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Why Living Abroad Is My Travel of Choice & The Next Stop Is…

After living in Sydney for quite some time, I’ve come to realise one thing about myself – I love to feel like a local. So much so, I usually end up adopting a bit of the accent or language while I’m there. Howdy yall, G’day Mate, Hola Amiga – it just happens, I swear. Even when I was studying abroad, I truly enjoyed the feeling of walking into the only pub in the town and knowing everyone that worked there. I find it fascinating to get to know the locals, and find out things like my bartender is also the town’s dry cleaner. Or that the cook at school also teaches yoga. Or that little bakery down the street has the best croissants in the whole country! These little snippets of insider’s information can only come from living, staying or even visiting a place for an extended period of time.

This has shaped the way I look at travel. When I first travelled through Europe, I gallivanted through 12 countries and over twenty cities in less than eight weeks. It was thrilling and exciting, but also very exhausting. I never felt like we truly saw the city we were in. It was one quick stop to all of the tourist traps, and off we go to the next city.  Don’t get me wrong, it was the greatest eight weeks of my life, but after studying and living in a few different countries, I’ve found my calling as a traveller.

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The girls in Leysin, Switzerland, Study Abroad, 2013

 

I love the expat life. Sure, it’s not as glitzy and glamorous as a round the world trip in 30 days. It doesn’t have the same sex appeal as slugging a backpack around going from hostel to hostel. (You and I may have very different opinions on what “sex appeal” means…) It’s certainly not the cool girl at the party, not compared to the aloof nomadic lifestyle. Running on a few hours of sleep after partying all night running to catch our next flight certainly makes for a great story, but living abroad offers you so much more. When I first moved to Sydney, I knew I had a year and a bit to figure myself and my surroundings out. I allowed the process of familiarization to happen organically. I didn’t feel the need to cram in all of the tourist site in one quick weekend, although I was quite eager to see the beloved Opera House.

I fell in love with the city, but not in the “love at first sight” kind of way.  It was more in the rugged, slow, drawn out kind of love. Every little corner and crevice of the city that I found all on my own became a part of me. I got lost, a lot. I found my way around public transport. I found myself work. I found myself friends. And it was difficult and hard and challenging, but I did it.

Now I sit here, nine months later, feeling like I know my city. I have a list of my favourites, like only a local could – my favourite sushi place, my favourite beach, my favourite bar. I realised I didn’t like hanging around the city so much, and the beaches and suburbs had some of the best coffee. I no longer think of it as the “Aussie” dollar, it’s now my currency. I no longer have to actively think of lane placement while I drive on the other side of the road – it’s natural to me now. I walk on the left hand side of the sidewalk, as well. I say things like “car park” and “preso” and “have a think.”  I eat vegemite on toast for brekkie, and I enjoy a cheeky beer in the arvo. See, totes a local, hey?

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Me at The Rocks, Sydney

I have bank cards, and a bus card, and a SIM card and every other type of card. I’m organising events with friends, going off to Spanish Speaking meet ups in the city, hanging out in Hyde Park reading a book on my own. I feel comfortable in a foreign country, and it’s seriously the coolest feeling in the world.

It hasn’t been easy. On the contrary, it’s been very challenging. The little things you take for granted suddenly become huge differences.

Even just sending through my resume out for job openings became a challenge. Apparently, the one-page rule we’re drilled with since we’re born is not acceptable here in Australia. All of my prospective employers would ask why I only sent through one page, and that I needed to send at least 2-3 more pages. Drive-through anything is rare, let alone my all time fave drive-through ATM. The traffic lights are placed differently, making noticing a red light quite difficult. There’s virtually no censorship on the TV or radio, shocking me on a daily basis. Sushi is served warm… The grocery store, where you used to know what’s in every aisle by heart, suddenly becomes this hour-long maze to try to find a semblance of a similar brand. Red-bell peppers are called capsicum. Canteloupe is rock melon. My mind is blown! You take for granted having someone to call at any time during the day. Seriously, time zones can be such a bitch! The list goes on and on.

Then there’s taxes (both US and Australian) and health insurance (or lack thereof) and visa limitations…

There had been times where I felt like I had no friends aside from my boyfriend, and I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. Imagine going through all of your years of schooling with the same friends since you were born, then going to university and keeping those friends, yet making a ton of new life-long friends, as well. Then those four years of university are up, and you move 10,000 miles away from home, only to realise that not everyone is going to take the time to call you or text you or see how you’re doing. You find yourself messaging your friends only to get short responses, if any response at all. You realise you’re in a brand new city with no friends. No one to group text to go to happy hour with, no one to even just pop on by their house and watch hours of Scandal with.

I wouldn’t give up the time I’ve spent with Sam for one second, but I definitely took for granted how easy it was to make friends in college. Very rarely, do you have to start COMPLETELY over again making friends after college. Like not even one person you know or can hang out with. Imagine that.

Those were tough times, and I was able to push through the rough bits, largely due to Sam being a wonderful boyfriend and to Sydney being a wonderful city. Thank God, I pushed through because had I given up, I never would have realised how rewarding it feels to live abroad and live the life of an expat.

