Last year I missed Christmas with my mum and dad for the first time.
I’ve been thousands of miles from home when someone close has passed away.
I’ve been unable to celebrate two of my best friends from university getting engaged.
And in a few months’ time, I won’t be there for the birth of my first niece.
A year and a half ago, I moved to Melbourne from San Francisco.
It’s hard. It’s so hard.
But to live in another country is also one of the most extraordinary adventures.
Here are a few ways I’ve coped with the biggest move of my life.
Joining expat groups
I felt silly typing ‘Americans in Melbourne’ into my Facebook search bar but joining an expat community has been incredibly helpful.
There’s often advice about how to apply for visas, where to find the closest thing to American Ranch salad dressing, how to stream the Superbowl online and much more. People even write about their personal experiences in seek of advice, whether their move was for a job, a relationship or other circumstance.
It’s so nice to know that although most of us might never meet, we are there to support each other because we have shared similar experiences.
Outside of these groups I’ve met expats from India, England and New Zealand that are now living in Australia – and although we all come from different countries, we are bound by an understanding of what it feels like to leave home.
Friends of friends…of friends
I’ve never had a problem making friends but the reality when I moved to Australia was that I could count the total number of people I knew on one hand. That’s tough.
After a few social media posts about my moving, I started receiving random messages from friends of friends also living in Melbourne. What a small world it is!
Some of those secondary connections resulted in just a few messages back and forth, and others led to actual friendships, tied together by a sense of familiarity. No matter the outcome, knowing that people like my best friend’s boyfriend’s friend from high school are also living here is comforting.
Most of what I knew about Australia came from watching Steve Irwin on ‘Crocodile Hunter’ and a fourth grade project I did about the Great Barrier Reef.
Over the past year and a half, I have learned so much. I’ve travelled to Uluru and learned about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders culture. Visited the Shrine of Remembrance and learned about ANZAC Day. Had a pie at the MCG and learned a completely new sport.
All of these experiences have given me the opportunity to not just learn about another country but live in it. And it is such a privilege.
Thanksgiving in 30 degrees? Yes.
Last November, I found myself cranking up the aircon in my apartment and packing a beach bag to escape Melbourne’s summer heat. And yet my Instagram feed was flooded with pictures of pick-up football (American football) played among crisp golden leaves and friends huddled around the fireplace, drinking hot apple cider.
Saying I felt homesick would be an understatement, so my boyfriend and I decided to invite our friends to a Thanksgiving Dinner at our apartment.
I provided guidelines on what kind of side dishes to bring and even shared some of the history behind America’s beloved ‘Turkey Day.’ For a moment, it felt like I was back in my parent’s kitchen, laughing with people I loved as we lined up to pile mashed potatoes and gravy on our paper plates.
I still got to have my Thanksgiving, even 9,438 miles away from home. And I am most grateful that I could share it with my Australian friends who had never celebrated it before.
Time zones are tough but not impossible
Every second Saturday I wake up to an alarm at 6am to Facetime my brother. We didn’t really communicate on a regular basis even when we lived in the same country but now we are closer than ever.
I have group chats set up with my parents, my friends from university, and my former roommates in San Francisco. They are so great for flicking through pictures of my visit to Bondi Beach or just quick ‘I love you and I miss you’ reminders.
It also serves as a tool for us to share what’s going on in our day-to-day. Whether it’s big news or just a funny story from a friend’s weekend in New York City – I usually wake up to about 50 texts due to the time difference, and I feel like I never miss a beat.
New digs, new doctor
If you’re like me and take medication to manage your anxiety and depression, make sure you find a local GP as soon as possible.
I thought I could maybe, just maybe, stop taking my medicine once I moved to Melbourne – after all, I was young, in love, and moving abroad.
And despite all of those things being true, I still found myself in endless tears one Sunday night six months into my move, for absolutely no reason at all – except that I hadn’t been taking my pills.
I went into work the next day, only to break down to my manager the second I walked into the office. She took me straight to the GP and I was able to get the same prescription that I’ve had since I was 17.
When a holiday becomes a home
I’ll admit, my first few months in Australia were full of parmas and Tim Tams. Fun, but not sustainable. I decided to join a local gym and cut back on eating out.
Getting into a routine to take care of my body not only made me feel good, but it also made me feel grounded. And although it is important for me to enjoy spontaneity, I need also need to embrace stability and put down roots.
There are days my heart aches for home. Sometimes it aches with guilt. Sometimes it aches with loneliness. It even aches just writing this article. You give up a lot when you decide to start a new life in a different country.
But I promise you, what you gain back is worth it. So very worth it.