Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Transition

Culture shock?  No way will that happen in Australia!  Isn’t it just a more laid back version of America where everyone is just relaxing by the beach and drinking all the time?  (gotta love stereotypes!)  No way it takes me six months to adjust… I’m so easy going, so open to new people and situations, excited for the adventure of it all…

I’m not sure how many times I had that conversation with people just before moving and when we first arrived.  Umm yeah, it does take that long.  If I could slap my former self and make it so I was more prepared for the crazy range of emotions you feel I would.  As I have mentioned before, it is a very good thing I did not start a blog when we first arrived.  I was a hot mess!

I was definitely NOT prepared for the stages of culture shock.  Yes, you can find sites that describe actual stages similar to stages of grief.  Lets go through a quick recap shall we…

1. The Honeymoon Phase

I would say this lasted for us for the first 1 ½ weeks before the hubby started work.  Pretty short period of time I know.  This just felt like we were here on vacation.  Taking on Sydney by storm!  New restaurants each night, exploring the city, taking those big red double-decker sightseeing buses all around… it was exciting and scary all at once.  I especially loved at this time because it was “winter” here everyone was in full length puffer jackets, hats and gloves.  Umm it was 65°F and sunny.  We were in shorts and t-shirts.  Ah yes.  These were good days.

2. The Negotiation Phase

Here is where “anxiety becomes apparent” (oh no!) and one starts to notice the cultural differences no longer in a romantic light.  You are living here after all and not just visiting!  Thank goodness there was no full on language barrier as many experience moving to other countries.  I will comment that sometimes we did have trouble understanding Aussie accents and slang and vice versa.  Here are some examples         
  • What do you mean arvo? (Translation: Afternoon)
  • A fortnight?  (Translation:  Sounds like we are in 19th century England, but that just means every other week)
  • Want to meet for brekkie? (Translation: Breakfast… I have adopted this and I love it)
  • Good on you! (Translation: Good for you! I also love this one)

The food issues are considered a big thing during this “phase” as well.  More of that to come later, but suffice it to say we are spoiled with options in the states and the available choices for food in the supermarkets here is much less.  It is also super expensive compared to what we are used to (what, no Walmart?! Ugh).

I am usually a pretty positive person, but this was a trying period for me.  I guess it lasted about 3 months or so and I couldn’t get past constantly comparing life here to back home.   And it really was never in a good way.  I would try and be really positive, but fail.  Clearly not trying hard enough.  Little things like making a doctor’s appointment, finding an apartment, buying stuff for the apartment… all eerily similar to the states but different enough that it was a challenge.  Christmas time was a challenge. It was warm out. There was no snow. 

One more example before I move on.  We shipped most of our furniture from the states here.  It was a great moving package through the hubbies work and it was paid for, so we figured why buy all new stuff?  The shipment was crazy pants. It took close to 3 months to get from our condo near Boston to Sydney (although it did travel by boat so I suppose I understand).  That is a long time to go without our things!  I’m getting off track though.  The point of the story is because we shipped most of the furniture, we were only looking at unfurnished apartments.  Very interesting point to note that no one bothered to tell us until we were with an agent looking at apartments… unfurnished really means unfurnished.  No fridge, no microwave, no washer/drier and no dishwasher.  Ummm…. What?! We need to buy all that stuff for just 2 years?!  We got really lucky and found a place where all we needed was a fridge.  It is interesting when talking to a lot of Aussies, they do not realize all that stuff is included in rentals in the States… their reactions are pretty funny because they think it is gross that we would use the same fridge as someone before us!

And just like that, we got Australia'd.  This term I coined myself to describe these ridiculous situations, which really come down to cultural differences (that often are surprising).  These are situations which clearly are stressful at the time, but make for entertaining stories after the fact J  I really could go on and on with stories about this phase, but there is always more time for that later.  Keep reading the blog and there will be many more mentions of getting Australia-ed in the future!

3. Adjustment Phase

Here you become accustomed to the new culture and start to have your own routines. For those who are moving or recently moved to a new country, or even a new state in some regards, this was the best thing for me.  I have always been a creature of habit and really struggled being away from supports back home and surprisingly more of a struggle was not working.  I went from having my career be a big part of how I identified myself to not having it at all.  It was hard.  Really hard.