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The girls and I on a harbour cruise with HostelWorld

Now that my visa is almost up, Sam and I have decided on where to go next. We were tossing up the idea of just traveling around here and there and roaming from city to city. We thought about moving back to the United States. We thought about more options than you ever could imagine. (Working a summer in Croatia was on the cards…) But all of these options wouldn’t have given me the incredible satisfaction of going through the expat process in a new country.

So – with all of that said, we are so happy to announce that as of April 2015, we will be the newest residents of Surat Thani, Thailand – a cozy town in the southern province of Thailand nearby the islands, Koh Phangan (Full Moon Party), Koh Samui  (Beautiful Beaches on Angthong) and Ko Tao (Indredible Diving). This has been Sam’s lifelong dream, and anyone that knows me would remember me babbling on and on about my Asia adventures I would one day embark on.

What in the heck will we be doing there, you might ask? Well, we’ll be teaching English at a private language school in the town.  On the side, I’ll still be maintaining my wonderful clients I have now, and I’ll also be helping out local businesses with their websites, social media and blogger outreach programs. Sam will be private tutoring for a whopping amount of bahts per hour. (Baht is the Thai currency – 33 baht = $1 USD)

Our lovely 3 bedroom flat is taken care of, courtesy of the school we’ll be working with. Two of the rooms being ours. The other room is occupied by an American couple who work on weekends. It’s a huge passerby town, with many tourists on the way to their island getaways, but not many stick around longer than a day. I like that it’s a smaller town. I like that there will be plentyyyyy of opportunities to practice my Thai, and I like that there will be true authentic Thai food at the noodle markets every night.

There are many things I’m afraid of (dengue fever to be exact – more on that to come), but those fears will pass just like my fears about Australia did. I know how excited I was to move to Australia, that I almost forgot to take into account all of the hardships that I may encounter. This time around I’m much more mentally prepared – as prepared as one can be to move to Thailand for a year…

As for now, the plan is:

  • March 18 – I head home to Florida for 3 weeks. Sam heads off to Phuket to train at the world renown Tiger Muay Thai for a month.
  • March 27 – I make my first visit back to Florida State University in almost a year with my Dad!
  • April 7 – I fly to Phuket to meet Sam and train at Tiger Muay Thai for his last week – courtesy of the Tiger team for letting me train and review the experience for the blog!
  • April 17 – Sam and I will leave Phuket and fly to Penang, Malaysia where we will get our 90 Day Visas for Thailand and spend five beautiful days.
  • April 22 – We arrive in Surat Thani, move into our humble abode, and start training for school!

Busy schedule, up ahead. I couldn’t be more excited, but it’s always a sad realisation that when one adventure begins, another has to close. I love Sydney with all of my heart, and I know I’ll be back one day. I mean, Sam is from here, so of course we’ll be back. But with the expat life, comes attachment to the city you’ve been living in. I feel so connected to this city, and I can’t imagine not seeing the beautiful Harbour Bridge and Opera House every day from my window. But it’s time for a new adventure, and I’ll be back soon!

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Sunset over the Great Barrier Reef

Thank you all for being a part of the adventure so far 🙂

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10 Comments

  • Reply Kirstie February 13, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    So excited for you, even if it means we won’t have you here in Sydney! Thailand will be amazing!

    • Reply KP Schwan February 17, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Thanks love! You’ll have to come visit!!!

  • Reply Paula Through the Looking Glass February 13, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    ah so you have answered one of my questions here….can i get a 90 day visa for thailand in a surrounding country (malaysia for example) if I’m British…yes!

    • Reply KP Schwan February 17, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      Yes you can! We’re going to Penang to obtain the 90 day Non-Immigrant B Visa. It takes 2 days to process.

  • Reply Laura February 22, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I can relate to this post SO much KP! I’m totally an expat style traveler as well. It also took me a long time to fall in love with Sydney, but it was so hard to leave when the time came. It’s a city that will stick with you long after you leave, trust me! But Thailand sounds amazing! Can’t wait to read along on the adventures 🙂

    • Reply KP Schwan February 22, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words! It’s such a unique city, I’m really going to miss it! But the expat life is calling me elsewhere, I’m glad someone else understands 🙂

  • Reply Kendra Granniss March 1, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    I love this post! I have been considering moving to Australia for a year after my adventures in SE Asia. Your story is inspiring! Now, I have more thinking to do about my future.

    • Reply KP Schwan March 2, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      Aw thank you! Australia really is such a wonderful country for expats. Amazing pay, employee benefits, such a diverse mix of cultures and the gorgeous weather, it’s truly amazing! I’m pretty sad I’m leaving, but Thailand is calling my name! Haha If you have any questions, please feel free message or email me. I’d love to help!

  • Reply Kailey @ The Blonde Travelista March 9, 2015 at 5:18 am

    How exciting! I totally agree about the minor differences in Australia. My aussie boyfriend was shocked when he saw drive thru ATMS here. And as far as the grocery stores there… capsicum? Rock melon? Rocket? And they only just got egg whites when I was leaving. It was an entirely different world. I’m not going to lie when people asked me what I missed most about home, I said the food (including Trader Joe’s).

    I’m looking forward to reading about your Thailand adventures! 🙂

    • Reply KP Schwan March 9, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      Same! Sam was so shocked to see how much of what we do has a drive-thru option! I miss it so much 🙂

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