“Wow, you’re moving to Australia? You’re so lucky!”
I heard this line time and again as I said my goodbyes to friends and family in America in early 2008. I agreed with them; I was lucky. I’d been given a job opportunity in the country I fell in love with from afar as a child. In taking it, I’d actually turned those daydreams into reality.
Now that I’ve lived in Australia for over four years and have successfully applied for citizenship, I don’t think of my life in Australia as being lucky. I’m still very happy living here but I don’t see that happiness as being the byproduct of good luck; rather, I see it as the result of a lot of hard work.
It’s difficult picking up your life and moving across the world. Sure, Australians speak English so it was easier than moving to say, Kyrgyzstan, but as an expat moving to Australia I felt like sometimes I still wasn’t understanding what people were saying. For instance, someone wanted to “meet me this arvo.” What in the world was an arvo? (This afternoon.) How about when someone wanted to borrow my thongs? They wanted to borrow my what? (My flip flops).
At some points, the distance has felt truly tyrannical. It’s a very lonely feeling to be on the other side of the world needing help — or just a sympathetic shoulder to lean on — and not having it. I was in a car accident a few months after arriving and ended up being off work with whiplash for five weeks. That rehabilitation period was tough because I’d only made a few friends by that point. Everyone else I knew lived in another timezone and couldn’t be reached for much of the day.
Just keeping the right to stay in the country has been an interesting journey. When I quit the job that brought me to Australia, I thought I might have to go back to university just to get a visa since I didn’t have enough work experience to qualify for a non-sponsored visa. Before I went to that extreme, I managed to find an employer willing to sponsor me (which I was starting to think wouldn’t happen after receiving a pile of rejections, all citing visa issues). My company has since gone through two more long and complicated visa processes for me (for another temporary and a permanent residency visa).
Worth The Work
So why was I willing to put in all that hard work, to stick it out through all of the rough times? Simply said, Australia is worth it. I feel like I’m in a lot less of a rat race here; life is about working enough to live well rather than, well, just working. It’s common to go to the pub for Friday lunch and have a few beers before going back to work; I know that would have been frowned on when I worked in the US. And while we have had very stressful times at work with very long hours, that is certainly not the norm.
Plus, the Australian government requires that we get at least 4 weeks of annual leave per year (which doesn’t include sick days or public holidays). This means that I’m not only less stressed at work, but I have time to both travel abroad to visit family and to travel around Australia. I never thought I’d be popping up to the Great Barrier Reef for a weekend, but that’s what I did last month for a friend’s birthday. And while travel isn’t always cheap in Australia due to the distances you have to cover, it is possible to get cheap flights for weekend trips like this by watching Virgin Australia and Jetstar’s sales.
That said, I love that if I want to do something different for the weekend, I don’t have to get on a plane because there is so much sitting right outside my front door. Being a very outdoorsy person, I love that I can hop in the car and soon be bodysurfing on the Sunshine Coast or hiking through the rainforest at O’Reilly’s. There’s nothing in my old home of Houston that could even come close to this.
I’ve had some tough times — some times where I’ve really wondered why I’m doing this — but overall, my choice to move to Australia as an expat was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. What was initially an experiment life in Australia has turned into a real, balanced life, full of travel and opportunities I wouldn’t have had if I had chosen to stay in America.