Category Archives: Expat

Chapter Two: Hello Chicago

I’ve sat down at my computer several times over the last few weeks trying to write this post. I felt like I had a lot to say, and I was struggling to organize my thoughts into a concise post. This is my best attempt yet, so please bear with me.

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Chicago in Summer, a snap of the city from Lake Michigan in June

I moved back to the US this summer. This was the end of my four-year run in Sydney. It was a both a happy and sad decision to come back here. While in my heart I know it was the right choice and I’m excited for my next adventure, I can’t help but already miss Sydney. It had become a home to me.

One of the hardest parts of leaving Sydney was saying goodbye to friends. I had attended a lot of farewell drinks for friends leaving over the last few years before my own. Sydney felt like a very transient city at times, especially with so many of my friends being fellow expats. However, even my Australian friends were adventurous travellers and world-wanderers. It was never a guarantee that anyone would stay put, but I’m thankful for that experience too.

It was my friends in Sydney who taught me a lot about what it meant to travel and to see yourself as a citizen of the world. It’s been through watching them and their fearless approach to what’s ahead that I’ve gained a lot of my confidence to be away from home for so long, go places that I never thought I’d go, and see the world through new eyes. It’s a wonderful gift and something I’ll carry with me forever now. Thank you guys.

I’ve started a new job, working for The Education Abroad Network (TEAN) from their Chicago offices. They specialize in helping US students to study abroad in Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia and China. TEAN is the very same company that helped send me on that very first journey to Australia, as a study abroad student on the Gold Coast.

It’s a brilliant group of people that I’ve admired since I was a student with them. It feels very fitting that I’ve gone full circle to end up working for this company. I’ll now have the opportunity to help students take the first steps on their own journey.

One of our students wrote a blog post this week about her return back to the US from a semester studying in Shanghai, China. I thought that her description of how it felt to come back was beautifully told. It made me tear up reading it, thinking about my own recent return.

“There are places there to be discovered, they are just waiting for you to come.

Personally, I know about one that melted my heart.

Yes, China made me feel alive.”

Now please excuse my melted heart ❤

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Reflection on Three Years in Sydney

Leaving Alice Springs, flying over the Red Centre

Leaving Alice Springs (Norther Territory) flying over the Red Centre

Three years in Sydney… How have I been away for three years? I’ve reached a point where I’m not quite sure if three years is long time or short time to be living abroad.  Depends who is asking.

In some ways it feels like ages. When I moved here I thought I would stay for 2-3 years at the most. My aim was to experience Australia in a more in-depth way than just a temporary holiday. I wanted Sydney it to be a home for me. I wanted to create a life here, with a career, friends and community. Reflecting on it now, I feel as though I have that, and I’m very grateful.

I moved to Sydney alone, not knowing anyone here. I remember wondering a lot in my first months when Sydney would become ordinary or completely familiar to me. I also wondered how long it would be until I had friends where I could be myself and let my guard down. I desperately wanted to feel comfortable in my surroundings. I’m not sure when it happened, but much has changed since those days.

Despite loving this place, I never thought Australia would be home forever. I always wanted it to be temporary, as part of my life, not the rest of my life. The thought leaving now, devastates me. While I have no plans to leave in the immediate future, it still isn’t a permanent home.

I know three years is really just a small blip on the radar. I have expat friends who have lived in multiple countries, travelled the world and have been away from “home” much longer than I have.  It’s actually funny how non-unique your own story starts to feel over time with the more people you meet. I find it can be both comforting and annoying at times. I guess that’s probably more a life lesson that translates beyond just moving abroad.

Before moving here, I had never really considered the idea of long-term travel or even living anywhere other than Australia. My dream wasn’t to just become an expat or live abroad; it was specifically to come live in Australia. However, lately these three years are feeling like they could be just a start.

Uluru at Sunset

Uluru at Sunset

One of my best friends came to visit earlier this month from the US. We spent a week in the Northern Territory for a camping adventure in the outback and to see Uluru (Ayers Rock). It’s something that’s been my ‘to see’ list since studying abroad in Australia, and I’m glad I finally made it there, it was a great way to celebrate a three year anniversary.

Thank you for wonderful times and great memories over these last three years Sydney. Looking forward to many more to come. Cheers!

