Expat Experiences: it’s not all kangaroos and koalas

Australia really is breathtaking. There are sights, animals, sounds and smells here that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. It feels like every day is a learning experience, and I am like a sponge soaking in every piece of this culture and lifestyle. It is thrilling, but it is also a challenge. Some are smaller than others, and most of them have lead to positive changes in my lifestyle and outlook, but they are obstacles to overcome, nonetheless.

The rhythm of this city goes against every instinct I have. The cars are not just on the “other side of the road,” everything is. You don’t only have to learn to look right before left when crossing the road, you have to learn to always walk left. And oh yeah, when you walk over to those escalators, the one you think is up is down. I can’t tell you how many near collisions I’ve had with people because as soon as I stop thinking about where I’m walking, my feet wander me over to the right.

Because I am from the US, I am living a day ahead of everyone I know and love. It’s something I’m mostly use to, but that doesn’t make it easier. It means after about 3-4pm my time, everyone I know stateside is down for the count asleep in bed. The upside of this is when I wake up my phone is always abuzz with messages and notifications because the other side of the world has already lived half of their day. For me, birthdays happen “Twice,” and the day I live them is not the day my friends and family live them. It’s confusing for me, but also kind of fun. I called my dad twice this year. Once when I had his birthday and the next when he did. (He jokingly asked me how his birthday was going for me)

I have no car here, so I walk most places except when I take a tram. This is great for health and exercise, but also changes the lifestyle a bit. I have to allow more time for things like grocery shopping. Suddenly a trip to the store is a bit of an ordeal (even though it is close by) because it takes time. I can also only buy what I can carry so unlike in the states where I could load up my car once a week, here I end up at the store 2-3 times because I can only fill up my backpack. Luckily for me, in general not having a car isn’t an issue here because their public transport is so widespread and efficient. Some trams get delayed and during peak hours your commute will take longer, but the system overall is quite good.

Most stores here close at 5pm (except on Thursday, Friday and Saturday I think). The grocery stores stay open a bit later, but any regular shopping you need to do needs to happen before 5pm. This isn’t as big of a deal as I’m used to banks and postal offices closing at 5pm stateside, but when you are in need of the occasional random item, you have to plan your day around it. For instance, we were due our first bit of rain here since I arrived and I needed a backpack cover before the next day. I had to take off from school early in order to get to the shop before it closed. For the most part, though, the store times don’t affect everyday life, as the only stores you really need to visit after 5pm are usually the grocery stores.

The running joke at my Uni is when something goes wrong to say “Welcome to VU” (Victoria University). It’s a joke, but with a lot of underlying truth. I’m not sure if it is nationwide, but there just seem to be a lot of barriers at VU to setting things in motion. For instance, I am teaching tonight (a lab to Masters students), but they haven’t put through my employment paperwork because I am missing a tax file number (their equivalent of a SSN). Since I am on a student visa, I am not allowed to get a TFN until I have a student ID. I am not allowed to enroll at VU until March 2nd. It’s a bit of a mess. So I will teach tonight without a school email, ID card, or access key. I’ll be paid for everything in a month or so when they can put all the paperwork through, but it’s just a bit messy, isn’t it? It can be frustrating, but for the most part I just choose to respond to the mess with a smile and a chuckle because, let’s face it, nothing I say or do is going to change it, so might as well keep calm, cool and collected.

The internet here is equivalent to when the US has a hurricane rolling through and the connection gets spotty. Well, wait, even then if we have power we typically have internet. Hmm. Ok, it’s equivalent to the days of dial-up internet. Sometimes you have great speed, and sometimes you just walk away from your computer and amuse yourself for 5 minutes while the page, document, picture or video loads. Other times the internet works fine and you don’t notice anything except for that fact that you can’t watch anything in the US. As with anything though, there are workarounds,and I just end up watching more of the free TV here. Australia’s free TV is extensive compared to the US. Granted, I’d say that from I’ve seen on free TV, 70% of the shows are either american or a direct remake of an american show, but everything is better with an accent right?

Then there’s this whole business of starting completely over and not knowing anyone outside of the one family I followed over here. It makes for a lot of nights hanging out at my townhouse, but it’s given me a chance to explore solo. And being alone has never really bothered me. For the 7 months before I moved here I lived alone in an apartment and I quite enjoyed it…but there I could always call up a friend for dinner or a chat, and here I don’t quite have that yet. Time is the only remedy for creating a life here, but it is certainly hard not to be impatient.

So there you have it folks– the everyday struggles of an American expat down under. I love it here. I’m glad I came and excited for this adventure. Everyday there is something new and challenging, but I enjoy rising above. It’s easy to share the adventure side of life (and often times more exciting to read about), but today I wanted to share the challenges, because as fun and exciting as Australia is, it presents obstacles everyday, just like anywhere else in the world. Sorry folks, it’s not all just kangaroos and koalas here (but they are pretty awesome!).


P.S. Don’t the sunsets here make up for everything else?