Are you living in the wrong place?

When I decided to move to Australia, my dad told me he was worried I was running away and warned me that ‘The grass isn’t always greener”. This warning haunted me my whole first year. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop and constantly questioning myself. Was I just escaping ‘reality’? Was I being unrealistic? I may have left Toronto, but I definitely did not leave my anxiety…

Emma and me, five years post-farm (Crate Cafe, Canggu, Bali)

When I worked on a farm in Australia for three months (see why here), I met my Swedish friend Emma whilst packing cucumbers. We were talking about the differences between our home countries and Australia and if we would go home or stay. I clearly remember when she said ‘Alex, just because you were born somewhere doesn’t mean you’re meant to stay there.’ Then she listed off all the reasons why Australia suited who she was: from allowing her to be outside, in the sunshine all year long to the fitness-first active culture. Something about the way she stated it so matter of factly, as if it was obvious and no big deal struck me deeply because it rang so true.

There’s the place you were born and the place you were meant to be. I firmly believe this now and for those who were born in a place that feels like home, you may not get this sentiment, but for those who have always felt a little off, this could be for you.

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, but something never felt quite right. Growing up I didn’t know how much of that was attributed to my place of residence, but looking back the signs were all there.

Here is my very non-scientific, personal ‘Are you living in the wrong place?’ checklist.

When at ‘home’ do you:
  • Feel like an outsider for no obvious reason?
  • Fantasize and/or find yourself living your whole life for your next vacation?
  • Find it hard to be motivated by what’s ‘supposed to be’ important in your life, but your friends/coworkers/family seem to have no issue doing so?
  • Feel like your outlook, emotions, opinions, etc. are often different than the general sentiment?
  • Feel like you’re limited in the ability to do the things you want to do based on your surroundings?
  • Feel like the way people go about things is unnecessarily difficult?
  • Feel like the way you’ve been living doesn’t make sense to you?

Obviously these questions can apply to a huge spectrum of things and should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt (and context), but bear with me and let’s continue with this exercise.

Have you ever been somewhere else and:
  • Felt immediately at home (and not just because you were sipping a daiquiri/lounging in a lux hotel room/etc.)
  • Met people who you have more in common with (and not just other travellers, but locals)
  • Felt like the way people live life there makes sense
  • Felt like you could see yourself living there beyond the honeymoon period of travel
  • Felt like your values were finally being met

If this all sounds too familiar then you probably also have a home away from wherever you grew up. I carried around a lot of guilt about leaving Toronto – “Why did I have to move across the world when I lived somewhere so great?” (Actual question directed at me many times by many people). But it wasn’t great, not for me. And just because something’s not outright awful doesn’t mean you have to stay and spend all your energy trying to make it work. I was always taking on new projects, activities, etc. to try and turn things around, meet different people, etc. thinking that if I just found the right ‘thing’ somehow life would start to make sense. I thought if I found that thing I would all of a sudden ‘get’ what everyone else seemed to – the invisible force that kept them motivated and excited about their lives. And yes, contentment is found within and equanimity is the goal – but if you have to spend more than 20% of your day just dealing with your circumstances (-20 and icy sludge, horrible transit, a very serious corporate culture) then maybe it might serve you better to be in an environment where you can free up that energy to be spent on more positive and productive pursuits. Have you ever heard that quote about how you need to fill up your cup first before you can fill up anyone else’s?

In this day and age, especially if you’re born in a first world country with the means and resources to choose your fate, make sure you do choose it  – consciously and with purpose.

When my parents came to visit for the first time we took a ferry across the water. My dad was very quiet as he watched the cliffs fly past. He turned to me and said: “The grass is ACTUALLY greener…I wish I had moved to Australia when I had the chance.’’

Are you where you were meant to be? If not, where is that place for you and why?


Moving to Australia pt3: How I stayed

So I visited Australia, I fell in love with Australia, and then I moved to Australia. But the tricky part was…how would I stay?

Home and away (but actually the beach the TV show is filmed on)

Making the decision to move to another country is a giant step. Buying the ticket, telling your family and friends, packing up your belongings…they’re all big stepping stones to the life you want. Then there’s finding a job, residence, and community in your new home, and add on all the psychological stuff and it’s pretty full on. But the most important part, in my opinion, is figuring out your visa situation. Not just for the immediate future, but for long term.

The thing is – and I’ve seen it time and time again here – even if you think you’re just coming for a fun year, you really never know how you’ll feel by the end of it. And if you realise you can’t bear the thought of leaving, life will be infinitely easier if you’ve at least plotted out a slight idea of how you can stay.

There have been so many changes to the system in the past year that some of this does not apply, but I figure there’s still some value in my journey to Permanent Residency.

How I became a Permanent Resident in my favourite country on earth:

Holiday working visa, 417 (HWV):

https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa-1/417-

This visa entitled me to one year of travel and work around Australia. I was allowed to work anywhere I wanted  so long as it didn’t exceed six months in any one place. This is available for Canadians and a host of other nationalities up until the day you turn 31. The price at the moment is $450.

