Ok, it wasn’t forever… we’ve been back twice to visit.
It’s hard to write a post like this without sounding like I’m bashing America. But, given the political climate of the USA at the moment, I feel compelled to tell our story and it’s gonna sound like bashing no matter how nicely I say it. It’s important to keep in mind that when comparing one developed western nation to another, it’s sort of like comparing apples to apples. They’re all nice, just some are a little better than others, depending on what you prefer.
This is our experience of moving to Australia ten years ago.
Before having kids, my husband and I came for a ‘short‘ year and half stay for me to study, until we realised that we loved it so much here that we wanted to stay.
At first, it was scary.
We arrived in 2008, with two suitcases and two surfboards each. My husband and I pretty much left everything behind. Maybe secretly inside I knew we would never move back, because I got rid of almost everything I owned, even though we were only supposed to stay for 18 months.
I was 25 years old. Even though I had traveled around the world, I still felt like living long term in another country was scary… because, after all, wasn’t America the ‘best‘? I mean, that’s what we had always been taught at home and at school. Being born American was the greatest privilege… right??
One big thing that threw me off was the Aussie accent and a million different words for everything. I assumed we would easily fit in because of the shared language, but in reality I often couldn’t understand what the Australians were saying, especially the professors! Also, ‘back then‘, internet here was like the worst in the world and a lot of other things were still developing. So, yeah, it felt really scary at first!
And, we felt like we were missing the party.
Although we were happy to be on an adventure, it seemed like EVERYTHING was happening back at ‘home‘. All the movies, all the politics. All the action. Being on the other side of the world, in a country with a tenth of the population, and crappy internet (it’s great now) felt a little… well… boring or something (at first). But, then, as time went by, we started realising that there is plenty of action everywhere! And sometimes… it’s not good to be at the center of the action. Of course, we missed our family, and that part can be a little hard, but that’s where Skype comes in handy.
At first, we missed the food… until we realised the food in America was actually crap.
We really missed Trader Joes… and Whole Foods. And the pizza and the bagels. And, the vegetarian food from Taco Bell… bwahaha! (Still sort of miss that in emergencies). And, ugh, it seemed like in Australia, we had to make everything from scratch. And, we felt like we missed the food for a long time. Until… we went back for a visit after being away for 2 1/2 years. And then we discovered something profound! We discovered that our favorite foods weren’t what we had remembered! And, they were way more expensive than we remembered! And, why the hell, was high fructose corn syrup in EVERYTHING?! And, all the stuff that we bought, even at Trader Joes and health food stores, was really not even that good for you!
We went back again, this time at the 7 year mark after moving, and we confirmed that the food was gross. The fruits and veggies in the grocery stores were sad and out of season, because they were imported from thousands of miles away! I gained 5 pounds in 5 weeks! It was insane (granted, it was over Thanksgiving time). When we came back to Australia, where we have some of the freshest seasonable fruit and vegetables in the world, and even the pe-packaed stuff isn’t that bad, we were so relieved! You can’t buy a mango in the middle of winter here and that’s a GOOD thing.
In Australia, even the junk food isn’t too bad. You can even buy a pack of Oreos and the ingredients are pronounceable. And, they only come in one small sleeve… not in a pack of 800. And, now, you can even buy decent bagels in the grocery stores… so phew.
We slowly started to realise that America is a great country, but it’s not the best.
I feel a little embarrassed to admit, and I laugh at myself now, but when I first moved to Australia, I definitely felt like when I told people I was American, it was supposed to be something special. Like, people were supposed to say, “Ohhhh… wow… you’re American.” So, the people I was telling I was American, might have wanted to strike up a conversation with me about their sister who lives in New Jersey (everyone seems to have a friend or relative in New Jersey), but, to them, it really was no big deal. After all, America has a really big population, and even though the vast majority of Americans don’t hold passports, we still get around a lot. In most places, Americans are no more a novelty than any other person from any other country… actually, maybe even less so.
