10 years of living abroad: How moving to Australia changed my life

10 years ago today, I moved abroad for the first time.

I packed two (very heavy) bags and left behind the only home I had known until that point in my life – Calcutta, India.

I came to the Gold Coast in Australia to get a Master’s degree and planned to move back to familiarity as soon as I was done.

Little did I know then, that I was taking a step that would go on to be one of the biggest turning points of my life.

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The life of a new immigrant

During my first year in Australia, I hated it. I found it beautiful, but superficial and the people friendly, but distant. I missed my family, my friends, the food and the overfamiliar warmth of India.

 

Radhika 2007

Me, in 2007, a few weeks after I’d moved to Australia.

 

I was also terrified of how polite everyone was. Every sentence seemed to be punctuated with a please or a thank you. If you come from a non-Anglo culture, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  😉

It wasn’t an English language problem because I have spoken English my whole life; but communication in India is a lot more direct.

In Australia however, I realised I had to embellish my sentences with “Would you mind…” or “Could you please…” before even getting around to the actual point. I lived in mortal fear of losing friends because I hadn’t said the right amount of pleases and thank yous.

I make it sound like we’re so rude in India. We’re not, I promise. 😀

Our politeness is just more centred around gestures and body language (head nods, anyone?) and not so much around minding our Ps and Qs. It’s complicated but if you’ve ever spent time with anyone from an Asian culture – you’ll know what I mean.

 

Another one from my early days in Aus. 

 

Of course when I wasn’t terrified of politeness, I spent my time worrying about accents. Back in 2007, I was ridiculously shy and hated having to repeat myself or worse, asking people to repeat themselves.  😳

I struggled a bit with the nasal Queenslander Aussie accents and jargon and in return, I got my share of strange looks for my accent or choice of words that aren’t commonly heard in Australia.

Adventures in fitting in

And of course, despite the majority of people I met, being amazingly nice, I also dealt with my share of racists and bigots. People made fun of my accent, or made me feel like I didn’t belong because of skin colour or my ethnicity.

But, through all the ups and downs of immigrant life and adjusting to life abroad, somehow I managed to fall in love with Australia.

At some point, I realised that “fitting in” wasn’t up to anyone else but me. If I wanted Australia to embrace me, I was going to have to embrace it first.

I met some incredible people, who I am proud to call my friends today.

I found a job that not only taught me so much about digital marketing, but also about Aussie workplace culture and it gave me a whole new group of friends.

And of course, somewhere in between all my fitting-in – I also met Johnny.  🙂

 

office friends

Circa 2009, with colleagues who quickly became my friends.

Questions of belonging

Fast forward to 27th February, 2017 and Australia is now my home. I will be always be Indian, but I am also very proudly Australian.

Over the years, I have had many variants of “go back to where you come from” or “…. in Australia we do it like this” thrown at me.

It used to upset me because it made feel like I didn’t belong but now I honestly just laugh at the ignorance of people who say stupid shit like that.

 

sydney 2011

Johnny and me in Sydney, 2011

 

Moving to and living in Australia taught me a lot about Australia (obvs) but also a lot about myself. I am still an introvert but I am a much more confident introvert.

10 years of living outside the country of my birth has made me a much more empathetic person. But most importantly, it has taught me that my identity is more than my skin colour, my ethnicity or my accent.

I belong in Australia just as much as the ignorant idiots.

But, I am also proud of not belonging entirely.

I am no longer insecure about that. I embrace it and thrive in it.

I had the courage to give up the familiar and unlike many racists and bigots, I now not only have a deeper understanding of my own culture, but of my adopted country as well.

Finding myself

Today, I have embraced “not belonging” on a whole new level.

Packing up my life to go live abroad in a brand new city every few months, is now normal for me. I love the thrill of travel and heading off to an unknown place.

 

bali 2016

Getting to know Bali, 2016

Many people go off to travel as a way to find themselves. It makes you want to roll your eyes but there is a grain of truth to it. When you travel outside your home country, you learn things about yourself and see yourself in a completely new light.

Moving to Australia taught me that if I could give up everything that is familiar and create a brand new life when I was 22 – I was capable of a lot more than I gave myself credit for.

It also made me want to learn about different ways of life around the world because travelling and living abroad can teach you much more about the world and people than any school ever could.

So in 2013, when we gave up our life in Australia in exchange for a life of travel – I was nervous as hell but also excited for what lay in store and what we could potentially learn from other countries, other cultures.

We’re all just human

A very wise man (my dad) once told me that underneath all our differences, we’re all the same and want the same basic things from our lives. We’re human.

Apparently, the Dalai Lama agrees.

