Have you ever sat at your desk dreaming of jacking in your job and moving abroad to a whole new world? Or maybe you’ve wondered whether the 9-5 routine of city life deadens how you really feel deep inside? What if there are alternative realities that might bring you alive in ways you couldn’t even imagine?
With so many places to choose from whether Europe, Indonesia or America, considering a move abroad can feel as scary as it can exciting. From assessing the size of a place, the possibility of finding a job or the likelihood of finding good friends far from home, upping sticks can seem an idyllic idea laden with risk. But it doesn’t have to be.
That’s where Gazing Girl comes in.
In a series of short interviews with guys and girls who have moved abroad to Sweden, Spain, New Zealand and beyond, we hope to give you the confidence to travel where your heart takes you.
Next stop, Australia! Over to you, Mette…
Can You Tell Us A Bit About You?
I’m a Danish girl living in Australia with my two kids (5 and 2 years old) and my husband. He works in Oil and Gas, which means that he is away at work for four weeks and then comes home for four weeks in a continuous cycle.
I work as a Business Improvement Officer in my local council but I have a background in Psychology and Communication and I am currently studying to be a Life Coach.
What Inspired You To Move Abroad?
I wasn’t enjoying my psychology faculty in Denmark and had toyed with the idea of studying abroad. That combined with Wanderlust landed me in Perth for a semester. I met my husband there and the rest is history, as they say.
How Did You Manage The Change?
I’d had many years of getting used to the place without realising that I was in the process of immigrating. I’d had quite a few years studying, then holidaying and eventually living here (and then travelling back home again), so the decision to finally make the leap and move here permanently wasn’t too much of a shock.
That said, my first six months in Australia contained a lot of surprises – big and little! I had to get used to silly things like adjusting to a very different grocery shopping experience! Cling wrap and eggs are kept in completely different areas in Danish supermarkets!! And as for milk, getting used to a different colour coding system was something else altogether!
It’s those little day-to-day things that we take for granted at home which can become quite big stressors when we settle into a new country. Don’t even get me started on driving on the wrong side of the road!
What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?
The biggest highlight has been realising that I think of Australia as home now. I have stopped beginning most of my sentences with “at home we do it this way….” Also, Danes and Aussies share a very similar sense of humour, which has made the transition that much easier. In that sense I can continue to be my quirky self and people around me get it – most of the time!
What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?
Obviously leaving behind all my friends and family was never going to be easy but I have made a conscious effort not to dwell on it. It gets hard around Christmas and birthdays or other special occasions when I know that my family in Denmark are gathering and sharing old traditions but as Australia is quite tradition-poor I am working hard to ingrain those same traditions in my own family and my Australian family is falling in love hard with the Danish traditions.
In terms of setting up in a new country the biggest challenge has been making friends. I live in Perth where the standard ‘six degrees of separation’ has been brought down to three or four degrees. Everyone has either gone to high school, university or done sport with everyone and it is incredibly hard to break into those long established circles. However, having kids was great in that respect as it involved me in mothers’ groups and meeting new people when my oldest started school. I’ve made some very solid friendships among those mums in a short period of time.
What Has Surprised You Most About The Country?
The lack of history and the lack of culture keeps surprising me. I once discussed the topic with my brother in law who insisted that he was very cultured. Given that sport is his culture, I really didn’t know what to say!
I’m also pretty surprised by the lack of quality buildings. There is an old electricity station near where we live that was built in 1935, which has been placed on the list of ‘historical buildings’. My first apartment was older than that!! It seems that if a building is ten years older or more the Aussies just knock it down and build something else!!
What’s Your Favourite Aspect Of The Country?
You can never get enough of the Australian landscape. From the picturesque white sand blue water beaches to the rugged outback with nothing but red dirt and the green woods in between. I could happily spend the rest of my days nature gazing here.
I also love the general attitude of Australians. When I first came out I was so excited to realise that when you pass people on the street you say hello and people actually say thank you to the bus driver when they get off!!! When I left Denmark that certainly wasn’t the case! I think that’s changed since I left ten years ago but it was a stark contrast back then and a habit I’m very happy to bring to Denmark when I visit home.
What’s Your Least Favourite Aspect Of The Country?
I wish the issues with the Indigenous population could be solved. The Australian settlers (and since then, the government) has made so many blunders and continue to do so. There is an incredibly strong ‘them and us’ mentality and it is saddening to see. It will take many many generations to overcome the negative impact, but hopefully one day there will be mutual respect between the races whether original Australian or many generation immigrants.
What’s The Biggest Difference To Denmark?
Social Welfare!!! I’m sure many Danes think they have it hard and pay too much tax but in reality the tax percentage isn’t that different to what Aussies pay, yet Aussies don’t get nearly as much for their tax dollar as Danes do.