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Expat Thoughts: Moving Abroad after College

Ever since moving to Sydney a couple years ago I’ve been receiving emails from students and recent grads asking about finding a job and living abroad. They show up randomly a couple times a month or so, because they found my blog or read a guest post I’ve written on moving. I love those messages, and always try to take my time writing back so I can be thoughtful with my responses.

It feels like it wasn’t that long ago I was sitting in front of my laptop searching through the same endless blog posts and articles. There is so much online in terms of advice on moving to another country, but it’s still tough to know what journey you’ll take. That’s something that I’ve observed from all my expat friends here. When it comes to landing a job and moving on the other side of the world there is no “right answer” on how to get there. We all took different paths to end up in Sydney. I’ve considered writing a short eBook guide (with the help of a few friends) for Americans who want to move to Sydney. I worry that it would become outdated quickly or perhaps too narrow focused.

So while I do hesitate to give out too much advice on certain topics (such as visas or financial advice). I will still openly share my story of how I got here. I also think one of the most important things I can give back to new grads is extra encouragement. I know for a lot of young Australians the idea of leaving the country for work or school, isn’t as much of hurdle, but the majority of us “Ohioans” don’t tend to pack up and move to another country just because we feel like it. It’s not only a lack of knowledge or role models that have travelled and gone before you but also a challenge of selling yourself on the idea (and it’s not an easy sell).

There were some really important people in my life that encouraged me to move abroad. I’m really thankful for that, especially looking back now. I think everyone needs those cheerleaders, especially when you’re a new grad. Just graduating and starting your job search is a scary enough, much less moving somewhere new.  When you make up your mind to land a job on the other side of the planet and move to a new city where you don’t know anyone – that is all on you. People can help you, but you’re still the one who has to make the effort and take action. However, it’s the people around you telling you it’s possible that helps give you that extra little push you need.

So to those recent and soon to be grads that stumble across my blog, this post is mostly for you. Please do email me and ask me questions about life in Sydney, moving to a new city and living abroad. I try to answer pretty much all emails, even if it does take me some time to get back to you. Please also know that even though you feel quite isolated, lost, and unsure in your job search – many have had this same experience and are willing to help you if you seek them out.

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The American Connection

I never intended to have so many American friends in Sydney. That being said, I was never against the idea of meeting Americans when I moved here. It just happens somewhat naturally when you’re an expat I suppose. I always tell people that “one American leads to another…” I had a few American friends that I made when I arrived and somehow through our network we’ve collected up a whole group of yanks living down under.

It’s good fun. We share memories together here — a party for Cinco de Mayo, complaining about the lack of chocolate and peanut butter combinations available in Australia, and just enjoying being tourists in our own city. I cherish those common experiences that seem to tie us together from the start.

I’ve also come to believe that it takes a certain type of American to live abroad. I still have ‘cringe moments’ when meeting fellow American traveling abroad, but I find it’s different when I meet Americans who live in Sydney. I recognise it’s a generalisation, but seriously… they are a lovely crew. I’m not sure if living in another country mellows you out, or as I mentioned, maybe it takes a certain personality type. We somehow all choose to embrace a slightly different lifestyle away from home.

While I’ve never been ashamed of my nationality, but I did used to shrug off my “American-ness” more when I first arrived. It made me feel isolated or different at moments, and I really wanted to feel at home here. I think time has made me feel more comfortable and more comfortable to be me.

So in the end, I love the American connection. It’s that moment when you meet someone miles away from home but you still are randomly linked. Your best friend went to the same University as their cousin in a small, Midwest town (or however the story goes). It feels as though you’ve traveled to the other side of the world, only to discover how small this world actually is.

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Finding a Job Abroad After College

I love telling the story of how I ended up in Australia. I have to love telling it, because I get asked all the time. When people hear my accent they want to know why I’m in Sydney and how it came to be. However, the people I’ve most enjoyed sharing my story with over the last couple years are students from back home in the US.

I wrote a guest post recent for Arik Hanson’s blog, Communications Conversations giving advice about finding a job abroad after college. It also got picked up by PR Daily. I was amazed by the response. Several students and recent grads tweeted me saying they shared this dream of moving abroad and working overseas.  I had wrote that one of the biggest challenges of finding a job abroad is believing that it’s possible. I think it’s especially tough for students from the US, who don’t grow up in a culture of travel and exploring the world.

