When Does a Traveler Become a Resident? . . . The Search for a Place Called Home

"Art & About" Festival on the streets of Sydney

As with my post on my first six months abroad, I have been both planning on (read: procrastinating) & dreading (yep, *more* procrastinating) writing this post for quite some time now.  As my days in Oz quickly draw to a close, I can’t even begin to come to terms with the mixed emotions I’m currently feeling.  I apologize in advance if this post is not as cohesive as it could be, but perhaps this stream of consciousness style best mirrors my current frame of mind . . .

Below is a letter I wrote to my parents some time ago:

Dear Mom & Dad,

I want to come home.  I wish I could.  Today is Monday.  Everyone in my tent is homesick.  We haven’t been doing much.  Remember you said Kelly’s mom might pick up me & Kelly, well I want you guys to come too.  I hate the songs we sing.  Last night it rained & today it rained too.  I hope the days go faster because it’s getting more & more boring.  Please right back soon. (Editor’s Note: This is not a typo, that’s just how I spelled ‘write’ at the time – oops!)

Love, Niki

Home Sweet Home - in cold & snowy Buffalo, NY

OK, so hopefully you’ve figured out by now that this letter truly was sent *quite* some time ago – as in over 20 years ago!! 😉  I was away at summer camp with a friend & clearly I was having a hard time. 😦

Fortunately life in Oz has not been quite so miserable (far from it, in fact), but that’s not to say it’s always been easy.  While I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything, there were definitely periods when I wished I could take a sort of “time out,” for lack of a better word (a vacation from my vaction, perhaps?), to visit with loved ones & experience the familiarity of home (Take bananas, for example – do you have any idea how much it cost just to get a banana here after the Queensland floods?  Try $15/kilo (that’s almost $7/lb!)  Oh, how I longed for a banana!  Fortunately prices have recently come down & I can once again afford the delicious fruit. :))

But here’s the thing – as much as my blog might portray my experience abroad as a vacation, of course it’s much more than that.  I do in fact eat more than just dessert – heck, I even cook my own dinner once in a while! (despite the lack of culinary skill I displayed in my Thanksgiving post, I do alright for myself ;)).

Nanie's Homemade Soup - Made by Moi!

I go grocery shopping.  I do laundry.  I vacuum & do dishes & rake leaves.  And although I know it was only part-time for six months, I worked in order to support myself.  And at some point along the way I stopped feeling like a traveler.  In fact, I think I almost stopped identifying as a foreigner (besides the accent – gives me away every time ;)).  But in all seriousness, in some ways, I started to feel more like a local.

I don’t think I can pinpoint the first time it happened, but I can give you some recent examples.  Like on my bus tour to nearby Hunter Valley – everyone else on the tour (besides my flatmate Mia) was truly a non-resident of Sydney (including the Melbournian on the trip) – visiting the city only briefly & staying with friends or in a hostel or hotel.  When the bus dropped us off back in Sydney at the end of the day, one of the girls from the tour asked Mia & I where we were going.  “Home,” she replied.  And then there’s the guy from Melbourne who asked me for directions just the other day . . . & I actually knew where to send him! (which, if you know me at all, is a pretty big feat since even in my own hometown my navigational skills are pretty hit or miss 0:-)).

Home Away from Home - My Flat in Sydney

So maybe you can understand why, although I’ll be going home next month, it also feels a bit like I’ll be *leaving* home.  I’ve become accustomed to the cars driving on the other side of the road, seeing (& tasting) every macaron flavor known to man each time I walk into one of Adriano Zumbo’s patisseries, hearing phrases like “how ya goin?” & “good on ya!” on a regular basis . . . I’m going to miss that . . .

Macaron Day 2011 Window Display

I thought I would have a clearer picture by now, but I still can’t fathom how this experience might shape the way I make decisions moving forward: What will I do next in my life because of the time I spent abroad?  I can’t imagine a future which doesn’t include more travel – there are so many places I still want to see.  But I also know that, for me at least, long-term solo travel can take its toll.  After months away from friends & family, I am aching to return home & hug my loved ones.  So I am torn.  Drawn to both adventure & comfort in equal measure.  Away for too long & I start to feel homesick; Stay in one place & I become restless.

As I once again ponder my next steps in life, I feel it’s appropriate to remind my readers (& myself) of the travel/life philosophy I wrote at the beginning of this journey:

Live in the Moment

Step Outside My Comfort Zone

Let My Heart Lead & My Mind be the Accompanist

Seek Passion in all its Forms

Although I don’t think it will ever be easy for me, I’m beginning to understand (on an intellectual level, at least) that it’s OK not to know.  That what comes next cannot always be neatly laid out like tomorrow’s clothes.  Sometimes it’s nice just to wake up in the morning & ask yourself, “What would I like to do today?”

Now before you scoff at how naive that may sound, let me clarify that I don’t intend for that statement to be taken literally.  What I mean is this – who we are & what we desire is constantly evolving.  Throughout our lives we continuously meet new people, develop new interests, learn new skills.

