I am so excited to feature the blogger extraordinaire herself, Chana Lynn, and her story of her move abroad to Sydney, Australia!
Chana is a web designer who works independently as well as with a local media agency, Tabletop Media Group. She manages social media for multiple clients as well as her own blog, Raleigh What’s Up and Instagram, @raleighwhatsup. She loves traveling, taking photographs, live music concerts, and going to art museums – we definitely have all of those in common!
When my husband and I announced that we were moving abroad to Melbourne, Australia, Chana reached out to me and told me that she had previously lived in Sydney, Australia. Can you say Sydney What’s Up?!
I knew that I had to hear more about her experience moving and living abroad to somewhere so near and dear to where I will be. I am thrilled to share her story and experiences with you!
Original Home Location Before Living Abroad: Tysons Corner, VA just outside of Washington, D.C.
Abroad Home Location: Sydney, Australia just across the Harbor Bridge on the North Shore in Mosman NSW
Current Home Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States
About the Move to Sydney, Australia
When did you make the move to Sydney, Australia?
Chana: My husband and I moved to Sydney in October of 1997.
Why did you decide to make the move? / What motivated you?
Chana: We decided to move to Sydney because we had spent much of our life in Virginia growing up, going to college and then moving to Washington, D.C. for work. My boss of five years at Booz Allen & Hamilton was Australian and he had just moved back to Sydney where he was from. We had worked on many projects together while he was in the states and he reached out to me with the proposal to move to Sydney to work for his team there. He offered both my husband and I four year working visas so that both of us could work in Australia (sometimes spouses are not allowed to work). We were renting an apartment, leasing a car and to be honest, ready to leave the city for something different, exciting and new. It was the perfect time to make a change and this was a big one for us!
How many times did you visit your new country and city prior to your move?
Chana: It was the late 90s and we did not really think to travel to Australia prior to moving there. We literally looked up what we could on the internet (which wasn’t much at that time!) and packed two huge bags and went! We knew very little about Australia!
How did you break the news to loved ones?
Chana: We talked to each of our families and although they were very surprised, they were also very excited for us. They were apprehensive about how far away it was but we reassured them we would be back and this would be a great opportunity for them to come visit. Most of our immediate family came to visit while we lived there and a few friends made it over as well.
What was the hardest part of moving / what did you find frustrating during your move?
Chana: Honestly, it wasn’t really hard once we made the decision. We loved talking about how we were going to move to Australia with our friends but when it was time to make the decision it was really hard and scary. Once we committed it was pretty easy because we had the work visas and we gave notice to our apartment and returned our car. We didn’t have kids or pets so it was pretty straightforward.
One surprise for us was literally when we were at the airport checking in to start our actual trip to Australia, they noticed my passport name didn’t exactly match my ticket. We had just gotten married two years prior and my passport didn’t match my new married name but we somehow got it approved at the last minute. This was 1997, prior to 9/11 and stricter travel rules so if there’s a lesson there, make sure when you get married to officially change your name on all your legal documents!
Did you decide to ship your belongings or to store your belongings?
Chana: When we decided to move to Australia we moved all our stuff into a storage unit. My parents kept a few things and we got rid of stuff as well. We had only been married for two years so we didn’t really have that much since we were in a small apartment already. We brought two huge duffel bags with us and that was it!
About her Home in Sydney, Australia
How did you find your home when you lived abroad?
Chana: We checked with real estate offices for what was available to rent in our price range. It is incredibly expensive to buy in Sydney proper and we wanted the ability to be able to walk, ferry, train or bus to everything to fully experience the city lifestyle. My Australian boss took us out and showed us some good neighborhoods in the city to live based on our interests and that helped us a lot since he knew the city so well. We stayed with his family at their house for a couple weeks which was nice, allowing us time to find a place, start working and settle in and get acclimated.
Describe the home – apartment, house, etc:
Chana: We lived in two apartments during our time in Australia. The first was a really cool modern efficiency apartment that was super small but really well designed. Our bed came out of the wall in our living room space. It was tight but we were in such a great location with shops, restaurants and bars literally around the corner from us and one of Sydney’s most beautiful beaches (Balmoral) just a few blocks away.
After about a year, we eventually moved to a bigger two bedroom apartment up the street with more space but still in a great location with three flights of stairs to climb multiple times a day! It was noisy with restaurants next door, but I loved the proximity to everything. We had a coffee shop steps away that we loved to hang out at a lot.
Lifestyle Abroad in Sydney, Australia
Why did you choose the country and specifically, the city that you moved to?
Chana: I had a unique job opportunity to work in Sydney CBD (Central Business District) so we were able to relocate knowing at least one of us would have income as soon as we got there. We were also excited to explore a country we didn’t know much about. We had some good friends who helped us with the relocation and getting work so that made the choice easier as well. My husband enjoyed a couple months of exploring life in Sydney and set up job interviews and ultimately got a great job in Sydney’s CBD. He is still working for the same company here in the US today, 22 years later!
How long did you live abroad?
Chana: We lived in Sydney for just over three years. We went to the 2000 Olympics and saw the most amazing fireworks display on the Sydney Harbor, one of the first places in the world to ring in NYE 1999/ 2000. Y2K was a huge event with our tech jobs as well when we lived there. We also witnessed some crazy weather with a record breaking hail storm that did major damage to the city in 1999.
What have you missed the most about living abroad?
