Today I want to share with you a guest post from Mark Pey who offers a new and different perspective on what it’s like being a family of expats. This time, living abroad in Australia. As Mark explained to me in an email, he gave up on taking part in the rat race when he realized that even if you win, you’re still only a rat. Take it away Mark...
Hello all: I happened to find Coley’s Resilient Family blog, as one does, while wandering around the web (web gurus call it WWILF, “what was I looking for?”). His story sounded similar to my own: an American expat who took the plunge and moved abroad with his family. Coley asked me to write a guest post about “what convinced you to do it, what steps you took, and how your life has changed”. Here goes.
Starting in about the year 2000, my wife and I became increasingly disillusioned with life in the U.S.: What the country seemed to be about, the culture, the politics, the business sphere. None of it seemed to fit with our views of what a country should represent. We had both grown up believing in America, how great she was, and how great she could be in the future. But the America we saw was getting more and more corrupted and less and less able or willing to do something about it: in politics, in business, and definitely culturally.
(We also believed that in the next generation many opportunities, maybe even most of the opportunities, would be outside the US, particularly in Asia. We wanted our two boys (ages 13 and 11), to be fluent in “the world”, not to be trapped in an American-centric view. We’ve always found Americans to be very uncurious about the outside world and we didn’t want our kids to grow up with that disadvantage.)
I’d say if there’s one main factor that finally made us pull the plug was the way America behaves towards the rest of the world. I won’t turn this into a rant but Americans need to think how they would feel if another nation’s troops were on American soil. That’s what America does in over 130 countries right now. No wonder Americans are so disliked. No wonder they feel the need to turn America into a police state. “If you see something, say something”? Sounds like the U.S.S.R. to me. I think it was Ben Franklin who said “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporarity safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.
Having decided to move away, maybe for a while, maybe forever, we took a good look at a map of the world. We had both travelled extensively and knew our way around. We wanted someplace with natural beauty, a good economy, and a welcoming culture. We picked Australia, although I think we would have been equally happy in any of the following places: France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan. We chose Australia and have been so very glad we did.
I was lucky enough to work for a large global multinational company that welcomed transfers between countries. But I would not say this is a requirement. We have plenty of friends here in Sydney who found jobs here either before they left the US, or after they got here. There is a 4-year visa program called the 457 visa that targets all sorts of professions where Australia has a gap: everything from diesel mechanics to nursing. Australia’s unemployment is around 4.5% and there are jobs to be had. We have now been granted Permanent Residency status, and soon will be granted Australian passports. I guess that reveals about how we feel about this incredible country.
Ok I will list the plusses and minuses. Of course the biggest minus has been that Australia is very far away from our families. That’s hard. The second minus has been that it’s expensive, with only 22 million people they don’t manufacture much themselves, so stuff costs more than the US. Overall our expenses are nearly identical to the US, though: things like health care and property tax are incredibly cheap, and it all balances out. If I need a visit to the doctor, I call up, they say yes please come in later today…and the bill is $25. I had laparoscopic hernia surgery, superb top-quality care, and it cost me about $800 bucks.
The other minus is a feeling in the pit of your stomach that lasts for about two years, that you’re a “foreigner”. This can be exciting and thrilling, but also a lonely feeling. Australians are very pro-American however, and very friendly, we’ve been invited to people’s homes much more than we ever were in California.
Let me finish with some more plusses: it’s safe (the murder rate is ¼ that of the US), there are jobs, people are positive, kids can find summer work, the pace is slower, vacations are long (like in Europe, people disappear for about 4-5 weeks in the summer). It’s also very sophisticated, and with the internet we’ve never felt isolated or left out.
What it takes to improve your life like this is two things: imagination and courage. You need to imagine yourself just doing it; then you just need the courage to take the first step. You won’t regret it!