Here I sit on a relatively mild day in Melbourne, Australia. It is Boxing Day 2015.
The Time hop App has alerted me to a memory from 7 years ago.
I look at a younger version of me in 2008, smiling big, while hugging my youngest brother. I have no idea how much my life is about to change.
If you had told me on that Christmas Day that I would eventually be where I am today, I would have laughed and said you were crazy. I have never had the desire to travel, or explore. I certainly never thought I would move out of state, let alone out of the United States to live an expat life.
I grew up in North Carolina. We moved a lot but always ended up back in Wilmington, North Carolina. It is my adopted hometown. I know it well, and I love living there. It is in the South. It has grits, salt water taffy and of course, my family.
Skype: A ‘Meet Cute’ Of International Proportions
In early 2009, I met Steve on Skype. He was an Australian guy from Victoria who had been building a website for a friend of mine. I only started talking to him because I wanted to hear his accent (duh!). We became friends on Facebook and he would message me a lot. We then chatted anytime we were awake, until he came to visit me in October that year and we officially ‘met’ each other.
We got engaged on that trip. My family was completely surprised and looking back now, I can see why.
Steve returned to Australia and came back to the US with a working holiday visa that would allow him to live and work in the US for 12 months. We planned to get married during that time. I had just bought a condo and a puppy. Things were playing out just right.
The day of Steve’s flight, I received a phone call to say that his visa had been cancelled. The immigration officials at LAX weren’t happy with his purpose of visit; so it was amended and he could now only travel for 6 months…and he was not allowed to work.
I remember thinking ‘What are we going to do!?’. This was just before Christmas 2009. We pushed our wedding up to March the following year as a result.
After Christmas, I returned to work. Things were not going well there. But the job market was non-existent for someone like me. Steve and I talked it over, and we decided to move to Australia for a year, “while we were young” and knew that “this is a once in a lifetime chance.”
So we took it.
An American In Oz…The Expat Life Begins
I remember being so excited.
I quit my job and decided to take the next few months off to relax and visit family and friends before I left.
We got married on a beautiful spring day in late March 2010. Steve’s parents flew in, along with his sister and her two kids. It was a small wedding with only family and a few friends. By this point everyone knew we were moving away, but it was only planned to be for a short time.
We flew to Melbourne in June 2010. I remember standing in LAX and holding a heavy winter coat…in June. I got some pretty strange looks because it was so hot that day. Plus I was also wearing flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt.
When we arrived in Melbourne it was freezing! Steve’s parents picked us up from the airport and we had to drive about an hour and a half to their house in country Victoria, a place called Harcourt, near a well known town called Castlemaine. It was winter here, so everything was green and it looked lovely.
I remember being on the lookout for kangaroos. I laugh now when I think of how I must have looked.
We arrived at their house, and all I could think about was getting inside a nice, warm, heated house. The fact that it wasn’t was the biggest shock of my life. I had NEVER lived without central heating and air. NEVER! So to walk into their house a find a small gas heater in the living room…well let’s just say I wasn’t thrilled!
I remember saying to Steve,
“Why didn’t you warn me there was no air conditioning and heating like at home?!”
His answer was so typically male,
“I didn’t think about it”.
Settling In For An Australian Expat Life
That first winter was so hard for me. I felt like I would never be warm again.
Steve’s parents eventually bought us a little wall heater for our room, which was the best thing ever! (But still not the same as central heating.)
There were so many things that were different for me too. Whilst Australia might be a western, english speaking country; culturally it is so different. We were living with Steve’s parents for about 9 months. I was growing tired of living there and having none of my own space. So Steve and I moved into a small miner’s cottage in Bendigo, a few towns town over.
At this point, I had applied for permanent residency. I liked living here, and wanted to become a dual citizen. I was really struggling to get a job, and ended up working in a gas station part time. But it took me 6 months to actually get that job. However, health problems started coming in; and then my visa condition kicked in and I couldn’t work there any longer without breaking the rules.
I think this was around the time that I got extremely down about living here.
We also wanted to start our family, but weren’t having any luck.
Expat Family: A Dream Just Out Of Reach
Eventually, I went to an OB/GYN who took one look at me and said,
“I don’t know why you are here. Your GP should know that you are just too fat.”
I couldn’t believe it and I left in tears. I have always struggled with my weight, but at that stage I was around 100 kgs. I didn’t think I was out of control fat.