“Conflicts arise when we dwell on secondary differences between us; differences of nationality, faith, whether we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated. What’s more helpful to remember is that we are all human beings and from that point of view, we are all the same.”

Having lived in many different countries in the past few years, I cannot help but say my dad, and the Dalai Lama, are right.

If you relate to people on a human level, and stop comparing who’s better (or worse) – you will come out with brand new friends and develop a much richer understanding of the world.

 

colombia friends

Our group of friends in Medellin, Colombia, 2013.

 

I’ve never liked being put into a box. I refuse to be limited by definition of my nationality or ethnicity alone.

There’s more to me than that.

I have left a piece of my heart in every place we’ve been to and I carry a piece of them in me.

Today, I am part Indian, part Australian but also part Colombian, part Mexican, part Thai & much more — all of which combine to make me wholly global — fitting in everywhere yet not belonging anywhere.

And I love that.

The inevitable pep talk

And because I like to end my blog posts with a pep talk, I’ll just end with this –

I moved to Australia to study and with a plan to take on the world of journalism. But instead, I ended up with a brand new, completely different life. I will forever be grateful for that.

Have the courage to give up the familiar. Have the courage to grow.

Have the courage to willingly put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable.

Good things never came out of comfort zones.

Travel. Go see the world. Leave the comforts of your home behind and go live abroad if you can.

 

 

It can be scary as hell but NOTHING else can change you the way travel and living abroad can. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns (real life doesn’t work that way.) It will tough and uncomfortable but you will never, ever regret it.

Oh and P.S.: Be nice to immigrants. We’re all fighting battles – internally and externally and a little kindness goes a long way.

 

Written by


Radhika B.

After turning her back on office life in Australia, Radhika set out to create a life lived on her own terms (a constant work in progress). As co-founder of Fulltime Nomad, she is super passionate about helping others live life with more freedom and flexibility, and a bit of travel thrown in for good measure.

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8 Comments

  1. john

    Quite an Interesting post. I’m from India as well. Anyway, travelling around is thrill and fun, but one needs to get to a point to settle down as well, as a family in one place. (Only my opinion, not a suggestion by any means)

    • Radhika

      Sure 🙂 But that’s not what everyone “needs” from their lives – hence why we’re trying to show that there is an alternative. We travel slow and try to “live” in places rather than just constantly be on the move so it’s not just about thrill and fun, but trying to live life in different parts of the world.

  2. Vinay

    You guys are such an inspiration for all… Great Job this is the kind of work am dreaming off but right now i cant do that…Any way hoping to see you some where as you dont have any particular location 😀

    • Radhika

      Thanks Vinay 🙂

  3. Anuj

    Hey I am from Mumbai. Your article motivates me.
    I seriously want to come to Australia even though for a year or so just to know how life is outside India. But am not able to muster the courage to do so because of my family attachments. My parents are not saying me no, its me who cant get rid of this feeling
    Would love to know how can we break this barrier and move ahead. Somehow finding it difficult to see everyone teary eyed when I leave and that’s kinda stopping me to proceed further

    • Radhika

      Hi Anuj, moving anywhere new can be an overwhelming experience, I understand that especially if you have to leave your family behind. But you have to decide what you really want – and either way you’ll have to give up something. If you really want the experience of living somewhere new – you have to have the courage to leave everything familiar behind to pursue the dream. However if you think leaving your family behind is impossible then you’re going to have to give up on your dream to go to Australia.

      It will be hard but as you’re saying, if it’s only for a year you know you’re going to come back to them soon enough. A year is nothing! If you have the opportunity to go to a new country and experience a new way of life – do it. You will never regret it. You will learn so much more.

  4. Aash

    I am happy to hear the story of your journey, it sounds wonderful,
    How do you cope without living near/with your parents,
    that is my most important concern, after losing my father a year ago, life seems too short, and I don’t feel like anything but living with my family would make me happier. As you know how are the immigration laws regarding parent visas or other family members are, not very favorable!.
    I love Australia, but no more than my family, and seriously thinking of going back to India after 11 years of living here.

    What would be your opinion on this?
    Thanks

    • Radhika

      Hi Aash, thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Each person’s situation is different and my advice would be to follow your heart. Take a good look at what is most important to you and if being with your family is more important than anything else in the world – choose that, without regret.

      My situation is different as I have Johnny here and we travel the world together. Australia is my home and as my parents no longer live in India either, I don’t see India as my home any more. My priority is to live my life to the fullest, without sacrificing my relationships and friendships. I make an effort to see my parents at least once every 6 months and we also come back to Australia once a year to see Johnny’s family and all our friends here. That’s how I deal with it.