I look at our time here and realize we’ve been in Sydney for almost 2 years. Two years ago I came here from Chicago, very pregnant with our second child and a 3 ½ year old in tow when my husband’s job asked us to come to Sydney. Does it really feel that long? Not even close. Those first months were a whirlwind of jet lag, house hunting, loneliness, frustration, excitement, and having a baby they just flew. Now we are saying “It’s almost over?? How do we see all of it and how can we possibly leave?”
Those first few months were HARD honestly. I cried, I called my friends, I wondered if we’d made a mistake. But as I did I also fell in love with Sydney. I loved the markets, the weather (I mentioned I’m from Chicago right?), watching our kids at the beaches, the harbor, the friendliness of the people, the easy access to new places. We settled into life, had a baby and found friends. Thankfully something Sydney-siders seem to excel at is jumping into friendships without reservation. I chalk it up to many people coming from elsewhere, something we don’t see as much in the Midwest, so they’ve all been the new kid before and welcome you with open arms. We’ve also traveled a lot in our 2 years and we’ve seen so much, yet barely scratched the surface.
The weird thing about Expat life is what it does to you. You are living a bit of a Peter Pan life. You feel like you haven’t quite grown up. Friends back home are buying homes, painting, celebrating Christmas in the snow, doing all the “normal” stuff. Meanwhile you live an almost day to day existence at times in the here and now. Yet feeling this bizarre pressure to make every minute count, every memory matter, see more, do more. You try to pack all the things Sydney-siders will spend 50 years doing into a two. It’s weird living your life is a sort of perpetually motionless and speedy state all at once. What do I mean? Well when you’re at home you say “Sure I need to go do xyz at some point (go to the kids museum, the beach, that new park, the local festivals, vacations)” And you might occasionally do some of it mixed in with daily life like grocery shopping, working, etc. But when you expat, you KNOW you have a limited time to see all the things that people around you love about a place. And yet you still have a normal life to live. You still have a house to clean, kids who need naps, work. You have this constant weird sensation of being on the longest/shortest vacation ever. I’d very much compare expatting to raising kids. Sometimes it seems SOOO slow and other days fly. In the end you look back and go “How are they 5…20 already?” It’s the longest/fastest thing you will ever do.
It makes you feel that much more a part of your own country and that much less in another. You can look at it from an outsider’s view and say “Man we have a LONG way to go on so many things, but damned are we so lucky in others.” You feel a bit like a man without a country. Those shared memories you have of “where were you on 9/11? or every Thanksgiving/Memorial Day/Labor Day we did xyz” suddenly aren’t shared by 90% of the population around you. You have this desire to seek out your own countrymen who will “just get it” but realize by doing so you negate one of the biggest benefits of expatting which is truly becoming part of something different/bigger. Little cultural things you take for granted everyone understanding (what is a funnel cake for example) suddenly require explanation, things you just think are “normal” suddenly aren’t. And obviously you are far from family which at times is a blessing and at times a curse. You long for easy communication, you miss holidays together and weddings and all those things. But you don’t miss the drama and obligation that often come with them. It shows you what life’s like a bit freer from those responsibilities. But you know if something bad happens you’re pretty far from them when they need you.
The hardest part is not knowing your own future and coming to terms with uncertainty. To some degree it’s like going through the stages of grief; you get angry, depressed and eventually find acceptance. It’s hard when the dance teacher says “Is your daughter going to be in the class next term?” and you just have to shrug, because you don’t know if you’ll even be on THIS continent next term. When you meet someone awesome but have to put a caveat on the opening line “I’m moving soon” so neither of you get your hopes up about a budding friendship. When you get the constant question of “What’s next, when do you go?” and the looks of disbelief at 6 months or 2 months when you still don’t know. That pressure can be maddening when you have no control over your fate. At points you’ll hesitate to put down roots for fear of having to rip them up again. Is it worth making friends or being on a committee for only a few months? The answer is yes because you must, you need that link to the world. But the constant knowledge goodbye isn’t far away is hard. It doesn’t sound worth it does it? But this life teaches you SOO much about yourself. Who you are and what you can handle on your own far from what you know. About going outside your comfort zone and being better for it. About making friends and putting yourself out there scary or not and the amazing rewards you reap.
Ultimately I’m grateful we’ve had this time here, do I wish it was longer? Yes, but regardless it’s made me see while the US may be home, you can create a home away from home almost anywhere if you’re open to it. You feel like your heart belongs in two places always now, but that’s not always a bad thing. Just like having two kids doesn’t mean you love one less, it just makes your love grow. Having two homes makes you grow as well. So if you asked me at the end of all this knowing the good, the bad and the ugly of life as an expat “Would you do it again?” my answer is “Absolutely!” And I’d tell anyone thinking of a move overseas no matter what age your kids are it’s worth it. It’s worth broadening your world and theirs. I can buy a house someday, I can paint walls someday, but for now I’m Peter Pan and I’m ok with it.
Read more from Amber:
Taking Candy from Strangers – Why Buying a Used Car Seat is a Bad Idea
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Having Babies on Two Continents