It’s been about 8 weeks since I moved to Sydney, Australia. I’ve failed a bit at providing most people with an adequate update and I figured writing a list about Sydney from my perspective (at least after the first 2 months) would be a quick and easy start. I also wanted to combine this with lessons that I’ve learned and re-learned in the last couple of months.
First of all, moving here has been intense. Not only is this a new country for me, but it’s my first time living in a city. I still can’t believe it’s been about 8 weeks. It’s been such a short time but every week has been different and emotional. I’ve been lucky on many accounts. Finding a flat (apartment) was quite easy. Actually the one I ended up choosing was the first flat I looked at during my housing search. My flatmate (roommate) is very lovely and we got along pretty instantly. As many of you know, my job at Research Now, relocated me to the Sydney office. My job role is almost 100% different but the work culture at my company is the same. Everyone in the office is very friendly and in the past couple of weeks I’ve been going out with them more for drinks, board game nights, comedy and exploring the city. Every week I get another opportunity to connect with a coworker and ultimately learn more about someone else and make a new friend.
Meeting people has been surprisingly easy. Overall people are friendly and approachable. I’ve met really awesome people in unexpected and odd ways. I was also lucky to have met a Sydneysider here pretty immediately. He showed me around cool areas of the city, how to use the transportation, answered some questions about the culture, helped me feel welcome and encouraged me to get out more. This jump started me into not feeling as overwhelmed and fearful about being here.
The real challenge is making real friends but that comes with time and patience. I’ve made a handful of friends, people I can talk to about semi-personal things, plan stuff with, and who I really enjoy being around which is far more than I envisioned after 8 weeks. My experience here hasn’t been all positive. There are times where I’ve felt homesick, scared, hurt, cried and felt upset about some things and so on, but it’s all part of the adventure. I very much miss friends and family back home and the lack of that support system has become more apparent as the weeks go by. But regardless of that, I’m thrilled to be in Sydney and feel quite happy in this wonderful city.
Here are a list of observations and Sydney and some lessons I’ve learned from this experience so far:
1. The culture is laid-back.Work is nowhere near as stressful as it was back in Dallas. I do work very hard and I’m always busy at work, but the lack of constant overtime is wonderful. I feel like I have more time to enjoy other hobbies, focus on my own personal development and have fun outside of work.
2. The city is gorgeous. It reminds me quite a bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sydney is very clean and well maintained. It’s also not very crowded. There are people everywhere, of course, but the city does not have the “crowded” feel that I typically get in large cities.
3. Aussies love to shorten things! Many people call me Mel. In the States, I can only think of maybe one person who ever called me Mel. Here, everyone calls me that. I still strongly prefer being called Melissa though.
4. People are very friendly here but you need to approach them and make that initial effort. I’ve met many people mainly because I approach them and strike up a conversation. Usually people don’t really approach you or go out of their way unless they are fellow expats and also actively looking to make new friends.
Lesson: Step out of your comfort zone. I’m pretty social normally but interacting with people who don’t know me, almost all the time, has taken up much of my energy. It’s exhausting to say the least but the moment when you click, connect or have something in common with someone is well worth it. The moment when someone invites you to lunch, an event, messages you for your number/email and texts you asking how you are randomly, shows you might be doing something right in this “making friends” department. I’ve never made this much of an effort at forming a social group and as uncomfortable as it is, it has paid off significantly. Everyone has different requirements socially but if you are looking to meet people and make friends, you have to be willing to say “yes” far more than “no” and be a bit patient with the whole process.
5. Everything is expensive, ridiculously expensive. I never thought of the States as having cheap clothing until I came here. I’m now kicking myself for leaving a few of my favorite clothes in the dryer at home. On a positive note, I am more aware of how much I spend on purchases and have saved more money here in Sydney than in the States.
6. There are so many opportunities to learn something new and develop hobbies in Sydney and it’s all relatively inexpensive (yes, I realize this conflicts with the prior point). Courses here can be from $100-400, at least at the local community college. I’ve started attending a Creative Nonfiction Writing course which has been a pure joy. It’s a great way to spend a few hours during the week, allows me to keep doing something I have a passion for and isn’t much of a monetary or time commitment. Sydney has other amazing courses too, and I’m planning to taken an improv course sometime in the next couple of months as well. I also live in the city so many of these classes are about a 10-30 minute walk away which isn’t bad at all!
