Thursday, 14 April 2011

Eyewitness. Alyson from Canada!

Well, well, well. Many people move to Australia. How do they respond to it? So many of us out there, so many different stories. Are they delighted or do they feel rather miserable by the choices they made?

I look for people and try to find out. And of course do I want to share all of that with you. You might be thinking of moving to Australia? You would love to hear from people who have done it? 

Here we go!

Today I just had a chat with Alyson.

Alyson is Canadian and 31 years old. 

She moved to Melbourne in 2008 with her husband Joachim. Travel and experiencing other cultures and ways-of-life is important to Alyson. So far, she lived in Canada, Switzerland, China, and now Australia. 

And who knows where she and her husband end up next….

For how long have you been here?

Alyson: In August, I will have been living in Australia (Melbourne) for three years.

We all know, time is running and each day is packed with all sorts of activities. Please go back to the time when you first arrived in Australia. What were your thoughts after your first day?

Alyson: We were living in Qingdao, China, before we moved to Melbourne. So upon moving here, the contrast was so strong!  We fell in love with the city immediately.  Some of the things that really stood out for us were:  St Kilda, for its Palm trees, cafes, and atmosphere right on the water; the CBD and many other ‘pockets’ in Melbourne such as South Melbourne, for their beautiful buildings and many fantastic cafes and restaurants. Most importantly, we were impressed that you could see real blue sky again! The air feels so clean here.

Settling in. What was during this time the most difficult thing and what the simplest?

Alyson: For me, it was very easy to settle into Australia.  Canadian and Australian cultures are very similar, so it felt natural for me to integrate with society. In contrast to China, in Australia I didn’t stand out for my height, hair or skin color, and English is my native language, so it seemed very simple to ‘fit in’. Australians are welcoming, friendly people, so I found that everyone was always willing to help if you had questions.

While Australians are very nice people, I still found it difficult to make new friends when we moved here.  I think this is similar in any new country (I certainly had this difficulty in Switzerland also). It’s hard to ‘break into’ established networks of local Australians. The locals seem to already have their long-time friend groups, and so (without children) it seems to be difficult to meet and become friends with Australians.

We also found Australia to be VERY expensive. This wasn’t something we were anticipating. Melbourne living costs seem to be equal to what I was paying when I lived in Switzerland. Rent, food, and activities are highly expensive, yet the income tax rate is much higher than in Switzerland. This was pretty unexpected.

Australian leave entitlement of 20 days (plus bank holidays) restricts travel plans pretty much! We do have to take into account that a flight to Europe takes 24 hours. Living in Australia permanently, do you find the time to travel? Which landmarks have you had the opportunity to visit?

Alyson: To be honest, 20 days of leave entitlement is great for a Canadian! In Canada the ‘standard’ is only 10 days, while most companies give 15, which is absolutely terrible.  Had I not been spoiled by living in Europe, I would have been excited by 20 days J 

However, 20 days feels like nothing when you live 24 hours away from home. With two days to travel home, and two days to travel back, you need to use almost half of your leave-entitlement just to travel home for a short trip (not including the jetlag!).  Furthermore, it’s very expensive to fly to Canada. Australia feels very, very far away from home, and that is the biggest downside of living here. It’s difficult to travel home, and also difficult for others to travel here, so you feel isolated, like you’re missing out on the lives of your loved ones.

Given that it takes so much time to travel outside of Australia, this leaves not much annual-leave (vacation time) for travel within Australia. So far in three years we have travelled extensively in Victoria, and we’ve been to the Gold/Sunshine Coast, Western Australia, and Sydney.

Three in one. How often do you fly back home, how often do you have family and friends visiting? How to best cure homesickness?

Alyson: We try to fly back home every 2 years, with family visiting us in between. This was more simple without children, but as we are expecting our first child, this will become much more difficult.  So far we have some family members (either from my side or my husband’s) visiting every year.

Particularly our European friends like to travel to Australia for longer vacations, so we’ve been lucky to have several come to visit. This is much more difficult for Canadian visitors, who get so little vacation-time.

The best way to cure homesickness is to spend lots of time making video-calls through Skype!  I find that getting to ‘see’ my family on-screen helps me to take part in family events. It’s very difficult though, sometimes homesickness can still be pretty severe.

Just about everything is so very different here. What is the biggest surprise about Australia?

Alyson: I don’t find Australian culture to be extremely different than Canada, in many ways, which is why I feel at home here.  I was surprised as to how easy life seems here – it’s so similar to living in Canada, but on the other side of the world.

I do find that Australia is very insular, however. The news, for example, are very locally-based, and it’s difficult to get good coverage of international news. It seems that the news agencies (I’m generalizing) focus very much on Australian current events, but do not spend lots of time wondering about international events.

I was also surprised about the progressiveness of the business world in Australia. In my own opinion, I find the diversity in the workplace, particularly in senior positions, to be very limited – both in terms of women in senior positions, and other (non-white) cultures in senior positions. I feel that Australia is still run by an ‘old boys club’, which is slowly breaking down but has a long way to go.

What can be said about cultural activities - cultural life in Australia?

Alyson: While it is very difficult to travel to new cultures as compared to Europe (which has so many countries in such a small area), in Melbourne, there are plenty of cultural activities. For example Melbourne has:  some wonderful galleries and museums, which attract fantastic international exhibitions; a strong music scene, from international to local music; many festivals across the city, from country celebrations (such as the Italian festival) to Australian festivals; movie festivals, international sporting events and more! There is always an interesting cultural activity to attend in Melbourne.

If Australia were a woman, how would you best describe her?

Alyson: Slightly over-confident, yet generally laid back. One of those women who isn’t quite aware of the competition out there on the market, so assumes that she is at the very top without putting in much effort. 

In hindsight. One thing you wish you would have known before you hit shore? You spent such a long time in Australia, you definitely are an expert. What is your best advice for people who are dreaming of a life in Australia? Do you mind sharing it with us? Anything else you would love to tell us?

Alyson: Do not underestimate the living costs in Australia – make sure to do your homework about the taxes, and costs of living, to avoid any surprises! If you’re coming for work, ensure to negotiate your salary on a net basis!

Another tip would be to do some of the bigger trips within Australia (to the North, for example) before you start working. As most of your annual leave gets consumed with trips overseas, it leaves little time left for travel within-Australia.  We often wish we had have spent a month traveling around Australia before we started working.

Would you again emigrate to Australia?

Alyson: Yes, definitely! As a couple with no children Australia is a wonderful place to live – for some years.

Melbourne is a fantastic city with lots to offer in terms of sports, culture, laid-back attitude, and fun. However, I wouldn’t commit to living in Australia permanently. Once we have a family, the costs and time to travel overseas just make it too difficult to visit home often enough. For those reasons, I’d rather settle down more permanently in a country that is closer to home.

Thank you so much. I wish you all the very best for your future.

Cheers from Melbourne!

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