Was Moving Overseas Just a Big Mistake?
The title of this post is a question I asked myself a lot during my time abroad. I continue to ask it now that I’ve been back in Australia for an extended period of time, particularly around tax time for either country.
Do I regret moving overseas? Well, yes. Sometimes I do. I wonder if my life would have been better off if I hadn’t done it. If I’d have more money saved up in the bank. If I’d be further ahead in my chosen career. If I’d own property (so, maybe the “money saved up in the bank” comment would be null and void in either scenario).
I might even have a puppy by now, if I hadn’t moved overseas. Oh, gosh – I want a dog so much, sometimes I can hardly breathe at the thought.
Although I don’t regard living in Doha or London as a mistake, there were plenty of others I made along the way – some minor, some massive. I wish I’d known better, but some were unavoidable – a combination of wrong timing and bad luck.
I think at the least they helped build up resilience and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having made these errors. And I’m FINALLY pretty comfortable in my own skin, so I’m grateful for them, in the long run.
Ultimately, I believe the positives to living as an expat outweigh the negatives, although it admittedly took me some time to get to this point in my thinking.
Here are a few of the mistakes I made while I was living overseas and what I learned from them (as life is just one great learning curve, right?).
I struggled to find work
My previous experience of moving overseas included walking straight into a job and accommodation.
Naively, I assumed that I’d have no problem getting work in London. I mean – it’s London! A city that big had to have the job opportunities to match. Or, so I thought.
Plus, I’d endeavoured to gain enough experience prior to leaving Australia, so I could continue to work in my field. “Five years ought to do it,” I thought. Man, was I so prepared… In my head.
Well, what an experience looking for work was. I was out of employment for almost three months and it was one of the worst periods of my life.
I’d wake up late every morning to the grey, gloomy skies and after a cup of Charlie and brekky, start combing the online ad pages. Having already emailed the contacts I had, I applied for everything under the sun – even for retail (which I’d hoped to never have to do again in my life after University) bar work and catering. Yet, nothing came of it.
I did end up attending two job interviews in my field. At one, the woman in charge completely ignored all my Australian experience (five years worth!!!) and asked about my time in the Middle East. I was eventually told that I didn’t have enough experience, despite knowing I could do that job in my sleep (because I HAD done the same job in my sleep – the joys of overnight shift work!).
I travelled all the way to Dublin for another interview and was told I had to have a test run on a piece of software I hadn’t used for almost a year… so I was rusty, duh and that worked against me. Never mind that I knew I’d be golden in a week. NO ONE LISTENED.
It was when I was sitting morose and exhausted on my hostel bed in Dublin that I received the email that would change everything – the employer that I ended up staying with for all my time in London was offering me work. Not in the role I had initially applied for – but hey, beggars can’t be choosy (it took six weeks for me to be paid as I’d started just after the monthly pay run – I was down to about twenty quid when my pay came through, so trust me – this applies).
Anyone who’s been unemployed knows this, but I didn’t until I experienced it – being out of work can really screw with your self-worth. I was unlucky – it was a bad time of the year to be looking for jobs and being somewhere new, I didn’t know how the system worked (or that a lot of Brits seemed to think Australia was a made up place where experience in THE EXACT SAME ROLE counted for nothing).
It look a lot of mental strength to not sink into oblivion or pack up and go home (which I did contemplate on several occasions) and rather push through until I saw success.
Lesson learned: To never give up, no matter how hopeless the situation may seem.
Ultimately, I was quite proud of myself for getting the interviews I did and when I found out I’d finally been given employment… it was as though all my Christmases had come at once! There have been few moments I’ve had in my life before or since then that have matched the sense of relief, that weight lifting from my shoulders. It was truly like magic.
On a slightly unrelated note, I was so bored with job-searching that it was then that I decided to do something I’d thought about doing for a long time but hadn’t yet attempted – start a blog. Birdgehls was born and here I am, tip-tapping on the same keyboard almost four years later. I’ll always be grateful for that fact as well.
I moved at the wrong time of the year
There was a lot I didn’t consider when I moved overseas. Like, how the grey and gloomy autumn weather and lack of sunshine in England would affect my general disposition (which I like to think is “sunny”, but as it turns out, requires sun to as an essentially ingredient to achieve this).
Or how I’d cope being over the other side of the world from my family during my first Christmas abroad.
Or how the job market was faring in my industry at that time of the year, when no one is really taking holidays and thus there is no work for freelancers.
