Moving Stories – How was it for you?

Was expat life all you expected it to be? 

Moving Stories

Flying into the sunset or into a new dawn?

I’ve been mulling over this question like  a Werther’s toffee over the past six months, trying to decide how to advise would-be expats. I’ve moved internationally over six times now, and have lived in four different countries, in both hemispheres.

I know quite a bit about expat life.

The good stuff, the bad stuff….and the tears. I know what it means to yearn for someone who is on the other side of the world, but may as well be resident on Mars. I know the thrill of packing your life up and starting again. Oh the possibilities! That wonderful liberating feeling that you could be anyone, anywhere.

That kind of starting over, can be addictive. I should know. I might be doing it all over again, fairly shortly.

So I’ve decided to start a new series here on the blog, called Moving Stories. In it I’m going to feature interviews with some of my favourite expats, and I’m going to share a series of posts on how to Move Worlds Without Losing Your Mind. Keep an eye out for it, if expat life could be in your future, or if you just want to dream about the possibilities. Check back later today for a subscribe link so you can be notified when the series starts, so you don’t miss out!!

Subscribe to the Moving Stories list now and be the first to hear when a new expat story is on the blog –

But first, I’d like to introduce you to Russell Ward, a British expat who moved from Hampshire to Sydney, via Canada. His blog In Search of a life Less Ordinary, is a no holds barred real account of expat life.

Russell Ward from In Search of a Life Less Ordinary.

You should read it. But first, here’s what he has to say about life in Australia.

Q: Why did you move to Australia/New Zealand, originally?
I moved here primarily to bring my Australian fiancee (now wife) home to be closer to her family (she’d been away for 8 years) but also to experience the country and lifestyle for myself.  I’d visited here but wanted to experience the beach lifestyle first-hand.

2) What your concerns about moving were? What did you think your biggest challenges would be?

My concerns were about the distance – from everything that was familiar to me but mainly from my parents.  My concerns also revolved around moving my two dogs all this way and putting them into quarantine.  I was also concerned about finding work here given I had no ‘Australian’ experience and there were so many Brits moving here.  I wasn’t particularly concerned about housing or the people.  I’d been with my partner for 5 years and had holidayed here before so I felt that I was familiar with the place.

3)What did you think you would miss most about England, apart from family?

The culture and traditions. Pubs, seasons, sense of humour, just being around my own people. Basically all those things that make up the ‘Britishness’ of the UK.  I love where I’m from and I knew I’d miss the things that made it what it is.

4) Have you been surprised by what you really have missed about England?

I’ve continued to miss all of those things but the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ holds true so it hasn’t been as bad as expected.  The main issue for me has been that of ‘separation guilt’, at being so far from family and unable to truly involve them in my life.  I’ve  suffered a deep sense of pining for my homeland.  It’s hard to explain but it simply feels like a part of you is missing and I often yearn for familiarity in my surroundings.

5) Do you see your old age in this country or in England, and was moving a ‘for life’ decision or ‘for a while’ decision?

Moving was a ‘for a while’ decision for me.  We’ve always lived by the motto ‘never say never’ which means we may always return to where we’ve come from in the future.  It’s funny, but I can’t see old age in Australia but then, equally, I can’t necessarily see it in England.  Maybe this comes from having moved too many times but, to some extent, I’ve been influenced by the Australian perception of the UK and I’m sure that’s played a part in putting doubts in my mind about choosing to return to the UK.

6) Aside from the weather, what positives about life Down Under can you tell us about and were the challenges the same as you envisaged or not?

A major positive is the fact that so much time is spent outdoors.  We both love being outside rather than being cooped up and, with the weather and the light here, you find yourself always outside exploring or just being active.  We watch far less TV as a result.  The food is very good here and the positive attitudes of people towards life in general are a refreshing change.

The challenges related to moving the dogs were not an issue in the end – it was a smooth process and they were both fine.  The challenges with the job have been a problem for me – there is much less variety here and opportunities are fewer than in England.  I find the work culture a challenge – here, it is about working hard and playing hard, and I’ve struggled with working 10-hour days when I moved here for a better work-life balance.  I’d say the size of Sydney has been a major challenge and I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to move to for a quieter life. What comes with size is traffic congestion, poor public transport, and a high cost of living.  I’d have preferred a smaller city and probably underestimated Sydney’s size.

7) What surprises have you had – good and bad – setting  up your new home in Australia?