Developing interests here and things that I could do to have a routine during the week made such a huge difference in my overall attitude towards life here.  Taking online courses, nannying, and other interests like running and baking really take up a big part of my time and it is great! 

Instead of crying and being upset about missing friends and family, I look forward to skyping and visiting home (really soon in June!).

I have stopped comparing in a negative way and try and see the good things that are different.  We certainly did not have these views back home nor would we be able to travel to places we have.  

I laugh about getting “Australia'd” now.  The differences are what make things interesting and make us grow and learn more about ourselves along with other cultures.  I think the key is to be able to take it all in, process it, and still maintain your own sense of identity from your home country as well.

Ah yes, look at us all well adjusted now.  These are some photos from our recent trip down to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road.  Good times.

4. Mastery Phase

These are persons who were able to participate fully in the culture, while keeping traits from their earlier culture as well.  Not quite sure I am at this point… but I would like to think I am close.

That’s it for the phases.  Those who have lived away from home I’m sure can relate. I can look back at the first few months we were in Sydney and laugh at everything because it is so ridiculous.  Not that your emotions seem crazy at the time… of course it is logical to have a breakdown about not being able to buy peanut butter M&Ms at a reasonable price…

I couldn't find my picture of the expensive peanut butter variety, but here is the $10 bag of Christmas M&Ms.  And no I did not buy them.


  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed your first few posts and can't wait to read more. I have missed you two and it is really nice to learn more about your life in Australia! From Tara

    1. Thanks Tara! Per usual I kept procrastinating on starting this and now have quite a bit to catch up on :) We miss you guys too... hopefully we can meet up when we are back in the states in June!

  2. I just moved to Australia from the states this past Saturday...I think I'm heading into the navigation phase. The first few days were REALLY rough.

    Thank you for your post!

    1. Welcome to Australia!
      It is crazy how difficult it can be coming to Australia... and worse because people back home just don't get why it is a challenge! All I can say is that it DEFINITELY will get better. Somewhere along the way my hubby and I just started to love living here! Try and enjoy the ride and laugh at the ridiculous stuff that happens.
      Let me know if you ever need any suggestions on life here (restaurants, places to visit...) and enjoy!

  3. My boyfriend and I are heading down to Sydney at the end of January. His company is moving us both, and I was shocked to learn that unfurnished means no dishwasher, fridge, washer dryer! Are there any other surprises we should be prepared for? Are there safer/better areas to live than others? Any recommendations greatly appreciated!

    1. Good for you looking into all this ahead of time- much smarter than we were! In terms of housing there are a couple other things that were a bit of a shock for us coming from the states... The economy/housing market is still VERY good here. Because of that rent is really high and places do not typically stay available for long. The "open houses" that they do are usually only 15 minutes, where everyone swarms in to view the place. It is a bit crazy/overwhelming. Check to see if your boyfriend's company is providing you with any sort of relocation consultant... that's what we had and they made the process easier (ie taking us around to places and making sure we had all the paperwork they needed with bank information and such to start the process...).
      In terms of areas to live, most in and around the CBD are going to be okay. It is only if you start getting further south or to the outer west that you need to be careful (inner suburbs I would only avoid Kings Cross). Other than that, it depends what you guys are after for an experience... if you prefer being close to the CBD, Pyrmont, Surry Hills and Paddington are good... I really like Balmain as well which is just a short ferry ride into Darling Harbour. If you are looking for more of a beach setting, Manly is great and filled with expats (I much prefer this to Bondi). We have lived in 2 areas in the northern suburbs and loved them both... Kirribilli which is just over the harbour bridge and on a beach in Mosman between there and Manly.
      Sorry for the long-winded response, and let me know if there are other questions you have!

    2. Hi, just wanted to say thank you for your advice! We are moving into our new place in Potts Point tomorrow! We've been here about a month now, and are starting to get settled in here. Not particularly looking forward to living without furniture or pots and pans for two weeks, but I suppose it could be worse. If you have any information on volunteer opportunities or social group type activities going on it'd be greatly appreciated! I'm going a bit stir-crazy being home all day while my boyfriend is at work, and we've only been out with his coworkers a couple times. Also, wanted to ask if you're from NH originally (based on your blog title). Both my boyfriend and I are from NH (I'm from the Dover area, and he's from Tilton). I really enjoy reading your blog! Oh, I've included the link to ours so you know we're not creepy internet people :-)