Thursday, December 28, 2006

What it's like to live overseas, especially during the holidays...

"This was originally posted on by Mindy and other
long-time members there. It's been changed slightly for the
Americans-in-Australia crowd. :-)

I have borrowed this from my yahoo was re-posted by the moderator and I am using it for several reasons. 1. So that my friends and family "back home" can perhaps have an inkling of what I am/have been going through over here. 2. For others that read my blog and are perhaps considering a move to another country. 3. To remind myself of these things as well, so that when I get a little down, I can remember that others all over the world are going through the same exact things, too. I have posted as is, with only a few minor alterations to protect certain people.

This is a topic that I've been thinking about for awhile now. I
haven't posted it as a response to anyone, and I don't want anyone
to think it's aimed at them. It isn't. It's just some honest
advice that I think people should take into consideration before
making the move. I think that at times people get a bit carried
away with being in love and don't think about the reality of moving
to a different country. And I also think that because our two
cultures are similar and we speak the same language they think that
it's going to be easier than it actually is.

I also don't want to be too negative or scare people off. You can
move here and make a life and be happy, but there are some things
that I think would be a good idea to ask yourself.

*Are you open minded? Moving to a new country is remarkable
experience, but you need to be able to look at things from a
different viewpoint than the one you were raised with. You're going
to meet people with different backgrounds, opinions and ways of
doing things. You need to accept that the American way is not the
only way.

*Are you set in your ways? Things are different here. Schools,
hospitals, banking and work practices are just a few of the many
things that you're going to run up against that are 'not the way we
do it'. You have to be willing to learn how things work if you are
going function in a country that is totally not like your own

*Are you diplomatic? You're going to come across people who are
critical of your country and its government. You are going to need
to keep your cool and talk yourself out of some situations where you
feel uncomfortable. You're also going to have learn when someone's
only joking and when someone's serious about this.

*Are you good at watching and listening? You need to learn
everything. The best way to do this is to watch other people, see
how they do things without telling them how you think it should be

*Are you a homebody? If you've never left the place where you were
born, if you're very close to your family, then it's going to be
difficult. Really difficult. You need to be prepared to have years
between visits home, you need to be prepared to not see parents,
siblings and nieces and nephews. The most difficult part of being
an expat is having bad things-death, illness, accidents-happen and
not being able to be there. You're going to miss good things too-
weddings, births, family parties. And not all family and friends
are good about keeping in touch. A lot of expats feel abandoned by
their families when they move.

*Do you have family support? You need your family to be behind you
in a supportive non-judgemental way. It's not impossible without
this, but it sure makes it easier.

*Are you determined? It's not easy making friends here.
Australians, especially women, relate to eachother a little bit
differently from Americans. They tend to make friends young and
hang onto them for life. You can make friends but it will take
determination and a thick skin on your part. You need to be
outgoing and proactive.

*Are you adventurous? You'll have to take buses and trains, and go
to unfamiliar places. Everyone will be a stranger to you. You have
got to be brave or you'll never leave the house.

*Is your career everything to you? Because it's not always easy to
find a job in your field and a lot of people have had to take jobs
that they were vastly overqualified for. And not all degrees and
qualifications automatically transfer. It takes a lot of
perseverance to find the right job for you.

* Can you live on a tighter budget than you're used to? Not only
may you have a lower salary than you did in the US, but you may find
that the cost of living in Australia is higher. Don't assume that
you will be able to dine out every week, or buy the latest fashions
as soon as they show up in the shops.

* Are you running away from anything? A job you hate, family
problems, a bad relationship, depression? Most people go through a
very stressful adjustment period when they get to a new country to
live - either for a set length of time or indefinitely. While it is
entirely possible to work through your issues during the process of
moving, you need to be prepared for the fact that life might not be
all smiles and roses right away.

* Do you have realistic expectations of what life in Australia may
be like? Have you visited (yes, some people plan moving here having
never visited!)? Have you spent a significant amount of time here?
If not, make sure that your perceptions of everyday life over here
are not based on books you've read, television shows, etc. Remember
that Australia is like any other country -- your way of life will
vary according to the place you live and your income, amongst many
other things. Try to not build up a vision of life here based on
stereotypes or you be disappointed.

