Expat Life: A Summary of a Year Living Overseas
Although I left Australia in 2014, I only really spent seven months of that particular year living abroad (some of those months I was working, some travelling and the rest job-hunting and somewhat losing my mind). As it were, 2015 was my first full year living overseas… and what a year it was. Was it good? Bad? I’m not sure, but it certainly was exceptional.
This is a post that probably would have been best served being published at the end of last year, but January is traditionally a time of reflection. And reflect I have certainly done.
So those who are living as expats, or strongly considering it – here’s an example of what you can expect from your first year of living abroad.
Having January in winter seems both unnatural and wrong, but worldwide, the month feels the same. There’s still that sense of hopefulness as you turn over the first page of a fresh chapter in the book of your life.
After having had no work and no income since August, I finally ended up getting paid two days before the new year. Party, party.
January was all about knuckling down and earning a bit of coin, but I did manage to make an impromptu trip to Belgium to visit an old friend. Although I probably spent more time on a Megabus than in the city of Brussels – I still managed to have a stellar weekend.
I’ve heard many other travellers complain about how “boring” Belgium’s capital is, but I was rather enamoured with it. Mind you, we didn’t do anything much other than eat, party and sleep, which makes for a good time just about anywhere.
I was far more chill in January than I had been in the month of December (fresh expats, prepare yourself for some pretty heavy feels if you plan on spending the festive season abroad) but on the whole, was ready for some adventure. Fortunately, February would provide respite from the day to day monotony of working life in more ways than one.
February is supposed to be one of the most unpleasant months for weather in the UK.
The vibe in the air isn’t great, come the last month of winter. You can tell that everyone is just over it. Over the cold, over the bad weather and longing for sunshine.
I however, was determined to make the most of the month. The Feb fanfare started with a quick jaunt to Paris to meet some of my oldest and dearest friends over what also happened to be my birthday weekend. Apart from getting food poisoning on the night bus to France, I had a jolly good time.
That wasn’t the end of the month’s adventures. I escaped London once again in mid-February for Germany – to Cologne this time, to celebrate Karneval. I never quite managed to pen an article for this blog about the event, which is a shame. It’s one of the whackiest festivals I’ve ever been to, but it has the vibe of being a German event that really only Germans could enjoy.
While I don’t regret going, I felt like a bit of an outsider during the five day run and my heart wouldn’t break if I never got to experience Karneval again.
March is traditionally my favourite month of the year in Oz. Despite being the first month of autumn, it’s still sunny and hot. People are well within their normal routines by that point of the year – back to work, school and university. I liked it because I could go to the beach in the middle of the day and normally get a good stretch of space all to myself.
I was a bit of a grump for the first half of March. I’d found work that was loosely in my industry, but not related at all to what I normally did (video editing, for anyone who is curious). The hours were long and we were required to work around the clock. After several rounds of night shift, I could feel myself going troppo. Another holiday was needed, stat!
Luckily, I’d planned a month long jaunt away this time – to Iceland, Canada and numerous cities across the USA. It took a few days in Iceland for me to feel truly settled (helped largely by the night we managed to catch the Northern Lights, which was just awe inspiring).
By the time I made it across North America to visit some friends in Canada, I was definitely feeling like myself again.
The real switch however, came in New York. It was here that I truly decided that it was time to quit bitching and make the most out of this life abroad.
Perhaps the real answer to happiness lay in a bit of sun? Sarah and I ventured down to Florida, spending the Easter weekend in Orlando. We spent one day soaking up rays and gossiping and on the next, paid a visit to Universal Studios, to check out Harry Potter World (we are both unashamedly massive Potterheads).
I finished the trip with a quick jaunt to my home-away-from-both-my-homes in Atlanta, before heading up to DC to marvel at the cherry blossoms and learn a bit about American history.
Then it was back to New York for one last fond farewell, before catching a night plane to London. I was sat next to a baby who alternated between hitting me and screaming for the next six hours, falling asleep only when the plane landed.
I came back to a different London in April. The days were slowly getting longer and warmer. There was one towards the end of the month where the temperature was 24 degrees! I wore a dress to work and went to the local park on my break to soak up the sun.
May was a turning point for me. I was able to ditch the job I didn’t so much enjoy, going back to working during the daylight hours, which I’ll tell you makes a big impact on one’s sanity.
I mostly worked, to make up for the previous month’s holiday (such is the life of a freelancer). I think I clocked in about 22 (12 hour) days – I haven’t topped that amount since then and I don’t want to!
With all that work, I didn’t have the chance to leave the country, but did manage to make a couple of quick trips around the UK, spending a few days in Oxford and visiting some family members in the Cotswolds.
The smell of summer was in the air and on the whole, things were beginning to look up.
Summer had finally arrived! I celebrated by meeting a friend in Crotia for Spring Break. While the event itself was a bit of a failure, it was lovely to see my friend and so good to have a few days worth of lounging at the beach. I never really understood the value of a seaside holiday until I’d lived in the UK for eight months – now it’s just about all I want to do!