The fact that a Dane can receive their entire education for free (bar the materials they need) and even get an allowance while they study, means that the socio-economic gap is minimized. By contrast, in Australia there is a huge gap between upper class and lower class citizens and in my opinion it’s a hard cycle to break.
Did You Have A Stereotype Of The People In Your Mind And How Did Reality Reflect This?
When I was 12 or 14 and Neighbours and Crocodile Dundee was on Danish television I swore I would never want to speak English with an Australian Accent. As it turns out, the Perth metropolitan dialect is much easier to digest than I could’ve imagined!
I guess I always thought there’d be a lot of khaki pants and loose shirts when in reality people pretty much look and dress the same as they do in Denmark!
As I get more aware of Aussies in general, I’m learning to distinguish between people of different states and also people from different areas of the greater Perth. There are certainly stereotypes, though – they are self imposed and proudly cultured from what I gather!
How Did You Find Making New Friends?
As I described above, it was hard initially but that said, every where I’ve gone, people have always been very welcoming and eager to strike up conversation whether day or night.
It was difficult establishing those deeper connections, though – the ones that form when you’ve known someone for a long time. It’s not easy to break into long-established friendship groups so for the first couple of years I found myself making friends with people in similar situations to myself – those who had moved to Perth from either overseas or a different state. The only issue with the latter is that many of those people tend to eventually move on again.
What Is The Foreign Job Market Like?
When I came out here I had just graduated with my Masters degree, I didn’t have any experience within my field and finances as well as my lack of interest didn’t lend itself to me doing a bridging course to transfer my qualifications to Australia. So in a sense I started at the bottom again. I tallied up the applications I sent out and within the first six months I must’ve sent out around 100. It was only when I met a friend of my husband, who had a sister who worked in a retail shop that I was I able to get my foot in the door.
I am not sure if it was my name, lack of experience or my inability to write a good application that was the reason. In most cases, I didn’t even get a response saying that my application had been received. Having worked in recruitment since, however, I notice there is definitely a resistance towards employing anyone who doesn’t have experience in Australia, no matter what level they have worked in previously.
Once I got my foot in the door and made a few connections I have had several positions ‘handed’ to me. It is definitely a case of who you know.
How Hard Is It To Get A Visa?
Australia offers a Working Holiday to people under 30 that’s very easy to get. My student visa was also easy.
Before my husband and I got married I tried applying for a de facto visa. That was hard! Because we didn’t own anything together (the house, car and bills were all in his name), the immigration department pretty much told us that we would have to get married in order for me to be granted a visa. We actually broke up because of that as my husband was 23 at the time and not at all ready to consider marriage, so I withdrew my application and sent immigration a very angry letter.
About six months later my husband changed his mind and asked me to come back. I had planned to get an ‘intent to marry’ visa, which would give us a further nine months to see if he was really ready to commit, but as I was already in the country on a holiday visa, that didn’t turn out to be possible.
In the end we ‘just got married’ and then applied for a visa on those grounds. When we went for our interview we realised that the immigration department had kept everything we had ever sent them, including my hate-felt letter and based on all of that and the fact that my husband had been to Denmark to ‘collect’ me, they were quite happy to issue me my residency.
What Would You Do Differently Looking Back?
I am a strong believer that ‘Everything Happens For A Reason’, and the same goes for this. I think I have learned a lot in the past ten years since I moved to Perth permanently.
I do wish we had been able to live and work in Denmark for six to eight months, which we have discussed so many times. The last time we looked at it seriously, we felt it just didn’t make sense financially and now that the kids are starting school I feel like it’s too late.
What Advice Would You Give To Someone Thinking About Moving Abroad?
- Follow your heart! What is it telling you? Trust that!
- It is always OK to change your mind if it doesn’t work out the way you imagined. You can always go back home if you feel like it.
- If you go through with it, make sure you do so wholeheartedly. There is nothing gained from living with one foot in your home country and one foot out. Yes, it’s hard to leave family and friends, but you have to move past that real quick and live in the moment, otherwise you’re going to miss a lot of good things that are right in front of you.
What’s Next For You?
In an attempt to get back to my educational roots, I’m completing a Life Coaching course in a few weeks and am planning to launch a Life Coaching business before the end of the year. I am specialising in helping clients who are going through similar things to me, so I can help them to really enjoy life and embrace what it throws at them.
Oh and I have my brother and all of his family visiting this month and my parents are coming for Christmas. Yay!
How Can We Contact You?
Watch this space… my website will be www.mettemcgrath.com but I am yet to launch it.
Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You….
I have a huge love of anything feline and an equally sized allergy towards them but it seems that ten years of Australian air and soil might have cured me of that (that’s what I’m telling myself anyway)!
I also make awesome roast pork with crackly crackle. It’s in my blood, part of my heritage