Lauren & I at Bar 99 in Glebe

I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy to sit with the not knowing – it’s not.  But maybe it’s not so important for us to be able to answer all of life’s questions; perhaps it’s enough simply that we are not afraid to ask them.

All I can really say for certain at this stage of my life is that I will continue to ask questions – of myself, of others, of the world around me.  I think that’s the best way to stay true to each of the ideals I’ve been striving towards throughout the past year.

So . . . What would I like to do today?  Today I think I’ll hop a flight to Queensland – Christmas on the beach sounds rather nice . . . 😉

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Six Months in a Land Called Oz

A great place to pause & reflect . . .

I’ve been avoiding this particular post for some time now.  In fact as I write this I still don’t know where to begin.  I thought I would publish my first reflective post after my first month abroad, but I was busy enjoying life on the road with Heather & Adam & it was enough just to keep my notes up-to-date on all the things we were seeing & doing each day.  That’s alright, I thought – I was living in the moment, soaking it all in, there would be time for reflection later.

Heather & I enjoying a beautiful day at Perth City Beach in Western Australia

The end of my third month – a quarter of the way through my time in Australia – marked another important milestone, but at that point I was going through a bit of a transition – that from traveler to . . . well, for lack of a better word, resident! (don’t worry mom & dad I haven’t applied for permanent residency, hahaha ;))  I was in the midst of making what I would consider to be my second big decision of this journey (the first being to come to Australia at all) & that was whether I should spend the working part of my work & holiday visa in Melbourne or Sydney.

The Clocks at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne

Of course by now you know that Sydney won out & I am quite happy with that choice, as well as the initial choice to spend a year Down Under, BUT . . .

. . . six months in, what do I have to say about it all??

I suppose the best way to go about reflecting on my time in Oz thus far is to revisit the travel philosophy I wrote shortly before departing on my trip, specifically: Live in the Moment; Step Outside My Comfort Zone; Let My Heart Lead & My Mind be the Accompanist; and finally Seek Passion in all its Forms.

Let My Heart Lead & My Mind be the Accompanist

I will start here as it was this piece of my philosophy that finally enabled me to overcome my fears, rent out my house, quit my job & buy a one-way ticket to a country I had previously spent only two weeks visiting.  How did what initially seemed to be such a difficult decision suddenly become a no-brainer for me?

Goodbye Buffalo . . . Hello Australia!

It happened like this: I first came to Sydney to visit Heather in September/October 2010 while she was living here on the 12-month Work & Holiday Visa that I now also possess.  I had such a fabulous time that I (privately at first) started to flirt with the idea that maybe I could follow in her footsteps . . . but no, no, no, that was totally crazy!  Banish the thought!!  How could I just pack up & leave?  Very irresponsible indeed.  I think it seemed to some as if I was giving up the pieces of the American Dream I had worked so hard for – leaving a house, a job, family & friends to – to what, travel?  Was that a worthy enough goal?  After all, it’s not as if I hadn’t taken short-term vacations abroad before (while keeping the security of a full-time job back home) & I’d surely do so again – wasn’t that enough?  What was the point of leaving everything behind only to return to a life of uncertainty 12 months later?

I asked myself these questions & many others before I made my ultimate decision.  I searched for signs that I should take the leap so I wouldn’t have to bear the immense burden of making this choice all on my own . . . well, needless to say I started seeing signs everywhere.  I tried as hard as I could to turn anything & everything around me into a sign, but I knew in my heart that none of those occurrences were signs at all – they were mere coincidences & vague connections at best.  I only saw them as signs because I wanted them to be.

Searching the Skies for an Answer . . .

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was trying to turn everything around me into a sign!  I was trying to turn them into signs because I wanted them to be signs.  I wanted them to be signs because I wanted to go to Australia.

So I had my answer, simple as that: I wanted to go to Australia!  All along it was there, just under the surface, but I couldn’t acknowledge it, I was too blinded by fear.  Once I fully understood the strength of my heart’s desire, there was no going back.  I felt so empowered that I could make such a major life change & yet feel so relaxed, so relieved, so free!  I wanted to hold onto that feeling forever – the feeling that I am ultimately in control of my life & that I don’t have to follow a prescribed path in order to be happy or successful – I can create my own. 🙂

Sunset at Uluru - this is the life!

Now that’s not to say that the past six months living in Australia have always been easy, but if I could go back in time, would I do it all over again?  In a heartbeat.

And I’ve had at least one other opportunity to test out my philosophy on allowing my heart to rule.  Initially I had planned to live & work in Melbourne for a while, either instead of, or in addition to, Sydney.  By all accounts, Melbourne should have been my ideal city, known for its artistic vibe, culture & great cuisine.

One of the many lanes & arcades in Melbourne

But ultimately, it just didn’t feel right.  I’ve written a bit about this decision already & I will be writing about the two and a half weeks I spent visiting Melbourne soon in a separate post, so I won’t go into any more detail here.  Suffice it to say, my heart was right again – I should have trusted it all along.

