From Havana to Miami to Melbourne: Stumble Down Under
My name is Cosette Paneque. I was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to the United States during the Mariel boatlift in 1981 when I was two years old. I was raised in Miami, FL and now reside in Melbourne.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I fell in love with an Australian man.
2. How do you make a living?
(I would rather skip this question.)
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I’m a social media junkie and Facebook is one of the primary and favorite ways in which I stay in touch daily with friends and family in the US. I also talk to some friends and family over Skype and the telephone once or twice a week.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Australia?
It feels like an adventure. I love having new experiences and, although there are many similarities between the U.S. and Australia, there are great differences too and much to learn.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Australia?
It can be lonely. It’s hard to be away from everything and everyone you know. They say America is the land of standing ovations and I miss all the celebrations – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and all those other happy occasions. And it’s excruciating when you can’t be there with the people you love during the dark moments such as illnesses and deaths.
6. What do you miss most?
I miss Cuban food – Cuban bread, pastelitos, congri, churrasco – all of which is delicious, inexpensive, and abundant in Miami, but impossible to find in Melbourne.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I joined Facebook and Meetup groups. Some are for expats, but most are just based around my interests such as arts and crafts, spirituality, and bicycling.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
I find a lot of little things unusual. For example, I don’t find Aussies to be as celebratory as Americans are around holidays and birthdays, which I find a little sad. There’s a certain level of informality that also takes some getting used to. For instance, some businesses seem to have flexible trading hours. I’ve learned to always call ahead to make sure a shop is open. I also carry cash on me and am always surprised by how many businesses don’t accept debit or credit cards. I’ve also learned to ask, “What’s in that?” in restaurants because food and drinks aren’t always what we expect. For instance, what Aussies refer to as lemonade is usually just Sprite or some other lemon/lime carbonated soda and that’s quite different from what Americans expect as lemonade. Also, many homes and business lack cooling and heating, which is surprising given Melbourne’s very hot and very cold weather. I don’t think I know anyone without central cooling back in Miami.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
My sense is that when most Americans think about Australia, they think Sydney Harbor, the bush, and the Great Barrier Reef. Those are all iconic of Australia and very beautiful, but there’s much more to this country. Melbourne is a wonderful and sophisticated city with amazing fashion, design, and food. There are many charming country towns and Aussies are generally a relaxed and friendly people. Australia is also much more culturally diverse than I think many Americans would expect.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
I feel poor in Melbourne! Everything here is more expensive than Miami. I knew I was in trouble when I saw that while Miami has dollar stores, Melbourne has $2 shops, and the ATM gives you 50-dollar notes instead of twenties. I budget more carefully here and I’ve turned to shopping at UK and US shops online for clothes, accessories, and craft items. Even with the currency conversion and shipping, it’s still cheaper than shopping locally.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Find a support network. It can be difficult and lonely moving to a new country. Even though we all speak the same language, there are some significant differences between the U.S. and Australia and they can be challenging to get used to. Find an expat community to help you locate resource, make new friends, and share in your experiences both good and bad. And then get out there and meet the locals! Join a few social groups based around your interests in Facebook or Meetup.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I began blogging in the AOL Journals community many years ago because I wanted to see what this blogging thing was all about. I’ve long been interested in exploring emerging technologies and exploring new virtual communities. In 2006, I moved off AOL to Blogger and then to WordPress where that same old blog now lives in its current incarnation. But that blog deals primarily with my spirituality and I felt it was not the right place to write about my journey in Australia. I began a second blog called Stumble Down Under in January 2012. It’s served as a way to keep my family and friends informed about what’s going on in my life and it’s also where I process my experiences.
Cosette's blog, Stumble Down Under
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