HWV 1 year extension:

That time I worked on a cucumber and strawberry farm…

If one year isn’t enough time to explore the country there’s a way to add an additional year to your HWV, for many countries there’s the option of doing your regional work (aka farm work…although it doesn’t actually have to be farm related). This involves spending 88 days working in regional Australia. I worked on a small cucumber and strawberry farm in Woolgoolga. I dreaded it, but in the end it ended up being one of the most interesting and Australian experiences of my life.

Temporary work (skilled), 457 (aka Sponsorship!):

*This visa no longer exists as of this year…but my advice about planning definitely still applies*

Sponsored, happy and celebrating Xmas in July

During the second year of my WHV I spent six months working at a well known media company with the aim of getting sponsored by them. They offered me sponsorship and the next phase of my Aussie journey began.

At the time I started (2014), to get sponsored you needed to have a relevant degree to the job you were being nominated for, meet the min. amount of experience required, and a host of other things. I have friends now who have worked really hard to be offered sponsorship only to find out they don’t meet the minimum requirements and would have been better off getting a more relevant education to enable them to stay. I also have friends who weren’t fussed about their timeline so didn’t check out their options early…they ended up missing out on the 457 path to permanent residency, even though they are sponsored now and are very uncertain about their future in two years.

So much has changed in the last year regarding this visa, that I advise you to do your research and do it well!

Permanent Residency, 186:

https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/visa-1/186-

With the now defunct 457 visa, once you worked at your place of sponsorship for two years you were eligible to apply for Permanent Residency. I was lucky that at the time the waitlist was only 6-7 months. The whole process was costly (I think I spent around $8k), but more than worth it. On Feb 13th, 2016 I got an email from immigration saying my PR had gone through. I didn’t even know how much it meant to me until I burst into tears at my desk like a crazy person. Haha. Luckily it was 5:30 and time to go home. I detoured to the Opera House with some friends to celebrate in style and ferry home with the beauty of Sydney stretched out before me. I am a proud Permanent Resident and so happy to call Australia home.

Citizenship:

https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/trav/citi/pathways-processes/application-options/migrant-with-permanent-residence

Once you’ve had your Permanent Residency for one year and lived in the country for at least four years, you’re allowed to apply for your Citizenship (cost: $285). Having done my Permanent Residency application myself I had everything I needed pretty much to do the Citizenship application too. It was quite straightforward and I’ll keep you updated on my status. So far it says wait times are 12 to 16 months and I’m on month six at the moment. 100% worth the wait.

So again, I can’t reiterate how important it is to do the dry work: check out what options are available to you before you even really need to look. The information is all out there and it could save you heaps of time, money and heartache in the future. If you have the chance to live in your happy place, grab it and go forth!

Moving to Australia


Moving to Australia pt2: The seed is planted

In February 2012 I visited Australia for the first time. On this fateful trip, I conducted a little survey with every Australian I met by asking them: “Would you say you’re happy?”. I know – pretty confronting, right?

Sneaky pic I took of happy beach goers

But I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this magic place existed. A place where everything was the same in some ways: people worked 9-5, rode public transport into the city, had weekends off, hung out with their friends…except it was sunny, warm and the ocean was right there. And nature. And so much green. I met people who had the exact same job as me…but lived in Bondi beach. They would go to work, then come home and…go for a surf! They would hang out with their friends on the grassy knoll on weekends and then head to someone’s house for a barbie (barbecue to the uninitiated) to finish off the day. They had 20 DAYS OF VACATION. They were allowed to take unpaid leave. They also smiled a lot and seemed very relaxed. There was a general sense that these were people who were enjoying the life they were living…as they were living it. It was not about someday, it was happening right now.

But I had always loved Australians, from my fateful days spent on a little island in Greece during two uni summers. My best friend and I became friends with a group of Aussies then and we loved their easy going, straightforward attitudes. They were just generally good and decent people and we had so much fun.

So when I asked the happy question, the immediate reaction was “…ah, what?” Haha. But then in true Aussie fashion they would ‘give it a go’ and the response was always along the lines of “Yeah, I guess I am.”.

All the blues and greens

This gave my Toronto-conditioned brain a real jolt. If I’d asked the same question back home the answers would have been along the lines of “I can’t really complain, it could be worse.” to the classic “Is anyone really happy?”. This general attitude of complacency never sat well with me. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand how you could think that and then keep finding the motivation to go forward. I’d experienced some really big highs and lows in my life already and my whole adulthood in Toronto felt like this one long string of baseline ‘meh’ ness, with a highly anticipated once-a-year, week long Mediterranean vacation and a few summer weekends at a cottage thrown into the mix. And on top of all that were more and more frequent moments of real existential despair. How could this really be as good as it gets?

Well, it turns out it wasn’t. At least not in Australia. The secret was out (to me). I had found the place that made sense to my brain. The place that made life worth living. I had peeked behind the curtain. I had seen the emerald city. And there was no going back.

