One year ago today, I arrived in Australia with G, my then-fiance and now-husband, for the first time. My intention was to visit for two and a half months and get a feel for Australia and whether or not I could be happy living here someday.
We arrived at the Tullamarine airport sometime around 10am local time, after the longest flight EVER. I was pretty tired, but I was excited and trying to be awake. I remember the line for passport control being longer than any passport line I had ever seen before in all my traveling days, even worse than Heathrow, snaking all the way through more duty free shops than you can imagine. (Seriously, who buys that crap???)
The line for customs was even longer, a chaotic queue weaving this way and that throughout the whole baggage claim. By the time we finished with the lines and called for the shuttle to come pick us up, my energy level was starting to wane.
But then we stepped outside to wait by the curb for the shuttle and it wasn’t winter, like we left behind. It was sunny, warm, and slightly humid, the air feeling similar to the Florida Keys at the same time of year. And I was wearing a sweater. Oh, well.
Anyone who has traveled at all knows that upon arriving in a brand new, unfamiliar place, you have this certain sort of feeling. It’s not easily described, but it’s sort of a combination of uncertainty, excitement, and a complete loss of directional orientation. It has a novelty about it: the kind of novelty that compels you to take pictures of street signs, even though they look exactly the same as the ones you left behind in America. Personally, I was fascinated by some goofy abstract structures that resembled a French fry being sprayed with ketchup. (I still am, actually- I don’t get what its purpose is, aesthetically or otherwise.)
After a shower and nap, G took me around the city to show me the CBD and the black swans at Albert Park Lake. He also took me to a grocery store, no doubt with the intent to see my hilarious reaction when I saw the prices on food. It was so traumatic that I’ve blanked out most of it, but I think it might have involved me having some sort of seizure and small heart attack. Well, you get used to the high prices after a while, but you never learn to like it!
Since G had been in America with me for three weeks already, he had to go straight back to work, so my first full day in Australia was spent alone at home getting over jet lag and generally being very bored. The next day, he called in a babysitter, a friend of his, to take me out for the day and I got to go out to the Dandenongs, which I thought was very cool, since it was my first taste of Australian nature. I remember thinking the plants looked like something from the dinosaur age and half expected to see a brontosaurus walk out in front of the car.
Even though I initially intended just to visit, the reality soon sank in that I could not leave G for any extended period of time and that I would be staying with him, wherever he was in the world, whether I liked the place or not. Fortunately, I do like Australia, but as every expat knows, liking a place doesn’t make the transition any easier.
I was depressed for months. I was lonely. I felt useless and guilty that I wasn’t contributing financially. I wasn’t comfortable venturing out on my own in case I got lost. It wasn’t that I wanted to go back to America necessarily, but rather that I just wanted to feel comfortable and settled.
Happily, after a year, I feel like I’ve mostly reached that point. I know my way around the city, I have my routine, and I feel like I have a home here. One of the kindest gestures that G made to make me feel at home, whether he intended it that way or not, was to move us out of his mother’s house and being surrounded by all her things (she wasn’t living there, but all her stuff was still there) and into his newly renovated flat in which I got to choose ALL the furniture. It’s hard to feel like you’re at home when you’re surrounded by someone else’s clutter and don’t have any room for your own things, so being able to have our own virgin space that we could fill with OUR things and only our things ended up being very good for my morale.
On the whole, I think my decision to come to Australia permanently was the right choice. It was a major change- one that occurred in the middle of a lot of other major changes in my life, which made it that much more stressful- but it ended up being a good change. I can honestly say that this is as happy as I’ve ever been in my life and that I feel optimistic about the future.
The funny thing is, before I met G, I had absolutely no desire to visit Australia. My heart belonged mainly to Europe for purposes of globe-trotting. Australia was far away and didn’t seem all that exciting. How wrong I was! I’ve gotten to see and do so many amazing and unique things and there is still so much more to explore. I feel like I could spend many, many years in Australia and never run out of interesting things to see and do. I’m not sure I could say that about most other places. So I’m looking forward to spending another year here and another after that and so on.