Travel

Reverse Culture Shock

It’s been a long time since I posted on this here blog, but it’s now time to get back into it.

I’ve now relocated and settled back in to Canberra, Australia after a wonderful three years living and working in Southern California. I’ll be honest and say that I did suffer quite a bit of reverse culture shock; the feeling that I no longer fit into my home country. We had been warned by fellow ex-pats to be prepared to experience reverse culture shock, but I guess you can’t fully prepare for how it really might feel.

Nobody Cares About Your Travels

OK…maybe I’m being a little harsh to say that nobody cares, but my experience is that most people will listen superficially for only a short time before losing interest. At first this was hard, but now we just keep our experiences to ourselves unless someone specifically asks. One of my saviours has been talking to people who have also been ex-pats. They understand what it feels like to return ‘home’ and are actually interested in the experiences we had overseas.

Normality Hits Hard

For the first couple of weeks back in Australia we were excited to see family and friends, eat all our favourite foods, sit in our favourite cafes and see kangaroos again. However after about two weeks the ‘normality’ of Australia began to hit us hard. When we moved to America, everyday tasks were interesting (although sometimes extremely frustrating) simply because they were different. Even though some things had changed in the three years we were away, Australian supermarkets still stocked all the same foods, the cars on the road were still familiar and the Aussie slang which was a shock when we arrived home began to sink back in. 

People Just Don’t Understand Us

Most noticeably, we came home with many new opinions about things. Our minds had been opened while away and we came back seeing Australia and the world in general, in a totally different way. Unfortunately for us, people back here still think the same way they always have, so we have had a difficult time trying to find common ground. For the last few months we have felt very isolated because we couldn’t fit our new beliefs and knowledge into our old lives. However we are now starting to find ways to mesh the two together and are starting to feel more comfortable.

It’s only in the last couple of weeks that I have started feeling comfortable with my life back in Australia. Our house is mostly unpacked, we have caught up with all of our immediate family members, I have settled into my new job and actually think I know what’s going on and have received a couple of exciting opportunities which I’ll tell you more about soon.

Despite the uncomfortable transition, it’s good to be home.

Image by: Garry

Paris, France

I’m currently in Paris, France. It’s cold, but at least it isn’t snowing. We’ve been enjoying beautiful blue skies and gorgeous soft winter light; just perfect for photos.

It’s been 13 years since I was last here, although I can’t honestly remember the city much from that trip. Back then I was a student on a very tight budget and the Aussie dollar was terrible. I remember eating a lot of McDonalds that trip. This time, the Aussie dollar is good and it’s croissants, crepes and plenty of good coffee.

The city is not as crowded as I remember. Perhaps the weather is keeping people away or everyone’s too broke to travel. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more used to big cities and I try to avoid the tourist traps as much as possible. Either way, it’s been really quite pleasant. After being constantly disappointed by American cities (with a few exceptions), it’s nice to re-discover a city with a long and interesting history, beautiful architecture, a great sense of fashion and fabulous food on every block.

Paris also feels very safe. We were out until nearly midnight last night (darn jetlag!) and even though it was a Sunday night, there were plenty of people in sidewalk cafes or out strolling the cobblestone streets.

The transportation here is also a far cry from American or Australian city transportation. The metro is fast, efficient and extremely extensive. Wherever we found ourselves in the city these last few days, we never seemed to be more than a few blocks from a metro station. The stations themselves are clean and the trains come through every few minutes like clockwork. I can see why the metro strikes would completely disrupt the ability of the city to function.

There is also very little parking space, so the personal vehicles are mostly very small cars (think smart cars) or scooters. They zip around very handily and fit into the tiniest spaces. It’s a world apart from the monster trucks and equivalent parking spaces we’ve been used to in California. They also have this fantastic new Vélib’ bike rental system with stations scattered all over the city. Although we like cycling I honestly couldn’t see myself weaving in and out of traffic like the locals do. You’d need nerves of steel to try it!

Tomorrow we start our three week journey through France and Italy. Although I’ve enjoyed la cite, I’m looking forward to visiting the countryside and some of France’s smaller towns.

USA: So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Tomorrow we get on a plane and leave the USA. For the last few weeks we’ve alternated between frantically finalising our life here and reminiscing about our favourite and least-favourite experiences here. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling leaving a country that has been home for three years. We are excited about ‘going home’ to the culture we grew up in, to see family and friends and to eat all those foods we’ve been missing. But we are also sad to leave new friends and a country that has opened our eyes and broadened our horizons.

I don’t think the fact that we are leaving for good it has fully hit us yet. As with moving over here from Australia in 2007, I expect we’ll experience some level of reverse culture shock once we get home. There are a lot of differences between these cultures and I expect I’ve become rather accustomed to the US way of doing things. Returning to Australia will no doubt highlight those differences more than I can remember at the moment.

