From the UK to Vancouver to Sydney: In Search of a Life Less Ordinary
I’m Russell, a British expat currently living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in New South Wales, Australia. Originally from the UK, I left home in 2003 and emigrated to Vancouver, Canada before moving to Ottawa several years later. In 2006, I left Canada for my wife’s home city of Sydney in Australia.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I moved abroad in search of a different way of life, away from the hum drum of the 9-5 work routine and weekends spent in shopping malls or nursing the obligatory Sunday morning hangover in front of the television. I wanted to experience life rather than just live it and so went looking for a lifestyle surrounded by natural beauty and full of new experiences.
Australia offered something that I could only ever enjoy for a few weeks of the year in England whilst on my summer holiday. Australia offers a laidback way of life, with increased family time spent outside and more of a focus on the kinds of things to do away from work rather than a focus on the day job itself.
2. How do you make a living?
I have worked in government for the past 7 years, both in Canada and in Australia. My experiences in both governments have been interesting in terms of getting the necessary clearances as a non-citizen but I’ve enjoyed being part of the work of the public sector in two quite different geographies.
I also regularly write about my expat and travel experiences in my spare time for a number of publications, including the Telegraph in the UK, and I write my expat blog, In Search of a Life Less Ordinary at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com. The blog follows my journey from the UK to Canada then Australia with my wife, two dogs, and the entire contents of our house, looking at the ups and downs of expat life, comparisons of life in all three countries, and advice on becoming an expat.
I hope to start my own expat advisory business later this year.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I probably call home once a week, with a mix of Skype calls or regular telephone calls. I also communicate throughout the week by email with friends and family, and through Facebook, Linked In and Twitter.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Sydney?
There are the obvious attractions to life in Sydney – the walks along the coastal paths only to spot a humpback whale breach just off the headland, spending an afternoon sailing on Sydney Harbour or kayaking around Pittwater on the Northern Beaches, the vibrancy of the city of Sydney itself and its many festivals and markets. There is definitely a sense of something always happening in city, be it an A-list celebrity in town or a new restaurant opening up. Sydney is a glamorous, exciting city so it’s fun to be connected with it.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Sydney?
The distance from the UK is the most challenging aspect in terms of an inability to see UK-based family and friends on a regular basis, the frustrating high cost of travel back particularly at Christmas, and the time difference and far too frequent occurrences of middle-of-the-night sports viewing. Sydney is also one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in so the cost of living has become a major challenge.
6. What do you miss most?
Being close to Europe. Being close to anywhere in fact. Australia is such a long distance from anywhere that simple flights to a neighbouring country can take hours. But I do miss the melting pot of cultures and history in Europe – and the ability to jump into a train, car or plane to visit the continent whenever I choose.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I put myself out there. I join clubs in the area and go out of my way to make an effort with people in the workplace. These are the most likely places where I’ll find and meet people with similar interests. Integrating in my new home means embracing my surroundings – other people pick up on this attitude and will usually strike up conversations with me and welcome me into their world.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Obviously, the seasons are turned on their head here, with winter in the middle of July and summer occurring at Christmas, so many of these traditions take some getting used to at odd times of the year. Generally, the customs and habits in Australia are very similar to the UK but there are a few different ones – thong-throwing competitions and Christmas carols on the beach, celebrating ANZAC day (remembrance day) at 4am in the morning, and going barefoot in the supermarket in the middle of winter are just a few of the odd habits!
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That there are kangaroos hopping down the street! The wildlife is bountiful but, thankfully, it pretty much keeps to the national and state parks, which is a good thing when it comes to snakes and other such nasties which unfortunately are predominant here.
10. What advice would you give other expats?
For potential expats, plan, plan and plan. Do your homework on the country – understand the job market, the property market, get a feel for the different suburbs and where you might like to call home. Understand the culture and the people – they will be your friends and your neighbours so make sure that they appeal to you. If possible, book a fact finding trip to witness firsthand the look and feel of a place. And be completely honest with yourself – this will be a huge move, it will put stress on your family relationships, and the first few years will be harder than you imagine in terms of going back to basics and starting over. Prepare yourself adequately and you’ll be set for the adventure of your lifetime.
11. When and why did you start your blog?
I started In Search of a Life Less Ordinary last year with the aim of sharing my experiences and adventures in making a home away from home. I wanted to give family and friends back home the opportunity to learn about where I’d been and what I’d been up to; but I also wanted to share my experiences with others either thinking of moving, about to move, or now living as an expat overseas.
12. How has the blog been beneficial?
From a personal point of view, the blog has been a way for me to re-live my experiences in Canada and here in Australia, and has given me an outlet by which I can vent about expat issues or celebrate the many new opportunities I’ve had along the way. For others, I hope it has given them a useful source of information and advice, and a set of stories and real-life experience that will allow them to make informed choices and decisions on their own expat journey either now or in the future.
Russel's blog, In Search of a Life Less Ordinary
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