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Russell: In Search of a Life Less Ordinary

Russell has quite the experience, both in being an expat and blogging, so it was an obvious step for us to feature him in our Recommended Blog section! Visiting his page, In Search for a Life Less Ordinary, is not only recommended for expats in Sydney, but everyone else with an interest in Australia.

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

I’m Russell, a British expat and writer currently living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in New South Wales, Australia. Originally from a town in the south of England, I left the UK in search of a different way of life, away from the hum drum of the 9-5 work routine and weekends spent in shopping malls or nursing the obligatory Sunday morning hangover in front of the television. I wanted to experience life rather than just live it and so went looking for a lifestyle surrounded by natural beauty and full of new experiences.

I moved in 2003 with my wife, two dogs, and entire contents of our three-bedroom house, emigrating to Vancouver, Canada before moving to Ottawa several years later. In 2006, I left Canada for my wife’s home city of Sydney in Australia and have been here ever since.

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

I started In Search of a Life Less Ordinary in late 2010 with the aim of sharing my adventures and experiences in making a home away from home. I initially wanted to give family and friends back home the opportunity to learn about where I’d been and what I’d been up to; but I also wanted to share my experiences with others either thinking of moving abroad, about to move, or now living life as an expat overseas. I also wanted to introduce people to my new home city of Sydney.

The blog has been a way for me to re-live my experiences in Canada and here in Australia, and has given me an outlet by which I can vent about expat issues or celebrate the many new opportunities I’ve had along the way. For others, I hope it has given them a useful source of information and advice, and a set of stories and real-life experience that will allow them to make informed choices and decisions on their own expat journey either now or in the future.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Here are my five favorite (and most popular) blog entries:

  • I came to the conclusion that life by the beach isn't all that bad in Life's a beach - what is there to complain about when a typical morning is spent watching humpback whales breach and pods of dolphins swim by?
  • I learned a lot about the language I've developed along this journey from the UK to Canada and on to Australia in Lessons in language when I realized I'm now speaking a mix of languages, thinking and speaking with a hodge-podge of words and phrases from my current and previous homes.
  • I recently wrote about the rising cost of living in Sydney. Living in the lucky country doesn't come cheap looked at the true cost of life in the harbour city and the emerging phenomenon of the ping pong Pom.
  • I posted on my occasional experiences of racist behavior in Australia in No place for ugly attitudes in Australia and this continues to be one of my most read and commented-on blog posts on ISOALLO.
  • I wrote about ways to improve the blog and how often I choose to put up blog posts (and why) in Blogging the way I do.

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

Australia offers something that I could only ever enjoy for a few weeks of the year in England whilst on my summer holiday. Australia offers a laidback way of life, with increased family time spent outside and more of a focus on the kinds of things to do away from work rather than a focus on the day job itself.

Obviously, the seasons are turned on their head here, with winter in the middle of July and summer occurring at Christmas, so many of these traditions take some getting used to at odd times of the year. However, generally the customs and habits in Australia are very similar to the UK but there are a few different ones – thong-throwing competitions and Christmas carols on the beach, celebrating ANZAC day (remembrance day) at 4am in the morning, and going barefoot in the supermarket in the middle of winter are just a few of the odd habits.

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

I knew about but wasn’t fully prepared for the distance from the UK in terms of an inability to see UK-based family and friends on a regular basis, the frustrating high cost of travel back particularly at Christmas, and the time difference and far too frequent occurrences of middle-of-the-night sports viewing.

One thing I hadn’t researched in enough detail was the cost of living, transportation issues, and booming property market. Sydney is also one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in so the cost of living has become a major challenge, as has the high price of housing and major traffic problems. I may have spent more time looking at possible areas to live if I’d known what I know now.

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

In the UK, I often holidayed on the continent. Board shorts weren’t the rage then; however, tight figure-hugging Lycra shorts were (and still are). The Italians adored these teeny tiny restrictive things judging by the large numbers wearing them on the beaches of Greece and Spain so I promptly christened them “my pair of little Italians”. They and I went everywhere together in the holiday resorts of Europe. It was a decent, honest, working relationship.

On my inaugural visit to Australia, call it a fact-finding trip if you will, I had the opportunity to meet my future wife’s good friends for the first time and combine this with a visit to the legendary Aussie beach.

Beaches in Australia are something to behold. They are as iconic as the ‘Barbie’. Amazonian women with long blonde hair, fabulous looks and small, almost non-existent bikinis glide along the golden sand. Tanned Australian men with their muscular, athletic bodies strut up and down the shorefront in their manly board shorts, surfboards and sun cream at the ready. It can be quite an intimidating place for the first-timer.

With this in the back of my mind, I stripped down to my swimwear and jogged over to the water’s edge. For reasons unknown to me at the time, the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up. I had that unnatural feeling of being watched by large numbers of people.

Looking nervously back, all I could see were my wife’s friends rolling around on the sand, howling with laughter, as my love of the ‘Italians’ became all too apparent. Apparently, most of the locals sat on the beach found it quite funny to watch a pasty tall English guy wearing tight Lycra shorts stumble down to the surf.

I was not to be deterred. As the beach dwellers looked on, I jumped into the water, proud of my ability to ignore their laughter and assured that these naysayers would eventually be converted to the way of the ‘little Italians’.

After diving down to the bottom of the four foot shallows, I shot up out of the ocean like the bronzed, athletic Adonis that I wanted to be, but was so obviously not.

Much to my abject horror, the Italians were long gone, and so was my modesty. How embarrassing!

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

For potential expats, plan, plan and plan.

  • Do your homework on the country – understand the job market, the property market, get a feel for the different suburbs and where you might like to call home.
  • Understand the culture and the people – they will be your friends and your neighbours so make sure that they appeal to you. If possible, book a fact finding trip to witness firsthand the look and feel of a place.
  • And be completely honest with yourself – this will be a huge move, it will put stress on your family relationships, and the first few years will be harder than you imagine in terms of going back to basics and starting over. Prepare yourself adequately and you’ll be set for the adventure of your lifetime.

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

I’ve been fortunate in that my wife is from Sydney so we have a network of her family and friends for support. I’m also lucky in that a number of school and university friends from the UK live in the general area and so I’ve been able to reacquaint myself with them.

There is a strong expat community in Australia – and in Sydney. I connect with most expats in Sydney through my blog and occasionally through resources such as InterNations. I do find though that expats here tend to assimilate into the local population very quickly so there isn’t as much of a sense of ‘expat’ as there might be in a non-English speaking and culturally different location such as might be found in the Middle East for example.

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

I came to Australia in search of a life less ordinary and I’m well on my way to finding it – with less stress, more emphasis on life spent outdoors in the sun and a healthier, happier way of living.

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."

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