8 important things I learned while living abroad in the US

8 important things I learned while living abroad in the US

My first trip to the US was for my 21st birthday.

I booked tickets (for me and my ex-boyfriend) to spend a few weeks exploring the southwest. We did a 10-day tour from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which gave us the chance to party in Las Vegas and explore some of the country’s national parks.

I loved the trip, but what I didn’t expect was that I’d become so completely obsessed the country. All I could think about after I returned home to Australia was going back to see more of it.

Two years later, I’d managed to save up enough money to book an epic cross-country adventure with my brother. We signed ourselves up for a bus tour from New York City to LA, and I hoped that this trip would satisfy my craving to travel more deeply through the US.

The trip was everything I had hoped for, but yet again I was left with the feeling that there was so much more that I had yet to explore.

Another two years later, I was living with Rob in Sydney. While planning our upcoming travels, we decided to take a 2-week road trip up the US Pacific Coast. This would be Rob’s first time in the US and I was excited to show him why I’d become so obsessed with it.

Our journey from San Francisco to Vancouver was amazing, and Rob seemed to enjoy spending time in the US as much as I did. It was on this trip, while we were exploring the Pacific Northwest, that we first had the idea of eventually moving there.

We liked the idea that we could travel more around North America if we based ourselves in a major US city for a year or two. It would also be a good opportunity to build our respective careers.

Rob needed to choose a city with a decent tech scene for his job, and we definitely didn’t want to be in Silicon Valley, so it made sense for us to choose NYC. We sold all our belongings, said goodbye to our friends and family, and left our home country for a new adventure.

That was 2 years ago. Now that I’ve finally moved overseas and had the chance to learn from my experience, here are 8 important things I learned while living abroad in the US.

New York City

1. Moving abroad was more difficult than i thought

It’s not that I ever expected it to be easy, but it was certainly more difficult than I thought it would be.

We got off to a rocky start with our visa, and ended up in debt for the first 4-6 months of our time in the US. We also struggled with things like getting a lease on an apartment or getting a credit card as we had no local credit rating.

If I were to do it over again, I would save up way more money to use for an emergency, like going 6 weeks without income (which is exactly what happened to us), and mentally prepare that things won’t go to plan.

2. Adjusting to a new Culture takes time

After we got settled in New York City, we realised just how different the working culture is in America. The people here (especially the ones in big cities like NYC) work extra hard, often working overtime, and get much less annual leave.

It was a big adjustment from the standard 8 hour work days and generous 4 weeks of leave that we would get back in Australia.

There were also other culture differences that I didn’t expect, especially in regards to language. Australians generally speak very casually and use many slang words, even if we’re talking to a stranger or someone in a position of authority. Everyone is your mate.

This informality is not considered socially acceptable in the US. I was not at all accustomed to calling men “Sir” or being addressed as “Miss Wheeler”. I also said things that were looked upon as somewhat rude by Americans (like responding to “thank you” with “you’re right” or “that’s ok”) with no idea that I was being impolite.

It took me quite a while to get used to the cultural differences in America.

Photographer NYC

3. Moving countries for a career is a good idea

One of the reasons that we wanted to move abroad was for better opportunities to advance our careers. Rob wanted the chance to get deeper into the tech industry, and I wanted to become a more prominent member of the travel industry.

So I used this move to connect more with my blog audience (which is primarily US based) and to build my reputation as a Travel Writer, Photographer, and Social Media Manager.

Moving to the US for our careers turned out to be an excellent idea. It allowed us to attend conferences and meetups, work with important companies, and make connections that we would never have been able to make if we had stayed in Australia.

4. Moving countries to travel more is a good idea

Australia is a rather isolated country. Every time us Aussies want to travel somewhere like the US or Europe, it’s one hell of a journey. This is one of the reasons that we wanted to live abroad – to travel more of North America, South America, and Europe.

Since we left Australia in 2015, we’ve managed to visit 14 countries and are ticking off 1 more (Colombia) on the way back to our home country.

We’ve also travelled all over the US since we’ve been here, including plenty of weekend city breaks, some road trips, a ski trip, and even trips for conferences. Living in the US made it so much easier for us to travel more around this part of the world.

Woodstock, New York

5. I shouldn’t take nature for granted

I grew up in Tasmania, which is 40% national park, so I had nature on my doorstep for most of my life. Now that I’ve spent some time living in big cities, I’ve come to realise that I always took nature for granted.

Don’t get me wrong, the conveniences of living somewhere within 5 minutes walk of cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores is completely awesome, but it also gets stifling. After a while, it would get to the point where I desperately need to get out of the city for some space.

When this feeling came about (usually around once a month), Rob and I took weekend trips away to somewhere more natural. A weekend in the Catskill Mountains or a drive along the coast gave us an opportunity to collect ourselves and enjoy some personal space.

I now look at natural places as a precious resource that I can fully immerse myself in and enjoy.

