In the first of our expat interview series, we chat to Stef, mother of 3 (1,4 & 5) Originally from Northern Ireland Stef and her family embarked upon an expat life on the other side of the world in Australia.
What prompted you to make an International move?
We wanted to relocate for a number of reasons, rather one specific. Better weather/climate than that in the UK/Ireland, leading to a more outdoor family lifestyle. Better work life balance for both of us and to allow more family time. Better job and wage opportunities. Long term, potential better opportunities for the children to grow up with.
How did you prepare for this move? Were you offered support?
We hired a migration agent as well a relocation agent. The migration agent helped guide us through the visa process and the various steps and stages along the way to ensure we had correctly submitted documents at each stage, as and when it arose. Pre arrival to Australia and after visa grant, we hired a relocation agent to feedback and report on schools in desired areas as well as suburbs for finding a home. This was especially worthwhile as our initial favoured choice reported schools not to be at a level we had hoped, and therefore we were able to reconsider a location more suited to what we desired, as well as having a permanent home to arrive to when we landed for the first time. This really reduced a lot of the stress and pressure that inevitably builds as the date for leaving fast approaches.
What were the most difficult element(s) about leaving your home country?
Leaving what you had known most of your life. Having a home, secure jobs, family and friends that were family, it can sometimes sneak in to your thoughts why are you doing this, and you have to focus and look at the bigger picture of the reasons you originally decided to make this move. When people know you’re leaving, especially in months leading, you see a lot of people that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen as frequently and this can add to the emotions of it all.
What were your first impressions of your new environment?
Wow! Surreal, pinch yourself type feelings for a number of days (as well as jet lag!). Leaving Northern Ireland in the middle of winter, and 2 degrees and landing in Australia at 32 degrees and white sandy beaches as far as you can travel, was just out of this world. The beauty of the place and how clean and family orientated it was, even though we were aware of this, still took us aback at just how beautiful it all was, (and still is).
Did you have any concerns or even regrets in those early days and weeks?
No, none. Of course leaving was very emotional, with concerns about moving your children away from friends, family, security and worrying if they would settle. As there was just so much the kids could do immediately it felt like a holiday for them, and all we had ever hoped for.
How long were you living in your host country before you felt settled and more at home’?
We didn’t feel unsettled as such, but definitely felt like we were in holiday mode for several months until we settled into our jobs, children at daycare and new routines became normal. After 6 months we felt properly settled.
How did your children cope with the change of familiarity, culture, language?
The children adapted really quickly, and surprised us at how well they did. Indirectly this helped settle us, as this was one of our main concerns. Given the language is the same, it was more straightforward for the children to adapt, and at the age they were they weren’t at school age, and settled well into daycare/kindy.
What do you think are the most important elements to make an expat experience successful?
Research and being prepared are the two main key elements we feel. By that we mean, knowing the area (from afar) as best you can. Familiarising yourself with the locality of everything via the internet and forums etc. Being prepared before arrival knowing everything you need to do to get set up in the country (drivers licences, medical, tax etc). Even though you’re moving to a country that speaks the same language, you have to be open to a different culture that can surprise you.
Do you believe an expat life can enrich your children, if yes why?
Yes, our boys are embracing their new life and meeting people from different cultures with different backgrounds and beliefs, already instilling a more open mind and acceptance of diversity which they would not have had the opportunity so freely (outside of our home) in Northern Ireland. The opportunity for children here to have a hobby that they choose is so vast and refreshing.
If you have since returned to your home country was it easy or difficult to adjust?
Yes to return back to our home country, with COVID it may be some time before we do.
Finally, please share your most wonderful and unique experience you shared together as a family whilst living away from home.
Our most unique experience was when we had the opportunity (on the coastline we live) to feed wild dolphins whilst standing in the water, just the four of us, it was magical and something we would have to have to done on holiday and the animals would not have been free and wild. We have also watched the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, sat on the beach and enjoyed an outdoor movie as a family, went on our first bike ride together as a family, having Australia Zoo 20 minutes from our house....the list could go on and hope to keep adding to it.