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Seven Years in NYC: What have I learned?

Today, January 10, 2024, marks my seven-year anniversary of moving to the United States and New York. When I first moved to the States, I didn't know if it was going to be for 3 months, 3 years, or longer, but looking back over the last few years it's clear that I had no idea what I was starting! So what have I learned? What do I wish I'd done differently? And what do I recommend for you if you want to do the same?

A quick rewind: How did I get here!?

How I got to New York City in the first place

In 2015 my friend and I came on a holiday to the US, to visit it one time and get it all over and done with. We landed and went straight to Disneyland, drove Highway One, stayed up all night in Vegas, drank wine on the West Coast, flew to DC, selfies with Lincoln, and then popped our heads up out of a subway in Midtown, NYC.

I had never wanted to visit the US because for me a holiday should involve a mountain, or a beach, or both, and America felt like a trip to a place just like I lived. But putting your head out of a subway station surrounded by buildings and – at the time – extreme heat was a sight to behold.

We were only in New York for a matter of days but arriving back to Adelaide, South Australia in July 2015, I knew that I had to get back. Over the course of 2015 and 2016 I sold up everything I owned, my business, my car, my house, and I even gave away my cat, Aslan. I didn't know if this was exactly what I wanted as I had never lived anywhere outside Adelaide before, but I knew that it was the best time in my life to take the leap.

29 years old, January 10, 2017, I arrived in New York wearing shorts and flip-flops and immediately stepped into a sidewalk puddle under a snowdrift. I had just two suitcases, no winter clothes, and no boots, but I was so very excited.

The first three months were a ball. I made new friends, I met strangers, and I got lost in a world that was not only foreign to what I was used to, but was also anonymous. I was no longer bumping into people I know, or visiting the same places I had grown up with, I was going to a new location every day and wandering about without any set plans. It was the first proper time off I'd had in years and it was joyous.

What have I learned?

Fast forward 6 years and nine months, and what has changed? I'm still the same person, and I still love lots of the same things that I did before, no doubt, but I have noticed lots of things about myself that weren't there before.

1. The US makes you strong but New York can be rough

The Tall Poppy Syndrome that I've talked about a lot in the past simply doesn't exist in the US compared to my home in Australia. Trumpeting your achievements and talking about yourself as if you are the best of the best is a standard part of personal and business, and it's also tremendously important to your success. Don't tell people that you're “pretty good” at something – explain how you know it back to front and upside down and you're the best person for the job or they'll go find the person that tells them that.

I do think for some people, me included, this has been a great thing. I've gotten better at promoting myself and talking about what I'm doing without feeling embarrassed to be proud of myself. It's a double edged sword though, and as the amazing Mary Schmich essay says: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard”

2. Life is more transient in a big city

Coming from a city where I am still very close with my primary school friends, high school friends, uni/college friends, and everyone else I've ever met, it was an eye opener when I realized that a lot of people who decide to move away from their home country will only intend to do so for a limited amount of time. This obviously makes sense for many, but it does mean that if you make friends with other expats, you are likely to only have them directly in your life for a short time.

Your friendship group will grow, contract, change, and re-shape itself not only because of where you are in life, but also because the people around you are likely in dramatically different stages of their lives as well.

Be ready for your close friendship group to change rapidly, and embrace them as an opportunity to keep meeting new friends!

3. Your overseas life isn't separate from your life

Before I moved I had a vision of living abroad: I had my friends, all the people I knew and loved in Australia, who were my closest friends. They would remain my core “friends” and then I would live in America and make “America Friends” who would exist in my world abroad, and really nowhere else. If I ever left the US, I would turn that America Friends channel off, and just resume life back in Australia. It was all so simple!

The fact is though that you don't make “America Friends” you make “Friends”! (Writing it out now feels ridiculous but I'm sure there are some of you out there who are thinking the same. You have moved your whole life so the people you get close to become very close, and they become immensely important to you.

The upside is that you get to grow your community, grow your network, and meet new and exciting people.

The downside is that your core group of friends back in your home country likely aren't as connected to you anymore and while you will absolutely maintain relationships with many of them, it won't be all of them, and you will have changed in your time apart (and so will they).

None of this is “bad” but it is a huge consideration when you're planning to move.

4. The speed of the city can be overwhelming

It is exhilarating living in a big city and in a place that many people dream of living in one day. I do have the odd moment here and there where you realize you haven't taken a breath or you're holding your breath because so much is happening at once.

