My dream, my passion, my planned future is gone. And I’m not talking about my ex wife…
I’m talking about Straya. Oz. The land down under. Australia: my own personal promised land.
I have had a relationship with Australia even longer than with my ex. It started ten and a half years ago in February 2008 during my junior year of college as I set off on my first ever international trip. Seeming to follow the go big or go home mantra for trying new things (my first ever flight, the year before, was from the Midwest to Hawaii), my first international trip took me from Ohio on a 24+ hour voyage to Perth, Australia on the near exact opposite side of the globe for a study abroad semester through my college.
Sparing the details, I had an amazing time. Drank too much, studied too little, but bonded with new people over a shared experience in a new land. Started learning the basics of a new culture and widened my worldview. Probably typical of most American college students who go abroad, I came back from my time abroad in love with my host country and dying to go back. Senior year of college, while full of its own trials, tribulations, experiences, and memories, was also tinged with hints of nostalgia for Australia.
Lo and behold, lightning struck twice. Through a cultural program I participated in during study abroad, I was offered the opportunity to come back to Australia after graduation. The circumstances of my potential return seemed crazy; I would be going to a small country town in the middle of nowhere, playing Australian Rules Football with a local amateur team, and working in a grocery store on a 12 month visa. Little other details were provided other than I’d need to leave two days after graduation in order to make the timing work. Going to an academic-focused college, with friends accepting what seemed like big time, real world jobs, plus being someone who at the time was not a big risk taker, this all just seemed like a complete jump off the deep end. But I was directionless and Australia was my north star; the pull was strong.
That’s how I found myself moving out of my college apartment, unpacking and storing all my belongings in my childhood home, and re-packing two big ol rolling suitcases for a new adventure in Australia in 48 hours. Fulfilling my dream of returning almost exactly a year after I left.
I look back on the next year in Australia as one of the best in my life. It was a hugely formative experience; similar to my study abroad experience but on another level in that I was truly alone. I was a all by myself in a vast country, in a town of 2000 souls on the remote southern coast. Throughout my year I struggled with direction, finances, loneliness, and injury. But I fully immersed in a new culture. Picked up vital travel and independent living skills. Built the foundation for post-college life, beginning to put together who I was as an adult. Made countless fun memories, lived through crazy adventures and made absolute, ride-or-die friends for life along the way. I gained a deep appreciation for and understanding of Aussie culture. Their good-natured, kind-hearted, never-take-anything-too-seriously mindset resonated deeply with me and I felt home.
Needless to say, by the time my visa was running out a year later I was in no rush to leave. After six months down south, I had moved back up to Perth and had created a life for myself. I was established and, while still grinding to make ends meet, I felt settled and eager to continue exploring the city and Australian culture. I had friends, a job (several actually), a killer apartment with a balcony view of the ocean, and a new girlfriend. And while I can’t say everything was always rainbows and sunshine, my dream of living in Australia was my day to day experience. The very city I had romanticized post-study abroad was now my home! But laws are laws (let me tell you, Australia’s immigration laws are no joke) and it was time for me to go.
So for the second time in as many years, I found myself back in the American Midwest experiencing reverse culture shock and moping around wishing I was back in Australia. Except this time it was even worse because all my friends were now a year into adult careers and I was living at home with my parents, unemployed and directionless.
Fast forward several years and I had “made it”. I parlayed my limited work experience into several different gigs culminating in a good job at a tech company in Chicago. Throughout the journey from depressed unemployed kid living at home to tech-bro yuppie in the big city, Australia was always in the back of my mind. In lonely moments, I thought of my Aussie friends and all our fun memories. In tough patches at work, I thought of happy times from my Aussie jobs. In good times, I thought of my ex-girlfriend and how much I wanted to share the moment with her. Nostalgia for Australia was always right there under the surface, ready to bubble up in any quiet, undistracted moment. There was definitely a grass is always greener effect going on, but it was what it was.
Eventually these nostalgic feelings were given an outlet as communication with the old Aussie girlfriend mentioned above increased and blossomed into a real relationship. My love for Australia and Aussie culture now once again became a part of my day-to-day life. Over the next five years as my wife and I grew in our relationship, I learned more about Australia than I ever thought possible. I was also able to make three more trips to Perth to see friends and in-laws, totaling about a month and a half in total time. I think it’s safe to say I became an honorary citizen. Or at least a cultural ambassador!
My wife and I agreed that we would end up in Australia. She could not be away from her family forever and let’s be honest, I preferred it there. Australia was the “settling down” point… when we’d have kids and buy a house and become real, live adults. While we wrangled over exact time frames, I was content that that my future was Aussie. The move was my goal post; everything I did at work and in my career was aimed at acquiring the necessary skills and job title that would make getting work in Australia feasible. Visa and immigration costs, as well as the general cost of starting from scratch in a different country, were never far from my mind and the chief savings goal (not a house, car, or retirement, to my later chagrin).
Then came the split. Relationship over. Dream destroyed. Future clouded. Due to restrictive immigration laws, it is impossible for me to immigrate to Australia without a “partner visa”. My nearly ten year involvement with the promised land was over. We were no more than 1-2 years away from making the move.
Over the past year I’ve grappled first and foremost with the sudden loss of my partner and best friend, my ex-wife, as detailed periodically in this blog. But I’ve also had to contend with the fact that the door on Australia has also shut, and that’s been a tough pill to swallow. In retrospect it’s a bit humorous but I’ve had to follow the same getting-out-of-a-relationship tropes with Australia, like unfollowing all Perth and Australia-centered Instagram accounts, taking down Australia related pictures and art from my apartment, and removing checking Perth news outlets online from my morning routine.
As with the break-up with my ex, the past year has brought some closure on my break-up with Australia. Or if not closure, acceptance. I am lucky to have made friends with some incredible people. I’m a better person for the cross-cultural experiences. And I’ll always still have Australian Rules Football 🙂
If you really want to go down a rabbit hole with me, check out my old combined post-grad and study abroad Australia blog here