This is a guest post by Aussie expat Jess Mizzi, who has written an awesome collection of travel itineraries over at her blog, Expat Getaways. Jess worked training tour guides in Cairns before her husband got a job in Hong Kong and the couple upped-sticks. Find her on Facebook and Instagram for more great tales.
My husband and I had talked about looking for work overseas, but it was something to think about a year or so down the line. All that was turned on its head when the company my husband was working for went under and we found ourselves immediately looking for new opportunities. Thankfully within a month he had an interview and a few weeks later we were packing up all our worldly belongings and moving to Hong Kong!
What a rollercoaster it has been! My first feelings were elation and excitement. These quickly turned to anxiety when I looked at the task ahead of us.
HONG KONG IS ANOTHER WORLD
In Cairns we had just bought an apartment. It was beautiful. Big and open, views out to the Coral Sea and just a minute walk to the beach. I had a great job training tour guides in the world heritage listed rainforests.
Hong Kong is a city of sky-scrappers, hustle and bustle and a 24/7 lifestyle. It is everything Cairns is not. All of a sudden we were paying literally twice as much for a third of the space. I didn’t have work and was looking at a career change. I was facing days and weeks with my husband away and no meaningful friendships.
Thankfully these things have a way of working out. The things I love about Hong Kong would never work in Cairns and vice versa. I think if we’d moved from another big city it would have been more difficult.
MAKING FRIENDS IN YOUR NEW HOME
I put myself out there and made friends. It might seem overwhelming, but in a big city where everyone is from somewhere else you band together. My advice to anyone planning a big move is to dedicate time and effort into creating a social circle. For me it was like internet dating for friends! Some matched, others didn’t and that’s ok.
I scoured the pages of Meet Up and joined hiking groups, had a go at stand up paddle boarding and yoga groups. I jumped on the forums of Geo Expat and Asia Expat looking for other newbies for casual drinks. I became a yes person and said yes to every coffee/dinner/ drinks invitation out there.
It’s not easy. With my husband working I had to show up to events solo and hope for the best. Often a random coffee date is the last thing you want after a long day navigating banks, government offices and even the local supermarket.
Two and a half years later I have an amazing group of friends who I couldn’t be without.
I had planned to go back to teaching. I’m trained as a high school history and geography teacher and added an English teaching qualification onto that. I was dreading teaching though. I really didn’t want to go back. I came home in tears from an interview at an international school for a position that was perfect for me. It didn’t go badly, I just couldn’t stand the thought of being offered the job!
Again these things have a way of working out. I booked a food tour to get better acquainted with the city. My now boss and owner of the company was the tour guide that day and we spent the day chatting about tourism in Australia and Hong Kong. The next day I got an e-mail asking if I was interested in a job.
It has been 2.5 years now and we love Hong Kong. It took about six months to really find our feet and another six months before I felt at home. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
I choose my tour guiding work to fit around my husband’s work schedule and we travel every chance we get. Since we moved we have gone to Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India, Dubai, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, London and that’s not counting the trips back to Australia to see family and friends. Many of our favourite spots are only a two hour flight away.
We’ve made sacrifices to live here. Our apartment is tiny and cost of living sky-high. We see our family maybe once or twice a year. I have friends who haven’t been as lucky as I have in their expat experience.
I will say though, expat life is what you make of it. Go in with an open mind, say yes to every invitation and accept that for the first few months or even a year everything will be hard, maybe even the hardest of your life. It will put your relationship to the test. But it might also turn into the best thing you have ever done!
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Want to tell your Expat story in Aussies Round the World? Contact me with a bit of information about where you lived, for how long and what you love/d about it!
Editor’s Note: I’ve titled this post “trailing spouse” because that’s the common term for a husband or wife who’s partner has landed a job in a new country, so they move together. It doesn’t sit particularly well with me, in terms of connotations, since ‘trailing spouses’ often get the rough end of the stick – having to rebuild their careers and lives can be much more difficult.
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