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Diana, Perth (Western Australia)

Who are you?

I’m Diana from Vancouver, Canada. I work in PR, sales and marketing. I’m a passionate writer, budding photographer and dual citizen of both Canada and Australia living in gorgeous, sunny Perth.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Perth, Western Australia almost two years ago to this day. In fact, this month marks my two-year expat birthday!

Crazy, I know – but I moved for a long distance relationship. I met my future fiancée on a trip to Hawaii. And decided to give it a go. My parents are originally from Perth.My mom was a “Ten-Pound Pom” who moved (impressively, alone on a one-way ticket) at eighteen, by boat arriving in Fremantle from Britain.

My father was a 7th-generation Australian surfer and yachtsman. I suppose, I’ve always had part of my own cultural identity as a big question mark of sorts. Was I more Canadian, or more Australian? It was something I just had to find out and so I followed my heart.

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What challenges did you face during the move?

My biggest challenge had nothing to do with immigration or the actual move itself. As I had been granted dual citizenship as a child it was really a matter of hopping on a flight.

When I moved I sold everything from my car, my house and about 90% of my belongings but for a few cherished possessions and (as I love fashion) my favourite clothes and shoes, of course. I shipped those in advance by air freight and paid the excess baggage fee to bring over four additional suitcases on the plane.

If anything, the biggest challenge I have faced (mobility-wise) is adapting to driving on the other side of the road/car. Oooof. That still freaks me out! Big time.

How did you find somewhere to live?

Again, this was very easy. Thankfully, my fiancée owns a fantastic apartment in the city so I did not have to do any sort of hunting around for accommodation in Perth. Living in Perth’s “CBD” goes against the norm somewhat, as say compared to in Vancouver or New York. Most accommodation here is spread out across the suburbs. I love where we are as we have access to shops, transit and urban areas, as well as the parks, estuaries and rivers around, all within a few minutes on foot. It’s brilliant!

Are there many other expats in your area?

I’ve scarcely met any Canadians or Americans in Perth in the two years I’ve been here. Just one or two in passing. We are like magnets. Initially attracted but repelled by our differences. So, I’ve focused more-so on meeting like-minded folks with whom I share common interests. I think that had I moved to a country where language was a barrier, I’d have made a more concerted effort to find other expats from my home country or continent. But as that’s not the case, it hasn’t been a factor. Aussies are some of the most friendly folks in the world. I’ve made lovely friends here over the last two years. People from all over the world and locals too.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Adore ’em! I’m not shy, so I end up striking conversations up all the time. I make a point of getting to know by name almost all the local business owners of the stores I frequent from the convenience store, to restaurant managers and clothing ateliers in my neighborhood. I’m gregarious sort and make a point of taking an interest in others – the antithesis of insular – so I’ve never shied away.

What do you like about life where you are?

Perth is a young city, but I LOVE that it has truly become a real hub of cultural activity in the last few years. Artists from Williamsburg, NY and Los Angeles are coming to exhibit here. We just had FORM: Public Art transforming the streets with both local artists and folks flying in from around the world to participate in the street art festivities. On Friday nights there is a Hawker’s Market in the city centre with food stalls representing cuisine from all over the world. There are tons of fashion shows and happenings – celebrated fashion stylist Patricia Field was just in town from New York curating an exhibit in the city.

Bands and performance troupes that once skipped Perth are doing multiple nights at the new stadium. They are overhauling Scarborough beach into a Miami-like party spot with the opening of the Matisse Beach Club. Same with revamping some of the spots in Cottesloe. In the city there are new lane-way bars and eateries – so many – I can barely keep up with what’s opening every week. I’ve been to numerous street festivals; Beaufort Street, the Angrove Street Festival, and the month-long Fringe Festival. You can head out to the wineries of the South-West for the weekend. I’ve seen bands from all over at the amphitheater in King’s Park with wine and wood-fired pizza – a glorious way to spend a summer night!

Right now, Perth is a destination that’s just bursting with activity – even arbiters of cool, the NY Times has been here and wrote a fantastic article on the vibrancy of Perth. Living close to the city you can take advance of all of this. It’s about reaching out and getting connected.

And best of all – no “rugging up” in a big parka, or standing in the rain to enjoy it all. It’s summer almost year round over here!

What’s not to love?

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Although we chat daily on Facebook, etc. I really do miss being in the proximity of my close family and lifelong friends. That’s painfully irreplaceable. When you have to spend thousands of dollars, cross time zones, big oceans and continents to get home it’s not easy.

I will admit, when Flight MH 370 went AWOL I found myself rather emotionally invested in it all. I thought “Oh my God. What if I was on a flight that went down? What if my family was waiting and had no answers…?” With every passing day and the details so sketchy – it really impacted me. The odds are very low of course, but it does come to the forefront of your mind when you place your life in someone’s hands and engineering to get home. And, when you have picked the absolute furthest destination from which you can be apart from (your family and friends) on planet earth, the mind wanders to these dire possibilities.

