How sunshine and salt water changed my life

I never realised how much the weather and nature affected me until I moved to Australia – land of sunshine and 10,000 beaches. I always tell people that I feel like my base level of happiness is so much higher in Australia and I think that at least 80% of that is because of the amazing weather and the fact that I can be outside by the ocean every single day of the year. I’ve always been happier when the weather is nicer, but I thought that most people were in the same boat and it was just something you had to deal with. I’d joke about having SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but never really paid serious attention to how my surroundings were actually affecting me.

Growing up in Toronto, my family lived in a an area that was modelled after an English village so our neighbourhood had lots of huge trees and grassy lawns. It felt a bit like living in a park and i’d spend countless afternoons roaming around with my sister and our neighbours. When I moved away from home for uni, I lived in a smallish suburban town in Canada and my world consisted of maybe a 1km concrete radius around campus. The only places I really went were home, uni, gym, bar; building to building. It was winter at least 5 out of 8 months of the school year and even when the weather was nice, I barely remember there being any trees or grass on campus. Every November like clockwork as the days got shorter, greyer and colder, I’d find myself slipping into a dark place mentally. I think back then I wrote it off as early 20s angst – being unsure of my studies, what I should do with my life etc. But when I think about my environment and lifestyle at the time it all kind of makes sense.

After City2Surf – 14k run from the city to Bondi (and by far the furthest I’ve ever run in my life)

I don’t think I consciously realised that I was missing that connection with nature but I did start going for runs. I can’t remember how or exactly when I decided to start running. I’d always liked track and field i.e. short distance sprints, but I’d never been any sort of distance runner – I was the kid in middle school who would join the cross country team for approximately 2 weeks every year and then quit. I thought my newfound will to run was motivated by a desire to keep fit but I think it was probably more my body screaming for some fresh air and what little nature I could find.

My first running route was just a simple rectangle around campus, but since then I’ve sought out a running route in every single place I’ve lived. When I was working as an au pair after my first year of uni,  I went for nightly runs with the family dog through the winding roads past vineyards in the south of France and then through the city streets in Liege. During my internship in Quebec City I ran around the uni campus at Laval where I was staying. As an ERASMUS student in Paris I’d run by the Canal St. Martin, or walk across the city to explore new parks. During law school in Windsor I’d run along the Canadian side of the Detroit river at least a few times a week. Some of these runs were even in the middle of winter (rugged up in gloves, hat and my warmest hoodie)!

During my last summer at law school I lived in Costa Rica for 3 months teaching English, learning Spanish and doing some translation work for a law firm. My life in Costa was lived at least 75% outside; I basically lived on the beach and it awakened something inside me. When I landed back in Toronto and drove through the suburbs with my dad, I knew I would never be able to look at city life the same way. My first few days back I felt so antsy and realised how much of my life in Canada I lived inside and essentially immobile.

I’d never realised how important the outdoors were to me until that point, but I still had a year of law school to finish and after that 10 months of articling to officially become a lawyer. I slowly acclimatised back to my Canadian life (with lots of struggles) but I was never quite the same. After living (more like surviving) through a winter that was consistently -20 and left me feeling desperately claustrophobic, I finally made the decision to join Alex in the land down under. Lots more to that story but that’s for another time.

Sunrise sesh before work in Bondi

Basically, once I moved to Australia, it became so obvious how much weather and nature impact me. Mainly because it’s SO BEAUTIFUL here 90% of the time that when it’s not, I immediately notice the difference in my mood. The sky in Australia is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. The ocean literally sparkles and is so clear you feel like you could drink the water. Flowers and plants bloom with abandon everywhere. I can go outside all year round comfortably, touch my feet to the the earth, the sand, the ocean. It sounds so simple and it is, but it makes such a big difference in my quality of life to be able to be in nature every day.

I still work in the CBD and live a ‘city’ life for the most part Monday to Friday. But living in Bondi means every weekend feels like a vacation and in the summer I can get in beach time before and after work. I have so many moments by myself outside where I’m just genuinely happy to be alive and I feel like that was something that was really rare for me before.

All I know is that any time I dive into the ocean or touch my bare feet to the grass, I can’t help but smile and feel like a kid again.

Written by Tory


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!

Written by Alex

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.

Written by Alex

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.

Written by Alex

Moving to Australia


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 in the land down under. I found myself always waiting for the other shoe to drop and constantly questioning my choices. What if I was just escaping “reality”? What if I was just being unrealistic? I may have left Toronto behind, but I made sure to take my anxiety with me…

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

While working on a farm in Australia (see why here), I met my Swedish friend Emma whilst packing cucumbers. We were talking about the differences between Australia and where we came from and if we would go home or stay. I still clearly remember when she said: “Alex, just because you were born somewhere doesn’t mean you’re meant to stay there.” Then she proceeded to list off all the reasons why Australia suited who she was: from allowing her to be outside all year long to abundant sunshine to the fitness-first, active culture. Something about the way she stated it so matter of factly, struck me deeply because it rang so true.  Just like ‘1+1=2’, Emma was saying that ‘you’ + ’where you live’ should also = something. It should add up.

There’s the place you were born and then…there’s the place you were meant to be. For those who were born in a place that has always felt 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, very 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 wide 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 luxe 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?” was a 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. (sewing classes, running groups, soccer…to name a few) to try and turn things around. I kept 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 (-30 degrees outside with a nice icy slush to shuffle through/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 honour that privilege by making a choice. Remembering to choose consciously and with purpose.

So one year into my Australian journey, my parents finally came to visit. We took a ferry across the water from Circular Quay to Manly (sidenote: best public transit commute in the world). The water was sparkling, the sun was shining – Sydney was turning it on. My dad stood at the front of the boat, very still and quiet as he watched the cliffs fly past. He turned to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said: “I can’t believe it. The grass is ACTUALLY greener here…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?

Written by Alex

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