Diana: "Perth is a goldmine opportunity for anyone with innovative ideas"

Expat interviews
  • Diana in Perth
Published on 2013-10-10 at 02:00
Diana moved to Perth in April 2011. She left Vancouver, her home town, to live with her Australian fiancé. She gets involved in charity, writing and consultancy work and discover Australia by travelling about the state and country every opportunity she gets.

Why did you decide to move to Perth?

I'm a Canadian-born Australian citizen - from Vancouver, Canada living in Perth, Western Australia. Does that make sense? Ha, ha! This might help: I had NO intention of becoming an expat or ever leaving Canada until a fateful 5 day trip to Oahu. I was introduced through a fellow traveller on a dive boat, to my now Australian fiancé.
My mom was a "ten pound pom" from England who came to Perth, alone at 19, where she met my father. They moved away to Canada in the sixties and stayed pretty much put, ever since. All my family lives here and hence my Australian citizenship which came by way of genealogy. Remarkably - though never having lived here previously.
We courted for 8 months long distance until he came to Canada on a visit to get to know each other. We met again later that year in Hawaii and got engaged exactly a year to the day we first met!

How was the moving process?

I had a fairly long runway for this - over the course of six months, really. In that time I sold my house, my car, 80% of my belongings - like everything I had owned over a lifetime and whittled it all down to six shippable boxes, which cost about $2,000 to send by insured air, with customs clearance. At the airport I also checked two extra bulging suitcases, which incidentally only cost only about $300. I didn't bother with shipping furniture and just brought my favourite clothes, shoes, camera, laptop and products. I also spent $200 having all my photos scanned onto disks. Same with documents - I scanned all of that digitally, too. Unbelievably - I sold almost all of my furniture through craigslist.com in one fell swoop to a family who had just moved to Vancouver from Nova Scotia, and needed everything. Heck, they even bought my pet Japanese Fighting Fish.
As an Australian citizen (though one who had been born in Canada and lived outside the country all my life) I arranged my passport at the embassy in Vancouver and off I went to begin my adventure! The move itself was really easy. This was far less eventful than say, my mum - who arrived at 19 by boat under the Ten Pound Pom scheme, with only a distant relative (in Melbourne) and had to scramble to get established on all levels, quickly when she arrived in Perth in the 1950's.
The arrival process was a smooth transition. My fiancé owns a spacious apartment in Perth and so there was no looking for somewhere to live, etc. Finding a place to rent, as a new arrival in Perth can be a very difficult prospect from other expats & immigrants I've spoken to. One couple told me how the stated rent was merely a suggestion and often the selected tenant was the one who was willing to "bid above" the advertised price. Crikey, mate!

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

Of course there is a period of culture shock and for a time, I experienced grinding homesickness.
Being raised by Australian parents I thought I could slip innocuously into life here, circumventing all of that, which simply wasn't the case. People are fast to say that Canadians and Australians are very much alike. And in many ways they are - but there are also poignant differences from obtaining a cup of coffee to the political values, property market, city density, trading hours, cost of living, fashion, and all manner of colloquialisms... For example, the vernacular: in Vancouver you might say, "I'm rooting for the Canucks to win..." The word rooting has a whole other meaning that has nothing to do with barracking a sport team, down under.
I think my biggest challenge is re-learning how to drive a car. Everything is on the opposite side of the vehicle and road. At first, I would go to signal and put on the windshield wipers! The best advice I have been given is "hug the curb" - meaning to say keep the curb on your left hand side and you'll be in the right. I still don't feel quite comfortable driving alone, yet.
I was shocked that all I had to do was rock up and apply to receive a five-year, unrestricted license. No test. Nothing. But, so as not to be a public nuisance to the people of Perth, I mainly stick to taking transit until I can be less of a terror on the roads, ha-ha!

What surprised you the most in Perth?

The minute I touched down the delightful scent of eucalyptus and peppermint was the very first thing I noticed seep through the plane even before the cabin doors were open. It is such a visceral memory that I will forever acquaint with arrival in Australia. When it rains here - I often try and get out for a walk in the peppermint and gum tree groves.
I also love the fact that there are so many independently owned businesses here in Perth: from laneway bars, to restaurants, to fashion designers. They have a remarkably vibrant fashion industry - which I would never have guessed. I recently worked on a fashion fundraiser called STYLEAID and it was over the top! There are some very creative people in this city.

Is it easy to find a job in Perth? How was your job search and how long did it take?

