BEING AN EXPAT: As we come to the year’s end, I am thinking of my expat life in NJ over the last eight years, at a height of many thousand feet, in a plane on my way to Australia. It has been a long while since my last blog post, and much has happened in between, and even before this which I have not written about until now. Above any other, this year has been one of much change for our expat family. There have been milestones and millstones, brickbats and bouquets, wonderful and awful events, and some significant water under the bridge.We have seen number one child graduate from high school, and number two child almost complete middle school. A real highlight was the wonderful news that the eldest has been accepted into a Medical Science course at University of Sydney, with an additional silver lining of a scholarship award. My expat husband has a new job that he is looking forward to. However, the biggest change of all, is that we are moving back to Australia, after nearly eight years in New Jersey. That is the reason I am sitting at twenty thousand feet in the air over the Pacific Ocean.
We have been to Australia a lot in the last 18 months it seems. I spent some time with my Mum in Sydney late last year, after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of malignant myeloma. Sadly, she succumbed to her illness earlier in the year and passed away after a hard battle. The irony is painful. She would have been thrilled to have us back downunder but didn’t live long enough to see this come to fruition. We have come to and fro from Sydney for a funeral, a pre-visit, work visit and finally a home-coming. After the much longer-than anticipated sojourn overseas, we will be coming back to watch our children continue their educations, and readjust to life in Australia, as non-expats. We are leaving the place I hated at first but then came to love.
As I write this on the first part of our air journey to Australia, I can’t decide exactly how I feel. Numbness, tiredness, stress and concern are to be expected. A feeling of unfinished business is also a strong theme. Mostly I can’t believe that it is actually happening which is a bit disorienting – like a strange dream.
Of course, there are the sad bits. Leaving good friends, a cozy life in the liberal NJ town where we spent eight years (Montclair) and uprooting from US life is not easy. What awaits at the other end though is on paper at least, as close to a soft landing as it gets for expats. Our new home, Sydney, is a very familiar location. There are no language challenges (aside from my Americanisms) and we will go back to a permanent house that is already ours. Educationally, our children are also set. Our son will be happily attending university nearby to home, while our daughter will be attending a very good public school, fortunately also nearby. Our American dog has already arrived in Sydney safe and sound, and from all reports, adapted immediately to the new warmer climate. Another thing that will make our lives easy is that we have existing bank accounts and driver licenses, so the basics are in place. The biggest issue upfront will be what new car I should buy… which sounds almost laughable. Fortunately, many of the normal physical ‘settling-in’ challenges are already smoothed out and should (fingers crossed) provide a good base to start on.
Although the packing-moving-unpacking logistics part is still an annoying hump to get over, once you have done this a few times, it becomes less difficult organizationally. Despite ‘losing’ one of my laptops during the packing, which caused us a bit of distress over the last few days, the process started relatively well but was exhausting. The older I get, the noticeably more tired this whole moving business seems to make me feel. Unlike many expats, I only have limited experience of pulling up stumps to move on. Lord knows how it must feel when you have done this umpteen times, as many others have.
Naturally, I am wary that all will not be as easy as it sounds. Repatriation is notoriously difficult for many expats and reported to be often harder than the initial move away from home. What is it about repatriation that makes it so bad? I guess I will find out very soon. Some obvious things that strike me as possible challenges, are the emotional and state-of-mind issues. For instance, I have the feeling that I am a different person from when I left, who has changed unconsciously, to adapt US habits, modes of thinking and social views. How will that fit with my new life? And while I like my country of origin very much, the notion of Australia being our home is a bit strange, as mentioned in a much earlier post. That alone will set me aside from most of my everyday contacts.
Will I feel restless and untethered as many others do? Will our children adapt to Australian life and society after living most of their ‘older’ years in a socially liberal town? Who knows. These are just a few questions I have in my head right now.
Lastly, there is the question of what to do with my blog. I have been asked by a few people about my plans, so for my reader audience, please know that I have much more I want to say about expat life in NJ. I believe it will help me to adapt quicker to Australia, if I can empty my head of all the knowledge I have accumulated on expat life in NJ over the last eight years. Who better to share it with than other expats? After all, no-one in Sydney is likely to be the least bit interested!
Now that I am officially NOT an Expat Aussie in NJ, this blog will be renamed to Expat Life in NJ. In parallel, I will be planning to start a blog on repatriation in the next few months hopefully, so that I can record our ‘adventures’, whether mishaps or fun experiences as a new form of cheap personal therapy. Writing two blogs may present the biggest challenge of all for me… However, I like to think I can contribute to making life easier for those who are making the big move overseas, either way.