Anyway, we are returning to Australia via ‘the long way round’ (i.e. via Europe). I hope we don’t experience too many delays with the crazy snow storms or protests against Europe’s austerity programs. If we do, I guess we’ll have stories to tell. That is the joy of travelling.

I hope to update this blog with some of my travel tales along the way, but until then I’ll leave you with a photo of Zoe dog enjoying her morning walk before she left the US last week. She’s now residing in Australian quarantine until we get home.

I’m still alive

Thanks to Dixiebelle for checking if I’m still here. Let me assure you I am. My life these days just seems consumed with deadlines at work and all the rigmarole surrounding an international move.

In ten weeks time, we’ll be putting our dog on a plane back to Australia, having our farewell parties with our American friends and work colleagues, packing up our house and then putting ourselves on a plane to Europe where we’ll spend a month travelling by train before heading back to our new lives in Canberra, Australia.

It’s hard to believe that our time here in the USA is coming to an end and we have been going through a whole range of emotions during these last few months. Saying goodbye to the place we now call home will be sad. We’ve loved living here and although clichéd, living in American for these last few years has been a life changing experience. Seeing America from the outside and knowing America from the inside are two very different things, and I’ve been very glad for the opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture. My eyes have been opened to a great many new things.

I dissapeared for a while becuase for a couple of months there I was extremely stressed. I don’t deal very well with stress as I tend to descend into a pit of depair. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life, but at least I know myself well enough now to recognise the symptoms and make changes in my life to reduce the effects. To be honest I was shocked when I realised what was happening to me. Since embracing voluntary simplicity a couple of years back, I have been stress free and it has been bliss. Unfortunately something about this upcoming move had sent me back to my old ways and it was a real reminder of how life can spiral out of control if you let it. Anyway, I feel like I’m now over that hurdle and have a plan in place to get everything done that needs doing before we go.

I’ll try to provide more updates on this blog as I get the chance, but in the meantime, I’m still updating my facebook page with interesting links. Come on over and join the community growing there.

Becoming A Good Human | Promote Your Page Too

Photo by h.koppdelaney

Alaska…oh how I love thee…

Brendan and I are currently in Alaska visiting with friends. We’ve only been here for two days and I already feel like a new person. I start the day out drinking coffee overlooking the mountains and Eagle River where Bald Eagles have made a nest and swoop and soar on the air currents.

Both days we’ve been out hiking and the fresh, crisp is a welcome change. Yesterday’s hike took over three hours once we stopped at the river and ate some lunch which enjoying the view. This morning I went for a mountain bike ride while Brendan ran and we are soon off for another hike.

I just wanted to provide a quick update to let you know that I am now feeling much better after feeling horrible for the last month. I think visiting with good friends and some quality time in nature to thank for that.

Photo by: Douglas Brown

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to America: Part 1

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post on this here blog. The main reason is that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Sometimes writing helps my thinking, but recently thinking has been getting in the way of writing.

With five months to go until we leave the US and head back to Australia, I think I’m starting the process of saying goodbye to our home of the last few years. Everywhere we go now we take special notice of all the things we’ve loved about this country. On the flipside, all the things we’ve disliked have amplified recently and are driving us nuts. I thought it might be cathartic to start writing all these thoughts down.

  • I’m really going to miss where we live. We can walk to the shops, restaurants, brewery and cafes in about 5 minutes. I can ride to work in 10. We can ride to the library, bookshop, concerts in the park and most of our friends in 10 minutes. We can catch a ferry to the city and it only takes 15 minutes and is a lovely relaxing way to enjoy the evening or a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m going to miss all the fantastic events available here. Free local classes on gardening, bee-keeping, fermenting. Getting to sit in on lectures by people I found on the internet: Chris Martenson (The Crash Course) and Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff). There is never any shortage of interesting things going on here. I worry that Australia is going to feel very ‘small’ in comparison. 
  • I’m going to miss the house we live in. It’s an older house on very little land, but it has three very mature orange trees and a dwarf apple tree. We’ve dug up the weeds surrounding the front courtyard, improved the soil with homegrown compost and now have a small but thriving vege patch. I’m going to miss that.
  • I’m going to miss morning walks along the Bay. I’ll miss seeing the ducklings grow up every year. I’ll miss the supersized seagulls which we don’t have in Australia.
  • I’ll miss the insects and birds that have now made a home in our garden. The bees, the hummingbirds, the Black Phoebe, even the caterpillars.
  • I’ll miss the people I work with. I work in an international office which means I make friends with people from all over the world. We also have some great parties. When the Spanish won the World Cup Final, we celebrate with fresh crunchy bread, salami, cheese, olive oil and Spanish Wine. For Bastille Day tomorrow, we are partaking in Croissants for breakfast. For Australia Day we have a huge BBQ with 300 of our closest friends! Canada Day: It’s Maple Syrup, Ice Wine and Moose Milk. Any Mexican holiday sees us eating tortillas and drinking tequila. And on and on it goes. With so many different countries represented here, we always have something to celebrate.
  • In general, Americans seem to be much ‘nicer’ than Australians. To your face at least, most Americans will be polite and friendly and will at least feign some interest in where you are from. I’ve become accustomed to people here commenting on your clothes, haircut etc and every now and then saying how nice you look. I don’t remember that ever happening in Australia…except maybe my wedding day and that was mandatory for all attending. 