There are things to do, people to meet, events to attend, once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities-to-experience, and so much more all happening RIGHT NOW outside and you don't want to move all the way to the other side of the world without doing ALL of them…. But take a breath.

Part of “living” as opposed to “visiting” a new country is the fact that your life needs to reset and you need to take a moment and embrace it as your new normal.

Don't do everything. Learn to say “no” after the initial excitement wears off. And take it easy where you can. Enjoy sitting at home with your loved ones or on your own, and be ok with that. Being comfortable on the couch is just as important as being comfortable in a whole new environment outside.

5. True, deep friendships are more difficult or at least different

A common thing I hear and something I have experienced myself is that making friends with Americans can be more difficult. (See note 6 below, because it's important)

My personal experience has been that you can indeed make wonderful friendships, but the openness to diving deep into a friendship, opening yourself up, and being vulnerable is much less present. It takes longer to work through the strong facade from the lack of tall poppy syndrome (#1 above) to get to the center of the person's personality and nature.

You are coming from outside, without the history and depth of a relationship that many people have had with their long-term friends. Keeping this in mind, you will find some truly wonderful people (as well as some assholes, just like everywhere).

6. It's easy to make massive generalizations

As you can see in Number 5, one thing I've heard a lot of is the generalizations about “America is X” and “Americans do Y”, just like we hear about the same for Australians.

I think it's crucially important to note that that not everyone is the same and the United States (like any place) doesn't act as one big mass. Everyone is unique, and while there may be trends, it's important o be careful about your language. I don't like hearing that “All Australians are” anything, because I don't consider myself as just an Australian, and therefore don't always want to be lumped into a stereotype.

You will have experiences, and they will impact you in great ways, but be sure to keep your eyes open to not just the things that confirm those assumptions and experiences!

7. “Home” is a dirty word

It's the word that I find most difficult to say and why I labor over things like “the country you're from” or “your home country” in my articles.

Where is “home”!?

It used to be clear to me that Adelaide was my home, I was born there, had lived there for 29 years and had no intention on leaving it. But now, 7 years in, with a family and a great network and community, New York is my… home?

I still remember the time in early 2018, about a year and a half in, just after I'd met my now wife, I landed in JFK and my feeling was no longer of excitement of being back in New York, it was the restful feeling of returning to my life, and my home. It was a very strange feeling to think that I had relocated and now considered a faraway place my home, especially considering as I had no family here, but it was true.

You are allowed to refer to both this as your new home and your old home as your “home” as well. Whatever makes you comfortable is ok with me!

What do I wish I'd done different?

Honestly, I wrote the header assuming I'd have a big list of things but I've been very lucky, had immense support, and worked very hard to get to a part of my life that I'm truly proud of and have few regrets.

My only regret would be that I didn't take some more time to stop and enjoy the transition of life before getting involved knee deep in all sorts of great organizations and business opportunities. I was very lucky that everything fell into place over the first 6 months of my time in the US, but now when I look back I realize that there was so much more life to be lived without the constant threat of work.

If you do get a chance for some transition: Take it. You won't regret getting to know your new city and become familiar with your new life before waking up and going to work takes over!

What do I recommend for you if you want to do the same?

Ultimately, give it a shot. I'm not here to tell you that you shouldn't give it a go, but I am here to say that there are a few golden rules that I think everyone should apply:

1. Be realistic about your plans and keep your dreams in check

This is the big one: If you've dreamed of coming to America, moving to New York, or really moving anywhere, then take your dreams and turn them down a notch.

I'm not hear to completely poop on your dream parade, but know that living abroad compared to visiting, and especially compared to the dreams you've had of a place, are vastly different.

The only people I've seen who haven't thrived and enjoyed their time in New York and the US have been those who had such lofty ambitions that they could never be reached. They had put all their eggs in a basket and tied their internal success and happiness to having their life here succeed – and in the early days it wasn't.

New York smells in the summer, is gray and dark in the winter, and can be an uninviting place sometimes.

I. Love. It.

I wouldn't live anywhere else, so you should give it a shot, but know that there are plenty of downsides and after the initial shine of the first few months have worn off, you'll find yourself a little less excited about the whole thing. There's a very common 3-6 month blues for expats who are living abroad, because it's about then that you've missed some events in your home country (!) and you've started to feel a bit disconnected with your past, and not everything is smooth sailing in your new home.

