I've hit the almost 6-month mark of living in Sydney. Insane.
Recently, a friend asked me how has living in Sydney has changed me or anything significant I've learned. I thought I would take the time to consolidate some of the thoughts that have been running through my head.
1. Consumer culture. Whereas in the US, we are always hunting for a good deal or looking to acquire something (needed or not), that consumerism doesn't exist in Australia (or at least to a significantly smaller extent). Since the concept of a traditional "supermarket" doesn't exist in Sydney, there is a conscious effort exerted to not only think about what you need (it's not just sitting in Target as your stroll past), but also where to acquire it (because it's not centralized in one location). Although there are a number of online retailers (such as Amazon), it's pretty difficult to get 2 day delivery (thus why Amazon Prime doesn't have the same pull in the US as it does in Australia)*.
2. Brands. Moving anywhere new requires one to adjust their understanding of equivalent brands of things. For example, figuring out that the Kmart here is actually equivalent to Target, and the Target here is equivalent to Walmart. Or figuring out it's Difflam and Lemsip instead of Theraflu, Dettol instead of Lysol / Clorox, Paradol instead of Advil. However, IKEA will always exist. IKEA zindabaad (long live IKEA)!
3. Language. British English rules. And despite having gone to an American International School in Dubai and learned British English, they like to stick u's where they don't belong and don't give enough loves to the z's. Also they love eating their r's.
4. Earnestness and contentment. Not just Southern-style TX nice but genuine. This stems from the lack of competition and a low population. With a government that provides wonderful public transit and universal healthcare, the people feel cared for. The average citizen knows that they will be taken care of at the end of the day. There's an endearing quality to people when they're not as jaded and content with their environment.
5. Biodiversity. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. Australia is home to billions of species of animals that don't exist anywhere in the world. As a resident, this is incredible to get to experience. However, also means you should probably be frightened for your life half of the time. I personally am still getting used to having bugs and insects in such close proximity to my being.
6. Distance. With Australia being so far away, it remains untouched by some of the chaos of modern-day society. People say that trends reach Australia 2-3 years after the rest of the world. I don't particularly believe this because of technology, but there is some truth to it. The popular culture references are still slightly dated to the 90s, the internet speeds aren't what you get in the US, and citizens are oddly accepting of the fact that to get to any mainland country a minimum 8-hour flight is necessary.
7. Environment. The middle of Australia is pure desert. And yet the west coast of Australia uses water extraordinarily. From people developing a routine to swim every day to the ferries integrated into the public transit system, to just having ocean waves in the background creating a more calming atmosphere, the water makes a difference. This tropical climate also allows the flavors in food to be different (mango, lychee, passionfruit), along with its proximity to Southeast Asia which builds on these flavors in their cuisines. Australia is also extremely protective of its environment (which I love). From the extremely strict customs laws of what you can bring in to the seriousness with which people take composting, it's remarkable to be around people that so naturally care about the environment. It has made me personally think about how much physical trash I produce in a day, like piece by piece, which had never even entered my mind in the US.
8. Public services. I've mentioned this before but I can't believe what a huge impact it's made on me. From amazing public transit to universal healthcare, the government takes care of its people. Living in an urban landscape with great public transit potentially was the difference between choosing urban living and suburban living for me in the US. The only complaints I have is about the Postal Service - expensive and slow (but also fair because of how far we are). It's literally faster to get a Driver’s License than it is to get a package.
9. Sense of morality and ethics. With a smaller population (leading to intimate relationships) more trust in the government, and a lack of guns, there is a resounding sense of morality within each Australian. You can leave your bag for hours in a public space unattended, and the likelihood of it being there is high. I'm not saying everyone is a saint, but the respect for the elderly or less-abled on the bus to giving money to the homeless (and the homeless potentially making a living), I get the sense thatAustralians have a strong sense of civic duty. Even the signs on the train telling you to make sure you pay your fare are shaming you to not be a "cheater", rather than telling you about the repercussions of getting caught. Because no one wants to be a tall poppy.
10. Design is backwards and forwards. Service design in Australia seems to be milleniums ahead of what it is in the US (maybe because of it's collaborative, participatory and community-centric approach). However, the rest of design seems to be left behind. The design maturity models within companies are behind from what I can see.
on the moving process
Leaving the US was pretty difficult move for me. I feel like I was in a bit of a haze. I had an underlying sense of guilt that I was running away from everyone and the life that I had worked so hard to build in the Bay Area. But I had also wanted to move (specifically to Sydney) for a very long time. I had to constantly remind myself that this was what I wanted and been looking forward to for so long (a couple years). And if it didn't work out, I could move back at any point.
There was a sense of excitement whenever I talked to anyone in Sydney about what was awaiting me, but the moment I was off the phone, I was filled with a sense of terror about all the things I had to coordinate. Organizing logistics to end up on the other side of the world (and potentially forgetting something), helped me reach a new level of anxiety that I didn't know was possible. In the process, I sold quite a few belongings, a lot of which actually brought me joy. As a minimalist, I didn't want to pay for storage but shipping a bed frame also didn't make sense.
Aside of saying goodbye to physical things, it was difficult to say goodbye to people. There was a strong sense of sadness leaving a job that took me a while to find my stride in and leaving co-workers that I genuinely came to care about. And then coming to terms with the fact that this may be the last time I'm actually doing an activity or meeting someone that I truly care about. Although I have been back and seen friends, there is always a thought in the back of my head that the world could shift and you could never see them again (welcome to my anxious thoughts and fears).
Homesickness is real but I don't miss any material things. I do miss my friends and family and the activities I did with them. I do miss my beautiful little Beetle and the independence and autonomy that it allowed me to have, but part of moving here was committing to this urban car-free lifestyle.
Moving to any new place means you have to start building "your places" from scratch, like where do you get zippers repaired, where to get your eyebrows done, etc. That part I miss because I finally felt like I figured it out in the Bay Area. However, that's just a growing pain of moving anywhere, it will come with time.
The first three months of moving were difficult as I didn't have all my things and was living out of a couple of suitcases. This was potentially the most frustrating part of the moving process. Being displaced in another country is fine, but 3 months is just the amount of time where you start to want to buy more things (but you know they're coming), and yet are still acclimating to understanding what you need and don't. By the time your boxes actually get there, you may not even need half of what you packed (because you already bought it out of necessity or it was packed and you don't actually need it). In retrospect, I'd recommend everyone to just pay for the air shipping option to land both with your boxes and suitcases simultaneously.
I really can't believe it's been almost 6 months (admittedly a lot of which I've been traveling), but I will fully admit that it took me almost 3 years to reach this point in the Bay Area. Makes me think that my hypothesis about being influenced by where we live holds pretty strongly for me.
*Keep in mind that the size of Australia is the size of the US, with no fulfillment centers in the center to house goods, thus promising 2-day delivery from one side of the country to the other is pretty difficult.