Tag Archives: Experience

The End of My Chicago Summer

Only a few weeks ago, we were diving off the pier and into the cool, clear waters of Lake Michigan. Impromptu weekday swims. Afternoons spent drying off in the warm breeze. But as autumn gains momentum, this summer seems more and more like a dream.

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Life in Sydney

Sunrise in Perth.

Morning, Perth!

A few weeks back, I returned to Australia. My flights took me to Perth, a whole side of my vast nation I had not travelled to before. I stayed long enough to transfer to the domestic terminal, send a few emails and board the plane. A few hours later, I spied Mum waiting for me at the baggage carousel.

G'day Sydney!

G’day Sydney!

Now, I’m back in my childhood home, but in a different room. Gone are the deep turquoise walls, replaced by a soft shade of grey. It’s my favourite colour right now and makes it feel like a whole new room. The art I had collected prior to moving overseas is hanging, framed, on the walls: pictures of ballerinas, Melbourne trams, and photo of one of my favourite horses (and winner of the 2001 Golden Slipper), Ha Ha. A collection of my favourite travel books are stacked on my desk to inspire me to keep doing what I love. On my bedside table, a thunder egg and piece of pink-coloured quartz perched atop Frankie, a (new-to-me) magazine aimed at inner city female hipsters. Whilst I don’t quite fit into that category, I took a punt on it because it looked interesting.

I place an emphasis on keeping my space tidy, clean. The bed is always made, the clothes in their place. It’s livable and inviting. Such a contrast to the way my room used to be!

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The doona cover is white with navy cross-hatched polka dots. Six pillows of alternating stripes and dots. A thick, soft navy throw graces the end of the bed. The set up is luxurious, a far cry from the accommodations we had in Asia. I feel so calm, so relaxed in this room. As someone who can’t stand going to bed, having such a luxe set up has been revolutionary. I now want to slide under the covers and lay my head down. This is something I am really looking forward to recreating when I return to the Bay Area.

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Since arriving, I have not ventured too far from my family’s home in southern Sydney. Staying put usually makes me antsy, but I’ve enjoyed adjusting to the slower pace of life in the suburbs. It’s so quiet. Parts of the area haven’t changed, and others are completely different. Overall, the feeling is one of familiarity, like my favourite PJs.

I’ve been into the city only a handful of times since returning a few weeks back: to meet up with one of my best friends from SF (who was visiting her family in Sydney), for an interview, and to enroll back at Uni. I’m taking a few classes online this year, and we’ll see where it leads. Classes start next week. I look forward to learning new things and stretching my brain again.

Watching the planes land from the cafeteria at Ikea.

Watching the planes land from the cafeteria at Ikea, where I picked up a nifty little desk.

But along with getting to experience the Australian summer, I’ve been so blessed to be absorbed back into the lives of my friends and family. And it’s such an exciting time! New engagements, news of new babies to arrive this year, hens parties, weddings, new romances. Life in Sydney continues, but I feel as though it’s open wide enough to let me in for a just a little while before I head back to San Francisco.

It makes my heart sing to know they’re doing well, and that after more than six years of me not physically participating in their lives, they are still keen to include me. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to experience the joys of life with them.

Family BBQs

Family BBQs.

A cuppa and a chat.

A cuppa and a chat.

The obligatory penis straws at the Hens Party.

The obligatory penis straws at the Hens Party.

One of the best parts about being home have been the impromptu moments: the spur-of-the-moment coffee dates and lunch plans with friends, feeling growing bellies, the shared experience of watching Louis Theroux documentaries with my sister, the honest chats with my brother as we prepare dinner, meeting the fascinating neighbours of my Dad’s aunt, chilling on the verandah with my parents after work, the invites to birthday celebrations, and time spent walking the dog.

All of these things, and more, have brought me joy since returning, spending time back home in Sydney. I’m taking it easy and appreciating the love and support I have here.

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To borrow a term from Rachel Hunter: It doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen.

Adapting to Life as an Expat

When an expat friend recently remained stubborn on a point I saw as dead-set ridiculous and at odds with the reality of life and business in the US, I had to throw up my hands.

‘Haven’t you learned this by now?!?!’ screamed my inner monologue.

But maybe he hadn’t.