* If you are moving over with kids, make sure you know the
differences in the educational system & if it would work for your
kids. Be prepared for some serious blowouts with them...or they may
love it while you are unhappy.

* If you are moving over with kids: Is your nuclear family secure?
While you are adjusting to a new place, the only people you will
have to rely on is each other. Your kids will need that stability.

* *Are you willing to try new things? There's no good Mexican food,
there's no Wal-Mart, there are no graham crackers or Hersheys
chocolate. You're going to have to try new food, find substitutes,
shop in unfamiliar stores. If this fills you with dread or you
can't cook without Hamburger Helper it's going to be difficult.

* If moving over to be with a spouse - are they aware of what issues
you may face? Can you speak to them openly? Are they control freaks
that insist you automatically do everything their way? Or tell you
everythign you do is wrong? Basically, do you have an open and
healthy relationship? Moving countries is hard work and if your
spouse is a horses patootee it will not help.

* For the ladies (certainly something I've had to consider) -- are
you willing to have and raise a baby without your own
mother/grandmother/family around long-term?

* If moving over to be with a spouse - what are your in-laws like?
Do they like you? Are they accepting of the fact that
you're "different"?

* If moving over to be with a spouse - are you commited? If in the
back or your mind, you're thinking that this is only temporary or
you're going to be able to change your spouse's mind about moving,
then you're probably kidding yourself. You'll find it hard to
settle if you really haven't got the mindset that this is your new
life and you've got to live it.
If your spouse has said he/she doesn't want to move to the US, he's
probably not going to change his mind, and once you have a mortgage
and babies and commitments that will get harder and harder.

*Do you think you can change people? The person you're
marrying/moving to be with is NOT American. They're not going to
become American. They aren't going suddenly start
dressing/acting/talking and beleiving like an American. If you have
kids, they are not going to be American. And you cannot recreat
the 'American Experience'. It doesn't exist and you're just going
to make everyone unhappy with all your comparing.

*Are you creative? You'll need to incorporate your own traditions
into Australian ones. You'll need to be able to find substitutions
for food items you're used to. And you'll need to look at new ways
to celebrate holidays that are important to you.

* Are you willing to seek professional help? Many expats suffer
from depression... not just sadness, but depression... they then try
to "snap out of it" or "go it alone". You need to be willing to ask
for help and then follow through with that help sometimes.

Just one more of my own to add:

* The reversal of seasons. How do you feel about celebrating
Christmas in the summertime and bundling up during June & July? I'm
not talking about once for novelty's sake, but FOREVER. I think
this affects people more than they think it will. Also, most
Australians don't celebrate Halloween and definitely not
Thanksgiving. Unless you go out of your way to celebrate and find
all the "authentic" decorations & foods, it'll be "just another day"
here. Something else to think about.

Personally, the big thing for ME has been the celebration of holidays. Especially the way I'm used to celebrating things "back home". I miss snow, I miss cold weather. I miss dressing up in velvet and long-sleeves to go out to Christmas parties and spending time with my family. I miss Thanksgiving and cooking a huge meal for everyone to enjoy, again, in the cold weather LOL. It's really weird cooking a huge holiday meal in 90 degree weather with no air conditioning.
These were just a few thoughts, and my friend and moderator of my yahoo group posted this just as I had been thinking about it, as well as getting in arguments with C~ over things just like this.


Tors said...

It's a really great article, isn't it.

The biggest one for me is the last one, "are you willing to ask for professional help"? I went through a lot of mood swings the first year -- probably brought on by pregnancy, but also there were so many changes, on top of having moved so far away. It's so hard to admit that sometimes I need help too. :(

Thanks for calling me a friend. It means a lot. *hugs*

montchan said...

Australia is a bloody paradise when compared to living in the Great White North. Right now I'd be glad to live anyplace where the locals speak kinda sorta English.
Girl, you have no idea how good you have it!!!
I envy you sooooo much!

Hugs and love,

Sister Mary Lisa said...

This reminded me of my year as an exchange student in Austria. I love living abroad. Siiiiigh.

Happy New Year!

Ms. FoxyRoxy said...

I can so relate to this entry. I moved from Canada (Toronto) to Italy for love and definately can say I miss the big celebrations for xmas. Now together we are moving to Australia and realizing that I will be further away from my family:( Oh well, we gotta live life...hope your well..