I always found it convenient to blame my mother. She followed my Dad to the UK from New Zealand. We returned to New Zealand when I was seven, we’d been living in Edinburgh and I was furious to discover that there was no castle to host an annual Tattoo in Wellington! So I always had to go back. It of course helped that I was immediately eligible for two passports! It was 20 years before I got back to Edinburgh- and was surprised to find that the castle was bit smaller than I remembered it, and the Tattoo a lot more kitschy!
I really became a serial expat through necessity. I was never patient enough to save enough money to do a huge multi-year trip. I could usually afford to travel for a about six months, before I needed to stay put and make some cash. Flying home to New Zealand is expensive, so I used my passports and WHV’s to help. Plus my employers sometimes relocated me (and paid!).
It took me some detours though – first I worked in Australia, jobs for a graduate geologist in New Zealand were non-existant. Then I took a transfer to Papua New Guinea, because it was offered. Then I realized I still needed to travel so got a student work visa to Canada. That visa ran out so I moved onto the UK, where I could work and save good money because of the strong pound at the time (not wishing to date myself but the Berlin Wall came down that year).
I travelled Europe on a Eurail Pass and then took 6 months coming “home” via India, Nepal, and south-east Asia.
Broke I stayed put for a couple of years and then travelled for 6 months through South America.
I’ve always been a wanderer.. I have certainly been at the point many times in my life, of not really knowing where home was. Before I met my partner, it was truly wherever I laid my head. He’s more attached to New Zealand, more normal if you like, and I am attached to him, so for now NZ is my home. But I’m not at all happy if I don’t have a trip planned within 6 months or so. I really relate to the old song “I was born under a wandering star”. Both my mother and father were expats in the 1940’s and 1950’s – when it was very unusual. They weren’t immigrants – they went back and forth between countries, and in the time before cheap air travel that was rare.
–It sounds like you were born a lifelong expat, but did you have any difficult transitions along the way? What are the most important lessons have you learned?
I’ve lived long-term in Australia (twice), Papua New Guinea, Canada and England. It’s easier these days with social media, but along the way I discovered that some friends just don’t stick around when you are not local. And it takes at least a year to settle into a new country. I think the second six months is the hardest, the honeymoon period has worn off, but it’s still too early to feel really comfortable in your new location.
The more I moved, the more I realized no one place would ever be home, because I’d always have friends and parts of my life in places different from where I was living at the time.
–Many people think becoming an expat is the way to live... But in truth, it’s not always an easy life, especially the initial transitioning. Could you shed some light on this outlook? Also, tell us, what do you miss most about your past life as a patriot of Australia...
I think many people under-estimate the effect on those left behind. I’ve seen many would-be expats return home because the people at home couldn’t cope. I was very lucky that I never had that pressure put on me.
The thing is being an expat won’t fix most issues. If you have poor self-worth, have issues in your relationship or a dissatisfied with your job, then really only the job may get fixed by moving overseas. And even that, not always.
You do get a rather wonderful chance to re-invent yourself, if you chose, but mostly I see people reproduce their lives, good or bad, wherever they end up.
I’m also amazed at the lack of research some people undertake. Moving to somewhere like Australia is expensive – and getting a job without a flat is hard. Getting a flat without a job is hard and expensive involving bonds to utilities as well as rent in advance. Plus you may well need a vehicle. Regardless of how could your credit is in your home country, you will typically start with no credit score, so no credit cards or loans to help the cash flow in the early days.
My last expat period was a couple of years in Perth, Western Australia, and I still miss that town, It has a perfect climate, long hot summers, with a nice short winter to make you appreciate the summers. There is a quite unreasonable number of beaches, and a crowd is more than a dozen people within sight.
–You’re an expat from multiple countries... Please talk about how this happened, as well as the benefits and the bad aspects, if there are any:
My first career was as a geologist. Geologists follow the work indeed it wasn’t until I changed careers I discovered that you could change jobs without changing countries! The plus side is that, normally the paperwork is sorted out for you, I was met at the airport in PNG by an HR department representative to be taken to my quarters and told when and where to eat.
The downside of course is that eventually most people actually want to make decisions about where they live. It’s also extremely difficult to keep a relationship going.
–What are some myths about becoming an expat? Are there any important points that others consider this lifestyle should realize before making the jump?
I think a lot of people think they are going to make a lot more money than they would at home. That may be true, but in a country like Australia you are going to spend a lot more just to live as well. Unless you are living in true expat situation where it’s so remote that the company will provide accommodation and food and transport, you are probably going to have to work for quite a few years before you start coming out ahead.
Plus, depending on your type of visa, there is often no social safety net such as unemployment benefits or family support, that you may be used to having at home.
–Through all of your traveling and moving, have you ever been met with prejudice or dislike? If so, where? And if not, who would likely receive a less-than-welcome response, and where?
No, not really.. I’m blonde, so outside of Sweden and Iceland I stand out to greater or lesser degree. That makes people curious, and the attention can get trying in places like India, but it’s 99% curiosity. Sadly, I suspect non-white, non-English native speaker immigrants to developed countries have a much tougher time than I ever have.
I’ve always been welcomed and genuine interest about why I’d come to the country. It’s probably the most anonymous when you live and work in a large city, but that’s rather liberating too.
–You’re a master of slow travel, so I’d love to know more about the personal connection and the experiences you’ve had along the way... Plus, what are your favorite and least favorite destinations, and why?
I like anywhere that is warm with a beach. I’m a beach girl, so being a long-way inland is not something I could deal with for more than a few weeks. I’m a city girl too, and although I don’t mind visiting the country, I wouldn’t like to live anywhere that couldn’t offer me a decent boutique cinema and excellent coffee and wine-drinking opportunities.
I love exotic – my last trip was Myanmar/Burma and it was amazing to see a country stuck in a time-warp. Asia is all about shiny and new, and yet Yangon is just as the British left it in 1948. If you want to see it as it is, don’t wait too long, I predict the country will change out of all recognition inside 5 years.
One country I wouldn’t bother going back to was Fiji – we went to a package tourist hotel and it was, frankly, boring, plus the weather wasn’t that good.
–Well Lis, I thank you for your time. I’d like to end with a typical question: What are some tips and must-knows for patriots who are thinking of living an expat lifestyle?
Disconnect to some extent. The risk of today’s connected world is that you never really commit to the new country, you can’t make new friends and connections if you spend every waking moment following your old life via Twitter and Facebook.
Realize that it’s real-life, not a fantasy. It won’t be perfect; sometimes it will be downright miserable and uncomfortable. Sometimes you will long to connect with someone who understands your history, or that you’ve known for many years.