I was astounded at the price and quality of housing here.  Absolutely blown away by how much you pay and how little you get in return.  It is highly competitive and not what I’d expected at all.  In terms of the people, aside from their positive attitudes to life which is a good thing, I’ve also been surprised at how much anti-British sentiment there is here.  I’ve grown used to it and have found strategies for dealing with it but the English are not generally well liked here.  You have to work hard to earn people’s affection and prove to them that you’re not just another ‘whinging Pom’.  I’ve also been surprised at how much focus people place on sporting success and the ability to be good with your hands in your career (e.g. having a trade) over having brains and intellect.  There is simply no value placed on academic excellence, brain power, and using it in the workplace.  If anything, the guys here aren’t interested in that at all and conversation can be quite basic and dumbed down as a result. The good surprises have probably been around the high quality of the food and the abundance of amazing coffee wherever you go.  An average bakery can turn out the loveliest cup of coffee and I was not prepared for that at all.

If you experienced conflict between you and your spouse about moving, or aspects of resettling, how easy did you find it to resolve them?

We didn’t experience conflict with moving here.  We were both in agreement about this.  The conflict, if any, is now arising from the ‘where to next?’ question.  I’m keen to spend some time back in the UK (I have my rose-tinted glasses on of course!) and my wife is more of a realist.  She looks to what the day-to-day living will be like, where as I dream of a big country house and a career as a writer sitting around supping on fine ale.  I can therefore predict more conflict in the future.

9) When you think of home, which country comes to mind now?

I think of England as my one true home.  The motherland.  Australia however is my current home.  When you still have parents and other family back in your birthplace, it’s hard to trade it in for somewhere else.  You may have set up home in a new country but your real home is where you were born.  I don’t think I could ever see here as my proper home but it is my wife’s home so it is very special to me.
10) In what ways do you think your family life, and your relationship/marriage, has become stronger after undertaking this adventure?

We’ve had to go through things emotionally that other couples won’t have had to so that has strengthened us (moving internationally, leaving family behind etc.).  We’re about to have a child here which will be a fantastic and a unique experience given our nationalities and journey so far.  I’ve learned what it feels like to be without my own family and my wife has experienced that in the UK so we’re on a shared wavelength which is different and deeper than most couples.  I know how she felt and she knows how I currently feel.  It creates a deeper bond and understanding between you.

Thanks Russell, it’s good to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Are you thinking of moving overseas and becoming an expat? If so, leave us a comment or question in the dialogue box below.


Image: Flickr CC

Aidan Jones


'Moving Stories – How was it for you?' has 44 comments

  1. May 22, 2012 @ 10:41 am Michelloui

    Really interesting, really honest –and really informative interview! I was especially interested in both the attitude to the British and the attitude about academics and trades. I have had to get used to a sort of anti-american attitude wherever I’ve gone which was tough at first but after a while you learn how to be a bit more relaxed about it. But for me the toughest, (and this is something I already knew Russell and I felt the same about from previous convos), is the family back home. Now that my parents are much older than when I first moved overseas, and getting more serious ailments, I am feeling guilt, anxiety and frustration that I never expected. Great post Russell, and great idea Vicki.


    • May 22, 2012 @ 11:17 am Russell V J Ward

      Thanks, Michelle. I hope my ‘honesty’ didn’t come across too negatively. I do love where I live and there have been many, many positives through living here, but I felt it important to show a true sense of the ‘downs’ as well as the ‘ups’ – and of course different people will have different experiences so might not experience the same highs and lows as me. ‘Family back home’ is something I plan to post on next week so I hope you can head over and add your own take on it. Thanks again M 🙂


      • May 22, 2012 @ 11:41 am vegemitevix

        Loved it Russell! I found the comments about ‘Whinging Poms’ interesting too, as I remember hearing it a lot as I grew up but didn’t ever think about how it might feel to be called one. Now that I’ve lived overseas and have experienced prejudice I do understand a little more. In fact I think that understanding is one of the many benefits of the expat experience!


        • May 23, 2012 @ 12:26 am Russell V J Ward

          I’ve learned to give as good as I get. And half the battle is being proud of where you come from but ensuring you fit in with where you’ve chosen to live. If you don’t like it, move on. If you can put up with the odd taunt, have a few one-liners in your back pocket to give back in return 😉


          • June 9, 2012 @ 3:21 pm Nicola De Gouveia

            I found the work ethic in South Africa and here in Scotland to be vastly different. Here when people are asked to go in on their day off, they make a big deal out of it – even though they’re being paid. In SA, people do a lot of extra time without there being any financial gain. It’s just expected of you.

    • May 22, 2012 @ 11:28 am vegemitevix

      So glad you found it honest Michelle and it rang true, because that was the idea behind the concept. There are heaps of programmes on TV about life in paradise, but not many of them talk about the balanced view – the good and the bad. That’s what I’m trying to do here. Looking forward to your submission! ;-p


    • June 9, 2012 @ 3:25 pm Nicola De Gouveia

      Yes, the anxiety that comes later does come as a rather ugly, unexpected guest. My mother suffered a series of serious health related injuries last year and being so far away broke me emotionally.
      And I never really thought about how much I’d miss my loved ones. I mean, I knew I would, but could never foresee how much and just how heartbreaking it would be.


