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Life From Abroad

I’m just a broad abroad. We all like puns, right? I am a Canadian living in Australia with my New Zealander partner, Kiwi Scientist. Sometimes the cultural divide between those three countries seems minuscule (we all have the same Queen, am I right?), but sometimes I struggle with my situation.

I moved to Australia just over three years ago to complete a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education and certify myself as a secondary school teacher. I moved to the small city of Adelaide in South Australia. Adelaide is a lovely little city, walkable and within an easy tram (streetcar to us Canadians) ride from the beautiful beach. I was nervous as all get out to head down there not knowing anyone. But, after graduating from university and moving back in with my parents, I felt like I was stagnating, and going down in the tar of dead-end jobs like an ill-fated woolly mammoth. There have been major ups and downs (job loss, moving, quasi-deportation back to my parents’ house), but I’ve learned a lot and grown to love Australia as a second home.

The beach in Canada.

 

I’ve moved to Melbourne and have secured a full time teaching job that I am loving. Anyone who has been to Melbourne can testify that it is a beautiful city. Great public transport, close to the ocean, and great coffee. It doesn’t hurt that it rarely gets colder than +10 degrees Celsius. While it has been hard adjusting to a new country, there are things and people who have been a major help along the way.

The beach at my new home.

I’ve tried to compile in list form my tips for moving to a new country:

  • If you’re moving for school, try to stay in a dorm/international college/whatever other sort of communal living is available. These places not only come with all the furniture, they often supply meals and a steady supply of other new people. I met my partner in the college I stayed at, along with some of my closest friends. You’ll also get to meet people from all over the world, which can make for fantastic get-togethers when you go traveling.
  • Again, if you’re a student, go to any international student events at your university/college. I attended pub crawls, and a very special screening of an important, groundbreaking Australian film (or so we were told going in, turned out to be “The Castle”). I met some lovely people I had nothing in common with, but also met a good friend who ended up moving to Melbourne around the same time as I did. She helped me get a job after I got semi-deported and has been a great person to hang out with. Don’t discount the cheesy events, they are there for a reason.
  • That said, moving to an entirely new country when you’re not studying can make it hard to meet new people. Having moved to Melbourne almost two years ago, I am still having trouble making friends. Melbourne is a much larger city, and without built-in events welcoming me, I’ve been a bit more shy. What I’ve found to be helpful is, unsurprisingly, the Internet. I’ve joined book clubs, found knit nights and a Canadian Society all through the Internet. Not all of these were for me, but I got out of the house, met some people, had some good times and may go back again someday. Not everyone or every club is going to fit for the long haul, but it honestly doesn’t need to.
  • Say “yes” to everything you can. Obviously there are sensible exceptions ““ you’re smart people and can figure those out. I’ve tried snorkeling, spear fishing (well, I swam with a spear and then when I tried to get a fish he looked at me all fishily adorable and I couldn’t follow through with it, so I maybe gave him a haircut), hiking along/up things, driving to random places, driving across Kangaroo Island at twilight (seriously, don’t do this one, kangaroos freakin’ love diving in front of cars at dawn and dusk). Point is, there are so many things I’ve enjoyed doing here that I never would have tried at home. Simply put, when people don’t know who you are, you get to be anybody you want. I’ve been a more adventurous me since I’ve been here and I love it.

Essentials to bring/find/beg/borrow:

