From Australia to San Francisco: Bright Lights of America
Hi, I’m Kat (or Katherine when I’m in trouble), an Australian expat now on my second stint living overseas. I started off in London back in 2008 and have been loving travel ever since.
1. Why did you move abroad?
It began as short adventures to Europe, visiting my Dad’s family in Malta as I grew up. Then in 2005 I travelled through Europe and that was the end of any chance I had of staying in Sydney forever. I was hooked. I ended up finding a job in San Francisco and moving to the US in mid-2015 and have had a fantastic time so far.
2. How do you make a living?
My career up until 2015 was in journalism, writing mostly for print and online newspapers and publications. But as newspapers continued to close down, and more redundancies were being handed out I knew it was time to broaden my horizons. Now I work as a technical writer and communication officer for a renewable energy company in the Bay Area. It’s a lovely place to work – the people make it a great place to be – but there are a few etiquette differences between the office environment here and at home.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I Skype my Dad every week and keep up with my brothers via text (every day because we’re crazy like that). And since I have such a huge family I try to call and email my aunties, cousins, uncles and grandparents every now and then. Just doing that keeps me busy.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in San Francisco?
Everyone loves my accent. They might not be able to understand a word I’m saying, but they sure enjoy listening to me say it.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in San Francisco?
No credit score or Social Security Number! I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked for both of these since I got here – they factor into everything. There are ways around it though. There are also way less public holidays and days off in the US, which I’m still trying to adjust to.
6. What do you miss most?
I asked my (American) boyfriend what he thought I missed the most and without even hesitating he reeled off a very long list of things that I complain to him about constantly: Thai and Lebanese food, real chocolate, bread that doesn’t taste like corn syrup, Solo, and Cherry Ripes.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
A found that work was a good place to start. San Francisco is a very outdoorsy place so someone’s always going hiking or exploring, trying out new bars or going out for dinner. I also joined some great expat groups on Facebook and Meet Up, where I got to complain about missing Cherry Ripes and how the DMV is awful.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
People still pay for things with cheques. Lots of things. When I opened my first bank account here I almost scoffed when I was asked if I wanted a cheque book. I said no. Always say yes. Learn from my mistake.
Paying for goods or services with anything larger than a $20 note is frowned upon and some shops will refuse $50 notes. But they don’t care if you use EFTPOS or a credit card to buy anything, no matter how little it costs.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
The tired, old one about Americans being backwards, loud and stupid is such a misnomer, especially here in San Francisco. A lot of the Americans that I’ve met are intelligent, thoughtful and well-educated people who are genuinely interested in expats and their lives at home.
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?
San Francisco has a reasonably high cost of living, but it probably isn’t that far above the cost of living in Sydney. It has been an adjustment to make sure I stick to a tighter budget and a lot more of my income is spent on rent right off the bat, but it’s manageable. Clothes, shoes and electronics are cheaper here than in Australia, which is nice.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Look out for expat groups online because they have a wealth of knowledge and are usually great at answering questions. Whatever you’re going through now, someone’s bound to have navigated previously. Take the opportunity to explore as much as you can – there are so many beautiful things to see and do in the US. Be careful with any debts you accumulate – they will influence your credit score, which can be good or bad for you later on. Most of all, don’t get bogged down in work and forget to enjoy it here!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started Bright Lights of America almost immediately after I arrived in San Francisco as a way of documenting the experience and over time it’s turned into a way that I can help other expats connect and learn about the differences between living in Australia and California. I also write tips and common pitfalls for experiences like getting a driver’s license, finding a place to live, what to expect from an American workplace etc.
In between I write about fun stuff like all the travel I cram in!
Kat's blog, Bright Lights of America
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