We’ve been living in New York for almost exactly three years now. Three of the toughest, most exciting, frustrating years of my life (having a tough kid doesn’t make it any easier).
As I near my 3 year anniversary of living the expat life, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how living in this situation, for me, is like living with your heart permanently torn in two. It’s a state of constantly missing those you left behind and who are living their lives without you, and, at the same time, enjoying your new life – with the thought always floating in your head, how long will this last? How long until the good doesn’t outweigh the bad? How long until you make the move back home and settle back into your old life? Sooner? Later? Never?
Living in a constant state of flux
At least, I certainly am. When we moved here, our time estimation for how long we’d live here was one-to-two years. Every year, we say we will give it one more year. Most of our stuff is in storage in Australia, but since we can’t decide whether or not to commit to living here permanently, we don’t know what to do with it all. It’s things like a giant couch that wouldn’t fit into any NYC apartment. My photographs and negatives and books. All my memories and possessions for my life pre 2011 are packaged into small boxes and stuffed into my parent’s house. I find myself missing things. Like a hair clip I was given for my 21st birthday that I still love to wear, but didn’t make the cut for things that we needed to bring over. And having to re-buy everything (PAINFUL!) because it’s cheaper than having the old things shipped over. How long until we can commit to a life here or there? Is there a magic number of years that pass and present the answer?
It starts off really really hard, but gets easier
The first year was so tough that I didn’t think we’d make it through and wanted to fly home almost every day. I missed everything about my old life – our home, our family and friends, the warm weather, and the easiness of life when you know how everything runs and how to do everything without thinking about it. The hardest parts about adapting to life in the US were the little things. Where to buy good Greek yoghurt. Finding a new GP, dentist, seamstress, housekeeper … Working out how medical insurance worked (ok, and some not so little things).
After the two-year mark things went from tough and frustrating to finally comfortable enough to feel like I didn’t have to fight to get little things done every single day. As I near the three-year mark, life has become great. It’s no longer a daily frustration as I can’t work out the little nuances that make life here different. Some still remain (why is supermarket bread SO BAD?! Why is the cheese ORANGE?! Why does tomato ketchup have CORN SYRUP in it?!) but, in general, New York is feeling like home.
Starting your tribe from scratch
It takes a while to make a new tribe. In my case, it took over two years to accumulate a new circle of friends whom I felt comfortable with. Feeling lonely and disconnected, while seeing all my old friends having a blast together was tough. It takes a lot of effort to stay in touch with people, especially as we get older and have more time commitments. One thing that can be said is that moving countries really shows you who your friends are! The ones who reply to your emails with thoughtful messages (and send you notes spontaneously when they’re thinking of you!) are going to be a lot fewer than you think (sadness), but they will be the ones who are your friends for life (happiness).
Family is tough no matter where you live. Near them, they can drive you so nuts you wish you lived far, far away, and then if you DO live far, far away, you miss them like crazy and wonder if you made a mistake. Add a small child into that and it’s an even more difficult situation. People talk a lot about “mother guilt” – feeling guilty about everything you do and don’t do for your child. Instead of this, I get “daughter guilt”, where I feel guilty for moving so far away from my parents with their only grand child. We Skype every week and it’s a constant reminder of how much our decision to live this life is causing pain to other people who are missing out on precious moments with their grand child.
The up side
These last three years in New York have been a wonderful experience, despite the hardships – or perhaps, even, in some ways, because of them. Without a doubt, it’s been totally worth it. I’m an introverted person, so being here has pushed me out of my comfort zone in ways that staying in Sydney wouldn’t have. As well as the amazing experiences I’ve had here (not to mention that NEW YORK IS MY HOME!! How cool is that?!), the self-reliance and resilience I’ve built up as a result of this new life have also been positive for my own personal growth.
It’s not just my life
It’s not just about me and Alec. We are constantly trying to decide what is best for E. Little Missy E is having an amazing childhood, by the way. Central Park is her backyard. The American Museum of Natural History is her playground. She has dined at some of the best restaurants in NYC, all before she could walk. Lucky kid. We try to keep her as connected as possible with family back home so she knows who she is and where she comes from. It’s a normal part of her week to Skype Nanna and Pop-pop. E gets older, she will truly reap the benefits of her dual life. As an American and Australian citizen, a world of opportunities are literally open to her.