Diane in Sydney: "It's a wonderful place to raise a family"

Expat interviews
  • Diane in Sydney
Published on 2013-07-04 at 02:00
Diane is a serial expat: she first moved from California to Germany at the age of 17. Several years and several children later, she found herself as a single mother who had landed an amazing opportunity to work in Sydney, Australia.

Why did you decide to move to Sydney?

Quite literally, a job fell in my lap. The company called me at 2.00 in the morning and told me my start date was in two weeks time.

How was the moving process?

Having never been to Australia and as a single mother, my primary concern was where my two children would attend school. I had wanted some time prior to starting work to do some on-the-ground research into the schools and to find accommodation, but the company demanded an immediate start. At that point I decided to go for it anyway. It was a leap of faith. I was an independent consultant, so the organization offered no relocation assistance. I knew I would be on my own to make things happen, and I figured that if things didn't work out, we could always come home. It was too good an opportunity to turn down.
As it happened, a wonderful public primary school was located 2 blocks away from the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived. It was located on Sydney Harbour (Double Bay) and had a small student population. My children started the day after we arrived. It was very serendipitous. Everything fell into place when we arrived. We jumped into the culture and made friends with many Australian and international families. We used every weekend to explore the city and surrounds.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

I think that people expect English speaking countries to all be similar in culture, however, that just isn't the case. We did need time to learn the local in's and out's. For example, Australians have a wicked sense of humour. They have a way of making fun of everything. To Americans, this can initially seem degrading and down-putting. It took time to work out that they weren't being "mean", rather it was their way of socialization.
Moving to Australia over 16 years ago, the workplace was still very male-oriented. Being a female in a management position wasn't the easiest transition. The working culture was very macho and confrontational. I had to learn to take a back seat, to listen first and speak second, and to allow myself to be the 'new kid on the block', to bite my tongue, and never to say, "this is how WE do it". The ways of working were much slower and business was more relationship oriented than I was used to. Doing business was as much about getting to know people and establishing working relationships as it was about delivery.

As you moved with your children, how did they live that change? Was it easy for them to adapt to their new environment?

Children are amazingly resilient. I think my kids were making as similar adjustments in school as I was in the workplace. Initially they got teased for their accents as well as for being Americans. They found it challenging to make friends at first, but after a few months, they settled in and starting picking up an Aussie accent and some of the slang. It was definitely harder on my son than my daughter, which was surprising, because he was really excited about being there. There is a bully culture in the school system here that he had to overcome. Eventually he thrived and was elected high school president.
Overall, the schools have many positive offerings and the environments were especially suited to creative children, which was why I made the decision to remain in Australia.

What surprised you the most in Sydney?

The aesthetics. I didn't expect the abundance of such natural beauty. Having so many natural elements like National parks and bushlands so close to the center of a busy city is very grounding and restorative. The harbour is ridiculously gorgeous. I think it's hard to have a bad day when you are surrounded by such natural beauty.

Tell us more about your day-to-day life in Sydney:

Day-to-day life is hard to define because, life is constantly on the move. When in Sydney, I'm never to far from the harbour or my favourite cafes and restaurants. Sydney is probably my favourite city in the world. Life on the ground in Sydney means lots of outdoor activities and taking the time to live life to the fullest. My days are spent researching and writing about the Self-Initiated Expatriate phenomenon, exercising outdoors, and meetings in cafes. Evenings you will find me with friends at any number of fabulous restaurants or attending a cultural event. Sydney makes me come alive!
From May to August, my husband and I work aboard our boat while sailing between islands and ports, exploring the road less travelled. Our days are spent talking to people, writing, and exploring what the world holds wherever the wind blows us. I also write about our adventures in a blog called wildspiritsabroad.

Could you please share with us something you like about Sydney and something you don't like?

Oh, that's a tough one. I can't think of one thing I don't like about Sydney. I fell in love with the city and the people as soon as we arrived. As a single mother, I felt completely safe walking with my children any time, any where. They were able to safely take public transport to school, which helped them become confident and independent.
We made wonderful friends here who became our extended family. Sydney has a marvelous outdoor cafe culture, and the food is innovative and fresh. The city and suburbs are extremely walkable and family friendly. Plenty of art and culture. Four weeks of holiday is norm. Plus, I love to sail, and there is a big sailing community here. What's not to love?
For me, the only downside is the Winter in Sydney. I'm not a big fan of cold weather, and Sydney winters are bitter, at least for a native Californian! The taxes are high, but the public health system is excellent, so I feel that, as a tax payer, I benefit.

What do you miss the most from the US, your home country?

When my children were little, what I missed most was Costco and the convenience of shops that were open late. In Australia only one night of the week is open for "late night shopping" (until 9 p.m.). Really, the only thing I missed was the shopping, but you soon get used to living with less choice and convenience. Now it hardly seems important. Costco opened in Australia a few years ago.

What advice would you give to people wishing to live in Sydney?

Sydney is a wonderful city with a great deal of diversity. Take time to explore the many areas of the city before you settle in one place. Take a leap; jump in! It's a wonderful place to raise a family.

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