7. Many of my favorite things to eat don’t exist in Aus. Many of you who know me understand that I love Morningstar products and I mostly have a vegetarian diet. I was practically raised on that stuff and there’s not too many options similar to those products in terms of taste and quality. There are other wonderful food products that I miss here but honestly, I often forget about them unless I’m craving them. I’ve found some new Aussie brands that I am starting to enjoy quite a bit (i.e., Tim Tams!).
Lesson: Letting go can apply to smaller things such as food. It’s okay to miss something but the benefits to letting go is allowing yourself to adjust to something different, new and maybe something better. I may miss some of my favorite food products but I’ve honestly been much healthier here in Sydney in terms of the foods I eat. The lack of my favorite foods has also forced me to step out of my comfort zone a bit and try things I may have otherwise ignored.
8. There are many areas in the city where dogs don’t have to be on leashes. It’s adorable and wonderful to see dogs without a leash and quite well trained. They don’t seem to run out in the streets or anything.
9. Asian food is amazing! I LOVE the Asian food here. It’s wonderful all around. I also love the Turkish and Lebanese food I’ve had here. However, it’s been tough finding other kinds of good food such as Mexican or vegetarian options. I’m very sure it exists here but it’s not as easy to find as I would be used to in the States.
Lesson: There are so many wonderful and unique things to try everywhere. It’s okay to train your gustatory palette to enjoy new favorite foods and it’s also okay to miss foods that aren’t readily available to you. A part of life is trying new things and better appreciating the things we often take for granted.
10. People drive on the opposite side of the road. At first this didn’t seem that unusual, especially since I was planning not to drive, but I forgot that this makes crossing the street a bit more difficult than anticipated. After spending a month here I’ve finally worked out the system (I think?) and can comfortably cross the street without panicking. I can also finally get in a car the right way and not freak out when someone is driving. I’m hoping after a bit more time I’ll be able to tackle driving a car here.
11. Aussies like Americans… honestly I’ve even heard from various folks that they love Americans. I have been genuinely surprised at the amount of interesting questions I get about the States and how people love to discuss the cultural differences. It’s quite fun and welcoming actually. I sort of imagined that Aussies might have a dislike of the States but overall, it’s been quite positive. Talking to Aussies about the States has actually made me notice and appreciate some wonderful things about my homeland. I’m feeling more proud to be an American now that I’m living in Australia. Who would have thought haha? Also, the kinship I feel when I meet fellow Americans is also quite surprising.
12. The humor here is different. Actually a week ago, this lovely girl explained it to me fully and it finally clicked for me. The sarcasm here is deadpan but what really surprised me is that people build upon the sarcasm and enjoy it. In the States people typically say a sarcastic statement and we might say one sarcastic statement in return or simply ignore it. Here in Aus, people just build and build upon it. Once this girl pointed it out to me and explained how it was fun, the differences finally clicked for me.
Lesson: I truly believe that humor can be shared, learned and embraced. We all are funny in our own ways. Share your humor with the world and don’t be afraid to try to learn a different type of humor even if it’s difficult and takes time. Laughter is one of the forces that joins people together. Don’t allow yourself to miss out on this gift because you don’t quite understand something or know how to participate. Now that I’m embracing it and hanging out with more people who have different styles of humor, it’s much easier picking up on the humor and trying to play along. Remember that this takes time and also requires you to be around the right people who encourage you to laugh and can be forgiving if you don’t get something right away.
13. The college experience here is loads different than in the States. Most students at university tend to live at home and don’t travel too far from home for college. Many people are still close friends with people they know from high school! I imagine the college experience in Australia is not very free and wild like it can be in the States. Aussies do tend to travel more internationally but it’s not uncommon to hear that an Aussie has not really explored their own country too much.
