Immigrating Part 4: Settling in Australia
The context of this post
Settling in Australia is the third part of a four part series describing my thoughts and feelings about immigrating from South Africa to Australia. If you’re in the process of making this move yourself I would suggest that you start from Part 1 and move through the series in order. It’ll help you get a better understanding contextually of how we got to be where we are, geographically and mentally.
Settling In Australia
Immigrating is difficult even when it’s easy
Immigrating is difficult even when it is easy. I thought we were doing fine, I thought we had settled easily until I was crossing a street with the two kids and out of nowhere I wanted to cry.
I can’t even remember what it was that frustrated me. Maybe not finding a trolley or maybe one of the kids dropped something. I honestly don’t know what it was but it made me realize that I had been in denial about the magnitude of the move we had made. The move from South Africa to Australia had been harder on me than I had allowed myself to believe.
Now, I’m not saying we had it tough. I’m not saying that immigration breaks you, I’m just saying that there are challenges and obstacles that you’re not even aware of. Some of these sit in the back of your mind causing you stress that you’re not even aware of.
We love where we live
We love Sydney, we love the life we’re living. We’re grateful to have been given this opportunity but we’re under no illusions. It is not smooth sailing uprooting your entire life and moving somewhere completely new where you are just another anonymous face walking in a huge City.
What you don’t realise when you leave your home
What you don’t realize when you leave your home regardless of whether it’s your suburb, your City or your country is that you leave behind all your institutional knowledge. You leave behind everything you knew about the place where you lived.
You leave behind all familiarity and all your “go-to” options. When you arrive in a new place, you don’t know where to go when the kids are sick. You don’t know where to pick up dinner quickly, where to buy a bag of ice in a hurry or who to trust in an emergency.
We had it easy in some respects
In a lot of ways we had it easy when we got to Australia. We had friends, great friends who became a surrogate family. My husband got a job within a week and we managed to secure good accomodation for a month from which to explore and discover our new home city.
A homely environment, access to a car, promise of employment make the war that is immigration winnable.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a plethora of battles that you have to fight every day to keep yourself alive.
The first month of settling in Australia
That first month was a whirlwind.
I can’t even remember much of it except that we had to live in the same clothes for a month waiting for our container. We also ate a lot of MacDonalds and went to bed at almost midnight every night.
Oh and our daughter decided she now needed to be eating solid food, the day after we arrived in Australia.
Thankfully my husband only started his job the month after we arrived so in many ways we were on some sort of adventure. Not quite a holiday but not really the daily grind.
When your new life begins
Before I knew it the month of adventure had passed and our new real life had to begin. My husband had to decipher public transport and start working. I had to unpack us into a new (tiny by South African standards) home and work out how to keep the kids alive and entertained between 7am and 7pm.
“The phrase ‘baptism by fire’ comes to mind.”
The daily difficulties
Even if you have all your bases covered, job, home and transport wise, and you know that in the long run you can make it, the everyday can be hard and bring you to the brink of tears. Everything is completely new. A trip to the store can take hours because you don’t know where anything is let alone what it looks like or which brand the family will not hate.
Driving around was so scary
Another nightmare is driving around in a new City in a new car with two little kids. At times I found this to be a terrifying nightmare. I didn’t know where I was going or whether it would even be worth all the stress and anxiety. The whole experience would get a whole lot worse when I took a wrong turn and landed up on the other side of the world. With two kids shouting in the confines of the car I would still have to find my way home somehow.
New continent meant new germs
Travelling to a new continent as we learnt means new germs. Germs that you’ve never been exposed to. Consequently at least one of the family will get sick and probably more than once.
One of the worst experiences is when your child is ill and you don’t know what medication to give them even though its just a cough or the flu or where to find a pharmacy that may help. You definitely don’t know where to find a doctor. If by some luck you manage to ask someone where to find a doctor you will then get there (hopefully on time if you don’t get lost) and discover that you have no idea how the system works.
Added to this stress is how much it costs in Australia to see a doctor regardless of whether you are on government health care or not.
Nothing happens in isolation
The problem is that these little battles don’t happen in isolation. They are every part of your every day. Coupled with these challenges is the fact that your home is new and is missing a lot of the homeliness you had created in your previous home.
Everything is new, everything is confusing and everything takes a lot of time to learn. Huge patience is required on the part of every family member as you muddle through together.
Just getting on with settling in Australia
It is hard work starting out in a new place with kids. Thankfully, you don’t get the chance to sit down and feel sorry for yourself. There is no time. You can’t hope that they’ll miraculously feed or bath themselves. They definitely wont entertain themselves for long so you have just got to keep moving. And moving is what we did and what we have become accustomed to.
We’ve become explorers and adventurers always looking for something new to do. In a lot of ways this approach has been a good thing. We have experienced our new City in a way we never experienced our previous home City. Essentially, we’ve become Sydneysiders through exposure.
Almost a year into Settling in Australia
Things have not been easy. Our kids have been sick almost every month that we’ve been here. We’ve had lots of trips to the Emergency Department at the Hospital.
Unfortunately I was in hospital for a large portion of a month as a result of an scar ectopic pregnancy which needed medical intervention and ultimately chemotherapy. These things would have happened regardless of where we were living but it has made it a little harder to be so far away from family.
Having faced these challenges, the little ones and the more serious health problems we are still grateful to be here.
We definitely find peace in the decision we made.
Yes, it often feels like the rug has been pulled out from under your feet but you have to think of it as an adventure. You have to grab all the opportunities that come your way. You have to get out and explore. And you have to say yes to the random strangers that invite you to sit with them at playgroup or the coffee shop.
Click on the links below for more posts in the series.