!”
I agree, the opportunities here are unique. Do you have any travel highlights so far? “Well, we spent the Easter holiday in Singapore and Thailand and it was amazing. They are two very different places, but trying to make the most of our trips, we planned to experience the cultural and modern city vibe of Singapore first and then spent five relaxing days at a remote island in Thailand (Koh Yao Yai) and it was the perfect mix of adventure and leisure. The food in both places was amazing, and the Thai-island lifestyle was so refreshing. But we’ve also seen some amazing beaches and weekend getaway spots only a few hours from Sydney—it is just incredible how many beautiful hidden gems there are in this untouched country!”
When I first moved here, I was almost insulted by the idea of being called a “trailing spouse,” because it made me feel like I wasn’t important anymore. What were/are your trailing spouse fears/surprises/benefits?
“I think that idea in and of itself was the most surprising part of this entire experience. Having quit my job to explore new opportunities in Australia, it was very liberating at first to be able to start fresh and revisit what I want out of my career and my next role, but then I found myself putting too much pressure on finding something different from my previous role in event marketing, especially given it was a job that I truly enjoyed, with coworkers I loved. In the end I took a similar job because I missed the feeling of purpose, routine, and social engagement that work provides, but I still haven’t found what I set out for upon moving here. It’s also been a bit of a struggle to let go of that focus on a career path for the time being and just appreciate the ‘here’ and ‘now’. But I think this experience has helped me become a bit more laid back and just appreciate these amazing moments and opportunities, building new relationships and experiencing these once-in-a-lifetime adventures with my husband.”
Even (or especially!) after being in China almost two years, there are things I really miss about the US. Target is one of them!! What do you miss about home? What’s better in Australia?
“Of course, I miss my friends and family, but thankfully with technology I really don’t feel too disconnected from everything that is going on at home. I do miss the ease of living somewhere that you are familiar with—at times it can be frustrating to have to research everything that you do, from finding your go-to foods at the grocery store, to cooking/following recipes in a different measuring system, finding your doctor, dentist, gym, and WINE SHOP! It felt like every little task took time and energy when we first moved here, but that has gotten easier over time.
I have to say, Australians have the work/life balance figured out— and I’ve found that they take themselves a bit less seriously. People are generally very happy and friendly, which has been very refreshing. And the weather cannot be beat! Culturally, though, the countries are similar. Australians are very knowledgeable about everything American, the trends at home are very similar here, and you can get just about anything at the shops that you could at home. I think because we don’t have the language barrier it feels like home. Australians know what’s going on in other countries, too, and I feel as though I’ve benefitted from a more global perspective here. I’m also learning a great deal about British culture and traditions, which I didn’t expect. But you can see the British influences everywhere, and it has been fun to celebrate the royal traditions.”
I don’t get to talk to too many people who are looking to go abroad, but do you have any words of wisdom for people contemplating this life? “Yes—DO IT! When you are first presented with the opportunity, it can be easy to focus on the things you’ll miss and the reasons not to go abroad, and I had a long list of things that I would be missing out on if I left. But the experiences, perspectives, and new relationships that you will gain will make up for it and more. It’s easy to dwell on the things that you don’t have, but it is likely only for a short period of time in your life, and you will gain so much more because of it. I truly believe ‘no risk, no reward.’
Also, I think it’s helpful to talk to someone who has done the move abroad to get their perspective. Talking to others in my situation, both before and even now, has really helped me; it’s easier to share the expat challenges with someone who can relate, and it’s helpful to know you’re not the only one going through it and to share tips, tricks, and solutions to life abroad.”
I have to say, after talking to you I am very jealous of your life in Australia! We were only there for a two-week vacation, but I felt like it would absolutely be a great fit for me if it wasn’t so far from family. You have so many great opportunities for travel just in Australia alone. I think our experience in Shanghai is the right one for our family, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get jealous reading your blog!
If you’re interested in reading about Abby’s journey in the land of Oz, check out her blog at: https://brabbydownunder.wordpress.com
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Abby!