  • Skype. If your family is technologically sloth-like, download and install it for them before you leave. Calling internationally is expensive and nothing replaces seeing your mom’s face during a good catch up. I’m close with my parents so we try to talk once a week when we can arrange it. I can walk them around the house, show them my garden. They even got to meet Kiwi Scientist’s parents via Skype last Christmas when I was in NZ. Our parents got on very well and it was nice for both sides to meet each other finally.
  • Food. Plan ahead and ship a box of your favourite food to your new address. I sent a box full of: chipotle spice, marshmallows (the ones here are weird), pumpkin pie filling, “sharp cheddar” Kraft Dinner, eight packs of cinnamon gum, President’s Choice cookies, my favourite chicken soup mix, and am regretting that I didn’t send Spicy Doritos. When you’re sad, or sick and feeling like the kilometers are stretching out between you and everyone you’ve ever known and loved, having your favourite soup is comforting beyond words. My partner and I keep an “international cupboard” and treat it like the nuclear launch codes, we need both invisible keys to open it. Neither of us can choose to eat the other’s food and sharing is completely optional on certain items. Everyone will make their own rules, but him respecting that he will never love the taste of President’s Choice Decadent cookies as much I do, makes me love him even more.
  •  A Sense of Humour. Moving to a new country often involves people making fun of you. Your accent, your turns of phrase, your ignorance of how “footy” works/ why you shouldn’t “barrack for Collingwood.” It is all up for grabs and realizing that can make it a lot easier. Maybe other countries aren’t as involved in “taking the piss” out of everyone/everything, but in Australia you’d better be ready to laugh at yourself and fling it right back. I’ve got my “Canadian accent” down pat. I can now sound like someone from the Air Farce Timmy’s sketch in a matter of seconds. Faux pas are always going to happen but a willingness to laugh them off can smooth things over quite quickly.

All of those being said, there will be many, many times when you miss home. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve made a poor decision. It just means that you’ve left a part of your life you love. Celebrate holidays you enjoy (regardless of whether other people have heard of them) and allow yourself to wallow every now and then.

52 replies on “Life From Abroad”

Yes, I can definitely relate to this! I lived briefly as an American in the Netherlands. If you’re new, living in a shared flat is my number one advice. I was lucky to live in a shared flat with other international students, so we were all new together. It was great because we all were pretty adventurous (or at least more so than I would have been on my own) and got to explore the city and country together.

For me, finding a regular pub/coffee shop helped me feel like my new home was more home-y. Instead of feeling like a stranger in a foreign country I thought, hey, that’s my bar in my neighborhood. Also, it’s a great way to met locals.

I was in Utrecht studying for a semester and summer at Utrecht University. It was such a great experience, albeit too short. I really loved living there. Right now I’m even considering going back for grad school. I think I remember reading that you’re from NL, right?

I agree with everything you’ve said.  I’d perhaps add only one thing on what to bring: a sense of adventure!  I’ve lived abroad twice in my life (once in Perth, Australia) and one of the things that really helped me out when I was homesick/lonely was going exploring.  As a result I’ve gotten to see some hidden gems that anyone in a hurry would miss, and I’ve also gotten to learn a lot about my host countries.  It’s also a great way to meet a lot of cool people and/or have conversation starters with my classmates.  It’s crazy because in the end I saw more of Australia than almost all of my native Australian classmates, which I think is pretty awesome!

That’s really true!  I reckon I’ve now seen more of Australia than I have of Canada as an adult (though my parents took us out East camping every year so they made sure I saw a good amount of Eastern Canada)!

Still haven’t made it to Perth though, hmmmm.

I LOVE the west coast of Australia, I highly recommend visiting if you can!  I know it’s kinda hard to get to, but if you take the railroad across the outback, you can kill to birds w/ one stone: outback & west coast!  It’s similar to the East vs West coast culture in the states where the east is really fast paced and working constantly & the west is chilled and relaxed.  I know Australia in general is pretty chill, but Perth is even more laid back.  If you ever get over to that side of the country, feel free to PM me and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations for my favs!  Also, since you’re so close to Tasmania, I really recommend checking it out! It’s so gorgeous down there!  I went in the June so it was nice and cold and it reminded me of my northern USA hometown.

Cool!  I’ll remember that!  I really want to visit Tassie.  Especially the Hobart Museum of Art place I’ve been reading about.  Sounds great!  I can’t imagine somewhere more chilled than where I’ve been living so far.  I think that sounds amazing!

This was great. The thing about having a sense of humour really amuses me because there was a time when I had to explain to a very upset American who’d just moved here (the UK) that people didn’t hate her, they were just taking the piss and very very little was serious.

Of course, then you have to explain the difference between someone overtly being a twat as a joke and it being completely obviously not serious, and somebody joking and actually meaning to be a twat. We’re getting there, but I haven’t even gotten into explaining to her how a lot of people express subtle racism in the UK (she still has a very rose-tinted view, being hispanic and having grown up with a lot of overt racism). I kind of don’t want to explain it to her (because suddenly you see it FUCKING EVERYWHERE), but it’s necessary.