Live in the Moment

Actually, one more thing about the decision above . . . I wrote in my travel philosophy how stressed I was at the thought of having to decide how & where to spend my time in Australia & that was before I had even left home!  I wish I could go back & tell the “Me” from six months ago to relax a little – I couldn’t possibly have known what to do back then because I hadn’t experienced any of it yet.  I would figure it out when the time came – in the moment. 🙂

That very idea still freaks me out though; I’m still not quite comfortable with it.  In fact, now that I’m at the halfway point of my trip (OK, who am I kidding, since before I even made the decision to come here), I’ve been wondering what I’m going to do when this adventure is over.  It’s not that I’m ready to go home yet – although I do get homesick at times & very much miss family & friends – it’s just that it’s so hard to let go & trust that things will somehow work out in the end.  I want complete security as well as unmitigated freedom but unfortunately I can’t have 100% of both.  So much can change in a year, in six months even, & I can hope & dream & plan all I want today but there’s no telling what tomorrow will bring.  So I have to let go a little & let each moment lead into the next, until finally enough moments have passed that I am ready & able to make those next big life decisions.

Living in the moment is easier when you have a view like this to remind you of how magical each day can be

Fortunately, living in the moment tends to be a bit easier on a day-to-day basis.  By that I simply mean pausing every now & then to appreciate what you have, enjoy what you’re experiencing & let the wonder of it all sink in.  It’s a bit like meditating (or as close to meditating as I’ll probably ever come!)  Whenever I eat one of Zumbo’s delectable macarons or gaze at the incredible beauty of the Opera House, or even once in a while at work when I inch ever so much closer to making the perfect cup of coffee, I feel like I am truly living in the moment . . . OK, admittedly there are also moments when I just want to scream & curse & kick the espresso machine, but I won’t mention that here. 0:-)

Mouth-watering Macarons

Step Outside My Comfort Zone

I’ve actually surprised myself with this one in ways I never would have imagined before coming on this trip . . . I mean, come on, weeing in the bush?  ME?!  Not exactly something I had on my Oz to-do list, but it sure makes for an*ahem!* interesting blog post. 😉

Forget the animals crossing, this sign should read "No Toilets Next 96 km"

And then there’s the driving.  On the other side of the road.  With *me* in the driver’s seat.  Now if that’s not scary, I don’t know what is!  But I did it.  Not entirely sure I want to do it again, but I’m also not ruling it out just yet . . . 😉

Aussies, Beware: Niki is Behind the Wheel!

I have also had (& taken advantage of) the opportunity to try a few new foods during my time here.  Now, don’t get too excited, I’m not as adventurous as Heather, what with her feasts of ‘roo & croc & emu!  But I have had a few (vegetarian) foods that are indigenous to Australia, such as quandong & lemon myrtle.

Lemon Myrtle Pancakes with Quandong Sauce & Ice Cream

And I’ve also discovered a few other incredibly exotic foods that I somehow managed to miss out on previously – for example, avocados & poached eggs (I’ve always gotten my eggs scrambled or as an omelette) – I know, I know, this is really big stuff people!! 😉

Avocado, sourdough toast, Persian feta, poached egg, rocket & lemon infused olive oil from The Book Kitchen in Surry Hills

I did NOT, however, volunteer to go up on stage with George Calombaris & Gary Mehigan at the Good Food & Wine Show when they asked for a volunteer who was squeamish around oysters – I knew where that was heading!! 😉

As for traveling solo, it has been both challenging & rewarding.  Sometimes I enjoy having time to myself, free to wander about & see where the day leads; other times I’d prefer to be in the company of friends.  Having spent six months in Oz (only three of which have been in Sydney), it hasn’t always been easy to make new friends, but fortunately Heather introduced me to some great people she had met along the way & we’ve enjoyed some fun get-togethers, with hopefully more to come! 🙂

Me, Hannah & Lauren at an American ex-pat 4th of July Celebration (in case you were wondering, those are goofy American stickers on our faces)

Seek Passion in all its Forms

Alright, so I can’t claim to have had any international romances – yet!  But I have certainly been developing my passion for food . . . well, mostly just for eating good food, hahaha.  Hey, with patisseries like Adriano Zumbo, can you really blame me?  But don’t worry, I’m incorporating food into my life in other ways, not all of which impact my waistline. :-/  MasterChef Australia has become my favorite Aussie show . . . too bad season 3 just ended on Sunday, but hopefully another season of Masterchef (or maybe even Junior MasterChef!) will start up again soon.  I’ve landed a job at Ghermez Cupcakes (OK, admittedly this is *not* so good for my waistline as one of the perks includes free cupcakes!)  And finally, I am gearing myself up to hopefully take some baking & pastry arts short courses soon!  One course will definitely involve macaron-making (surprise, surprise) & perhaps I may find one or two other topics that pique my interest (without breaking the bank!)

Koala Cupcake I decorated at the Good Food & Wine Show

So all in all, I’d say my first six months of living abroad have been a success.  Here’s to another six months continuing on my great Australian adventure! 🙂

Map of Australia

WA = Western Australia; NT = Northern Territory; SA = South Australia; QLD = Queensland; NSW = New South Wales; ACT = Australian Capital Territory; VIC = Victoria; TAS = Tasmania

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