Chana: We absolutely loved living in Sydney. The city is modern and vibrant, the beaches are gorgeous and easy to access and there is a great quality of life in Australia. I miss getting out and exploring all the incredible places in and around Sydney. I miss being close to other countries we could visit easily like New Zealand, Fiji and China to name a few. I miss impromptu barbeques on the beach with friends. We made some really great Australian friends and we enjoyed spending time with them (which we still do to this day). I miss the new experiences of being in a different country, the cultural differences and seeing our own country from a different perspective, good and bad.
What was the most surprising thing to you when you moved there and then when you moved back?
Chana: We had our first child while living overseas! I never thought that was something we would have done but it turned out to be the most amazing experience! We had excellent healthcare in Sydney and our family traveled over to be with us when she was born. I am so thrilled that we have a forever connection with Sydney. Ultimately, it was having this new baby in our lives that we soon realized we needed the support and love of the rest of our family which was the main reason for coming back after three years. I have such fond memories of Australia and we have lifelong friendships there. We have been back to visit a couple times and I would love to go back for a much longer stay in the near future. It surprises me the strong connection I still feel with that country 20 years later. I cannot imagine my life without having made this huge leap of faith!
What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
Chana: Not being able to walk everywhere to do almost everything we liked or needed to do.
What did you have to sacrifice to make living abroad come true?
Chana: We sacrificed time away from family and friends. When we made the decision to move abroad, we knew we were going half a world away and that this would be hard on both our families and for us as well. It was also hard to leave our friends and not know when we would be back.
We knew that when we decided to ultimately come back to the States we would have to make major decisions about where we would settle down, how we would afford a house and at least two cars since we probably wouldn’t be able to walk or commute practically everywhere like we did in Australia. We had a lot of financial concerns, especially since we also came back with a one-year old baby!
Had you ever lived outside of your home country before?
Chana: No, this was our first time living outside of the US.
What did you do for fun in your city abroad?
Chana: We loved spending the weekends exploring the city and surrounding suburbs, going to the beach and taking road trips to the Hunter Valley wine country, and other nearby areas like the Blue Mountains. We spent a lot of time outdoors, much more than when we lived in Virginia.
What did you like/dislike about living abroad?
Chana: At the time when we lived abroad, internet connections were not great and it was hard to keep in touch with family and friends. Video quality was bad and limited. The time difference was huge as well!
What were your favorite spots in the area?
Chana: We did as much traveling as we could over the three years of living in Australia. We traveled to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Alice Springs in the Outback, snorkled the Great Barrier Reef, hiked in Tasmania, visited Phillip Island to see the penguins arrive back to their nests, went to Melbourne and Brighton Beach to see the bathing boxes, traveled to Brisbane and the Gold Coast in Queensland and more. We love the beaches around Sydney. My favorite beaches are Bondi and nearby Coogee and Tamarama beaches as well as Manly and quiet Shelly Beach. We loved visiting the Sydney Zoo with the amazing city views from the park.
Did you have your own mode of transportation, a car, bike, etc?
Chana: We were lucky to be able to jump on a bus, train or ferry to get to work or to go out. We could walk to a lot of places as well. We bought an old car to use mostly for weekend excursions out of the city. Sydney has an amazing public transport system so it was great. My favorite that never got old was taking the ferry into the city for work and passing by the Harbor Bridge and Opera House.
What do you love about your current city?
Chana: When we moved back from Australia we had options to move to the DC area or Raleigh. We are so happy we picked Raleigh to live and raise a family. We love being close to family and friends and it has become such an amazing city/place to live.
The Benefits of Living an Expat Lifestyle Abroad
When you moved back, what do you feel like you gained from living abroad? / How did the experience enrich your life?
Chana: I can honestly say, living abroad for three years was one of the best things we ever did. We did it at a good time in our lives when it was easier to take a risk like this and make a break from all that we knew. Living in another country for an extended amount of time allowed us to learn so much about another culture by being fully immersed. We learned a lot about the history of Australia, the people, and the country’s connections to England. We learned a lot more about geography and a new appreciation for the other side of the world! We loved being “the Americans” and being the unique ones that people wanted to hear more about us and our country. Being told how we talk funny and learning quickly that although we all spoke English, not all expressions translate the same! Australians we met seemed to really want to get to know us and understand more about our country versus what they read or saw on tv at the time (it was 1997-2000). The people we met were friendly and we gained lifetime friendships, went to their weddings, traveled together and watched them have children too. We have been able to meet up with these friends at different places in the world over the years, to reconnect and have made many more memories by going back to Australia with our two daughters and seeing it again through their eyes. My life is definitely richer by having spent time away from the US. Our perspectives on politics, people, climate, etc. were broadened as well, by seeing things happening in the US from the other side of the world (I was in Australia visiting when the 2016 election happened). Australia taught us to live life to the fullest, invest in people, new experiences, new challenges, learn new skills (like driving on the other side of the road!) and most of all, not to be afraid of change.
I want to thank Chana so much for joining me and for sharing her story about her move abroad to Sydney! It is hard to believe that 2000 was 20 years ago! I found it really interesting that she was in Sydney during that time and that she had her first child while living abroad. She experienced a lot of firsts, new places, new friends, a new century, and lots of other interesting things in a short amount of time living in a foreign country!
I have visited Sydney myself and hope to visit again with my husband while we are living in Australia. It is a wonderful city and at one point, was actually a contender for our move as well.
Visit Expat Chats to read all of my interviews with people who have chosen to live internationally and to lead an Expat lifestyle.