It was coming to November, and I just knew I couldn’t handle another winter in freezing Scandinavia. So I packed my bags, and decided to move to a completely foreign country I had never been before — Australia.
photo: Vaida Tamošauskaitė
As a kid, the only things I thought of Australia were the following: 1) It was a country very far away, 2) People spoke weirdly, and 3) There were strange animals living there.
Fast forward years later — I’m about 3 months in traveling around Southeast Asia, feeling exhausted and wanting something more permanent. Australia happened to be just around the corner, and because I was under the age of 30, I had the opportunity to do a working holiday visa.
Despite it being a completely new place, I knew that this was an opportunity not to be missed. I had never lived in Australia before – not even visited, but I decided to take a leap of faith.
It just so happened that my year in Melbourne, Australia was undoubtedly the best year of my life. And if you take the step to the unknown, you might have the best time of your life, too.
There’s no freedom like when you are in a place where everything is new and exciting, just waiting for you to find what it is you didn’t know you needed. Here are a few things I learned from my experience.
1. Realize your reasons – and be true to them.
I needed to get away from the environment that didn’t feel inspiring to me anymore. I wanted a change, but something familiar enough that wouldn’t make the experience overwhelming. I wanted a home, not just a road trip (although I did have awesome road trips, too).
I wanted to immerse myself in a different culture. I wanted to work hard. The important thing is that I listened to myself. I focused on what I wanted to do, and not what I was “supposed” to do.
2. You have to have faith that things will work out.
I knew absolutely no one in Melbourne, except for a guy I had met while scuba diving in the Gili Islands off the coast of Indonesia.
We had exchanged Facebook accounts, and because he was a REALLY nice guy and happened to still be traveling, I was able to spend my first 2 weeks in a very nice room in the city center.
I was in Melbourne, Australia and I had no job, no apartment, and my only ‘friend’ was abroad.
It took me two weeks to get both a job (that I actually quite liked), a room (with cool people in an area so close to work I could walk), and start to get to know people.
I was freaking out, feeling lonely and lost at times — but also knew that what I was doing was worth all of it.
2. Be persistent – your efforts will pay off.
I got a job by sending dozens of emails and walking to different cafes to ask for work in person.
I delivered zero resumes. I learnt later on that they often just get piled in some corner and thrown away later.
In Australia, there are tons of people on working holiday, which might put some employees off – these people are known to be careless backpackers, only in Australia to make money, party and travel around with no commitment to anything. You have to prove that you are different than “the lot”.
The same goes for apartment hunting. You are fighting with a lot of people to get a bed, and sometimes what’s on the market is sketchy as hell.
TIP: Never, ever rent a room before seeing it first. Otherwise, you might find out that it is just a corner of a living room that has been separated with a curtain, and that the 2 bedroom place is habited by 6 people.
3. Realize that it’s ok to go – and to come back.
If your job sucks, if your house sucks – leave. It is much easier to leave things behind in a new country when you have no strings attached. Change your suburb, city, or even state if you’re not feeling too happy about your current state of life.
In 12 months, I worked at 3 venues in Melbourne, and I was never involuntarily unemployed. But I also wanted to travel the East Coast of Australia – so I left Melbourne to do just that.
After about a month, I came back ‘home’ to Melbourne – and had to find a job and a room again.
It took me three weeks to find a room, and my old job decided to re-hire me — it was excruciating and a bit scary, but it all worked out.
4. Live like a local – you are home.
I never considered myself a backpacker. I preferred to live like a local. I hung out with Aussies, or foreign people in a similar situation to mine (aka not traveling aimlessly around while drinking goon, which is cheap boxed wine.)
I made true friends while exploring the city I chose as home, as I would have been in Finland. I had my go-to exercise routines, a favorite yoga teacher and a Sunday brunch tradition.
It’s important to realize that you are not in your home country. People speak differently, they eat different foods, they might have a completely different way of life. Respect this, and don’t try to change others to accommodate your needs.
If you miss something from your home country, odds are you can find it somewhere in Australia. (If you happen to be Scandinavian and need a sweet tooth fix: Melbourne has a Swedish church that has a shop.)
Here’s the down low on Australian Working Holiday Visas.
- Australia has an easy entrance for people under the age of 30 from several countries.
- By the Working Holiday visa (P.S. Americans need another visa) rules, you can legally work and live in Australia for 12 months, working up to 6 months for one employer.
- If you decide to do 90 days of rural work in remote areas (aka farm work), you might be able to extend your visa for another year.
- Get your visa directly from the gov.au website.
- There are a lot of companies offering to do visa lodging for you for a fee, but unless you are blind, have a criminal record or other factors that might create problems, or can’t read English at all, do it yourself. It takes hardly any time or effort to fill the application, and you will receive the response usually within a day (or at least a week).
- The price of the visa depends on your country of origin.
- In some cases, if you want to stay and you have a profession that is on the “Required Skills List” of Australia, you can apply for an employment based visa.
- If your employer is willing to sponsor you to stay, that is another option.
- If none of those works for you, you need to get married to an Australian or study a degree in Australia. I have decided to pursue one of the latter ones to be able to go back for extended periods, but I haven’t yet decided which one.
Thank you for reading this post. Share it with your friends if they would appreciate the inspiration.