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Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

I knew the minute I decided to move to Australia that it would alter the friendships I had in the UK; how could it not? But I had high hopes of maintaining most of the relationships I’d built in Preston and Bristol, albeit from a distance. I left Britain with a selection of VOIP providers installed on my computer, and looked forward to taking advantage of the technology that makes emigrating so much more feasible for those susceptible to homesickness. For months my emails back to Blighty would be signed off with a cheery ‘Get Skype!’.

But not many people did. While I fire up Skype and Messenger most evenings and weekends, the truth is they’re not used that often outside of the regular Sunday night call to my parents. Most contact from British friends is restricted to a few emails a year, the odd comment on Facebook or Twitter and the very occasional Skype conversation, organised meticulously weeks in advance to work round the time difference and other commitments.

There are some real stars – one friend in Bristol emails me religiously every Monday morning, which I appreciate so much, and an ex-boss of mine is great at responding to the pleas for conversation I make on Facebook from time to time when I tire of talking to my husband. I really do value each and every contact, no matter how brief or infrequent.

But I have accepted that people back home have moved on without me. Who can blame them? I’m the one who decided to leave, and let’s face it, I probably wasn’t the best friend in the world even when I lived in the same town. The eight-hour time difference is a pain, and if you’re not online most of the time like me, it probably is a bit of a faff to get on Skype.

In terms of making friends here, I am definitely past the must-say-yes-to-everything-or spend-every-non-working-hour-at-home stage, so Mum, if you are reading this, don’t worry – I’m fine. But my confidence was knocked by a couple of potential pals moving away within months of our meeting (although one may be coming back – yay!) and when I do meet someone I think I might get on with I often hold back rather than suggest doing something in case of rejection.

In that, at least, I am not alone; I stumbled across this blog post and as you’ll see from the comment I left, it really struck a chord with me. Like my fellow blogger, I’d really like to make one or two friendships here that would last the distance. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, I suspect it may not happen – although I remain hopeful. It’s number one on my list of new year’s resolutions.

And while I am working on that, I will keep waiting for those calls on Skype, and will be grateful for the friendships I do have, here or overseas, for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

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A year ago yesterday, I landed in Perth from the UK to start my new life. I’d only visited Perth once before, and only very briefly as part of a two-month trip through New Zealand and Australia. A surf life saving competition meant every hotel in the city was booked up so my husband and I stayed in a guest house in Quinns Rocks for two nights and just passed through to the centre en route to Fremantle. The city made no real impression on me and if you’d told me then that within six months I’d be packing up my perfectly nice life in Bristol to move here, well, frankly I would have laughed.

While we had often talked about retiring overseas (New Zealand and for some unknown reason Costa Rica being the destinations of choice) my husband and I hadn’t ever really considered Australia, at least while we were still working.

So the speed and the ease with which our emigration from the UK happened was a bit of a surprise. Someone mentioned that an ex-colleague of my husband had moved to Oz. We googled him, his name came up as the contact on a job advert, my husband said: ‘I could do that’, he applied, and got it. Within a few weeks our house was sold, we were getting quotes for shipping containers and flights, and were too busy to really think about what emigrating would actually mean.

It was certainly very different to the experience of many immigrants here. For a lot of people, moving to Australia is a lifelong dream. And while you’ll be hard pushed to hear anything other than a British accent in large swathes of the northern suburbs, not that many Brits actually manage to make the move. For those over 30 who want to live here permanently, Australian visas are a bit like passes to an exclusive nightclub. If your name – or at least your profession – isn’t on the list, you’re not coming in. We were lucky.

For me, the timing was good. I’d recently instigated a review of my section at work that I knew would lead to my own job disappearing, probably to be replaced with a more senior post that I wouldn’t get. I’d become disillusioned with a job that I enjoyed, but that was so stressful at times that it damaged my physical and mental health. The dance group that had been so crucial in helping me settle in Bristol, and which had provided me with a great set of friends, had disbanded and my social life had taken a blow.

I needed a change – and had I stopped to really think about what I was doing, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to make it.

But the decision was made, however rashly, and now I have survived the first year. I’ve even enjoyed it most of the time. Every day brings a new challenge, whether it’s meeting new people or working out what shoe size I am. I rant a lot (I always did), but in reality the list of issues I’ve faced is pretty pathetic. I had a job I didn’t like for a while and I once went to a party where everybody ignored me. Oh, and I’ve found it really hard to find decent baking potatoes. True, I’ve not made any close friendships yet, but I seem to know an alarming number of people in this big country town already so I am sure that will come in time.

Of course I still get homesick, or more accurately, people-sick and shop-sick. I’d kill for a curry at the Sheesh Mahal with Katie and Marc, and I find myself fantasising about walking through Debenhams in Broadmead: in through the cosmetics section, up the escalator to ladieswear, Red Herring straight ahead, Dorothy Perkins through to the right, Top Shop and Oasis to the left…

But I’ve survived this far, and discovered I’m much braver and much more resilient than I realised. So this weekend I will be raising a glass of Margaret River’s finest SSB to a spur of the moment decision that has (mostly) worked out. Cheers!