Sometimes, I also miss the shorthand understanding of one’s native culture, country and city that being a local affords. An expat or new immigrant has weeks and months to get up to speed on details that locals have absorbed over a lifetime. I’m still finding out new things about Australian culture on a near daily basis. It keeps me on my toes.

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

Young Australians are positively dynamic in the workplace – an exceedingly bright and switched on bunch. Especially in areas of entrepreneurialism – many people here are self-employed. They aren’t waiting around hoping to be noticed by management. They are out creating their own gig. I think much of this can be attributed to their HECS-HELP program for student loans which makes higher education very accessible for all. The gist of it is that a student loan is not raised for compulsory repayment until the individual’s annual income is above $51K. This is very different to BC where a student loan is with you for life. A non-dismissible loan even under bankruptcy – the absolute unthinkable. That can make it very hard for a young person to get their footing in the world. I truly applaud the Australian system. I wish we had something like that for Canada’s youth. Furthermore, a by product of this is many young Aussies are already onto the property ladder in their twenties. A friend of mine – self employed in the tech industry – just turned thirty and bought a 1.5 million dollar house. While that isn’t indicative of everyone – it’s still a testament to hard work and the healthy opportunity this country offers.

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

It’s all undeniably more expensive. But you know what? I remind myself that many of these businesses pay a fair wage to their workers (highly applaudable) and often have to ship in goods from across the country as Perth is remote, which adds to the cost. I always try to select Australian brands, locally produced products and Australian businesses to shop at. It’s not always possible, of course. Back home in Canada I avoided Walmart or other invasive corporations that hurt local businesses and I try to do the same here.

One thing that is far, far cheaper? Cell phone plans. I have been on a $35/month plan (no-contract) for the last two years with Vodafone. I’ve never gone over the text, call or data plan yet. Plus the City of Perth has free wifi, too which helps!

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

The food quality is much the same as Canada. My only dislike is a lack of self-serve salad bars. They are all predetermined or premixed here and look coagulated by the end of the day. If you like seafood you are in heaven. My favourites are dhufish, cobbler (like a catfish), snapper, bay bugs (tasty little crayfish things) and lobster. The steak is just top-notch here too. The only things I tend to miss? Fresh caught salmon, drip coffee to-go, and normal cheddar cheese. Other than that every meal is an opus. I never knew there were so many uses for pumpkin and beetroot until I moved here. I’m really one of those try everything once, kind of folks. I’ve even come around to Vegemite!

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

Well, my folks were expats when I was small. It was at time before the free flowing information of the internet and when world travel was still something of a luxury requiring a deep commitment of money and/or resources. Or in their case – luck and sheer bravery. They left Perth in the sixties, and before I was ten we had lived in countries as far flung as East Africa, Kenya, Greece, Britain and eventually settling in Canada for the long haul. What this did for me as a small child was help give me life skills to quickly make friends, to survive in almost any new setting and adapt to change easily. I think these have been invaluable gifts throughout my life.

So, if you are considering it? Go for it. And don’t worry… I know folks who have come over both to Vancouver and Perth and changed their minds. And that’s totally okay. Contrary to the platitude…You CAN always go home.

But if you are coming without the careful safety net of a company transfer or a like-situation, then do plenty of research. Talk to people, go and visit first. Google every little detail and don’t gloss over the negatives. Weigh them carefully. The negatives will balloon out and chafe you raw, if you find yourself homesick or culture shocked. And I’ve been there. I had my moments of melancholy and lament for a time. But I got past it. (And yeah, it happens to everyone!)

I had a good situation in Canada. Great job, good friends, house, car, savings, vacations – everything that anchors someone to a place for life by the material standard.

I moved for the craziest and most deeply precarious reason of all. Long distance romance.

But I asked myself: “Could I live without giving this amazing adventure a chance?”

The answer was resoundingly: “Nope! No way!”

Here’s my one BIG tip: At least for the first little while – try and live near the city. I know I say this as a “city person” but honestly it’s a lot easier to get connected and to feel that you are part of the hub if you do. You will have an easier time orienting yourself to amenities, groups and people. From there you can sess out where you would like to live. When I meet people who are expats and not doing so well they are mostly individuating away in a far reaching suburb with not enough contact to enjoy the experience. Just an observation…

What are your plans for the future?

Plenty! Once again (this year) I’m involved in a big charity fashion benefit called STYLEAID. I did it last year and it was an amazing experience from which I made some wonderful new friends. Heaps more travel is on the horizon. My fiancé and I are passionate world travellers. This year we spent eight weeks trippin’ around America. We were in New York, San Francisco, and drove to US1 down the coast to Los Angeles. We also went to Whistler and Vancouver to see family and friends. I’d like to see Singapore and Thailand. I have expat friends in Bangkok from Vancouver I’d like to stop in and see. One of my girlfriends from Vancouver moved to Sydney recently and I’m planning to catch up with her as well when I can grab a free weekend. Because of course, there is nothing like an old face from home!

Diana curates Wear/To/Next a blog focused on expat life, local culture and fashion.