Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Wave of Adjusting to a New Culture

I continue to ride the wave of adjusting to a new culture.

Anyone that has ever lived abroad at least once in their life knows what I am talking about…

Obviously, Australia is a relatively easy place for an American to settle into. We speak the same language. Both nations are westernized, developed and have high standards of living. Plus, Aussies are totally awesome at making you feel welcome and are an extremely friendly, caring, and helpful lot of people.

Settling into a new country is kind of like riding a rollercoaster. I wish there was a better analogy for it, but you can understand what I mean.

There are moments when you are feeling on top of the world and marvel about how cool and “different” your life is from most peoples’ lives. You feel autonomous and proud that you are able to adapt to something so different than what you are used to. Going down an unconventional path is always fulfilling and certainly reinforces that your life is to be free of monotony and will almost always contain some sort of daily adventure.

And then there are times when you constantly question whether or not you’ve made the right choice. There are moments of disequilibrium when you worry about money and jobs and (for me) the adjustment of moving from full-time professional to full-time student. Our life in Minneapolis was truly wonderful and we were quite happy with it. Life here is good, but it’s still very difficult, as we do not feel not totally settled yet. We arrived here with two suitcases a piece and two carry-ons. Our only purchase for our home here so far has been a French press. I can’t even begin to think about the cost of setting up our new home!

The cost of living in general is pretty harsh on us right now. We lost a lot of money turning our US dollars into Aussie dollars, due to the poor exchange rate. When Justin and I started the plan to move to Australia, the exchange rate was
USD $0.75=AUD $1.00. Currently, that exchange rate is USD $1.08=AUD $1.00. To top it off, Melbourne is now in the Top Ten for most expensive cities to live in, in the entire world… Youch!

We’ll survive it, I am sure. But I will be the first to admit that it is pretty difficult going from not having to really worry about money (regarding the cost of basic items for survival- food, rent, etc.) to having to learn to budget again. Good thing that I like to eat rice and that the tap water here tastes pretty good. Expenses that we used to never need to bat an eye at (a weekend away in Chicago, freshly squeezed orange juice, a yoga membership) now take careful consideration or complete omission. Hopefully when I am studying, it will provide a big enough distraction from my current inability to buy new shoes. Here’s to hoping!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oh, school!

Am I nuts to do all this?

And I’m not talking about the whole “sell everything and move to Australia” bit.


Oh, school!

Classes haven’t officially started. This week, it’s all orientation-stuff. I feel a little squeaky since I haven’t been a student in nearly eight years. Will I remember how to write a research paper? Better yet, how to conduct original research?

It took me until graduate school (my master’s degree program) until I really got my act together. My marks as an undergraduate were pretty good, but I remember being really stupid about a lot of things. Like, I would wait until the night before to write a ten-page paper. I guess what I gained from that experience is that I could pull anything together last minute if I really needed to. However, I know that this is not the way to produce the best work possible.

During my master’s program, I really wised up and scheduled time to study. It worked out pretty well. As a matter of fact, I’m quite certain that my last “all-nighter” was finishing up my undergraduate degree final research paper for Women’s Studies.


It’s not just about returning to school after an eight-year absence. Sometimes I question my academic chops. I guess I figure since a doctoral degree is the “last” degree one can obtain, it must be tough. I need to have better confidence in my ability to be a student. I can do this! I can do this! I can do this!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Settle In

How to Settle In

Step One: Open a Bank Account
Luckily, this task is easily manageable. You go into a bank and give them your passport. The teller can look up your bank history online. Within fifteen minutes, you’ve got a bank account. Our next step is calling our bank back home and having our funds transferred.