  2. May 22, 2012 @ 3:31 pm expatmum

    Wow – I could have written most of that – except not nearly as well as Russell did. I have just left a comment on Michelloui’s similar column over at Expat Focus, and have written about the subject myself on several occasions. There are a lot of things to consider before making a big move like this. It’s one thing to move state (like here) or around Europe, where you can hop on a flight when you need to, and visit fairly frequently. Quite another when you usually only manage one trip a year.
    I never really expected to stay here as long as I have (although I don’t know what I expected since we never discussed “the plan”), but once you have children (Russell, are you listening?) it becomes harder to move around as they get locked into their education system.


    • May 23, 2012 @ 12:07 am Russell V J Ward

      Hi expatmum – and thanks for your comment! My wife and I have been talking a lot lately about the imminent arrival of our first baby and how it will impact on future moves. I think we’re of the view that if we still need to get any more ‘exploring’ out of our system, we do it sooner rather than later because, as you rightly say, they’ll then be locked into the education system – and it wouldn’t feel right to move them. That said, I’m really happy for my ‘better half’ to be able to share her first pregnancy, etc. with her own mother and sisters – and that was one of the reasons that drove our decision to move to Oz and spend some time here. That, and the fabulous weather 🙂


      • May 23, 2012 @ 3:23 am Lesley Snell

        Russell the best time to move around is when the kids are young but I still think with careful planning you can move them when they are older! I’m planning on moving to Dubai in 2014 and taking my youngest (15) with me !


        • May 23, 2012 @ 9:39 am vegemitevix

          Hi Lesley, it is best to move the kids when they’re young that’s true, but having said that I moved from NZ to UK when mine were 8, 13, 15 and they’ve all settled far more quickly than I have! A lot depends on the relationship you have with your kids, if that’s solid you can move them easily, and it will only bring you closer together!


          • June 9, 2012 @ 3:17 pm Nicola De Gouveia

            When we moved, the kids were 4, 7 & 8. We felt it was a ‘now or never’ moment. I’m glad we moved when we did. If we hadn’t moved then, I doubt we would have done it at all. And although the kids often speak of South Africa (holidays there are still an option), they are happy to be here. For my family it worked out well.

        • May 23, 2012 @ 11:54 pm Russell V J Ward

          I’ll bear that all in mind ladies – hopefully no moves just yet. My finances wouldn’t be able to take it!


      • May 23, 2012 @ 9:38 am vegemitevix

        I also think think that the outdoorsy life Down Under is brilliant for kids.


        • May 23, 2012 @ 11:53 pm Russell V J Ward

          I have friends from the UK with children here and they say that Australia is quite superb for bringing up kids. When you go down to the beach at weekends and see them pretty much playing in a gigantic (and generally safe) sand pit, you can see why.


    • May 23, 2012 @ 9:37 am vegemitevix

      Ah, very true indeed. As I wrote in my blog post – there comes a time in every expat’s life when it is difficult to move the kids because of their school commitments and social lives. Moving an eighteen year old away from his or her boyfriend can be an extremely difficult ask!


  3. May 22, 2012 @ 7:13 pm Steve

    Wow. What an eye opener. Such honesty is surely worth a fortune for anyone thinking of emigrating.


    • May 23, 2012 @ 12:08 am Russell V J Ward

      Thanks Steve – hope it hasn’t put anyone off!


    • May 23, 2012 @ 9:34 am vegemitevix

      Thanks Steve, I agree it was very balanced, just as I’d asked. ;-P My motivatation was to give would-be expats a realistic view so that they could be forewarned ergo forearmed. Some of the biggest problems with lack of cultural fit can be explained by the huge difference between an expat’s dream life and the reality. Only yesterday someone told me that they had found NZ to be constantly cold and wet. I imagine they had been given the idea that NZ had a climate like Australia, but it doesn’t. The difference between what they imagined and what they experienced must have been crushing.


  4. May 22, 2012 @ 8:54 pm Katriina

    I too thought this was a very honest and balanced piece. Russell, don’t worry, I think it comes through very clearly that you’re enjoying life in Australia, but thanks for not sugar-coating the difficult stuff, or trying to pretend that you don’t pine for your homeland sometimes. I’m an Aussie, now living in Finland, and before that Finnish my husband and I spent several years in Japan (where we first met). It has been more than 8 years since I last lived in Australia, and more than 15 since I last lived in my hometown. The only part of your post I didn’t agree with was that “your real home is where you were born”. I have now spent so much time away from Australia and my hometown (Brisbane) that it actually doesn’t feel like home any more, even though I still feel very Australian at heart and I identify strongly with Australians. These days “home is where I hang my hat”, but I think I’ll always struggle with the fact that I’ll never truly be a “local” anywhere anymore.


