I don’t normally post personal feelings and thoughts, but I want to start a conversation with the community of Australians living in New York City (and further afield) to see what you all think. I’m highlighting Australians because I am one and I can talk from personal experience, but I think we’d find that it extends to other expat communities as well so if that’s you, I want to hear your thoughts too.
I’ve now been living in New York City for 594 days. In that 594 days, I’ve had an absolutely incredible time meeting wonderful new people, creating new adventures, and learning a whole new bag of tricks. There have been highs and lows, ups and downs, and not surprisingly there have been hurdles in transitioning to life in New York, life in the U.S., and life away from Australia. Those hurdles are in essence what created America Josh, the idea that it would be nice to learn from someone else’s (my) mistakes and not have to repeat them for yourself.
Things are different here. From the second you walk outside, you notice that people are driving and walking on the opposite side of the road and sidewalk; hell, even the word “sidewalk” is unique to this place. There are also more subtle differences in everyday life that will confuse you for a moment and require you to relearn a skill, like my learning to write with a pen again to fill in a check at a bank. In some of these moments, like I’m sure you have, I’ve expressed my frustration and let slip with one or two “wouldn’t it be nice if it were like it was back in Australia!?”. I will be the first to say that I think this is completely normal and in fact, is sometimes important as to maintain your own mental health; I don’t want you bottling everything up! Familiarity is convenient and makes life a little bit easier, but I do think there’s a limit to expressing these frustrations and that’s what we need to talk about.
You moved to the other side of the world in search of something and if you’re putting down roots temporarily or permanently on this side of the planet then it’s clear that you may have found what you were looking for, or at least you think you might in your future over here. This difference between cultures and society is what makes moving overseas so exciting! There are all new things to learn, all new ways to do things, and all new accepted norms that you had potentially never considered. The important thing to remember though is that these things are “different” and not “worse”. Just because you’ve spent your whole life doing something one way, doesn’t necessarily make it the best way, or even the better way! You can say that you prefer it, that you liked doing it that way before, but don’t dismiss all the other options!
Instead of complaining that something here is worse, take a moment and turn it into an opportunity to share a great cultural difference. It’s rare to meet someone who isn’t interested in how you might have done something in your home country, but no-one really likes to hear that you think their way of doing things is wrong.
The frustrations are real, I know, but what I think we need to be careful of, and what I sometimes see, is generating a long list of things you don’t like so that you can whip them out at dinner when somebody gives you an opening to do so. Suddenly we’ve gone from expressing that one frustration to declaring that the whole city is backward and how it’s completely ludicrous that everything is done differently to what we’re used to! We’re spiraling out of control!
So why did I write this? What’s the point? The answer is two-fold:
First, I think it’s important that we, as Australians (and really any expat community), are good global citizens. I think we need to not only represent our home country well, but we also need to be good individuals, build good communities, and accept that everyone is unique and every culture is different. Sure, we might have our opinions and there will be things you personally disagree with, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that you have to belittle anyone else as a means of “winning”. Turn negatives into positives, share good culture and experience with each other and everyone can grow from it.
The second reason is more personal and internal to you and those who have recently moved and are finding their own frustrations. I think an incredibly significant part of moving successfully overseas (and one we commonly understate) is your attitude and mental state. Constantly comparing things to how they were, dismissing things here as worse, and focusing on the negatives doesn’t help you grow as a person and doesn’t help you settle into a new culture. You will find it more and more difficult to acclimatize to change if you don’t open your mind to new possibilities, so take a little moment to look inward. Things are different, yes, but try to embrace them, learn from them, and share your ways of navigating these differences with those around you. Your attitude and the way you talk about your experiences impact those around you and it also impacts yourself more than you may realize.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this sometimes too so we’re all going to work towards fixing this together. I hope this website goes a little way towards that, and I can’t wait to hear some of your personal experiences.
The point of this website and blog isn’t purely to highlight differences and certainly isn’t here to make fun of a different culture. It is instead to answer questions and help you clear hurdles that are created because of these differences. I want to think that people learn from this site that the nuances of living abroad can be exciting, the adventure thrilling, and the challenges surmountable.
So be aware of your surroundings, consider the people around you and look inwards before you go too far.
Good luck, Friends! Be good! Do good!