6. I really can live like a minimalist

Living in New York has given us some interesting insights on our living requirements.

Most people compare NYC apartments to shoeboxes (which is somewhat true), but Rob and I have been living in a very small 1-bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s Lower East Side for the past 2 years, and not once did we feel like it wasn’t enough space for the two of us.

Back in Australia, big houses with as many bedrooms and bathrooms as possible are what most people desire, but our experience has made us realise that we’re completely happy living in a tiny space.

We don’t need all the extra bedrooms and bathrooms and giant living areas and. Living like minimalists works for us, so we’ll continue doing that after we move back to Australia.

Adirondacks, New York

7. It was harder than I thought to be away from family

I’d been living in a different Australian state to my family for 4 years before we moved to the US. I was already accustomed to taking a 2-hour flight every time I went to see them, so I didn’t think that the move to NYC would be that big of a deal in regards to the extra distance.

It turns out that it was a big deal. My Grandmother passed away a few months after I left Australia, and a few months ago, my other Grandmother died. I decided not to fly back for either of the funerals, but it definitely sucked to be on the other side of the globe when my family were going through those difficult moments.

I also managed to miss 2 years of my nephews growing up. As they were both very young I didn’t think that me being in the US would matter too much, but to be honest, I actually wish that I’d been more a part of their lives. I currently feel like a distant relative that they only recognise from the times that we occasionally video call. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time with them.

8. I actually do want to base my life in Australia

It’s easy to think that the grass is greener on the other side (and of course, in some ways, it might be), but once you remove yourself from the situation that you’re comfortable in, it becomes more obvious that what you had in the first place was actually pretty good.

Living abroad given me a new appreciation for my home country. Sure, Australia has its flaws, but so does the US. Living abroad really showed me that Australia is a great place to live, and that I do want to base my life there.

Sydney, Australia

so What’s next?

Even though we’ve thoroughly enjoyed living abroad in the US, the time has come for us to leave. Many of our friends have been asking why, and there’s not really one answer for us to give.

Our original intention was to move abroad for a few years, and we have done exactly that. We wanted to experience living in another country, which we did. We wanted to travel more of the US, and we did that too.

The lease on our apartment was coming up for renewal, and we questioned whether we should sign on for another year. After talking it out for a few weeks, we decided that it might be the right time to move on.

After travelling for a month on our way out of the US, we plan to head back to Australia, and what comes next is a big fat question mark. We will probably base ourselves back in Sydney, but honestly, our future is wide open.

Living in another country was not simple or easy. It was challenging, and at certain times, it sucked, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Most of our time abroad was absolutely wonderful.

These past 2 years have been a whirlwind of life experiences, and I’ve come out the other end a more confident person with a better understanding of what I want for my future.

Have you ever moved abroad? What important things did you learn from living in another country? Share your experiences in the comments!

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24 Responses to “8 important things I learned while living abroad in the US”

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You should do it, Charmaine! Moving abroad is such a life changing experience. It would definitely be a great adventure for you and your boyfriend 🙂

  1. Joella

    Great blog post, Ashlea! Even though my situation is different in someways (e.g married to an American and we’d lived abroad already) I could relate a lot to all of this. I completely agree the work culture and language are so different here. It definitely does take time to adjust. I still find the limited vacation days thing disappointing as the U.K., like Australia, has good laws on vacation. The same with language- people don’t care if you swear in the U.K. I find it funny how they bleep it out, or even voice over it, in movies on tv here! Haha. But, like you say, there are some wonderful things about living here. It’s such a big, diverse country and there is so much to do and see. I’m glad you had a good couple of years and were able to fulfill your dream of living here. I’m also glad our paths crossed back in 2015! All the best for your travels and the move back and I’ll look forward to seeing what you do next!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Joella! I think the UK and Australia have very similar cultures, so I’m sure we have both had a comparable experience moving to the US. So glad you agree about the work culture and vacation days – I found it such a hard thing to get used to. And I know what you mean about the swearing! I’m glad our paths crossed, too – if you ever take the family to Australia, do let me know! 🙂

  2. Diane

    Really interesting what you said in #2 and how you found Americans to be more formal in certain situations than Australians. As an American in France, I feel the same way about the French and think that Americans are much more relaxed in how they address each other. Way less formality in the US!
    I think in the US, the accepted response to thanks would be you’re welcome. Sometimes people say no prob or no worries, but generally you’re welcome is 100% accepted and probably preferred by people in most situations. I think if someone said “that’s ok,” in response to thanks, I’d be a little confused (less confused if they had an accent) but I wouldn’t think it’s rude.
    I hope to visit Australia one day. Thoroughly enjoyed your reflections here!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh that’s an interesting observation, Diane – I suppose the French language is more formal than American English! I’m so glad you enjoyed my reflections on living in the US, and I hope you do make it to Australia 🙂