She also made a lot of unintentional enemies by discounting the importance of class and offended a lot of people. If you tell someone who thinks of themself as working-class that you consider them middle-class, this is definitely not always a compliment in the UK. It’s probably better to avoid the topic altogether if you can manage it, because class is fucked up here. That’s the kind of little thing people really don’t tell you but unfortunately it’s making assumptions like that that single people out right at the beginning.

Ugh I love traveller’s tales. Thank you so much for this article, I find it fascinating how much the spoken culture of a place can change even when the language and large chunks of the heritage remain the same. As you put it, we’ve all got the same Queen xD

The difference in how class was handled was one of the most perplexing thing to me when I went to the UK. Since the US is so middle-class-crazy, it was definitely a paradigm shift.

I was pretty sure this had to do with class, but let me know if it doesn’t….Us Americans didn’t really get the point behind not allowing anyone but certain people walk on the grass or access certain parks on the university campus.

So, the last day we were there, after the leaving-party, we all ran across the grass in our bare feet.

It felt great, but I am so glad no British folks saw us do it, because I had no idea how mad they would have been had they seen!

Oh, that’s just to maintain the grass, because we have fuckloads of tourists everywhere. Because Cambridge has a lot of public parks anyway, the University likes to drive tourists towards those instead of the college greens. Nobody’s technically allowed to go inside the private colleges, but anyone who’s lived in Cambridge for a while pretty much uses them as shortcuts (especially through King’s College to the backs, because otherwise you have to walk for like twenty minutes). There are a lot of class tensions in Cambridge though, mostly because the University dominates affairs here and people who live here (i.e. me) get annoyed when (generally speaking, posher) students act as if they own the place.

But yeah, the complexities of it aren’t obvious, tend to bite you in the arse (even if you’re just a naive kid) and suck for foreigners trying to work out what the hell is going on.

Thanks!  It really is interesting how much can change between countries even though many who live in Australia, NZ, UK and Canada have similar ancestry and each country is based on a similar parliamentary structure.

I grew up in a very sarcastic family but even I had trouble adjusting the amount of piss taking here!  Your American friend is quite lucky to have you to help her through.  I remember the International Students Centre when I first arrived had a chat about how if somebody insults you, they’re just trying to be your friend.  Ummm, not really? The issue is, especially for people new to English, how can you make that distinction between a friendly piss-take and direct hostility clear for people?  I’ve never been able to explain it properly.

From what I’ve heard from Kiwis in the UK, the Kiwi accent can be an advantage as it doesn’t immediately mark you as being from a particular place and helps avoid some of those class issues.

Both Aussies and Kiwis coming here pretty much just get the “I wish *I* could have Christmas in summer” conversation.

Bonus points for NZers who get the “Your country is so pretty…I loved the Lord of the Rings films” conversation.

My own fondness for New Zealand comes from the entirely arbitrary imaginary links I’ve placed between it and my beloved Wales due to lamb meat production.

Also, yes, you’re right about people new to English – except Germans. Germans just get it. I find it kind of ironic that the country we’re supposedly so opposed to has a sense of humour so similair to ours. Germans get the whole “no sense of humour” thing applied to them but it’s really just very dry and sarcastic. Utterly impenetrable until it finally clicks and you realise you should have been laughing at all that random shit people kept saying.

Hahah  yeah!  Although, I’m not a fan of Christmas in summer.  I think it doesn’t feel like Christmas and is dumb.  Yup, that’s the extent I can think it through.  It just feels like a nice day to have a BBQ with family.  I love the full traditions my family has of stockings, skating, walks in the snow, fire in the fireplace.  Ahhhh, cold Christmas.

My poor Kiwi is constantly subjected to LOTR stuff from me.  I love LOTR and we went to Matamata to see the farm where the Hobbit is being shot.  I took hundreds of photos but didn’t live up to my promise to wear my shoes on my knees the whole time.  I’m embarrassing.

I hear you on German humour.  I hadn’t really ever wanted to even visit Germany but went this past fall and loved it beyond words.  Beaufiul country.

I remember reading that and then I went on the internet and looked at pictures of pohutakawas for ages.  So pretty!  It is something beautiful and unique and I certainly think that a warm New Years is the way to go.  Way better to be lounging in a paddock drinking cider and eating crays (bless my fishing-gifted partner) than stomping through a blizzard in heels!  But for Christmas, I can’t get in the spirit without the crisp air and scentless scent of snow.

when people don’t know who you are, you get to be anybody you want.