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Thanks to http://socialhoneycomb.com/So I’m in Australia. I have a permanent visa. I have a job I like. I am about to move into a rather nice apartment, where I hope to stay for several years. So it’s probably about time I made some friends.

Perth is a friendly city – it’s one of the reasons I wanted to move here. I’ve had more conversations with random strangers on buses here than in my whole life in the UK. But I’m a married woman in her late(ish) 30s, with no children and a tendency to pretend I’m 10 years younger – which apparently means I am not a mate-magnet.

Child-free – so no chance of me meeting other mums in the playground. Too irresponsible (and neurotic about hygiene) to have a dog – so no chats with other pet owners in the park. A husband – so people tend to assume your evenings and weekends are already booked up. And while Perthites are friendly, at the end of the day most people drive home to their detached houses and do their own thing. Distances between suburbs are huge and there isn’t a focus on the city centre like there is in most places, so people socialise in a variety of suburbs.

I do actually have a semblance of a social life that occasionally involves people other than my husband. I made one good friend within weeks of arriving, and although she’s now gone overseas, she’s left behind a few nice people who I’m now getting to know. But I am conscious of the need to widen my circle of friends. Oddly enough, those few nice people are all immigrants to Perth, or have lived overseas at some point, and who knows? They could decide to try another city or country at any time. Besides, I want to meet some locals, who can show me parts of Perth I might not discover on my own.

In the chaos of moving, finding friends was not a particular priority. As new arrivals, my husband and I did get a few, very welcome, invitations. Nearly eight months in, we are expected to be finding our own way.

I know the best way to meet people is to join a group doing something you’re interested in. It worked for me in Bristol. Practically all my friends there I met through dance. It’s not been so successful here. I’ve tried a couple of dance classes. Hip hop was full of REALLY young people wondering who the old bird was; tap, while providing the requisite number of kooky, verging-on-middle-aged women (hair in bunches – CHECK; wacky socks – CHECK), didn’t offer enough opportunities for interaction with the rest of the group…and frankly I didn’t enjoy the class much, which didn’t help.

Here I am doing a lot of cycling – but most cycling groups take it a lot more seriously than I do. It’s a similar story with kayaking, or to more accurately describe what I do, drifting around on the river trying to remember which way to paddle to turn round. Pilates is doing wonders for my flexibility, but so far zero for friendships. Websites directed at new immigrants organise meet-ups, but they don’t appeal – I’m desperate to integrate and while it can be comforting to speak to others in a similar situation, I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing in the long run.

So I’m now looking for something else that will bring me into contact with like-minded people. A cause for which I can volunteer, or a course I can do. What really appeals is something that is focussed on making Perth the groovy state capital it deserves to be, but a trawl of t’interweb hasn’t thrown anything up just yet. I found out about PERTHour too late for this time, although I hope to make it to the next.

And I’ve just got to be careful not to appear too desperate – as one of my (old, UK-based) friends pointed out, there’s always the risk you’ll ring someone in another office to get a piece of information and before you’ve hung up you’ve invited them round to dinner and to stay for the weekend.

So if anyone has any ideas, I’d be glad to hear them.

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Many relationship experts claim that it’s the little things that cause marriage break-ups – the toilet seat being left up, or the dirty clothes abandoned on the floor…

The same applies to the immigrant’s relationship with their new country. Even when everything seems similar on the surface – language and culture – you quickly discover that your new home is determined to leave the milk out of the fridge every couple of days just to annoy the hell out of you.

Society is oiled by a whole raft of unwritten rules. When you’re growing up, you pick up these rules as you go along. You don’t even know you’re following them. It’s only when you move somewhere else that you realise that the rules you weren’t even aware of aren’t the same everywhere. What’s worse, because no-one in your new country is aware that they’re playing by their rules, no-one will ever explain them to you. Somehow you are just expected to know.

Take, for example, healthcare. Between private health insurance and Medicare, the scope for befuddlement is huge. In the UK, you go to your doctor, get a prescription, take it to the pharmacy, pay your £7.20 and that’s it. Here, you have to pay for your appointment with the doctor, then claim most of it back by visiting a Medicare office, then shop around because pharmacies can charge more or less what they like, then remember to ask for the cheaper generic version, because it would be WAY too helpful for the doctor to have prescribed that in the first place…oh, and don’t forget to present your Medicare card at every stage of the transaction.

Then there’s shopping, which seems just like shopping at home, but which actually has a whole language of its own, which no-one taught you at school. At the checkout in Target, you’re always asked if you have any lay-bys or Fly-buys. I finally plucked up the courage to ask a local, and discovered lay-bys are a throwback to Britain of the 1950s, where you can have an item kept aside for you, to be paid off at a rate of 5 shillings, sorry, dollars a week. Fly-buys is some kind of loyalty scheme, but it’s so ingrained in society that there are never any leaflets or posters explaining what it is. Bra sizes and shoe sizes are different, and I’ve already mentioned the difficulties caused by cheese descriptions.

None of these litle irritants want to make me divorce Australia, but sometimes I do feel like yelling at it for leaving the lid off the toothpaste again.

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