 

  • On the other hand, I’ve found that Americans are not necessarily very genuine with their feelings. It takes a long time to get beneath the veneer. Australian’s generally are fairly honest about that sort of thing (sometimes painfully so), so I initially found it difficult to adjust to the difference in culture. I had an American friend who was clearly (to me) having a very bad day, but she painted on a smile and everyone around her chose to believe it. It’s a little weird and to be honest it makes it hard to believe people when they say anything to you. In general, ‘let’s catch up’ does not mean there will be any effort made. ‘Party starts at 6pm’ means that people will arrive between 6:30 and 7pm. Most Americans will leave soon after desert is served (usually by 10pm), while the Australians, Canadians, Spanish and Finnish will still be there at 2am. It took some time work out that this is not personal and to not be offended by it.
  • The sheer amount of waste here is heartbreaking. Lawns are watered every day (we live in the desert) and most of the time the sidewalk and street are liberally watered as well. People leave the hose running down the gutter while washing the car. The amount of trash is incompressible. The garbage bins (trash cans) in our street are easily six times the size of what we had in Australia and are often overflowing with waste. People here at work will use Styrofoam plates and plastic forks for lunch, even though I brought in real plates and cutlery for everyone to use. It does my head in.
  • I’m flabbergasted at the size of the SUV’s around here; usually with one passenger. Hummers. ‘Nuff said.
  • The bureaucracy here is unbelievable. Forms are lengthy and not intuitive. The banking system is archaic by western standards (although getting better). Telecommunications companies are frustrating to deal with. Anything that involves the Government seems to take forever and never works easily. Some days I seriously want to scream at the ineptitude. Lately, I just have to laugh and shake my head instead. Otherwise I’ll go crazy.
  • Important mail goes missing about 50% of the time. Unacceptable.

Anyway, that’s probably enough sharing for today. I’ll probably revisit this theme on occasion during the next five months.

Photo by: Der Ohlsen

Where in the World? Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver is a lovely city on the West Coast of Canada. We visited in the spring of 2008. In a number of ways it reminds me a little of San Franciso with lots of lovely parks, a large bridge over the bay and plenty of water surrounding the city. It’s also one of the ‘greener’ cities we’ve visited with plenty of hybrid taxis, electric buses and bike lanes.

Check out more photos from my travels

We Are Getting Away From It All

After a horrible week, Brendan and I are getting away for the weekend. We’ve both been so busy that we haven’t had time to plan anything. We are therefore going to do something we rarely do….be spontaneous. We are going to get into the car tomorrow, pack some clothes, pack the bug-out-bag in case we can’t find accommodation and go somewhere. The car rarely gets used these days, so Brendan has checked it for functionality 🙂

The general plan is to go in search of California Wildflowers which are apparently quite spectacular after all this rain we’ve been having. Other than that….who knows.

In the mean time, hopefully we can escape the SoCal seismic activity for a while. It’s starting to bug us.

We’ll be back next week. Have a great weekend.

Where in the World? Aircraft Boneyard, Arizona, USA

In 2008 I visited the place where military aircraft go to die. It’s called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), but it’s more commonly known as the ‘Boneyard’. It houses at least one of every plane flown by the U.S. armed forces since WWII and it’s believed to be the largest airplane graveyard in the United States.

You can also see some pictures from Google Earth which show the amazing variety of aircraft here.

I wonder how I’ll explain these aircraft to my grandchildren. They might never get to experience what it is to fly. And here I am, an Aerospace engineer taking it all for granted. Somedays, it does my head in.

Check out more photos from my travels

Where in the World? Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

This week’s ‘Where in the World?’ features the middle east. The Pyramids of Giza had long been on my ‘must see’ list and I finally got to visit in 2005.

If you are anything like me, you probably imagine the pyramids to be quite isolated, rising like mirages from a sandy desert. The truth is much less romantic. They are literally in the middle of the suburban sprawl of Cairo. You can eat your lunch at Pizza Hut while enjoying the view. Dissapointing I know.

Nonetheless, if you have a good enough imagination, you can block out the tourists and the dirty skyline and imagine you are in Ancient Egypt, when these pyramids were first built.

It helps the imagination to have some camels around. It doesn’t help when the camel rider constantly bugs you for baksheesh. Baksheesh can be described as “lavish remuneration and bribes, rudely demanded but ever so graciously accepted by the natives in return for little or no services rendered.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Regardless, my visit to the Great Pyramids is one of the highlights of my life. I’d been fascinated with Ancienct Egypt since I was a kid and finally getting to see these massive symbols of this fascinating ancient culture was a dream come true. If only our modern culture weren’t so ugly as to ruin the experience.