Hello! How nice to meet you, I'm starting this blog to record my experiences returning to the UK after 7 years in Australia. But the story really starts about 8 years ago when I put in my visa application for Oz, what made me do it? Did I have any idea what I was letting myself in for? Not really, but thats a bit of a pattern for me! Its really useful for me to plot the whole thing, because its been such and experience and I've learned and changed so much despite the challenges along the way.
So, lets go back, in 2002 I decided to quit my job as a social worker and go travelling, This was following a disastrous relationship and hideous property settlement... I thought its now or never for me! I was 36. I was always really keen on the security of my government job, pension, sick leave (seems even more so since not having it for years) but I took the leap. I had a fabulous ten months and returned to the UK in 2003.
I never moved back into my house, rented a flat and started work straight away. Listening to Radio 4s Today programme in July 2004 I heard a feature on the expansion of Australian visas, I was doing agency work, earning good money but felt a bit unsettled since returning so I investigated.
Social Workers were needed in rural areas of Australia, the only place you could apply to the whole state was in South Australia. Id never been to SA on my travels but I really didnt want to be in the outback on my own, so I applied for sponsorship, From then on I felt like I was on a bit of a roller coaster, the ride gained momentum and kept on rolling but really there was no huge urge to get back to Australia. I just wanted something new and to know my travels werent over.... it all went smoothly, spent hundreds, thousands on the visa, getting my qualifications verified etc... when I put the final application in, It was approved in a couple of weeks.
So, I was off, I had until December 2005 to enter the country and I arrived in Adelaide on December the 15th 2005. I didnt really know anyone, just people I had communicated with on 'adelaidebrits' I shipped all my stuff over which took a few weeks to arrive. I was lucky enough to be given a flat by the govt temporarily, but imagine my surprise when I realised everything was pretty much shut until the end of January!! When I returned form travelling I was working as a social worker within two weeks, it sounds so niaive now, but I had no idea how different the Australian system is, and what it would be like being a 'foreigner' looking for work in Adelaide.
When I look back on it now I can remember sitting in my little flat in Southsea, cleaning my Dyson (had to be spotless for customs!) and thinking why are you doing this? You're perfectly happy here? but I guess something had to shift and I will never say I regret the decision.
It took three months to get a job, I had 13 years experience and was a senior social worker in UK, I couldnt even get a reply for government jobs in Australia, I was quite shocked by this, niave whatever, I guess I should have reserached more, but I think I assumed that if they gave me a visa they needed me!
Eventually I took a job managing residential homes for young people, I was back covering sleep ins and doing front line work, which actually I enjoyed despite the terrible pay. After three jobs in 3 years I eventually got a great job working for the South Australian Policeas as a staff counsellor. It was a great job with great people, I learned so much working with so much trauma, and really decided that I wanted to be a therapist and not to return to social work per se. Hey I'd done 16 years by then!
Despite a great job, I was still unsettled, Adelaide is a big country twon and I am a city person, I know that for certain now. Socially, you soon discover as an expat that locals arent really interested in you, not to any great extent, they have their own families and friends and as a culture they are not really sociable in the way I have found the Brits to be. Anyone who knows me will know that wherever I go I end up being social secretary! I tried my best and I did have some great times, but as a single woman in her 40's I could only really take so much of the BBQ scene. i wanted to go out!
Adelaide in retrospect wasnt the place for me, though Ill always be grateful for what SA gave me, I was longing for something, Dating etc has always been a non starter for me in Australia, I just cant even after 7 years get used to the idea that women have to chase men, and be grateful for whatever attention they may (or probably wont) get! Even young intelligent women were waiting on blokes hand and foot, putting up with what I perceived to be appalling behaviour as the norm... Thats just not going to work for me, I knew that pretty early on. In any case any single blokes over 40 thinks they're gods gift.. and has their pick! well they probably do...