People are not the same, our experiences are not the same. The lessons I’ve learned living overseas and in trying to adapt to new surroundings are not going to be exactly the same as next expat. We all find some things easier to cope with than others, and we encounter different things at different times. And we all get stuck on some of the most insignificant things! It was unfair of me to expect he’d already experienced this and thus expect the same of him as I did of myself.

This conversation inspired a piece published at Ustralian (the hub for all things Aussie in the United States) about adjusting to life as an expat. It’s about embracing the change, about consciously opening yourself up to the new experiences, even when your first instinct is to close up like a clam.

Adjusting takes longer than you think.

To borrow a term from Rachel Hunter: It doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen.

To borrow a term from Rachel Hunter: It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.

 

For those who aren’t living the expat life, the closest thing I’ve found to explaining some of the oddities is by watching House Hunters International. People moving overseas check out three apartments/houses for rent or sale in their new town, and choose one of them. You see these people fixate on some of the smallest things — like one bloke who couldn’t handle showing over the toilet in a miniature bathroom in Hong Kong, or the American housewife who couldn’t handle the fact Norwegian kitchens didn’t come with in-sink garbage disposal. If you find this show a little exasperating, then you’ve got the idea of what life is like as an expat: a little trying at times, but ultimately a different (and rewarding) experience.

Check out Ustralian on the web or on Twitter.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.

About the blog

For years, I rode the train home from my crappy jobs in the city, spending the 40 minute journey reading travel memoirs and Lonely Planet guide books. Through these books I escaped to exotic locales, ate unusual food, and had exciting adventures in countries unseen. I aspired to be as intrepid as the heroes and heroines on those pages, but in real life.

The view from my (old) train station.

I had emerged from a two-year-long malaise intensely dissatisfied with the direction my life, but I knew what I had to do: travel. I had no idea what I would find being out on the road, but just knew I had to explore it in the flesh as opposed to in my mind. So in 2006, and like many intrepid Australians before me, I packed my bags in search of a lifetime of adventure. I believed that I, too, could live the dream.

After a brief existential crisis awakening (how do you fit your entire life in one bag?), I started the adventure with a year in the Republic of Ireland. And it was on a couch in the city of Galway, that my life changed unexpectedly: I met my husband, the American. A charmed occurrence. Since the early days on the west coast of Ireland, we have lived in Dublin (Ireland), Melbourne and Sydney (Australia), Dunedin (NZ), and now in San Francisco. Our adventures in travel have taken us through Western and Eastern Europe, the UK and British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and the United States. The latter has been our longest stop thus far, arranging my permanent residency and trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives.

Ah, San Francisco. You are beautiful (when the fog clears).

I started this blog, The Rebecca Project, shortly after I arrived in San Francisco in 2009. It was a strange time in my life: I was not allowed to work here in the US until my work permit was approved, and had never experienced an extended period without a job. Plus, it took some time to adjust to some of the more outspoken and brash aspects of Americans. My goal for the blog was simple: to get me writing. I’ve always been a dedicated journal writer, but I wanted something else. And I wanted to chronicle this new, strange life as an expat trying to find my feet in a different country.

In the beginning, The Rebecca Project blog was out rather unfocused as I tried to find my footing in the blogosphere. It has developed into a vehicle for me to explore themes of travel, personal development, friendship, adventure, memory, imagination, inspiration, philosophy, as well as my thoughts and opinions on various things. Life is a mixed bag, and I thought it fitting that The Rebecca project reflects that.

Budapest, Hungary.

Travel is enlightening

I have never once regretted my decision to travel. Even as I was scratching the welts from bedbugs in Laos, or when I was lost and alone late at night in Ljubljana, or fighting hypothermia after stepping in a slushpuddle in New York. It’s all an experience. Travel has allowed me to fully stretch my metaphorical wings. And for a while now, I’ve been feeling the itch return to my travelling feet.

Travel has provided me with so many more possibilities than I dreamed sitting on the ‘all stations to East Hills’ train. I like the person I am when I travel: more carefree, open and embracing. I love meeting new people, and hearing their stories. Finding a common thread between different people and their experiences, and the themes and interests of their lives is fascinating to me. I want to meet people who are like me, and those who are not like me at all. I collect these stories the way a six-year-old collects seashells. More than anything, I want to be a storyteller.

