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What it's Like Coming Home to Australia After Years of Living Overseas

Here's a photo from my time in New York. Moving back after six years was pretty strange, so I asked some expat friends for their stories. Seems like coming home is often as good as leaving.

A photo of me while living in New York. All photos supplied.

After six years living in New York, I decided to move back to Australia. The decision was gradual and it wasn't. Visiting Melbourne in winter last year, I noticed things about the city I had never before. The way the light hits Swanston Street after the rain. How casually friends spend evenings arguing and laughing, wine in hand, unhurried by having to be somewhere. How hard it was getting up to leave. In the split second between hugging my mum goodbye and stepping through the glass doors I knew: I wanted to come home.

I'd be lying if I said moving home and trying to pick up where I left off wasn't terrifying. Friends had been living their lives without me for so long, I was afraid I wouldn't fit back in. And I've found that sometimes I don't fit back in, but that's okay. Being able to find newness in a city you can walk around and point out your life's landmarks—where you had your first kiss, where you threw up on the street after Click-Click that one time—all that stuff is kind of exciting.

Luckily, I'm not the only person just returned, readjusting to life at home. Australia, it turns out, is beckoning people home from much cooler places with much more "culture" and "vibes" en masse. I spoke to some other former expats to find out how it felt for them to come home.

Olwen, 26
Artist

I was born in Melbourne, and I guess the majority of my life was spent in Melbourne, but even as a child I moved around a lot. I felt like I had nothing to lose by leaving. So about five and a half years ago I left and ended up living in Berlin.

I've noticed my mindframe changes so much depending on where I am. Not in an intentional way, but there's definitely a shift from city to city, affected by what I'm learning at the time. Berlin is very non-judgemental and comfortable with people in regards to their bodies, gender identities, and sexuality, which was a nice learning experience for me. I know these progressive subcultures exist in Australia, but there isn't the same openness across the board, especially not in childhood.

Another big thing I learned was that it can be really fucking tough moving. I was so privileged in Berlin. I could afford to live fairly comfortably, I was a student, I'm white, and I could speak the language. And yet I still struggled with racism, visas and bureaucracy. I can't even imagine how hard it is for people entering countries without these privileges, or without a safe home to return to. It taught me not to get wrapped up in, or take things in Australia so seriously. And also, Australian beaches are kouta.

By the time l I finished my studies in Berlin, my student visa had expired. I was really sad to leave, and had it in my head that I would only come back to Melbourne for a month or two. But since I've been back I'm actually really enjoying rediscovering the city. I think the lack of sunshine, sounds of birds, cicadas and possums was grinding me down—it feels good being surrounded by it all back in Australia.

I was surprised to return and feel really comfortable here. I never fully considered it my home because I moved around so much, but all that time does make a difference, and I've come to realise this probably is "home." I speak German so there wasn't an issue with verbal communication in Berlin, but there's that deep cultural stuff that is more than just being able to express yourself, and since returning to Melbourne I realise how important that is.

Chloe, 33
Graduate Student/Event Coordinator

I grew up in Essendon and North Fitzroy. After I graduated university I took off and ended up living in Toronto for eight years. For whatever reason, I felt really suffocated in Melbourne, and Toronto was a place that offered me the freedom I needed to explore the realisation I'm gay.

I couldn't admit to myself that I was homesick. I started watching Aussie shows like MasterChef and Wentworth and tuning into the footy every week just to feel connected to Australia. And then it just got to a point where I realised it was time to come home. In the end it wasn't even a choice, I knew I had to be in Melbourne.

Leaving my friends [in Toronto] was the hardest part about coming home, especially since I came out in Toronto so I was anxious about returning to Melbourne and losing the support of the gay community there.

But, on the other hand, Australians seem to have figured out the work-life balance. It was a hard slog in Toronto in terms of finding decent work in my field that paid enough to cover my rent and basic life expenses. Now I'm back I feel generally more hopeful. The Australian "Can Do" attitude has been inspiring, I didn't realise how much I was missing that Aussie optimism.

I guess I didn't find too many things noticeably different once I was back except that the Melbourne roads are intense. It's like Grand Theft Auto come to life.

Riley, 28
Student

I grew up in rural South Australia and moved to Melbourne after high school to attend university. When finished my law degree, it just seemed like a good time to leave, so I went to New York. Not much was that different in New York, overall. There were little quirks in how things were done in the US. Funny little hidden fees, a lack of transparency, and lots of things that wouldn't fly in Australia in terms of consumer protection.

At first, I really had no desire to come back to Australia, but after four years away in such a ruthless and fast-paced city, I came to have a great appreciation for the quality of life in Australia. Also, education and healthcare are such a gift. I think we all take those things for granted but we're very fortunate. HECS in no way compares to student debt in America. It's so debilitating there, to be starting your life out with this often insurmountable debt. I hope Australia doesn't regress on the tertiary education or public healthcare fronts. The US is really starting to cotton on that the way they do things is not right, it's not equitable or sustainable for people. Also, Australian summer is the best.

I came back due to a confluence of reasons really. I felt like it was a good time to be near my family. I wanted a change of pace. I was stupidly in love with someone who lives in Australia. It was a good time to re-augment my life a bit, in terms of career, security, my connection to family, and those things are really hard to do in New York because you're mostly just concentrating on keeping your head above water.

Dilan, 30
Teacher

I grew up in St Kilda in the 90s and 00s. My childhood was mostly spent rollerblading up and down the Esplanade, between the first and the fourth palm tree in front of our building with mum watching me from the balcony laying out her rugs to air—like a true blue Middle Eastern dream queen.

When I was old enough, I moved to Turkey and lived in a valley on the Lycian coast. I learned a lot, and seeing Australia from that perspective, it seemed so obvious that we shouldn't define or confine those that come across the seas. From Narre Warren to Nauru, this is stolen land anyway.

I decided to leave Turkey after increasing political unrest rolled out into a massive messy ball of GTFO. I wanted to live in a place where I have the freedom to work a job that will allow me to eventually help those who can't, even if that meant giving up the sparkling turquoise coast for good old Port Phillip Bay.

I guess the biggest challenge about coming home is not having giant jars of pickles and carob molasses at my disposal. Aside from that the only thing that's different in Melbourne is the free tram zone, which is fresh.

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