  3. Hayley Simpson

    I agree that you’re welcome is the most common response to thank you in Canada as well. My coworkers didn’t think it was rude exactly, but found you’re right to be odd!
    I wrote a similar post last week about returning to Australia after my second working holiday in Canada. I miss Australia as well!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I really enjoyed reading your post, Hayley! It’s so interesting to know the perspectives of other Australians that are living abroad 🙂

  4. Katie

    Lovely post! I always daydream about moving to the U.S. and have applied unsuccessfully for the green card twice. But I do live in Sydney and I love living here as well. Hopefully you will too!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Katie! That green card is a tricky one to get – we entered the lottery twice but didn’t get it either. One of our Australian friends entered the lottery and got his green card on the first try, so we know that it’s definitely possible!

  5. Delphine

    A very good post on living overseas… I can relate to a lot of it, I’m French and have been living in Australia for twenty years. It is an adaptation and it does take time. Because we live in such a globalised world, people assume moving to another country is easy… It’s not, but if you are successful at it, it makes for a unique experience and will change you as a person.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Delphine! It’s great to hear your perspective of living as an expat. I’m sure that there are many cultural differences between France and Australia that would take a lot of time to get used to. I agree that moving abroad makes for a unique experience – it definitely changed me in many ways!

  6. Paula Morgan

    Living abroad for a year was something that was not on the cards when I was younger but now that I my kids are adults I am starting to plan an expat adventure for a year or two. I think the distance will be the hardest factor to deal with – Australia is just so bloody far away from everywhere! Hope the move back home goes well.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That sounds exciting, Paula! I’m sure that an expat adventure would be a wonderful experience for you. Yes, the distance is hard, but I got through it by telling myself that it was only temporary and that my family would still be waiting for me when I get back 🙂

  7. Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields

    David and I moved to Hong Kong two weeks after we were married. It was a challenge. Although we both worked as lawyers and the law was predominantly conducted in English, the everyday things like organising plumbers and other repairmen was a nightmare. It made me appreciate how difficult it is to live in a foreign culture whose language you don’t speak. One of the best things about it though was that it was just David and I against the world. We had no family pressures or anyone other than each other to rely on – it was a great start to our marriage. We have now been married for 33 years and have two grown sons, one of whom was born in Hong Kong a few months before we left.
    Wherever you choose to live next, I am sure it will be an experience.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That sounds like it would have been a challenge, Lyn – I can’t even imagine how much more difficult an overseas move would be with a language change as well. I know exactly what you mean about that feeling of it just being you and your partner against the world – Rob and I got married just a few months before we left Australia, so we definitely felt that, too! Moving abroad was a great way to get a strong start to our marriage!

  8. Nicoline Berthy

    It’s so interesting for me to read because I can agree with all your points. I moved to Sydney from Denmark 7 months ago, and even though it has been the best decision I’ve ever taken it hasn’t been a fairytale all the time. 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m so glad you can relate, Nicoline! The idea of moving abroad can definitely be looked at through rose-coloured glasses, but the reality is much more challenging! Still, it’s worth all the effort we put in as living in another country is a truly unique experience 🙂

  9. Alexis

    Wow! I loved this post and found it fascinating as an American (and New Yorker) who has lived abroad (I lived in Hong Kong from 2007 to 2012). For me, the hardest part about expatriation was repatriation. When I came back to the States, I tried to duplicate my successful Asia-focused business in America and it just didn’t work – totally different markets, all my contacts were in Asia-Pac, and my business wasn’t the sort that could be done from another continent.

    It was also difficult socially – many peoples’ lives had changed drastically in the five years that I was away.

    Fascinating to hear about expat life in New York! Yep, some people only get 10 vacation days (including sick days).

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s really interesting, Alexis – I’ve been wondering how difficult it will be for us to settle back into the Australian lifestyle after living abroad for 2 years. I imagine that after 5 years in Hong Kong, a lot would have changed back in New York (especially as NY is growing and changing at such a rapid pace). Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  10. Lydia

    I moved from Singapore to US 4 years ago when I married my American husband, and I relate to all of the above! I agree – everyone should move abroad at least once in their life. It’s a great experience and it definitely helps you grow. I especially agree with your last point – moving out of Singapore has made me realize 1) I am more Singaporean than I thought 2) Singapore is awesome and I would move back in a heartbeat if my husband would not die in a big city (he would). I’m so glad you’re able to move back to your home country!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m so glad you can relate, Lydia! The US and Singapore are very different countries – I’m sure the cultural differences would be huge. Where in the US did you move to with your husband?

  11. Darryl

    My family has always been part of my life in the states, so I guess I became used to their presence an took it as default. It rally never occurred to me how quite my day to day is without them. Needless to say that i appreciate everyone back home now more than ever.

  12. Hank Peters

    I moved to New York and it was definitely way harder than I thought. Just arranging for my things to get shipped was a nightmare.


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