My husband and I took our business class seats before a 14 hour flight to Australia on a night in late September. It was our first time flying in a class higher than economy, and it was amazing. We got to spend time in the business class lounge at the airport before our flight, enjoying free food and drinks and a quiet place to relax. Our seats on the plane were huge – and they laid nearly flat so we could sleep on the overnight flight. As the plane’s engines started and the flight attendants began preparing for takeoff, we held hands then looked at each other. We both had terrified looks on our faces. What had we done?!?!
We had accepted jobs with a new company and in a new country, without even visiting the location or meeting our interviewers in person. We’ve only lived in one state our whole lives, and now here we were with just three suitcases each, and a small shipment on its way, about to start our lives across the world in Australia. We had sold everything – our house, vehicles, furniture, and given away a lot too. We had saved and stored a few special and sentimental items, such as wedding presents and photo albums, in my husband’s parent’s crawl space under their house.
When the plane took off, suddenly this adventure felt more real than it ever had before. There was no turning back – we were on our way now. What would it be like there? Would people like us? Would the food be different? Would it be hard to drive on the other side of the road? Would we like our jobs? Would we understand the Australians’ accents and slang? Would they understand us? Would we like living there? There were so many unknowns…
We arrived on a sunny spring day in late September. Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere so the seasons are the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. This was something that took a lot of getting used to (especially when it was hot and muggy at Christmas time). They also use the metric system (versus the English units used in the US). So, speed limits are in kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour, weather is talked about in degrees Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, weight is talked about in kilograms and grams instead of pounds and ounces. We were suddenly grateful that we learned conversions in engineering school (although we needed to refresh our memories on a few of them, haha).
A driver picked us up at the airport to take us to our hotel. As we were getting into the car, my husband accidentally went to the driver’s seat because we forgot the driver sat on the right side in Australia. It seemed so similar to the US, but so different as the same time.
A few weeks after we arrived we found an apartment in a high rise building in the city, with a spectacular view, and was a short 1 km walk to work. We had always lived in houses with a lot of space, so a small apartment in the city was a new but fun experience for us.
We walked everywhere: to work, to the grocery store, to the gym, to restaurants and cafes. This also was a huge change from where we had lived previously in the US where nothing was within walking distance and we had to take a car to get anywhere.
We didn’t immediately buy a car in Australia because we didn’t need it. But after about four months we gave in and bought a car because we found the beach. It was just under an hour drive away, but a two hour train ride plus several bus connections when you didn’t have a car, and our friends with cars didn’t want to take us to the beach every weekend. After we visited once, we wanted to go to back to the beach as often as possible, so we bought the car. The water was warm and pure blue. The waves were huge, and the beach stretched on forever. It was the most relaxing place I had ever been. We tried to go to the beach almost every weekend in the summer. Even in the winter (which was still comfortable 50s and 60s), we would still go to the beach and just walk in the sand.
At work, we were part of the start-up and development of a new mega-project. The project was starting a three-year ramp up and new employees were starting daily. This was a perfect situation for us, we weren’t the only newbees and there were other expats coming in looking for friends in this new country. Our office was a huge melting pot. We worked with Australians, Canadians, British, Dutch, Chinese, New Zealanders, Americans and many more nationalities. We immediately had a built in group of friends with our new coworkers.
Work was new and exciting and very busy. I was learning reservoir engineering and was feeling like I was in over my head. This was a lot different than plant engineering, and I jumped right into reservoir modeling, which basically required me to learn a new coding language. We worked long days, but at the end of the week everyone in the office would go down to the bar and hangout. It was a great way to get to know our coworkers and the Australian culture. We learned about drinking, fine dining, horse racing, rugby and cricket. All those things were popular in Australia (especially in our city-based expat community), but none of this had been part of our lives in the US.
Most importantly, we travelled! We traveled all around Australia and Asia (which was much easier to access from Australia, and in closer times zones but still long flights away). In Australia we visited almost every state: Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales, and South Australia. In Asia and the South Pacific we visited New Zealand (North and South Islands), Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Fiji, Vanauatu, and Thailand. I will dedicate a later post to our travels, but suffice to say that I am a different person for the better having had the chance to visit so many inspiring places.
I loved everywhere we travelled to, but my favorites were Tasmania and Japan. Tasmania because the air just felt fresher there, it felt so pure and untouched, and the whole state is absolutely beautiful. I loved everything about Japan – the food, people, architecture, culture, gardens, scenery, the list goes on and on. I’d wanted to go to Japan for as long as I could remember, and this trip exceeded my high expectations.
Because we were living in Australia our families got to travel too. Many of our family and friends came to visit us. We enjoyed hosting them and showing them around our city that we had grown to love. We would take everyone to cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos at the Koala Sanctuary, and of course we spent time at the beach. Over the time we lived there my husband and I eventually learned how to surf too (it’s so much harder than it looks, lol).
I loved every single day of the three+ years that I lived in Australia. I didn’t love everyday of my job in Australia. In my next post I’ll talk about how I dealt with having a job that didn’t make me excited to go to work.