Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Ellen tells us about moving to Australia
1. Hi, Ellen! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
My name is Ellen Poels, originally from Everberg, near Leuven. During my studies, I got the opportunity to spend a year studying at a university in China. There I met my Australian boyfriend, now husband. After a couple of years studying and working in China, we decided to move to Australia in 2006. In the meantime I have been living in Australia for over ten years, first in Newcastle, then a couple of years in Canberra and now Sydney. In 2010 I was given the Australian nationality.
2. What did you expect from Australia and life there before moving? Did those expectations hold up?
We weren’t really planning on moving to Australia – we just kind of decided it was time to leave China, bought plane tickets and left with all our stuff a couple of weeks later. I wasn’t really prepared and hadn’t been thinking about what I should expect from living in Australia. We only knew we would be living with my husband’s parents for a while, while we were looking for a job.
Besides that, I was thinking of the sun, beaches, koalas, big spiders and warm Christmases. Ten years later, it seems like we made the right decision coming here. The fact that my husband’s family was here to welcome us and show me around helped me a lot.
It did, however, take me a while to find my feet: making new friends, finding a job and adjusting to the new working environment, moving to another city a couple of times for work. I thought that would all go smoothly, but it did take me a couple of years.
Getting to know new people isn’t that hard, but making friends and feeling integrated into a new country or city cannot be achieved from one day to the next. I wasn’t a tourist, but I wasn’t Australian yet either. Besides, during my first couple of years in Australia, I first had a temporary visa before I got my permanent visa, which raised a lot of questions (and administration) about insurance and work opportunities.
In Sydney, we’re living and working in the city. Of course, it is a big city but we’re close to the water as well, there are a lot of public parks and the people, in general, are just really friendly and laid-back. I run past the Sydney Opera House a lot because it’s on my run course, and every time I pass that building, sweating, I think to myself how lucky I am to be living in such a beautiful city.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Australia and life in Belgium?
That depends on where exactly you’re living in Australia, there are big busy cities, smaller towns, or the countryside.
For me, one of the biggest differences is how people express themselves here. Australians are quick to start a conversation with each other, in the supermarket or on the train for example. Now that I have a little girl, I’m noticing the difference even more. A lot of people come over to say hi, ask me her name or how old she is. When I was living in Canberra and was walking to work daily, I really had to get used to all the people saying ‘goodmorning’ to me. I don’t think that necessarily means people are friendlier here, I just think they are a little less shy compared to people in Belgium.
Another big difference is that people here are really optimistic. I have no clue why – maybe it’s the climate, there is less gray skies and rain here in Australia. It is stereotypical to say that Australians ‘will have a go’, but it often is like that, though.
4. What’s the best part about living in Australia?
There are a lot of fun things about living in Sydney. Especially the proximity to the sea, and the nice weather. Winters here only last a couple of months, after that you can start wearing your sandals again.
Sydney is a really multicultural city as well and Australia, in general, is a land of immigration, which is interesting. The many community groups you’ll find in Sydney lend a huge diversity to the city. Sydney really celebrates that diversity: there’s a big party for the Chinese New Year; there are a lot of multicultural festivals; you can catch a Bollywood movie in the local cinema, and of course a lot of great food!
Australia has a certain spirit of togetherness, that I couldn’t always find in Belgium. Australians are really proud of their country and on their being Australian.
Besides that, I really like the work culture here. But that could be just my personal experience of course. I always got to work with some wonderful colleagues and very flexible bosses.
5. What do you like least about living in Australia?
The long distances: you can’t just drive somewhere or visit someone that easily. Families often live in different cities and don’t get to see each other regularly.
One unfortunate aspect (in Sydney at least): living here is not cheap, especially rent; a good school for kids and higher education are very expensive.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
Without a doubt, my friends and family in Belgium. We have a daughter who just turned 1 and now I miss my family more than ever. In Belgium, we all lived relatively close and how nice would it be to just go visit my parents, aunts… and friends that I have known for a very long time. You do miss those relationships and connections.
I miss the compactness of Belgium as well. When I was still living there, everything seemed so small and closeby but compared to the distances here in Australia that came in handy. Besides that, I miss the fact that it is easy to go on a city trip from Belgium. It is possible to just drive for an hour and already being abroad. In Australia, things like that are more difficult.
Last but not least, fries with andalouse (kind of sauce)!
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
The languages problem. People here in Australia are always impressed when I tell them I speak several languages. The fact that I speak both Dutch and French, got in handy here a couple of times, especially professionally. I’m really glad I had to study both languages.
I don’t miss the weather either. My first years of living here, I had to get used to a warm Christmas. It was a little strange to me at first, but now I’m okay with 25 degrees Celsius and beaches on Christmas day.
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Australia? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
My family and I will definitely try to live somewhere else eventually, maybe China if we get the chance. I’m hoping we can go live in Belgium for a while as well when my daughter gets a bit older. I want her to get to know her Belgian family and Belgium.
In any case, I would love to live abroad with her for a couple of years, in Belgium or somewhere else so that she can experience new things as well and learn another language.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to Australia?
Go for it! If you have the opportunity to move to Australia, don’t hesitate. People here are friendly, life is calmer, there are all sorts of things you can do and the Australian mentality is very positive.
Getting to know new people is relatively easy if you try. Make an effort to enroll in a course, or volunteer in your community and you will definitely get to know some new people. Strike up a conversation with people in your neighborhood (if they didn’t do so already) – a very normal thing to do in Australia, where people are more social in public. The big cities have a bigger offer of jobs but you should still look out for possibilities in smaller cities as well, where the general cost of living is lower.
If you can, you should first go on a vacation to Australia. That way you can figure out which region you like and where you would like to live. Regions and cities within Australia differ a lot from each other and maybe you would prefer to live in a smaller city where life is somewhat calmer.
Try to get into contact with people who already moved to Australia and ask them about things that you’re not entirely sure about. Make sure you have an idea of the visas you need to be allowed to work; look for a job; the costs of renting a house; schools for your children…
10. What are some tips you would give to people who are traveling to your region/city? Things they should visit or eat?
The range in Sydney changes every 5 minutes, like in every big city. There are several websites where you’ll find plenty of suggestions:
What’s on Sydney (by the City of Sydney) – for news, events, shows, concerts…
Check the Facebook pages of Belgen in Sydney and Belgen in Australie – there you’ll get the most up to date info.
One last tip I would like to give you is to go visit some of the less central neighborhoods in Sydney as well. You could go eat Vietnamese in Cabramatta, for example. If you have the time, you can visit some of the NSW regions. A day on the beach in Newcastle for example, combined with a visit to the Hunter Valley.
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This interview was done by Paloma García Miranda, a talented Master’s Student of Business Communication who’s helping Sofie out here on WonderfulWanderings.com.