Take it in your stride, roll with it, talk to others, and read my article about not being ok (which is totally ok).

2. Budget and then add lots more

Moving is very expensive. The second pillar of moving after the emotional one is the financial one, and you need more money than you think, but not for the reason you think.

It's not all about setting up a new apartment, and high rents (both of which are very real). It's also about experiences and building friendships which is incredibly expensive. If you are pinching pennies, you won't be able to say yes to the drinks with work friends on Friday, which will miss an opportunity for you to get out and about and meet that new network who will make this really feel like home.

You need the money put aside for a runway of fun as well as essentials or your time abroad will be spent wondering what people see in this city and country.

Add some more money to your kitty, save up for an extra year, and really come in hot.

3. Read everything, trust few, pay experts

There is so much good advice online and so many wonderful communities of supportive people, but you have to be really careful about what you accept as truth and who you trust.

Some of the advice, while well meaning, is just wrong and can get you into a lot of strife if you follow it – especially with things like immigration legal and tax accounting.

Pay professionals for these things, consume everything you can, and then use your smart brain to really digest what you're reading. Do not be the person that keeps asking community groups a question with fingers crossed that someone will answer in the way you are hoping for: Just because one person did it before you doesn't mean it's the right way (or the legal way).

4. Be ready to let go of some things

A big part of moving is discovering new things and opening the door to new opportunities, but equally it's about letting go of some of the things you're not ready to let go of.

You will miss parties, birthdays, events, deaths, and most importantly: The tiny moments, stories, and adventures that your friends will go on without you. You won't understand some of the jokes, you won't know your friends like you used to, and all of that is ok.

It sucks, but it's ok.

Keep a hold of the people, places, and things that are TRULY important to you and those people that put in the effort to stay engaged with you. Ignore the people that say “you don't call enough” because they could call you just as easily.

Be ready to let some things go, but more importantly, prioritize what's important.

5. Be careful making generalizations

See my note above!

What are my plans for the future?

I've just started a family with my wife, with the birth of our first, Daniel (“Danny”) on November 3 this year. We're learning how to raise a child in a big city and flying by the seat of our pants but loving every minute of it (now that he finally smiles back at me when I wake up at 3am to feed him.)

I will be living in the United States for the foreseeable future, and have no plans to live in Australia or anywhere else for a long time to come. If it were up to us, we'd stay in New York and in Manhattan forever, but with the price of the world constantly going up, that's becoming much more difficult. We will be close, but will start looking to expand our journey into slightly adjacent locations so that we can raise our small family with a little more space.

America Josh has become a huge part of my life and a part that I truly adore so it too isn't going anywhere. I have big plans for what it might become over the course of the next few years, so be sure to keep tuning in, keep attending events, and keep contributing to each other online and in the comments.

My other hats include the digital marketing & development company I run: Fortnight Digital, supporting the outstanding work of Aussies across the US as Secretary of The Mateship Foundation, and finally helping as many kids as I possibly can in the New York area as President of Variety – the Children's Charity of New York.

As always: Reach out and say hello! I'd love to meet you in real life!

Josh Pugh

Josh Pugh

Josh is a business founding, digital marketing focused, charity driving, community builder from South Australia, living in New York City. After moving in 2017, Josh realized that there was an opportunity to curate and help the community of expats who moved to the United States – and launched America Josh. Josh is also the President of Variety – the Children's Charity of New York, Secretary at The Mateship Foundation, and Founder & CEO at Fortnight Digital.View Author posts

4 thoughts on “Seven Years in NYC: What have I learned?”

  1. Josh, I haven’t met you, but you have met my son Justin Johnson in NYC. I came to the US 49 years ago for a “6 month” assignment with IBM. which got extended 3 times, then I married an American and stayed.
    I lived in NY (Tarrytown) for a couple of years and also Georgia, Virginia, California and now am settled in Reno Nevada. I just wanted to tell you that I thought your 7-year article was on the money. I would agree with everything you said except maybe the bit about how great NYC is to live in. Just wanted to say thanks. (I have been back to Australia 73 times-to keep in touch but it’s almost all family now, like you said it changes)
    Best wishes for the new year and in your search for a new home when that happens.
    Gregor (Johnson)

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