Step Two: Get a Mobile Phone
You can’t get a mobile without a bank account. This process was long and arduous. It seems that it was actually more difficult to get a mobile than it was a bank account. Justin had to answer all these questions about his work history and I had to provide proof from the Australian government that I am a current student. Might I add that you also need to sign nearly ten pages of papers, promising to honor the contract… or else.
In addition, we also had to learn the differences between Australian mobile plans and American mobile plans. Regarding comparing prices on various plans, they are roughly the same, in accordance to the cost of living. The iPhone (my preferred phone of choice) is available on every carrier… not just two. Plans (that are not pre-paid) come in different prices per month. For example, we pay a set amount each month, and receive $500 total credit each month. A regional phone call costs $1(taken from the $500 credit) and each text, national and international, costs about 30 cents (again, taken from the $500 credit.) Put more simply, the plan is not based upon how many “minutes” or texts you have available… You can choose how you want to use your $500 credit each month. Another advantage to an Aussie plan is that if someone phones or texts me, it does not come out of my $500 credit… it’s free to me. The only concern I have about my plan is that data (internet) is capped at 1.5 gigs. I think I’ll be alright with that, but paying attention to how much data I will be using is something I will need to get used to.

Step Three: Finding a Home
It may seem unusual to prioritize having a phone before a home, but let me explain how rentals are handled here.
In order to find a rental, you must go through a real estate agency. You can look at properties online or go into an agency. We’ve been doing a bit of both.
When you find a property you like, you email or call the agent and they will tell you when the “inspection” is. It is essential that an agent is able to get ahold of you (hence the need for the phone/data plan.) An inspection is an open house for the public. Most inspections are fifteen minutes in length, and you might be viewing the property with others. If you like it, you lodge an application. If they accept your application, you will pay bond (security deposit) and the first month’s rent.
This week, we’ll be viewing many properties. Due to our timing constraints (with me starting class next week and Justin starting work ---from home, mind you) we will have to be less picky about our search. Lucky for us, Melbourne has many cool neighborhoods and good public transport, so we won’t need to be too concerned about specific location.
It looks like a one-bedroom will be all we can afford, so this will be a change as well! To put it into context, a one-bedroom apartment here typically costs more than a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We think in some ways, it may be better, since we have no furniture to fill our new place anyway.
In the meantime, our present accommodations are absolutely lovely. Our dear friend, Elizabeth, is so good to us that she may never get rid of us! ☺ Her place is so warm and welcoming that we don’t really feel like guests, but like family instead. You know that saying “home away from home?” Elizabeth’s place really is for us. Again, I marvel at my good fortune and thank my lucky stars over how good life is.

Step Four: Buying Furniture and Household Goods and Setting Up Services

Stay tuned for this one… We are still stuck on Step Two.

Monday, July 18, 2011

We arrived to Melbourne mid-morning on Thursday, July 14th...

We arrived to Melbourne mid-morning on Thursday, July 14th. Our dear friend Elizabeth (whom we are staying with for the time being) came to pick us up from the airport. We managed to fit everything into her car and were then on our merry way to her home in Kensington, which is a suburb of Melbourne. The word “suburb” is used differently here than it is in the United States. In American terms, an Australian “suburb” would be considered a city neighborhood that exists outside of “the city” (which for Americans, “the city” would be called “downtown.”)

My first non-airplane meal was at this great cafĂ© called “The Premises.” Eggs on toast with Tasmanian salmon never tasted so good! Melbourne is a food-lover’s paradise… I look forward to eating all over town and am possibly considering abandoning my thirteen year long stint as a pesco-lacto-ovo vegetarian. My first coffee was a flat white. A flat white is a coffee made with espresso and steamed milk, minus all the foam. Luckily for me, this town is also all about delicious coffee.

We spent day one having Elizabeth drive around town so we could scope out the neighborhoods, er, suburbs for us to consider living in. It was cool to drive past some places and remember certain restaurants I’ve eaten at ten years ago. Our day ended with an Aussie tradition of enjoying fish n’ chips on the floor.