I read a statistic last month on the Curtin University website that 1,500 people move to Perth/Western Australia on average, each week. Holy smokes! I'm guessing some of those folks are hopeful latecomers to the mining boom party, which by most accounts has reached its saturation point, or at least slowed measurably. There are tons of jobs available in sales, hospitality, health-care, customer service and retail, for anyone seeking those industries. It's true that in comparison, Australia got through the GFC, fairly unscathed. I think it really depends on your personal aspirations; education and what aspect of employment you are seeking work in. Perth employers do value local experience quite highly and one may have to be prepared to manage their expectations accordingly. CV's are totally different to that of the Canadian resume, and it might be of value to have it tailored locally. There are heaps of recruitment firms in Perth, but most people I have spoken with, have gone and approached their company of choice directly, whether or not a job has been posted and pitched their skills. From my observation, Perth employers pay some of the highest wages in the Western world.
Personally, when I left Canada, I exited a job I had been at for close to half a decade. It was centric to regional knowledge of demographics and business development, so I knew coming here there wasn't any exact equivalent that I'd be qualified to step right into, in a comparative role. So I was mentally prepared before I left, that I would change course and roll with it. I've channelled my energy into charity fundraising, writing and consultancy work - not in any set position.
The (relatively) young city that it is, Perth is a goldmine opportunity for anyone with innovative ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit, who wants to start a business of his or her own.

Is it easy to meet new people in Perth?

Extremely so! Australians are so affable and if you have an outgoing personality - there are tons of great ways, and numerous functions through which to meet like-minded folks. They have meetup.com groups, expat groups, music events, fashion shows, sporting leagues and community festivals. It's a mantra that is oft repeated but it's true: you have to put yourself out there and make an effort. My fiancé and I are both city folk, and love being easily connected to the happenings around us. My best advice would be to drum up conversation and gregariously introduce yourself to everyone you meet!

Tell us more about your day-to-day life in your host country:

Since arriving, I've been active in volunteer work. I recently started writing my blog Wear/To/Next and together my fiancé and I have been travelling about the state and country every opportunity we get.
People like to say that Australia is just like Canada, which I suppose on the surface it is, but culturally there are actually some vast differences from obtaining a cup of coffee to the property market, city density, trading hours, cost of living, fashion, and all manner of colloquialisms. It's an interesting place to be, alright! Both countries are totally awesome, but very, very different.

What do you do in your spare time?

Gosh, it seems like something new every week! This last week I went to a koala & wildlife refuge, checked out a film launch party, went to an art gallery opening, checked out two great new restaurants in the city...Otherwise, definitely hitting the gym, yoga, and when it's warm I enjoy the beach every spare moment! Like, these are the kinds of beaches that in Canada, you would otherwise have to fly somewhere to experience. That's never lost on me. I've become positively addicted to snorkeling the reefs!

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

The weather and topography is stunning! Endlessly sunny days and mild winters when you come from a country that can be blanketed in icy cold rain for months on end is real treat...and there are flocks of parrots, gallahs, ibis and cockatoos that fly around on a routine basis. I don't think I will ever tire of marveling in that. Catching a glimpse of the turquoise ocean when you drive past the beaches always manages to take my breath away.
Conversely, living in downtown Vancouver I was very used to a more dense urban population within the city and being able to go for a walk at night - which I miss. There is no daylight savings in Perth and so it gets pitch black out by 6:30 and it's not safe to go out walking alone in the evenings, after dark especially if you are female. The city empties out pretty fast at night and I miss having that freedom of mobility to have my evening walks, or pop into a late night bookstore or peruse the cosmetics section of London Drugs at 11 pm, when I feel like it.

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

Close friends and family top the list - but that is probably the same for everyone. I stay in touch by phone, Facebook, Twitter - my friends and I surprise each other with random postcards through the mail for fun. I also come back for a long visit every year, which helps.
But otherwise, Tim Horton's coffee, the Rocky Mountains, long summer nights, fiery autumn maple leaves, the rain over the Pacific Ocean on English Bay and the snow at Christmas.
I also miss visiting the USA. It's a short drive to Seattle from Vancouver, or a quick, cheap flight to Vegas, LA or Mexico. Perth is the world's most isolated city and you realize that you have taken these little excursions for granted when you move here.
I was telling a girlfriend of mine who just made the move from Vancouver to Sydney a few weeks ago, that David Jones Department store has a small section of "North American" products - silly things like Frank's Red Hot Sauce and also a kick ass sushi bar. I also brought a Melita coffee filter cone to make drip coffee - access to the small stuff can make you feel more settled.
It's easy to forget, that people who have grown up here have had a lifetime to absorb their surroundings and become familiar with the nuances of day-to-day life, as an Australian. An expat has to come up to speed on the most basic things from how to dial a phone to filing taxes, nearly all at once. I remind myself of this, when I get frustrated over not knowing how to accomplish something that I might have simply done on "auto-pilot" back home.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to settle in Perth?

It's funny: in Canada they used to say B.C. (British Columbia) really stood for the words "Bring Cash". Perth is a very expensive city and one needs to be prepared for that. I paid $8 for a cup of coffee last week, if that puts it into perspective.
Research and talk to people who live here, whether on forums or through whatever medium you can. I'm personally more that happy to help answer any questions about Perth/Australia, or Vancouver/Canada and can be reached through my blog. I started it a few weeks ago as a beacon to connect with any Canadians or Americans coming to live here.

What are your plans for the future?

My partner's company is here and so, we will be staying put in Perth. We have plans to buy a vacation home in Canada though. He has been several times now and fell in love with Vancouver right away!

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