Fast forward a few months, and I was at the Royal Womens’ Hospital in Melbourne having surgery. I needed to have a dilation and curettage (D&C) to clean out my uterus and prevent endometriosis and cancer; and was soon diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition in which a woman’s levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are out of balance. This leads to the growth of ovarian cysts (benign masses on the ovaries). So now we knew why we were having trouble conceiving.
To say I was devastated wouldn’t do it justice.
I never wanted a career.
I wanted to be a mother.
I became extremely depressed about the situation I found myself in. I was so far away from all my family, I had no job. Steve’s job wasn’t enough so support us alone. So I started to gain more weight and let myself go. I wanted to go home. But at this point that seemed harder than coming here ever was.
I had to let my condo go into foreclosure in the US, because I couldn’t sell it or get it rented and had no additional funds here to pay the mortgage repayments. I was done with the US as far as finances were concerned. I would never get lending there for a car or house again.
The American Expat Becomes An Official ‘Aussie’
We were still living in Bendigo at this time and I finally saw a light at the end of the long and dark tunnel. Permanent residency came through!
This would help me get a job surely! I was very happy to see that done and dusted. I started applying for jobs in Melbourne, I loved the city and I was ready to move there.
In April 2013, I got a job in banking in the city. I was so happy! We moved into a nicer house, got a dog, and then another dog. The dogs were my babies, since I couldn’t yet have a human one. I wanted a family so badly, and at this point we’d been trying for over 2 years.
I started to think I was ready to move home now, so we made preparations to do so. I wanted to adopt a child and that is easier in the USA than in Australia. We looked into schools for Steve to attend to study further. We sold our things and moved back in with his parents. This cut down my commute to work as I was taking the train into Melbourne everyday from Bendigo which was approx 2 hours each way and made for a very long day!
Living with your in laws is tough after being independent; and I started to struggle. Their house was too small for 4 adults and 2 dogs and I was getting tired of commuting. I had no life at this stage.
I was getting up at 4:30-5AM to travel to work by 8AM; I would get home to eat dinner at 7PM and go to bed around 8-8:30PM in order to get enough sleep to do it all again the next day.
Steve wasn’t looking to do much to change this so I made the drastic decision to move to Melbourne without him, to be closer to work.
I rented an apartment in South Melbourne. I couldn’t have gotten any closer to work, unless I lived AT work. This was in June 2015…5 years after moving to Australia in the first place. 5 years!
This ‘little’ adventure was meant to only be for 12 months. I feel like I was always meant to live in the city, and I would never have thought that of me. A small town girl and all. Steve finally got a new job in Melbourne in August. Moving without him was clearly the push he needed to make this change.
We both really enjoy Melbourne and have more time to hang out and try new things now. We have made new friends, and attended 3 concerts so far. I started a new job in banking, and had more luck getting it because I was living right in the city and finally had Australian job experience!
An Expat Experience: What’s Next?
2015 has by far been our biggest year since the year we got married.
I wouldn’t say it is all a bed of roses now; we still struggle to have the baby we desire. I miss home everyday, especially at the festive time of year and I don’t know what the future holds.
It is a struggle everyday, but we get through. I feel pretty confident that we will stay in Melbourne and hopefully raise a family here because we love our life here.
After the Christmas break, we were referred to a fertility specialist. I was extremely nervous to spend a very big amount of money on another doctor, just to have them send me away (in fact I almost cancelled…twice!) But finally after 5 years, I found one who didn’t. He knew there was something more going on than just PCOS. I am now about to have some major surgery, that will significally improve our chances of falling pregnant. Once I have the surgery, I will then be put on fertility drugs.
We aren’t at the stage where we are starting IVF, hopefully we won’t get to that.
My doctor is extremely positive and keeps telling me that I will have a baby for Christmas this year. I wish with all my might that that is true!
If you had told me all those years ago, that not only would I travel to another country, but LIVE there, and work there, and have my family there; I just don’t think I could have comprehended it. It was never on my radar to travel overseas, let alone move somewhere else.
People tell me all the time that I am brave, or strong, or crazy…so many things.
I don’t see those things; I just see myself as a girl who fell in love and did what I had to, to stay together.
To keep up with her Aussie life in Melbourne, you can follow Mandi on Instagram.