    • May 23, 2012 @ 9:31 am vegemitevix

      I hadn’t realised you’d been away for so long Katriina. Does your Finnish husband ever think about relocating Down Under?


      • May 23, 2012 @ 12:42 pm Katriina

        Vix, we tried living in Sydney for a few years, and he loved it there, but I got very frustrated with the way Australians tended to label him as a foreigner and treat him differently, mostly based on his accent (i.e., non-Australian). I wouldn’t say they were unkind, but I always felt the distinction, and it was disappointing, as I’d thought Sydneysiders were a lot more cosmopolitan in their attitude. I feel a much stronger willingness among Finns to accept non-Finns, and though I often struggle with the cultural differences between Australia and Finland (and with my own strongly Aussie identity), I do feel as though Finns really try to make me feel at home here.


        • May 23, 2012 @ 11:58 pm Russell V J Ward

          That’s a shame, Katriina, but I’ve seen that – and can relate to it. You’re either one of us – or without. I’ve found you have to absolutely assimilate rather than promote your differences. It’s seems to be a case of tolerance versus acceptance. I think people struggle here to decide which way they want to go.


  5. May 22, 2012 @ 9:28 pm MidlifeSinglemum

    I agree with everything Russel says. I moved from England to Israel 24 years ago and every year I get more entrenched here and yearn more for England. And yes, it is harder when the weather is bad. For me bad means too hot, in the mid-30s, while I want a cool fresh summer’s day in the UK.


    • May 23, 2012 @ 12:10 am Russell V J Ward

      I can relate to this. For me, stinking hot weather in Australia also makes me pine for cooler days. That said, I’m sure a few weeks/months back in the English weather would soon sort out any issues I had! My experience in Canada (west coast) was the most likeable in terms of the weather – distinct seasons and a real mix of weather. Quite nice.


      • May 23, 2012 @ 9:31 am vegemitevix

        I confess Canada does sound like the best of both worlds. In many ways it’s what you are accustomed to. For example, I actually miss the tropical sultry heat. I long for those hot evenings where you have dip in the pool to cool your blood before sleep, and you curl up under a single sheet and the ceiling fan. Maybe it’s because I spent my early life in Fiji? Likewise I miss the windy days in Auckland, as I find the never-ending grey more depressing as it’s just so ‘nothing’. Can’t complain about grey today, it’s 23 deg C and beautiful.


        • May 23, 2012 @ 11:50 pm Russell V J Ward

          There’s something about those never-ending grey or white skies that are depressing. I don’t miss those.


      • May 24, 2012 @ 11:59 am Evelyn

        Ha, I’m sure you haven’t been pining for this year’s northern European “spring”! Stinking hot would be far preferable to the seemingly endless cold, grey rainy days that have been our spring this year. Only just swapped my boots for sandals this week…..


        • May 30, 2012 @ 3:07 am Russell V J Ward

          Here’s hoping the sandals remain out of the closet, Evelyn 🙂


    • May 23, 2012 @ 9:28 am vegemitevix

      I know this is one thing that my English husband worries about, about life Down Under. He senses he will miss the seasons, and I try to remind him that not all places Down Under are hot all the time. It even gets cold in tropical Brisbane. When I lived there in the late 1990s I was freezing during a cold snap in winter, as the house was wooden, airy and didn’t have any heating. It was the coldest I’ve ever been, including living in Dunedin (where it snows)…that is, until I moved here to the UK! ;-p


  6. May 25, 2012 @ 9:52 am A Mother in France

    Thanks Russell very informative. We were considering moving to Australia at one point (well several points actually), but decided against it in the end and moved to France. Reading through your view of living there I think we made the right decision, for us.
    It’s interesting to hear about the different work ethic in Australia – these are the sort of things you just can’t pick up on from a visit. The work ethic in France is different too, 2 hour lunch breaks, nothing’s open on a Sunday, 5 week minimum holiday entitlement plus we’ve had 4 bank holidays in May and the country virtually shuts down for holidays in August. These are all things that are incredibly hard to accept in the beginning when you come from a 24/7 culture, but now we’re taking on the attitude “If you can’t beat them, join them!” and we’re starting to like it!


    • May 25, 2012 @ 10:34 am vegemitevix

      Excellent point you’ve picked up on Nikki. I must admit I was confused when I moved to England and the company I was working for expected me to work right up until Christmas Eve afternoon. At home (Down Under) everyone tends to shut down more or less at Christmas and through January, and heads to the beach for summer holidays. Having lived with this rythm my entire life it felt very odd and somewhat distressing to have to keep battling on at my desk when I knew all my friends and familiy were on the beach. French work/life balance sounds good to me!


    • May 30, 2012 @ 3:06 am Russell V J Ward

      Thanks Nikki. I have always adored the French attitude to the workplace. Now if only I could encourage it here!


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