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Culture Vulture
On the ipod:
  • The Joshua Tree
    The Joshua Tree
    U2 /Island Catalog
  • Love & Hate
    Love & Hate
    UMGRI Interscope
On the Kindle:
  • The Dinner (Movie Tie-In Edition): A Novel
    The Dinner (Movie Tie-In Edition): A Novel
    by Herman Koch
  • The Orchardist: A Novel (P.S.) Reprint Edition by Coplin, Amanda [2013]
    The Orchardist: A Novel (P.S.) Reprint Edition by Coplin, Amanda [2013]
    by aa
Bucket List
  1. Malawi
  2. Kilamanjaro
  3. Masai Mara National Reserve - Kenya
  4. Djenne - Mali (West Africa)
  5. Loango National Park - Gabon
  6. Goree Island, Senegal (West Africa)
  7. Tswlu Kalahari Game Reserve (S. Africa) 
  8. Grootbos Nature Reserve 
  9. Morrocco
  10. Mauritius
Wednesday
Aug102016

Digital Free Down Under

 

Below is an article I wrote for an expatriate magazine distributed at the company we have worked for and relocated with over the past 10 years. The original was much longer so it was edited for the sake of space and readership. Enjoy!

*** 

Carolyn is a fundraiser and former Outpost Focal Point. She and her husband Edmund, VP Finance, Integrated Gas moved to Melbourne, Australia in 2006 on their first international assignment after living in Houston for many years. The couple recently returned to the US after three years in Lagos, Nigeria. Here she discusses moving overseas for the first time with a toddler and a baby on the way on the cusp of the digital age.

Whenever someone asks me about expat life, I instinctively say how much I loved it and how lucky we were. I’ve always felt lucky because we scored Lagos and Australia as expat destinations. While Lagos was an adventure, Melbourne was a dream.

But Melbourne was not without its challenges. We arrived in December 2006, with little time to prepare. A preview trip was impossible for me because of my pregnancy, but had some Australian friends to lean on. They invited me to a traditional Aussie dinner of “meat and three veg” and pavlova for dessert. They talked about the culture and showed me a hilarious promotional video with the tagline “Australia – Where the Bloody Hell Are You? Those experiences, plus my Lets Go Australia guide, were the extent of my research. I worked full time and was 30 weeks pregnant with baby number two, so when the day arrived to head to Australia, we simply picked up our daughter and blindly got on the plane.

Did I mention this was 2006? In Australia, this meant pre-smart phones, pre-Instagram, pre-Snapchat. Pre-Yelp and Google Maps. Pre-Uber. Pre-Skype. Facebook existed but no one I knew used it. I still owned a Palm Pilot which I naively brought with me hoping it might work “over there”.  I also had an MP3 player but it was rarely used due to the difficult set-up and constant file-sharing lawsuits. I did, however invest in a very indulgent…wait for it…Franklin Quest hard-bound day planner. It was bright green leather and cost as much as the stroller because I insisted on buying three year’s worth of calendar inserts and to-do lists in case they didn’t carry the same sizes in Melbourne. (perhaps like the Australian bed sheets that followed a mysterious sizing chart?)

Landing in Melbourne was exciting but also exhausting. It was Australian summer and I was extremely pregnant. I had no childcare for my daughter due tosummer hollies” and no idea where anything was located. We didn’t have a car and struggled to find “maxi taxis” big enough for our family and luggage. Although my Let’s Go guide and map from the train station were helpful, I desperately needed a cell phone. I didn’t understand how to manage a mobile phone contract without an address so I took the first pay-as-you-go-phone I found. It was a hot pink flip phone and came with a free sample of Britney Spears perfume, ("Fantasy – everybody has one"). It had a small Britney Spears charm hanging off it (yay!) but an archaic number keypad (boo!). I had that phone the entire three years we lived in Australia.

After finding our permanent accommodation, it took a lifetime to get Internet access. Most of Australia was still wired via “dial-up” and many cities had no Internet at all.  In the interim, I registered for a library card, having to reserve the computer terminal for small blocks of time in order to attempt to email my family. The download speed was like watching paint dry. I made little progress before my time was up or the connection was lost.

Thankfully we had some foresight and purchased a pre-paid, re-chargeable phone card from Costco in the USA. It cost a small fortune over three years and we had to get up in the middle of the night to call home because of the 15 hour time difference but it was a life saver in a world without Skype or FaceTime. 

Australian television was also a bit behind the rest of the world. Other than Two and A Half Men and The Simpsons, we struggled to find familiar shows (and something that didn’t solidify the horrible stigma on Americans - Cops? Really?).  My daughter had never watched TV but we caved and bought a portable DVD player for the interminable flight over. You can imagine how long it lasted after continuous use by a media-starved two-year-old! When we purchased a new one in Australia, we discovered none of our US discs would work on an Australian device. We had access to a Blockbuster video store (remember those?) but their DVDs carried the dreaded PAL symbol for Region 2 (aka the other side of the planet) and so we couldn’t watch them on our Region 1 system.

Looking back, one of the turning points was finding other Americans. Although I was part of a wonderful mother’s group with Australians, you can’t underestimate the importance of finding other expats, especially those that come with stuff…important stuff like People magazine and books. And pumpkin puree. And Tylenol. And a Vogue that covered fashions from the hemisphere you are planning your home visit to and not the one you are living in. Trading coveted items amongst friends opened the door to a world of normalcy at a time when we were feeling far away from home. Most of us had very young children which can be a lonely existence even in your home country. LOST, Oprah, Dora, Sesame Street, Thomas the Train, Grey’s Anatomy – we finally felt like we were back on the grid, even if we were a few seasons behind. Similar to our student days when we would discard a used book in a youth hostel, we would trade ideas on dog-eared copies of InStyle or Eat, Pray, Love while having a “cuppa and a chin wag”.

While technology was advancing across the globe, Australia seemed to move a bit slower due to its vast island mentality and “no worries mate” culture. Like all expat assignments, things became easier with time. We found what we needed through friendships and by living everyday life like the locals. I met mums at the beach park and exchanged numbers using my trusty planner (later dubbed “my diary”). We found swim classes, babysitters and things for sale by perusing the bulletin boards at the Melbourne Market. Eventually we watched The Castle and The Dish and Summer Heights High.  I listened to Hamish & Andy every morning on the (gasp) radio and became a Kylie fan. The kids called me “mummy” and looked forward to fairy floss and cordial at parties. We lived at the beach and watched the kids play in the surf whilst eating fish and chips. Like I said, Melbourne was a dream.


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