But there is a downside to embracing the wandering life. You miss out on a lot of things, particularly a lot of the joy living life with your family and friends. Weddings, birthdays, babies, toasting promotions, Christmas, and the other milestones. As you get older, these events take on greater significance. Much of the disconnection I have felt when I’m not at ‘home’ has been alleviated by one improvement in technology: Skype. I am eternally grateful for that.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.

Sense of purpose

For years, I’ve been in search of the place where I fit. Some people know instinctively where they fit, but that’s never been the case for me.  But recently I looked at it from a different angle: pieces of me can fit anywhere and everywhere. Now I look for places and moments that excite and inspire me, that fit to my shape.

As the tagline on the blog says, this is a life in progress. I’m not always going to get things right, and that’s okay. I’m just so glad that you’re along to share the ride with me.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Post #42: Life List No.63 – Treating Myself to Miette

 Welcome to the forty-second post of the Great Writing Challenge of 2012.
Five days a week for six months, I will be given a topic to write about. The stipulation: it must be 250 words (or more), and positive in tone.
If you would like to suggest topics for me to write about, please email me at TheRebeccaProject [at] gmail [dot] com.

Post #42: Treating Myself to Miette.

I met the Canadian for a gastronomic excursion last weekend, but this time we started with dessert from Miette. Who says you have to eat your meal first?

Beautifully decorated and stunningly presented sweet treats from Miette

[Source: Miette]{via simplesong}

Miette is a beautiful patisserie and confiserie, specializing in making beautiful treats with premium ingredients. The way they display, package and present their goodies is just stunning, and the whole package takes your breath away. 

My local Miette is in the Ferry Building in San Francisco, a mecca for artisanal food and upscale eateries. I have walked past on many occasions, but just never actually purchased myself a treat from there. Until the other day.

The Chocolate Tart and Creme Fraiche Ice Cream Sandwich.

Even on a cold, grey day I opted for the Crème Fraiche ice cream on home-made Graham Crackers. The Canadian went for the Chocolate Tart and it was rich and rather heavy – a perfect complement to the light, carefree ice cream.
High fives on the combo.

YUM!

Almost gone...

Ah Miette. How I love thee. The problem is, once I cross it off my Life List, then I lack an excuse to continue going back… le sigh.

Post #21: Austria

Welcome to the twenty-first post of the Great Writing Challenge of 2012.
Five days a week for six months, I will be given a topic to write about. The stipulation: it must be 250 words (or more), and positive in ton
Thanks to Rai for today’s topic. If you would like to suggest topics for me to write about, please email me at TheRebeccaProject [at] gmail [dot] com.

I really want a piece from you about “Austria” – whatever you associate with it, be it your trip here or something completely different like what you were thinking growing up or when it first appeared on your mental screen.
– Rai

Post #21: Austria

I cannot say for certain when the country of Austria first popped up on my mental map, but no doubt it had everything to do with the Sound of Music. Like many children in the English-speaking world, the Sound of Music was such an integral part of my childhood. And most of what I knew about Austria was framed through the eyes of that film.

Yet it was not until I met my Austrian friend, Rai, that I learned one of the most astounding facts about Austria: Austrians are generally not familiar with the Sound of Music. And for so many of us, it was our only concept of the country.

Eight years after first meeting Rai, I finally managed to travel to Austria and see it for myself. And from the moment I arrived, everything went wrong. I had crazy girls in my hostel room. I dropped and broke my camera. I couldn’t find a department store to buy another. I was missing the American enormously. So much about travel is about dealing with the tough days, and try as I might, I just wasn’t feeling Austria.

I wandered around Vienna, and willed myself to be impressed that this building was older than my country. I went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and only managed a “meh”. I watched the ice skaters skate the course in front of the Rathaus. I felt so alone, so disconnected from everyone and everything at that time, and imagined that I would always feel this way.

But all it took was meeting a friendly face to help me emerge from the funk. It was a great reminder that so much of what we need as humans is connection. I gained so much more from hearing Rai speak about his city than I did from any guidebooks or tours, and just the to-and-fro over dinner was exactly what I needed. Not everywhere you travel do you know someone, but for those few hours with Rai and Martin, I felt a real sense of belonging in Austria.

When I dream of travelling places, I dream less of the physical surroundings and more about the potential connections I can make with those who live there or are just passing through. I want to engage with people, find out about them, their thoughts and experiences.That’s what makes travel so alluring for me. People are fascinating creatures, but you have to put yourself out there first, and be willing to open up.