Yes to this and to all your tips! And that adventurousness will stay with you. Living in a shared flat can be great. I made most of my friends in Melbourne that way. Also through volunteering at the various festivals – Fringe, Comedy, Film – you get a lot of free tickets, plus bonding.

Thanks!  Love your avatar by the way!

That’s a great suggestion, I should definitely look at volunteering for some of the festivals.  I hear the Open Doors Melbourne is a good one too because you can skip some of the massive lines!

The Castle is gold. As a constitutional law nerd, how often do I say “It’s the vibe of the thing”. One of the best Australian movies out (I spend a lot of time dissing Aussies, as a Kiwi should, but Strictly Ballroom, The Castle and Muriel’s Wedding are among my favourite movies).

 

Ha, I was trawling the comments to see if anyone mentioned the The Castle dig.

When I was living in Japan, I gathered all of my friends in the dorm and made them watch The Castle on Australia Day. I even made a pavlova in the dorm microwave oven. I got a chorus of “oooh, so THAT’S what Australian humour is like” afterwards. It was a great night.

Excellent article! My boyfriend and I have talked about moving to Australia when I am done school. It is one place where there is still a fair bit of hiring in my field and where he could easily get work (in tech) too.

Also, I totally dig your avatar/profile pic! My dissertation is on the CBC (and post colonialism).

Thanks Wannabe!  I’ve been super nervous waiting for it to come out!

I love Australia, it is a great place and though it took a while to get work in my chosen field, it was a lot quicker than what I hear from back home.  I may be biased, but come on down to Melbourne (it is the best)!

Bless the CBC, eh? Your dissertation sounds really interesting, where are you studying?

This is so true and wonderful advice. I’m an American who lived in New Zealand for threes, first year on a work visa and the second two while working on a masters. It was difficult and amazing and the first place I was able to support myself. I love reading about New Zealand and Australia here as it reminds me that other people know and love these amazing countries as well.

Thanks Kate!

I love New Zealand and find myself butting into conversations about it even though I’m not from there!  It is lovely that there are Kiwis and Aussies frequenting this spot as well!  You’re so right that it is difficult and amazing.  My dad always says that things aren’t fun despite them being difficult, but often because they weren’t easy.

Where abouts were you living in NZ?

I do exactly the same thing with New Zealand as I want everyone to know about it since it seems out on the edges of the world. Then when I find someone who’s been there, it’s that instant connection. It actually reminds of the experiences I had attending a small all woman’s college, people who knew it, got it.

My first year I lived in Dunedin as I had a sort of sideways connection there. I worked temp jobs as that fit my visa and even met a guy who I was with for about a year. Dunedin’s a nice city but my favorite city of all is Wellington. I studied Victoria University in Classics and came out with a Bachelor of Honours and the knowledge that academia isn’t the life for me. My second year there was spent working on a master’s thesis which didn’t work. When I lived there, I found his amazing apartment building to live in where all the tenants were from Vic. Undergrads on the lower floors, internationals and grads on the top floors. It got me involved in lots of things and I even was able to keep doing roleplaying while I was there. Wellington is one of my favorite cities in the world and has I think my two favorite public buildings-Te Papa and the main branch of the Wellington Public Library.

Exactly!

I love Wellington too, it is so pretty and quite cute!  My not so secret guilty pleasure is looking at houses in Wellington and then measuring the distance to Te Papa.  A girl can dream of a place on a hill and walking down to Te Papa with a coffee in the morning, can’t she?

My mom has issued a directive that I am never to move there though.  After watching a David Suzuki special on earthquakes and the Ring of Fire, she was emphatic on that point.  :)

I’ve not made it down to Dunedin yet, for such a small country there’s a lot to see!  I’ll have to check out the Wellington Public Library next time I’m over.  Any other good tips?

I lived on the Terrace so I would walk all the way to Te Papa and then stop in the library on my way back. The cafe there is a tiny bit cheaper and you can watch the world go by. My parents loved when I was in NZ as it meant they get to visit me and we had some wonderful trips.