I got my permanent residency in 2007, and I was free to think about moving, but I wasnt sure, Adealide was comfortable, I loved my job, but I felt like I was settling down for retirement there. I also had some bad experiences with a couple of the expats. I think that as an expat, expecially on your own, you're pretty vulnerable in many ways. I found myself mixing with people who to be frank I found at times quite offensive, racist and ignorant. However, i didnt really feel able to challenge this as they were all the support I had at the time. So bascially I wasnt being myself. I was also viewed with curiousity and suspicion because I was single and professional, well I guess I was an oddity! having said that I have a few people there who I hope will be life long friends, including Australians I met through work who were great (social workers..love em!)
Just writing that paragraph prompts a lot of memories of being like a fish out of water, not fitting in, being stuck between the expats and the locals but not suiting either group really. Its only recently that Ive felt able to say what I really think, to be true to what I believe, which is a pretty vital thing in life!
I could go on at length about culture clash issues, and the endless red tape and over the top government in Australia, it just seems to me that as a small place population wise they are inventing bureacracy to keep themselves busy eg: the TAFE system and needing qualifications in bar tending/cleaning/shop work. The tax system which is the most complex in the world. etc etc but to be honest I just dont see how a developed country can move on if it can't organise traffic lights properly.. or come to that teach people how to use roundabouts! nuff said I think!
After much soul searching I decided I had two options, return to the UK, or give Sydney a try. I'd enjoyed my time in Sydney while travelling although it was the least 'Australian' place I visited. I decided it was worth a go, and also I hadnt at that time got my citizenship which I figured I might as well get after everything I'd experienced.
I moved to Sydney in March 2009 I already had a job working as a staff counseller in a hospital. The move was far more stressful than I imagined. Moving is always hard, but moving interstate was probably atleast as full on as moving from the UK. Worse than that I arrived to find that my new manager was...well a psycho! is the only way to put it! Id left a job I loved with fabulous people and here I was.. alone again (naturally!) sorry that shows my age! and stuck with possibly one of the most bizarre individuals that Ive ever come accross, including clients! My colleagues were great and to cut a very long and painful story short she was eventually demoted after three complaints of bullying and harrassment (this is the staff counselling team!) Thankfully I found a job in a different hospital, which is where I am now, but blimey that was a hard period to live through.
Life in Sydney is much more to my liking, I live in the inner west, whch is a bit like Stoke Newington in the sunshine! theres loads to do, Im always out and there are some great people here. its even harder here to make local friends, my social life does rely on the expats, but they are generally younger, professional, no kids, so are more into being out and about.
So whats missing? When I was travelling Sydney was the place that I was most homesick, despite spending 4 months in SE Asia. I think this was for two reasons, one I'd been away a fair few months by then, but two its kind of like a mimi replica of London, created by the original expats to remind them of home. Sydney is the oldest setttled part of Australia, it has underground trains, copies all the place names of London, Scotland and the UK... its like a parallel universe but it isnt the same... and its 24 hours from 'home'.
Every expats nightmare, especially in Australia is a family member getting ill. I had to face this over the course of my 3 years in Sydney. My dad became ill in 2007 but the saga went on until he became extremely ill in November 2009 when i had to return and sadly in June 2010 when I managed to see him 2 days before he died. he was only 65. These things are part of life and will happen no matter where you are in the world, but the stress, helplessness and guilt of being 12,000 miles away never leaves you. When I left the UK in 2005 I left a fit healthy (as far as we knew) man of 61 who was still going to gigs, pubs travelling and walking everywhere, you just never know whats around the corner and it certainly made me seriously consider the future, where did I want to be really?
When Dad died I was part way through a clinical masters, I absolutely loved the course and will always be grateful for the opportunity to study with world experst in the field. I graduated in November 2011.
The final decision came for me a matter of weeks ago, I got a lump sum of backpay from work, I'd just spent two weeks cheering crying and laughing at The Jubilee and the Olympics and... it was as if everything I felt was there on screen. I'd been debating with myself for what seemed like forever, what will I go back to? I googled jobs just out of interest and it seemed there were far more opportunities for me in the UK. that was it, I decided.... and I have to say that once I made the decison I felt like a huge breeze block of pain and grief was lifted off my chest! Im even enjoying my time in Sydney now, without that deep hurt and resentment, I have 6 months to plan my return on March 22nd 2013. Im not expecting it to be super easy, but we will see! have I changed more than the uk? :)