America is defiantly one of the nicer countries in the world to live in, but it’s certainly not the best. The USA has almost every convenience you could easily get your hands on (except for electric kettles for some reason). But, America is certainly not the safest. It’s not the most educated, nor is it the happiest, nor is it the wealthiest. It’s not modern, it’s not cheap… and minimum wage is a joke (not funny for the people earning it)… and the weather in most of the country is really rotten. And, currently, it’s NOT a safe place to send your children to school…
What we learned that surprised us most was that the standard of living in America is actually quite low compared to other developed western countries. Until I moved away, I never knew that as Americans, we had less access to affordable health care, less paid parental leave, more expensive higher education. And, those college degrees we earn, if we’re lucky, often only lead to low paying entry level jobs that require us to work our tushies off for peanuts AND enjoy it because that’s just life and life is hard. Barf.
Also, we learned that generally speaking, Americans have this idea that learning a trade is not as prestigious as going to university. Then, we learned that the vast majority of Americans earn lower wages and get little to no help from the government in terms of rent and childcare, compared to their western counterparts AND they hardly get any paid holiday time (um, hello why living in a semi-socialist country is awesome!)… yeah, those things just don’t do it for me! Last but not least, the gun laws in America leave most of the develop world baffled…
All these things I never realised until we moved away for a few years. I can understand why most Americans believe their country is the best. Because without ever leaving the country for a considerable amount of time, how would you know? And… most Americans don’t hold a passport so… most of them don’t know.
We realised that Americans are pretty conservative, and I’m not just talking politics… I remember my high school Latin teacher (who was a world traveler) told us that Americans had a hang up with the naked body. I didn’t quite understand what she meant… until I had kids of my own and let them run around half naked or naked and wild and free on the hot summer beaches (careful of the sun, of course). Meanwhile, my mom told me a story how an American lady got a ticket for changing her kid’s diaper on the beach… and then my friend in New Jersey told me how she was asked to breastfeed her baby in the toilet stall! Once, on an international facebook page, I talked about how my kid peed in the bushes at the park (like we do a million times), and the Americans were like, “WHAT?! That’s gross!!” And most Aussies are like, “Kids peeing in the bushes?” *crickets chirping* Of course, I’m grossly generalising because I do vividly remember swimming naked with a bunch of friends in the freshwater pools, among the bamboo forests, in Hawaii… but you know what I mean. *Most* Americans are pretty conservative with a lot of things.
Then, AMERICA seemed like the weird foreign country!
Probably around the 5 year mark of being away from America, was when we realised that Australia was our home. Everything here felt familiar and normal. There was so much stuff to do! And, awesome stuff. Museums, art galleries, markets, shopping, beautiful places (which are all over the world)… you name it! When I would hear the news from America, it honestly sounded like reading about some crazy foreign country… Yeah, it’s bizarre when the place you called home and the place that felt ‘normal‘ to you for so many years, starts feeling like a distant planet! And now, when I read comments on the internet, even without being told, I can almost instantly tell if an American has left the comment. It’s so funny how much American culture sticks out now!
And now we LOVE our new home!
So, after a shaky few years at the start, we honestly love our new country so much. We’re grateful for getting to raise our three kids in this country. We’re happy because Australians like to complain about their country! It’s hilarious for us, coming from America, the things that Australians complain about. But, it’s good that they complain, because most things keep getting better (but you can’t tell that to an Aussie). Once we got used to everything and it wasn’t scary and confusing anymore, life here became so awesome!
And really, the whole world is your home! And, all people should feel comfortable being with other people in different countries as well as in the country you live in! America was a nice place to grow up and I’m grateful for my life there, but there are so many places in the world that are beautiful and amazing and safe and FUN, I just never believed it could be possible! From when I was a teenager, I really felt called to move to Australia. I only miss a few things from living in America, and it’s mostly the people. But, we’ve made a new home here, and we love it. I’m so glad I made that scary leap 10 years ago, because there’s nowhere else I would rather be! If you’re thinking of moving to another country, look at the logistics of it, and go for it! You can (usually) always go back.
Thinking of Moving? Be realistic…
After writing all this, I have to also say that you have to be realistic, because America may feel like the only place you feel like you’re at ‘home‘. I know right now a lot of people are considering moving away because of the current ‘situation‘… but keep in mind that things are always changing. The problems you feel are problems now, won’t be the same in ten years. Also, you may feel like moving away, but you may end up missing your family and the lifestyle too much. For us, missing family was a fair price to pay to be able to live in what we felt was paradise.