There’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks and now I’m finally ready to write about it.
I’ve been in Melbourne for four weeks now and I’m beginning to feel like myself here. That the first weeks were unsettling won’t be a surprise to anyone who has moved cities or countries. In a place where you’re practically unknown you have to invent yourself almost from new. There is no network of family and friends, no context of flat and office to identify you. You have no history in this new place.
And it’s hard. It’s hard to be a stranger, hard to be the new girl, hard to be grappling with the basics of life (how do the buses work? What is everyone laughing about? What time do the shops close?) while also navigating new relationships, new work environments, new experiences.
What I recognise in myself is the urge to put down roots quickly. I don’t want to be a stranger, I want to belong. I walked and walked the first weeks I was here, looking at flats and houses, imagining myself living in them, longing to be inside the lighted homes looking out, not the other way round.
This is something I do whenever I travel, whether for short stretches or longer stays. I find myself wanting to adapt to fit my new surroundings. I learn the local idiom (cf ‘Flat White’). I study maps in my room so I won’t need to bring them out with me.
Part of my chameleon tendency comes from the fact that I like to be the observer rather than the observed. It’s easier to do this when you blend in. The other part is that I enjoy the dress-up element of travel. I like to play the part of a woman living a different life in a different city. Who would I be if I lived here?
It’s a fine balance, though. I want to embrace my new surroundings. But without a familiar frame of reference I feel like I’ve lost part of who I am. So I have to build it up again.
First of all, find a space that’s just mine. Somewhere to unpack my clothes. Somewhere to stack my books. Somewhere to drink my first cup of coffee in the morning. Somewhere to put the photographs of my family.
Second of all, find friends. Put myself out there. Join activities. Do things I might not do at home – because that’s the whole point of not being at home.
Third of all, accept all work opportunities. Enjoy having something to offer and explore the ways in which work is the same, and the ways in which it is different in this landscape.
Fourth of all, take time to enjoy the experience. Sure, the first weeks have been hard (though there’s been plenty of jam to sweeten the pills) but I know why I’m doing this. The greatest rewards of my life – personal and professional – have come from taking risks and doing something hard. As much effort as it’s taken to get to where I am a month later, I know I’ll reap the rewards for the rest of my time in Australia.