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Monique Hutchinson, Malabo

Who are you?

I’m Monique, a 32 year old Australian ex-lawyer who grew up in a rural area about 1.5 hours from Melbourne, Australia.Where, when and why did you move abroad?

In November 2014, my husband and I moved to Malabo, Bioko Island. Bioko Island is part of the central African country Equatorial Guinea. We moved here because my husband was offered a job working for an Oil and Gas company over here. We were looking for a move away from the typical suburban lifestyle, and the benefits offered to us in moving to EG were too good to say no! In EG we work on a rotation schedule; basically 10 weeks of work and 3 weeks’ vacation. During our 3 weeks’ vacation we are able to fly anywhere in the world. It’s a fantastic opportunity to travel.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The biggest thing was packing up our four bedroom house in a very short period of time, and moving to a place we had never been to before. The move happened very quickly – we finished work at our existing jobs and the next day the movers were at our house to pack up all our stuff – some of which was going into storage, some of which was being shipped to EG for us, and some of which we had to pile into our car to get rid of. It was super stressful – there was very little time and we were jumping into a completely new (and unknown) life.

How did you find somewhere to live?

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Luckily, this was taken care of by my husband’s company. We live on a secure compound and the apartments are fully furnished, so once all our belongings arrived from Australia were completely set up.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Yes. The company my husband works for is a US company, but there are workers from many different countries living with us on the compound. It’s a huge mix of cultures; American, English, Scottish, Filipino, Romanian, French, Columbian – just to name a few.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I work with local people in the office. It’s similar to what one would expect in any workplace – some people you get along with fine, and some people not as well! Off compound, there is perhaps some suspicion towards expats or a propensity to be taken advantage of, but for the most part people are accepting.

What do you like about life where you are?

The weather. We live on the equator, so it’s tropical. I enjoy the humidity and the rainy season. I also like that we get to meet people from all over the world and experience a variety of cultures. The official language in EG is Spanish, and although English is spoken in the workplace, I enjoying practicing my bad Spanish with the locals from time to time.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Being removed from the events happening in the lives of family and friends can be tough, although social media helps. It’s also challenging going into the main town as it’s common for expats to be stopped by the local police/military for the apparent purpose of checking identification or vehicle documentation. If the required documents are not in your possession, you are subject to a fine or even potential detainment.

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

One of the things that struck me when chatting to some of my local colleagues, is how ready they are to discuss religion and politics in a work environment. As an Australian, it is not usual for me to make my religious leanings public. This is seen as a personal choice – discussions regarding which are usually restricted to immediate family or good friends. It was a slight shock for me to be asked outright whether or not I believe in god.

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

A lot of the food we receive on compound is flown in from Europe. However, being a tropical island, there is some fantastic fruit available such as avocados, mini mangoes and plantains. We are all a bit plantain-obsessed; they are often served fried as a side dish at restaurants in town or one can even buy packets of “plantain chips” to snack on. They’re addictive!

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

Provided you can verify the safety of your new home, don’t hesitate. Take the plunge, even if you are apprehensive, or unsure what your new life will ultimately look like. It doesn’t have to be forever. Life is full of experiences if you want them – embrace the opportunities presented to you.

What are your plans for the future?

We’re hoping to stay put for a while yet. The lifestyle benefits are great, and it’s a fun life hanging out with other expats and soaking up the different culture. Certainly no plans to return to Oz in the foreseeable future!

You can read more about Monique's expat adventures at From Oz to EG.

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