An Expat Living and Working in Australia Part I

Sydney Opera House Australia

An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).

Where in Australia do you live and for how long?

I’ve been living in Sydney since November 2009, with a brief sojourn back to Canada in 2010.

expat An Expat Living and Working in Australia Part I

Marsha Reid a Jamaican – Canadian expat in Australia


Why did you relocate?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’d always been fascinated by foreign peoples and places, and Australia seemed particularly interesting because it was so far away and at the bottom of the world with a host of exotic flora and fauna. After having lived and travelled throughout much of North America and Europe, I finally had the opportunity to work and travel in Australia. I only intended to stay for 6 months to a year, and then head on to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim before returning to Canada and continuing my graduate studies, but I met and fell in love with a very nice Australian guy and the rest is history.

How challenging was the transition? Any bouts of real homesickness?

Despite living in a physically stunning and culturally similar country, the transition has been very challenging at times, because while the idea of moving to the other side of the world for love sounds rather romantic – after all, love and adventure filled days with a handsome charming foreigner in an exotic locale are the stuff made of literature and Hollywood films – the reality, as is often the case, is far from a fairy tale. Although there is love and adventure to be had, my existence here as been fraught with bureaucratic red tape and the logistics of tying up loose ends back home, as well as navigating the cultural differences that can be stark at times. It’s very strange having winter – albeit a relatively mild winter – in July, driving on the left-hand side, learning to speak Australian English, living in a homogenous neighbourhood, dealing with incredibly high prices (Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world!) and feeling very isolated from friends, family, and the rest of the world (by 16,000km and an ocean). I have been rather homesick at times and dreamed of returning home because the whole process of immigrating seemed overwhelming. But I’m very glad I persevered and stayed put because life can be sweet here.

Any amusing adjustment stories?

Although English is spoken in both Canada and Australia, Australian English might as well be another language, because it is rife with slang and colourful expressions that have left me bewildered at times. It’s even more bewildering when my partner, who is in the Navy, uses Aussie military slang. And then there are words that, while banal or innocent enough in Canada, have a perverse connotation in Oz. For example, the word ‘root’. I’ll leave that one for your readers to translate, but let’s just say that when I told my partner about rooting for a sports team, he looked shocked and then laughed and told me that I might want to rethink my word choice.

On another front, I have also had to adjust to the hoards of insane spiders that make this island/country/continent their home. I suffer from severe arachnophobia – I know, I missed the memo on Australia being home to the most venomous spiders in the world – and have had too many close encounters for my liking. Most Aussies, especially my partner, find my reaction – flailing about screaming like I’m on fire – amusing.

What misconceptions and stereotypes did you encounter? How did you handle them?

The majority of Australians I’ve met have been very friendly and welcoming and have shown a healthy curiosity about my home country, but as is always the case with travelling and emigrating, there are ignorant individuals who will zoom in on you because you look different. A vocal few assumed I was a refugee from a war-torn African country and could not fathom that a Black person was from a Western country and spoke perfect English. Others have pointed and stared at me because they’re not used to seeing Black people (there aren’t that many Black people in Sydney, especially not where I live, in the Lower North Shore), or, upon seeing me, called me Serena, Rihanna, Beyonce, and in one case, Zimbabwe. I look nothing like these celebrities, nor do I resemble a country in Africa, but there you have it. It used to bother me quite a bit, but I’ve learned to ignore it and roll with the punches (because I don’t have the time or energy to challenge everyone all the time). But if I’m up to it and in a good mood, I’ll clear up misconceptions via a civil discussion (instead of telling someone where to jump or what to kiss!). Some of the best discussions have stemmed from misunderstandings.

Is there much interaction between black expatriates from other countries?

Hard to believe, but I’ve been in Australia for nearly 2 years, and during that time, have only met a handful of Black expats from other countries (likely because of where I live in Sydney), so I can’t answer this question with absolute authority. But from my experience, most Australians have been friendly, and a group of African expats I met the other day said the same. Nonetheless, people seem to stick to their own cultural, ethnic, and/or racial groups and do not mix too much, except maybe at work or when going out at night in the city.

Tell us a little about the expat community – any associations, gatherings, or clubs?

When I first arrived in Sydney, I lived in a part of the city – Potts Point – where a decent number of residents were foreigners, thus the majority of my friends were expats from Canada, the States, Europe, and Asia. As I result, there were always meetup groups to attend where one could learn or practice a particular language, attend a movie night, celebrate national holidays, or network for jobs. But when I met my partner, I also met his friends and family and began to spend more time with Australians, so I haven’t attended too many expat associations or gatherings as of late. But they are a great place to make friends and if you’re feeling a little homesick, to connect with like-minded folks.

What do you love about Australia? Where are your favorite places to eat, drink and be merry?

I love the weather, and the laid back island culture. Australians truly have the work-life balance down pat. I also love the beaches and the lush landscape. I’m fortunate enough to live 5 minutes from a beautiful beach that tourists haven’t caught on to yet, so my partner and I often have breakfast on the weekends at one of the cafes on the esplanade, or go for a walk at dusk and watch the moon rise over the ocean. And we take nice walks along the hiking trails that hug the shoreline, or drive further out to Palm Beach and walk up to the lighthouse where, at 350 feet above sea level, there are views of Sydney to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the east; during particular months of the year, you can go up there and watch the migration of the whales. I also like to head to the Domain or Botanic Gardens in the city and take a walk or chill out with a book and read under the sun until twilight falls and the bats vacate the trees and begin to fly across the park.

For more up-tempo activities, I head into the city and enjoy a bite to eat at one of the numerous cafes, pizzerias, burger joints, or Thai restaurants in Darlinghurst (near where I used to live), go to the Opera House for theatre and the Opera Bar for drinks afterwards, or head to The Rocks, a historic part of Sydney Harbour near the Harbour Bridge and close to Circular Quay, where the First Fleet arrived in 1788 and established the colony that eventually became Australia. There are lots of bars and restaurants and shoppes, as well as a market every weekend. I don’t go clubbing, however if one wants to go clubbing to see and be seen, one can try their hand at the more well-known clubs in the CBD such as the Ivy or The Establishment, or if they dare, head to Kings Cross on a Friday or Saturday night.

In the next issue: Identity, homesickness and the “sweet spot” in expat life.

marshareidabout An Expat Living and Working in Australia Part IAbout Marsha Reid

Marsha Reid is a 30 year old Jamaican-Canadian living and working in Australia since 2009. A perpetual grad student suffering from wanderlust since she was a wee lass, Marsha has lived in four countries and traveled to nearly 20 with no plans of ceasing her nomad existence any time soon. If moving to Australia is in your future or your dreams, read Part One of Travel and Enjoy Magazine’s interview with Marsha about Australia and what it’s like to live there.

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