Cosette Paneque, Melbourne

My name is Cosette Paneque. I was born in Havana, Cuba in 1977, immigrated with my family to the United States on the Mariel boatlift in 1980, and grew up in Miami, FL.

I came to Australia for a three-month visit earlier this year and have been back now for about two months. I came to be with my Aussie partner.

The biggest challenge was making a decision about whether to bring my pet cat or leave her behind. I think I made the right decision in leaving her with my mother. Bringing a pet to Australia is complicated, expensive, and stressful for an animal. Still, I miss her and sometimes question my decision.

I don’t have much of a relationship with the local people yet. I haven’t made any friends yet. Most people make friends at work or school. When you don’t go to either, it’s more challenging. I’ve joined some online groups and expat communities and have begun attending events and meeting people.What do you like about life where you are?

I like the more relaxed pace. Australians are pretty easy going. I also really like that a 30-minute drive in one direction leads me to the city and a 30-minute drive leads me to the country. I love the city, but I also like being able to get away from it, and the Australian bush is really lovely.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

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Mainly I miss being part of a community. I haven’t quite found my niche here yet.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

I think the biggest cultural difference is that Americans are fiercely independent and emphasize the idea of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. Australians are more community-minded with an ethos of mateship and “a fair go.”

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

The biggest difference is in food shopping. Back home, I did one-stop shopping at a major supermarket chain much like Coles or Woolworths. Here, I shop at the markets and buy fresher foods and meats from various traders. The choices can be overwhelming sometimes, but I enjoy this manner of shopping.

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

The food in Melbourne is wonderful. The Asian and Mediterranean really stands out. I do miss Miami’s excellent Latin food though.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Embrace the adventure fully. Do your homework especially on important subjects such as visas and employment, but don’t get hung up on the cultural differences or try to replicate an American experience in Australia. Enjoy Australia, or any country, for what it has to offer.

What are your plans for the future?

Learn to drive on the left side of the road.

I can be contacted through my blog at Stumble Down Under.

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