June was generally a standout month of the year. I’d been dating a bit and kissed a few frogs before meeting my now boyfriend at the end of the month.
I was working slightly less and tried to enjoy some of the events that were popping up around London, such as an early morning dance party.
I also took the train up to Scotland to visit Edinburgh and Glasgow. I had pretty high hopes for Edinburgh, which were exceeded. My only regret is that I didn’t leave Glasgow for another time, as I only had about twelve hours there and was riding a high from my time in Scotland’s other big city.
It was a lesson that I still haven’t quite learned – quality over quantity. Don’t wear yourself out by trying to pack everything in.
The period of good times continued, with a month long trip to Australia in July. My home country has quite ironically, become one of my favourite to visit since I’ve been away. Typical, to have moved halfway across the world, only to become completely fascinated with Australia.
Oh well. I certainly made the most of my time there – exploring my University town of Newcastle, hiring a car and road tripping to Melbourne with some friends, spending not anywhere near enough time in my hometown of Sydney and taking my mother to the red centre for her 60th birthday.
My weeks back home were really special and leaving was utterly heartbreaking. While I toyed with the idea of staying in Australia, I knew deep down that the adventure wasn’t over yet.
I arrived back in London mid-August- exhausted, but ready to get on with life in the UK.
Because I hadn’t yet learned my lesson about over-travel, I’d preplanned a trip to Amsterdam.
I was off my face with tiredness and probably didn’t make the most of my time there, which was a shame. Amsterdam is a city I had long wanted to visit and my short jaunt there didn’t really do it justice.
Another lesson that needed to be learned. Take breaks between trips!
September was another month for knuckling down and working. There was one change in my situation – having a boyfriend meant having a ready made partner in adventure. I spent more time seeing the sights of London and trying new things in the city itself.
After having such a good time travelling around back home, I had made a resolution to see more of the UK. We journeyed out to Bristol and then Weston-super-Mare to check out Banksy’s Dismaland. I didn’t really dig the art installation so much myself, but it was nice to get out of the city for a mid-week mini-break.
I’d originally planned to spend October chilling in the UK, but the old itch struck my feet again. A gap in my work roster led to the perusal of flight search engines. Soon enough, we were whisking ourselves away to both Corfu and Athens, trying to soak up as much sun as we could before the English winter hit.
It was in October that I celebrated my one year anniversary of living in London – an occasion that brought all the feels with it.
With winter hot on autumn’s heels, I thought it best to distract myself once again, with travel.
I’d bought tickets to Iceland’s Airwaves Festival earlier in the year, when I was in the country, funnily enough. It was done on a bit of a whim, because Bjork was playing.
She unfortunately pulled out a few months beforehand, but that wasn’t going to stop me from spending a week in one of my favourite countries. I flew out early November to reunite with my Canadian friend and had an awesome eight days of good food and good music in my beloved Reykjavík.
Back in London town, I welcomed some friends to the city, heading out to Aldgate to do a Jack the Ripper tour (I recommend the tour, I don’t recommend having a curry in Brick Lane afterwards). It was only the second time I’d had friends from home visit London and it made for quite an odd evening. One of those time warpy occasions where it feels like nothing has changed, like you never left home. Friendships like that are hard to come by, but well worth the investment of time to keep them going.
We took off to Budapest mid-month, a city I’ve long wanted to visit, to indulge in a little luxury. The remainder of the month was spent at work, because a girl’s gotta eat and pay her rent.
December is the hardest month to be away from home, for me at least. The weather is shitty, there’s a distinct lack of sunlight and all the festivities serve as a constant reminder that you will not be hanging out with your loved ones come this Christmas.
I distracted myself by going on a tea tour of London and headed north, to check out York and Newcastle. Once again, I found myself wishing I’d spent all my time in York. WHEN WILL THIS LESSON SINK IN?
We had a couple more friends visit and stay with us this time, which led to another weekend of complete normalcy – as they are expats too, it’s a feeling that is foreign to us all. I also dragged my boyfriend along to the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Neither of us enjoyed it in the slightest.
My fella and I then headed to Norway to see one of my favourite bands, Röyksopp in concert. The gig was fabulous, but I found Oslo to be both expensive and dull. Maybe it was just the time of the year and it’s city that lends itself to the summer months.
Christmas was spent at home, in the warmth, with a surplus of food, presents and the series finale of Downton Abbey (which was unfortunately, a bit average!).
And then, just like that, the year was over.
What a year it was. A good year? A bad year? I don’t know, really. A lot of great things happened, but it was altogether quite an emotional and sometimes lonely twelve months.
In some ways, I was happy it was over but in most – I don’t regret a thing. I started 2016 fully appreciating my time spent as an expat so far and am excited to see what new adventures life overseas will bring.