The One Question that Every Antipodean Expat Struggles to Answer
“You’re not from around here,” the shop attendant said, as she swiped through the UK-themed novelty birthday cards I had purchased as a lark for my friends.
“No. I’m not,” I sighed. “I’m Australian.”
“I love Australia!” She gushed, handing me the receipt. “I’ve been there five times.”
Which was wonderful to hear, but still, I thought – Oh no, as I put my purse back into my bag. I knew what was coming.
“Why did you ever leave?”
I am sure that this is a question that any antipodean expat would struggle to answer. Both Australia and New Zealand’s Tourism boards know what they are doing. As an Icelander recently reminded me, from an outside perspective, my country seems heavenly. Why would anyone voluntarily leave?
Yet, it is a query that has always irked me. I only recently realised why.
The question is unanswerable. Or closer to the point, there is no one answer.
I do try. Usually, I laugh it off and say something along the lines of: “Oh, Australia is really far away,” or “It’s easier to travel from here.” If I’m in a sarcastic mood, which is admittedly more often rather than not, I’ll usually respond with “I got sick of all the good weather.”
The problem is, I can’t actually articulate why it was that I had to leave. I dislike the question because for me, it triggers a whole new existential crisis.
One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it is left behind.
– Charles Dickens
If living overseas has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I was certainly complacent about living in Australia. I took everything for granted – the close proximity of my family, my wide social circle, the Australian quality of life and the plethora of activities one could partake in. I was always day-dreaming about the next big adventure and not focusing on that which awaited me right outside my front door.
Now, a year later, I am my country’s biggest cheerleader. I think longingly of the days when I used to finish work and head straight to the beach, flipping through the pages of the latest Yen magazine and sipping coconut water straight out of a $2 coconut, like the insufferable hipster I was. Here in England, I have long conversations with people who have lived as expats in Australia, eager to rediscover what I was once immune to. I spend hours reading blogs about home and have now formulated a long list of things I wish to do on my visits. I often wonder why I had to leave the country to see it from this fresh new perspective.
I liken my relationship to Australia now, to that of an ill-timed love. I can finally see that all the right ingredients were there; that together we could have created something lovely and lasting. Yet, the timing was off. I wasn’t ready for it. I couldn’t stand on the sand of my favourite beach, look out at the ocean and think: “this is enough”. I would instead wonder what was out there, contemplate what else was in store for my life.
Today marks my one-year anniversary of living overseas. Since I left, I have seen some truly wondrous things. I have met people from many different walks of life. I have reconnected with old friends. I possess memories now, that I know will stay with me until the end of my days. But the greatest gift that life as an expat has granted me, is an appreciation for my home, my culture and my people.
The next time someone asks me why I left my country, I will not internally roll my eyes. I will smile and say:
“I had to leave Australia because I wanted to fall in love with it all over again.”
For me at least, this is an answer that rings true.