14. The Winter has been quite warm. And by warm, I mean California warm. Sydney Winters are nowhere near similar to what is experienced in much of the US. It’s quite amusing to see Sydneysiders complain about the “cold” weather, that in my opinion feels amazing. But I’m sure I’ll assimilate over the next couple of years and start feeling cold in 60 degree weather too.
15. Speaking of 60 degrees… Australians use celsius instead of farenheit. Also explaining how I lost about 2 kilos vs. 1 pound has been amusing. I do prefer writing the dates the way Aussies do it… which would be 25/5/2014 vs the US 5/25/2014. There’s some things I prefer and other things I don’t prefer but it’s all just subjective. Regardless I’ll need to get used to the Aussie standard for the next couple of years or so.
16. Public transportation is easy and relatively inexpensive.At first I was a bit hesitant about taking it but it’s pretty simple to figure out. I still prefer walking but long train rides are pretty awesome too.
Lesson: One of the most underrated but fun parts of exploring is the actual process of traveling whether it’s by car, train or walking. I’ve seen many areas of Sydney by using all sorts of transportation. By walking I’ve been able to discover some rare and hidden alleyways, delicious and hidden restaurants and some interesting stores. Trains are great for reflection, reading or just people-watching while enjoying lovely music. I get to see a bit of the scenery and learn more about the suburbs of the city.
17. There are megabats here! Yes, very large bats (over a foot long) and they are EVERYWHERE. It’s breathtaking to look out at the sky and to see them filling up the skies and to hear them screeching in the trees.
Lesson: There is beauty everywhere and often it’s unexpected or unusual. Looking out at the darkening skies of Sydney and seeing those massive wings in the sky just reminds me of that strange beauty.
18. People can come off as a bit impolite in the city. As a disclaimer, I’m not sure how much of this is a “city” thing or an “Aussie” thing. When navigating through the city, people tend to not say hello, good morning and tend to avoid looking at you. Even worse, is people tend to keep walking in their direction without stepping out of that way. I suppose I’m used to getting out of someone’s way if I’m walking and about to collide into someone, but people here just keep walking and somehow it works itself out in some odd manner.
Lesson: Continue to treat people how you wish you were treated. At first, I was a bit shy about saying hello, good morning or smiling to someone who didn’t seem to return it but now I just do it, and the lovely thing is, over time (especially when you encounter the same people walking to work or at the store) people start saying it back, smiling in return and just treating you more kindly. Suddenly a grouchy store owner who didn’t like talking to me the first couple of times, suddenly is smiling and super nice to me whenever I walk into the store or I receive a kind smile from someone who always passes me on my way to work. Spread the kindness when you can and however you can, because you never know how positively it’s impacting someone’s day.
19. The birds are gorgeous. I remember during my first week here and it was raining there were lovely birds everywhere. I saw gorgeous cockatoos lining the buildings and parakeets in the trees.
20. Some words that have very normal and appropriate meanings in the States, can be inappropriate or offensive elsewhere. Root is one of those words. After telling a coworker that I am rooting for their team, she had to explain to me that this is not an appropriate word to use in the office. Feel free to google what “root” means in Australia.
21. There are bugs everywhere! My company office had maggots crawling through the walls. I saw a cockroach on my desk at work. This fancy hotel I stayed in for the first couple of weeks had a mini-cockroach and my flat had 2 huge cockroaches that my lovely flatmate had to kill. Restaurants, even really nice ones, have bugs in them. In the States, hotels and restaurants could get their image negatively ruined if that occurred but here in Aus it seems to be more acceptable.
22. Dating customs are a bit different here. For the record, this is not from my personal experiences dating here but stuff that a few Aussie women and men explained to me in various ways over the last month or so and will obviously not apply to everyone. Some people have explained to me that things are more equal here in terms of paying for meals and such (in the States, men may have more pressure to pay for things for a longer period of time) and that girlfriends get a lower priority over family, friends and work. I’ve heard such odd things about dating from various people such as how women need to be a bit forward to find a decent guy in Sydney and how the dating pool is rather poor in Sydney, but again, this is not from my experience but interesting things I’ve heard.
Lesson: Dating can be a pain and finding the right person for you is going to be tough but that can happen anywhere in the world. Try to be open-minded about the kind of people you will encounter and stay true to what you are looking for in a relationship and hopefully you’ll find someone who treats you right and enjoys you for you. All the other dating differences hardly matter outside of that.