Yes, it really is. There’s a lot I didn’t get a chance to see even while living there. Let’s see in the South Island, make sure to see the albatross if you’re in Dunedin as they’re so big it’s a little unreal. Have at least one picnic on the Octagon as its a fascinating center of town and walk through the university, marvel at the burned out couches of the students, try and be there for the market. I grew up in a small college down and Dunedin and Ann Arbor are the most stereotypical university towns I’ve ever been in. If you can and you like wine, spend some time in Otago as it’s beautiful, Rohan and the wine is amazing. Like Northern California but cheaper and more comfortable. Take the Tranzalpine at least once, see the glaciers and spend some time in Hokitikia, go there especially to find the best greenstone.

North Island, take the ferry if you don’t get too seasick and walk and walk and walk Wellington as it has so many hidden wonders. A lovely weekend trip is to go up to Martinborough and there’s a fantastic animal sanctuary near there who’s name I’m forgetting. Napier is beautiful, if you go to Rotorua, make sure to take the less touristy route. I was lucky enough to stay with an older Maori who was a community mover and she showed me the other side of things. I didn’t spent much time in Auckland, too big for my tastes but I adored the War Museum and the park its in and the harbor. Go north and see the kauris and Waitangi. The image in my icon was taken at Waitangi and my current laptop wallpaper is a picture of the waka at Waitangi. New Zealand is a great country for road trips as nothing is too far away yet the environment can shift so much on you. I could go on but I think that’s enough for now.

 

The guy I dated was finishing up his last year there and it’s a fun town, but so different from where I grew up. I grew up in Swarthmore, PA, a suburb with a small liberal arts college. Dunedin was wonderful as the students really gave the town a fantastic life but it was very much a place with town and gown. I liked Wellington much better as there were so many things going on, no one truly dominated.

Yeah I definitely feel that way with Wellington, it’s a place I really love. Not sure if I could live there but I adore visiting. I’m in the Hawke’s Bay, so it’s my nearest “big” city (Palmy so does not count). Many of my good friends are in Welly, so I always have an excuse to visit. One has invited me to World of Wearable Art later in the year and I am so keen to go.

Ooh, that sounds amazing. I never got to attend that but I loved seeing what was on display in the airport. Wellington is very much my sort of city, it just works for me in a way few places have in the world. I’m not sure what’s the exact combo but it does. Now I want to go back to New Zealand. First I need to find a full time job as a librarian so I can afford it.

When we went to see Kiwi Scientist’s family for the first time we went all over and took the ferry up to Wellington.  It was lovely!!  I only saw a bit of the South Island: Christchurch, Tekapo (with that beautiful church), and tried to see Mount Cook but though it was beautiful and sunny the whole way there it poured rain as soon as we got close and it was too foggy to see more than a few feet in front of us.  Boooo.

Love the North Island as that’s what I’ve seen more of.  Kiwi’s parents have been camping up by Te Kaha for about 30 years so we’ve gone with them a few times and it is beautiful.  Have you seen the film Boy?  Waihau Bay (where its filmed) is the closest town to where they camp. Lovely.

I’ve not been to Waitangi, definitely on the list.  We did go to the Auckland Museum (for the Outrageous Fortune exhibit — love that show!).

Now I just want to go to NZ and drink wine.  Who’s in?

Yes, I love that idea. Two of the trips my parents took with me were based around wine country. One to Otago and one to Napier, my mother’s originally from Northern California and she spent most of our various trips going, it’s so much like California. Waitangi is a complex and beautiful place.

No, I haven’t seen Boy but I’ll add it to my list, I love how NZ stuff is getting better and better known.

Alright!  I should be in NZ around Christmas so maybe I’ll send up a Persephone bat signal and see what happens!

I think Boy is getting another limited release in the US this month, but I think sadly still limited to major centres (but if you’re in one of those, get thee to a cinema!).  It is a beautifully funny and heartbreaking film.  Kiwi Scientist says that it gets less funny and more heartbreaking the further you get from NZ.

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qpu0p5ldDS4?rel=0&w=560&h=315%5D

I love that dance!  So good!  I’ll certainly give you a head’s up!  It is Kiwi Christmas this year which means Whakatane and camping!

Edited to add that I’d love to meet a Persephone-r as well!

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