October as it turns out, was a dumb time to try to settle into London. I wish I’d timed it more sensibly – March would have been much better, when the days start getting a bit longer, the weather slightly warmer and the whole city seems to lighten up, both literally and metaphorically.
It was particularly hard seeing everyone back home on social media doing “fun summer things” like going on long road trips and frolicking at the beach. I don’t even like summer in Australia that much and it still cut real deep.
Lesson learned: Time your move perfectly. Take job prospects into consideration, or even the weather, especially if you’re a solar powered Aussie who doesn’t fare well without sunlight.
I didn’t even know that Seasonal Affective Disorder was a thing until I felt it. Now I wish I’d done things like taken Vitamin D, but at the time I had no idea what was going on – just that I was at the lowest I’d ever felt in my life.
There was no thought into how it would affect my finances
London ain’t a cheap place to live and this was pre-Brexit, when the pound was at the strongest it had been in years – buying over two dollars Australian to one.
Mama didn’t raise no damn fool and I moved to the UK with a tonne of savings, which I’d painstakingly amassed in the months leading up to my departure. Yet, I travelled before settling in London and spent a chunk then, plus being out of work and dealing with that horrible exchange rate ate rapidly through what remained.
By the time I started earning again, I had barely a dollar to my name.
“Nae bother,” I thought. “I’ll make it back when I move home.” And I was so good – I managed to stockpile around several grand in my Aussie bank account, plus pay off a chunk of my student loans, which I was immensely proud of.
My grand plan however, was to pay my tax and then transfer what was left over into sweet Australian dollars upon my return. Visions of sugar plums had danced in my head on a previous trip home, when the exchange rate had been 2.17 AUD to a pound. I felt like a real baller travelling to places like Australia’s Red Centre and being able to treat myself and my mother to the time of our lives on her 60th birthday.
Then, Brexit happened. Dismay fell upon London and the pound dropped with it – at its worst (which was typically around the time I moved back home), it was getting around 1.68 AUD. Quite a fall.
Lesson learned: Money comes and goes. Rather than losing forty percent of the cash I had planned to exchange, I went travelling instead – eating at two Michelin-starred restaurants in Berlin, visiting far-flung places like Svalbard and the Faroe Islands.
On returning home and seeing how much housing prices had risen (to the point where I pretty much sob into my pillow every night) I had some regret on accidentally spending what was essentially my housing deposit on moving overseas. But I have my memories. And that’s all we really have at the end of the day, isn’t it?
I didn’t take my health into consideration
I used to live in Sydney and it’s an easy place to be healthy in. Once you throw in the need to be beach body ready all year round, you’ll find the time to exercise. And when the weather is good, there is lots of lovely nature to immerse yourself in and if you have a car to drive yourself to the gym (oxymoronic, much?), keeping in shape and having actual biceps becomes incredibly simple.
On the other hand, it is super easy to be unhealthy in London. I didn’t have a car, so I could drink whenever I wanted and with such a strong pub culture, it’s hard not to. I got addicted to fried chicken. I struggled to get to yoga classes around work and although I tried, I never found a gym I liked enough to rally myself to attend regularly. I quickly fell out of shape and put on a stack of weight that I’m still struggling to shift. Bad habits die hard, it seems.
Plus, I wiped myself out. London is very stimulating and I liked to spend my days of running around doing things – seeing the city, travelling around the UK and overseas. Throw in a job that dictated long hours and you have a pretty unsustainable lifestyle, that’s only going to do you damage in the long run.
Lesson learned: Your health is paramount and neglecting it can have long-term consequences (as I found out when attending doctor, optometrist and dentist appointments when I returned home).
However, I have learned to love my body and take better care of it – lots of yoga, lots of walking and sometimes swimming. Cooking food that is good for it, cutting back on alcohol, trying (often failing, so emphasis on “trying” here) to get a good amount of sleep every night.
It’s a long process with the unravelling of many bad habits but as fitness bloggers like to quip – it’s the journey, not the destination, amirite?
I assumed it would make me happy
This was silly. I wasn’t seriously miserable in Sydney – goodness knows I was getting enough sun and beach time to stop that from ever being the case. And I think happiness is a silly barometer in any case – you can’t be happy all the time and anyone who tells you otherwise is just plain wrong.
You can however feel both content and grateful for your lot, which is what I vie for now.
I wasn’t happy for a lot of the time I spent moving overseas, because it wasn’t a magical fix all solution. It wasn’t until I got home and had time to breathe, relax and reflect that I started feeling intensely grateful for what the experience had granted me.
Lesson learned: Happiness is a headspace, really. Life can throw all it wants at you and you can still choose to find the silver lining.
