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Cristin: Between Roots and Wings

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Sydney makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Sydney, etc.

I’m a mid-30s American gal who grew up in Atlanta, but does not have a Southern accent. I went to grad school in Brooklyn and lived in Montana for a year. I moved to Sydney from Florida in August 2010 with my then-boyfriend, now-husband who came over on a skilled worker visa. We plan to stay for the foreseeable future and are expecting our first baby in February 2013.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I started the blog a couple months after arriving in Australia. At first, I wanted to have an efficient way to share my experience with people at home and to document my feelings about such a big life change. I also needed a creative outlet. Before too long, I realized that it could also be a valuable resource for other expats and those thinking of making the move.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

I have an old one and a newer one that explore some of the big cultural/life epiphanies I’ve gone through. And then there are a couple that I just had a blast living and writing about – “researching” Sydney’s oldest bar and our trip to Vanuatu.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Sydney differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

I did not expect culture shock, probably because we speak the same language, but I did experience it acutely. For a few months, I felt out of place and even a bit like people were staring at me (they weren’t). I found working in my field problematic and have mostly shifted onto a different career path, which has been a huge adjustment and shook my sense of self. Having always been frugal, I struggled with the prices of everything. On top of the cultural shock, my partner and I were living together for the first time, so truly everything about my life required adjustment. It took almost exactly a year for me to feel at home.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Sydney? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

It is embarrassing to think about how unprepared I was! I made the huge mistake of focusing most of my research on Australian history and travel. When I landed, I was disoriented to realize that everyone on the street wasn’t talking about the First Fleet and taking guided walking tours. I wish I had spent my prep time reading expat blogs, forums, and The Sydney Morning Herald to find out what life was actually like. I am eternally grateful that my partner was more practical in his preparation and adapts easily.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

I remember trying to spell a name for someone at work and it had a “z” in it. I kept saying “zee” and the other person would say, “G?” “C?” “T?”. They were truly baffled. Then I suddenly remembered and blurted out, “Zed!” They thought I was insane. I’m usually good about adapting my speech and grammar, but it’s hard to un-know your ABC’s!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Sydney?

  • I can’t overstate how expensive Sydney is. Be prepared to downsize. Almost every expat I know has smaller living quarters and less stuff than they did at home.
  • Picking out the right neighborhood (suburb) can make or break your Sydney experience. There is a suburb for every personality type. If you can’t visit before moving, consider taking a short term rental so that you can explore and find the right suburb for you and your situation. You’ll be miserable if you settle yourself in Mosman, when you’re really a Surry Hills person at heart.
  • Even if you don’t need to work, I recommend at least getting a part-time job or finding a regular volunteer opportunity. Going to work is the best way to learn what the culture is really like and to develop a sense of belonging and purpose.

How is the expat community in Sydney? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Most of my friends are expats, many from the States, but from other countries, as well. I wish I had more Australian friends! I’ve found that Sydneysiders often have deeply established friendship bases, so while they are friendly, they are perhaps not really looking for new friends. Expats are usually more open to meeting new people. I have made some of the most wonderful and interesting friends here.

How would you summarize your expat life in Sydney in a single, catchy sentence?

Forever trying to embrace that beautiful Aussie mindset – “no worries, mate!”

Serhat Ahmed

"Without experience of having lived abroad, I thought it would be hard to get to know other expats. But not with InterNations."

Lotta Koskinen

"When I first attended the Sydney Bar night I was really nervous. But everyone welcomed me and I quickly felt as part of the community."

Global Expat Guide