For the next couple of days, we continued to scope out some more neighborhoods and the markets. One of our more memorable stops was a Chinese restaurant in Footscray, where we had “Yum Cha” (or what Americans call “Dim Sum.”) Delish!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It feels pretty good that things have fallen sweetly into place due to all that hard work.

Sorry. I have been quite neglectful of you lately, dear blog.
In my defense, I have spent these last few weeks running around like a chicken without a head. And, my access to the internet has been minimal. Thanks for staying tuned though.

So, yeah, let’s see…. Here’s a recap of my last couple of weeks.

We finally packed up our home and sold the majority of our possessions. Again, HUGE thank you to everyone that bought furniture and to everyone that is storing our important things. We cannot thank you all enough! You’ve made this transition so much easier.

I realize that some of you might be wondering what qualifies as important enough to store.

Furniture-wise: Katie and Sean are storing the couch that Justin loves and I am sure, misses already. Elaine has my cedar chest that I inherited from my mom. My mom had it when she was in high school, then gave it to me when I was in high school. Mom and Dad have my ten-speed, which is this cool 1980’s Mikado bike that I actually used to ride in the back of as child (in a bike seat, of course!)

Meg and Jess are storing our photo albums. Bob and Bonnie are storing our rugs from India and Morocco. Mom and Dad are storing my school things, in addition to some other personal items, such as some clothes, some shoes, and other invaluable things; like the teapot I bought in South Africa and my Angkor Wat prints from Cambodia.

Here’s what went: all our furniture (save for the items above), our cars, most of our CDs, some DVDs, eight boxes of books, all linens, all of our television sets, all of our food, all dishes, and a ton of clothes (If I had to ballpark it, I’d say we either donated/sold 200 items of clothes/shoes.) It feels like there are a lot of things being stored at my parents’ place. However, I think when we return, we’ll perhaps feel like we have very little. Who knows?

I got my last glimpse of my apartment on July 4th when we left that morning. It wasn’t easy. However, the blow was softened when I had one last glimpse and saw that my former home was completely empty. It was time to move on. Change is never easy.

I should also add that the transition was easier by leaving for a short vacation to Colorado the same morning that I left my apartment. I spent my summers in northern Colorado throughout high school, staying with family, and I’ve obviously been back several times since. Colorado is such a “happy place” for me. It was so good to spend a few days with my mom (she flew out with me), my cousin Kerri, and my Aunt Nan. Good company and amazing scenery does wonders for the soul.

Upon returning from Colorado, Justin and I stayed with Meg and Jess, who live in an inner-ring suburb of Minneapolis. Not only were our hosts and our accommodations oh-so-very warm, but our location was great as well. I feel itchy when I am too far away from the city. It was good to be able to visit some of our old haunts and to be easily able to see friends before leaving.

The emotions of the past two weeks have been very difficult. It’s such a rollercoaster. I find myself crying at the drop of a hat, but the same day, I can also find myself feeling elated. People continually ask me if I am excited. That’s a valid, reasonable question. However, I often wonder if my answer surprises… “Excited” is not the first word that springs to mind when I think of departing. Yes, I am excited, but stronger emotions that I am feeling more than excitement include anxiety, nervousness… fear.

I hate transition. I’m not a big fan of change. Yet, I constantly push myself into facing these fears. I think it’s good for me. I like to think that I am more adaptable to change because of the way I manage these fears. I know in my heart that once we arrive and get settled in, things will be awesome. I just gotta shine on a little longer. This whole period of waiting is nearly over.

The dream of returning to Australia is much bigger than the fear. I feel very proud of the fact that ten years ago, when I left Australia, I did my research throughout the years to find ways to return. I inquired into working. I thought about just saving money and traveling Australia and New Zealand for a year. In the end though, going to school seemed to be the most practical choice. Plus, seeing as I love efficiency, you can imagine how happy I am to be able to complete two goals (living in Australia and obtaining a doctoral degree) at the same time!

It feels pretty good that things have fallen sweetly into place due to all that hard work.