I know this because last year was, to excuse my language, a really shitty year. But I was so happy to finally be living in Melbourne and excited for what the future would bring after that shitty portion passed (while realising that there was indeed an end point in sight), that I was able to accept that life wasn’t the greatest at that moment and know that eventually, things would turn around.
And, they did. I have moments of intense happiness quite often now and I am content most of the time. And above all, I’m satisfied with my lot. No country is perfect, but I’m grateful to be living in Australia, particularly Melbourne, which may just be the city of my dreams.
I have everything I could need in life, apart from a puppy (and yes, that’s a need, not a want). And that day may come soon enough before I know it, as well. Oh goodness, I hope so!
I didn’t really have a game plan for what would happen when I came home
Moving home was a lot harder than I originally anticipated and that was mostly due to the fact that I hadn’t thought about what I would do beyond “move to Melbourne”.
After burning through the last of my Aussie dollars during a three month long summer at home (I’d originally wanted to be home for Christmas, but returned a month early to attend a school friend’s wedding. All my major travel plans these days are based around weddings) I moved south with a job (had learned my lesson from last time!) but probably made one big mistake – I stepped right back into my old role, albeit in a new setting.
I enjoyed it at first, but was soon a bit bored, because it was a job I’d worked for three years before leaving Oz and I didn’t have much room to grow professionally.
I had also gone from being a freelance worker to taking on a full-time contract. Whilst job security and annual leave are fun things to have, the move to full-time work for any freelancer comes with a massive pay cut and often, a loss of freedom. It was a perplexing few months for this reason.
But I did my best and worked hard, left that company on good terms and started working a new contract, which I absolutely love. Each day brings something different and new creative challenges and I still get to be a freelancer, with all the freedom that comes with the role.
I made a mistake with where I originally moved to, as well. As a New South Welshwoman, I’d been sold a lie about Melbourne’s public transport being good (it’s great for Australia, which is not good in general) and moved to a suburban area which had a bus line right near it, which I’d need to use as I had no car. All well and good, but the buses were spaced 25 minutes apart and never came on time, as opposed to London buses which travelled around 8 minutes apart and generally adhered to a schedule.
I saw that lease out and moved to a suburb where I am right next to a train station and am soon to have a set of wheels again and will barely know myself.
Lesson learned: Have a plan. Don’t sit at home, waiting for things to happen. I don’t regret my time at home – it was lovely to spend it with my family who I am crazy about, catch up with friends and have lots of cuddles with my dog who ended up passing away earlier this year. I also had time to write (easier said than done in the crippling forty degree celsius heat of that summer) and RELAX.
I wish I’d planned my migration south a bit better however, but I can’t really complain now. Life has a funny way of working itself out, in the end.
I don’t regret any of it
Moving overseas is hard. Don’t let anyone else ever tell you otherwise. It doesn’t matter how long you’re going for – a few months, five years, the rest of your life. You can go it alone, you can go with your other half (if you’re moving for them, this is sometimes worse), or with your family. It’s still difficult, regardless.
It’s a major upheaval, but also a great adventure, which can lead to a lot of introspection. I mean, I’m still writing about my experiences over a year and a half later. What does that say?
Personally, I’m happy with how things turned out. It made me a better person, hopefully nicer and a bit more empathetic. I learned a lot from it, like how I do actually have an earning potential, I can make friends when I want to and my body can start falling apart at 29 and I do actually have to start taking care of it.
Most of all, it’s made me grateful. Grateful for the life I have now, grateful for all the people in it, from my family, to friends in Melbourne, in NSW and beyond Australia’s shores. And grateful for the little things, like a decent cup of matcha latte, sunshine on a cold winter’s day and the fact that no one has flooded the communal laundry in my apartment block this week, so I can actually wash my clothes.
So, I don’t think moving overseas a mistake. I wouldn’t be the same person. I wouldn’t be where I am now. Although I might own property and that would be nice, but I wouldn’t have had the same experiences in life.
Take the risk. Make your own mistakes. Things may end up working out better than you could have imagined.
Have you moved overseas? What mistakes did you find yourself making along the way?
Who knows, you might also enjoy these posts
Goodbye to Number 53 – The House That Was a Home
What I Regret From My Time Spent Living in Sydney
13 Reasons Why You Should Never Become an Expat
11 Tips to Avoid Feeling Lonely in a New City
How to Stop Imposter Syndrome From Ruining Your Life
What They Don’t Tell You About Moving Overseas
Oops, I pinned it again.