The Australians are wonderful at this. So many of my Aussie friends have travelled internationally with their families from a young age.  Some chose to take gap years, go backpacking, and see the world before starting university or a full time job. Others waited until later, and then left their jobs to go travel. While it’s certainly not something everyone here has to do, it’s also not strange to hear about. For a young professional working in the States, it would probably never happen. If you got up and left, your job would not be waiting for you 10 months later upon your return. Without getting into the current economic differences, between Australia and the US, I do believe there are cultural elements at play.

To clarify, I’m not a world traveller. In fact, I’m not an expert on how to move abroad or job searching. I just love sharing my story. I hope that every soon-to-be-grad who has a vision of living and working overseas has someone who validates that dream for them.  Sometimes we need someone to give us an extra pat on the back and tell us we can reach our goals. That extra push is what helped me to achieve when I was already capable of achieving.

Good luck class of 2012. If you’re headed to Sydney, please let me know and I’ll shout you a coffee when you arrive.

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Customer Service and the Tipping Culture

cc license, Christopher Walker

When I moved to Australia it was weird not to leave tips in restaurants. I was still used to the 15-20% standard at home. On a related note, I also found the service at many establishments awful. It was frustrating, and then I found myself getting more frustrated for allowing such a silly thing to bother me.

A year and a half later, I’m mostly over it. Instead of being fed up with bad service, I appreciate really awesome service when I experience it. It’s something to celebrate rather than just have to expect in a tipping culture. Good service is genuine here. When someone is friendly and goes out of their way it makes me smile. I love that feeling.

I’m also happy not to tip. Stuff here is expensive enough already. I don’t need to add a 20% on top of that. As a general rule, I do still leave a small tip at nice restaurants for exceptional service. I’m really curious on what percentage of Australians tip at restaurants, and how much.

What is your experience with tipping and customer service in Australia?  

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Food that I miss in Australia

Dinner at Melt Bar & Grilled, Cleveland

When it comes to food, there isn’t as much I miss from home these days. I’ve grown to really love the food in Australia, and Sydney in-particular has to offer. I’ve found new brands that are similar to what I was familiar with back home or I’m happy to just swap what the states had to offer with the best of what this city has. However, there are still a few items that make my list of “missed foods” while abroad.

Mexican Food – Sydney has a great variety of food but they do fall short in this particular category. At home we go for Mexican at least once a week. It’s a cheap and good option. I think the part I dislike the most is how expensive it can be here, and no free chips and salsa – such a bummer. I miss those giant cheap margaritas that come in every flavour too.

Flautas from Luchitas

Chicken Wings – A huge bucket of chicken wings from Quaker Steak & Lube sounds awesome right now. You can go to chicken shops here and get whole, half or quarter chickens severed with salads or chips, but it’s not quite the same as hot wings.

Pumpkin sweets – I have found that pumpkin is typically a savoury food item in Australia. Pumpkin salads and sides are popular. I eat a lot of pizza with pumpkin topping. However the pumpkin I miss is sweet. I love pumpkin cookies, pie, ice cream and pumpkin roll. Drool.

homemade pumpkin roll

Pulled pork sandwiches, sloppy joes and other BBQ treats – Aussie BBQ are all about the sausage sizzlers but I miss foods from picnics at home. I love BBQ chicken on the grill during the summertime. Sloppy joes on burger buns were always a staple in our mealtimes at home as well.

Bagels and flavoured cream cheeses – I couldn’t even tell you where to get a good bagel in this city. There was a chain called “Bagel House” that did some different varieties and sandwiches but last I heard they went out of business. The grocery store sometimes carries plain and blueberry, but not guaranteed. I don’t think you can buy flavoured cream cheeses such as strawberry and honey. They have original and chives I think.

blueberry with strawberry cream cheese

Chocolate and peanut butter – How is chocolate and peanut butter not a worldwide sensation? I love it. You can buy overpriced Reese’s peanut butter cups here, but in general peanut butter with chocolate is uncommon. I hear that Zumbo has a chocolate peanut butter & jelly macaroon, maybe I should try that.

What foods do you miss from home when you’re away? 

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