I spent the last day of this fateful first trip by myself. I walked through the city and suntanned at Bondi beach. I observed everyone and everything. I soaked up as much as I could and wrote it all down: the things people said to each other, the difference in attitude, my complex feelings of wonderment. I never even dreamed at that point that I could actually live there one day. That Bondi would be my backyard. That I would swim every morning in that beautiful, freezing cold sea. That I would get so used to sunshine that a rainy day would be welcomed.

I wrote it all down and promised myself to find a way to somehow live like that back in Toronto. I was blown over, but I still didn’t see how that amazing place could ever be MY life. So I went home and tried to keep that sunshine with me.

Six months later I applied for my Australian Working Holiday visa. A year and a half later* I was living in my apartment in Bondi.

And that’s how my love affair with Australia began.

*A whole hell of a lot went on in between then (hello separation from my partner, living a wild life in Costa Rica, working on a farm in small town New South Wales), but that would literally take a novel to write…or many, many more stories.

Moving to Australia

 


Moving to Australia pt1: My first time in Sydney

Australia was this thing in my mind for a very long time. A sunshine country full of beaches, blue skies, beautiful and friendly people. I used to have these dreams in Toronto, before I’d ever laid foot in the place, where I would wake up and be on this long, golden beach – the sky was crazy blue, the surf was big and there were lifeguards and people enjoying the gorgeous day. It was so warm and felt real, felt hopeful and happy and right. I’d wake up from the dream and try and hold onto that feeling for as long as I could. I wanted to feel that sunshine…

I visited Australia for the first time back in 2012. My best friend Sid and I had always wanted to go ever since we had lived in Greece for two summers during our uni days and met so many amazing Australians. We would always talk about it, but it was one of those trips that you needed a lot of time (and money) for and we’d both been swept up in our work and relationships…also, it just seemed SO FAR AWAY.

My first pic in Bondi – little did I know this would literally become my backyard in two years.

Then one day, out of the blue, Sid said she was planning a three week trip in Feb and asked me if there was a chance I could come. At the time I was a few months into what I thought was my ‘dream job’…the thing that was going to make life better, fix everything, etc., but had turned into my own personal nightmare (as these things do when you are relying on a job to fix your life). I was depressed, anxious and had no idea what to do next. I felt so trapped and I needed an out badly.

I thought it was crazy at first…three weeks away is a lot in Toronto and I had my partner at home, but the idea wouldn’t leave my mind. After a month of more misery at work I realised this was the perfect ‘excuse’ to leave. I also found out it would only cost $500 return for me to fly with Sid since she was a flight attendant…which basically removed any other worry I had left. Looking back this was all such an obvious sign from the universe – listen to your signs!

So I gave my notice, threw caution to the wind (had no idea job plans yet for when I got back) and went. We flew to Vancouver, spent the afternoon there (such a good flying break – highly recommend), then took the midnight flight to Sydney where we were set to arrive early in the morning.

When we got out of customs I saw a row of palm trees just outside the gate. The air had a headiness to it. It felt like beach to me. The sky was blue. The colours were different – have you ever noticed that not all blue skies and sun are the same? This gave off a clear and warm light. I thought about that feeling I would get watching Australian tv shows back home. It was weird to be travelling in an English speaking country, so easy, but different. We went to buy a bottle of water and I remember being shocked at the $3 price (haha, if only I knew!). We got on the train and headed to Central Station where our hostel was.

When we arrived in the city we both were awestruck. More palm trees. Blue skies. Heat…and this was the CITY. I remember something starting to build inside me and I think some things were already unconsciously beginning to piece together: English speaking, first world country (and not the US), good weather. We were  giddy with excitement.

View from Taronga zoo. I thought it looked like Toronto.

You know those things you put off for awhile out of fear, a purported difficulty, or a myriad of other reasons? But then when you finally do it you’re like…oh. OH. And regret immediately not having done it earlier? That was Sydney for me. That was Australia. I had a huge…how did it take me this long to get here? Why would I ever have put this off? Yes, the flight is long…but really, any flight longer than 8 hours is going to take your day (and night). It was so far away from Toronto, but in all the ways that mattered, it didn’t feel very far at all. It was recognisable, easy to navigate…it was a thoroughly western city. And then on top of that…it was absolutely gorgeous. Like I finally understood what world class city meant: the harbour, the ferry commutes, the luscious park havens right in the city (Hyde Park and Botanical gardens)…THE BEACHES. White sand, clear water…20min from downtown! And the weather, did I mention the weather?! It was Toronto on its most glorious day…every day.

I loved Sydney the minute I laid eyes on it.

 

Moving to Australia


Tnfld

How to live a life Tnfld. A life that is true, real and bountiful… expansive as the sky above.

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At Bondi Beach – catching some sun on the grassy knoll or frolicking in the surf.

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Send us your questions, thoughts, whatever’s on your mind… seriously, we want to hear from you! Drop us a line at hola@tnfld.com – no judgements, just love <3

 

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