23. I am drinking far more here than I ever have before. Many of you reading this know I don’t drink alcohol that much and never get drunk. Well I’ve gotten smashed probably 3 times this week alone. I’m not sure if this is a good thing just yet, but it is reflective of the culture and for some reason I love the alcohol here far more than in the States. In the future, I’ll just work on moderating how much I drink and understanding my own personal limits
24. Aussies don’t tend to walk you home or make sure you get home safe. On a few occasions it has happened and someone has offered to take me home, but in general you tend to go home alone or someone helps you get a cab.
25. People in Aus are very humble. I’ve noticed that when I give a genuine compliment, people tend to respond with modesty and try to downplay the compliment. I’m used to people in the States just saying “thank you” and accepting the compliment.
Lesson: Being modest and humble is a good thing. Being proud of your achievements and individual strengths is also a good thing. I strive to find a balance between those two things and I know being in Aus will really help with me being a bit more modest and humble in my life.
26. If I do something loud, obnoxious or rude, it’s somehow an American thing to do lol. I don’t mind the comments but it is funny how people take one statement and call it “American.”
Lesson: Be aware of how your culture strongly influences you to be who you are. Also, enjoy the differences even if there are sometimes negative connotations. It’s all about perspective. And it’s much easier to laugh about it, than take offense.
27. Diversity in Australia has multiple meanings. Everyone here says Aus is very multicultural. This is true because there are many cultures represented in Australia but mainly from a Caucasian and Asian background. Coming from the States, diversity involves Latinos, Blacks, Caucasians, Asians and so much more. However, the States tends to have a melting pot of ethnicities who are all typically American. In Australia you meet so many people from different nationalities and countries. Some of you are aware that I’m a blend of African-American, Latina, Caucasian and Native American. In the States, people can usually guess my blend fairly accurately. In Aus, due to the lack of African-Americans and Latinos, people tend to guess that my ethnicity is something completely different. At a game today, I asked a group of people what they thought I was. Most of them guessed Filipino, Maori, Indian, Sri Lankan, etc.
28. Speaking of diversity I haven’t met many Americans here. Actually after being here for almost 2 months, I’ve gotten used to the Aussie accents to the point where when I hear an American accent it’s quite obvious. Haha I even forget that I have an American accent until someone points it out. Anyway, Aussie accents are quite lovely. Even the way they say certain things is so unusual but adorable such as how they use “proper” in their phrases. For instance earlier today this girl said to me, “he is my first proper boyfriend. You know, my first proper relationship.” Adorable!
Lesson: Everyone has a beautiful and special trait reflective of their personality and looks. This also extends to the voice too. I’ve found the accents that some people have to be particularly gorgeous. When I share this with that person, their response tends to be a bit baffled or surprised at the compliment even though it is 100% true, at least from my perspective.
So here are a list of my favorite places which I’m sure will keep expanding.
My favorite things so far…
Hyde Park. This is my absolute favorite park in Sydney. It’s small but beautiful. I’ve found myself sitting near the fountains in this park and adore people-watching, admiring the beautiful church nearby and the contrast between the lovely scenery and the city. I’ve been here on rainy and sunny days and it’s always wonderful.
Rivareno Gelato – I love the gelato here, I absolutely love it. Need I say more? The gelato is mindblowing and it’s my comfort food whenever I feel like I need a day brightener.
Taking the train. I love whenever people invite me to their places so that I can take a nice train ride. The whole experience is really relaxing and a fun way to explore the city.
Meeting new people. I have had a blast meeting people here in Sydney. Everyone has been very friendly and nice and it’s fun meeting someone with similar interests. I have a friend I enjoy going to lunch with, another who loves board games, a coworker who loves to randomly explore Sydney with me and a flatmate who I enjoy having deep and personal discussions with.
Walking to different areas of the city. I always see something new and unusual. And it’s pure joy to have accomplished something small such as being able to get home without using my GPS or being able to figure out a meeting point somewhere at Bathurst and George St. without having to look at a map.