Marie* is an American senior executive who has lived and worked outside of the U.S. for 12 years. Originally sent by her company, a global professional services firm, to work on a project in the U.K., Marie was asked to transfer to the company’s British office. She remained with the company for several more years, working across the U.K., mainland Europe and the Middle East, eventually acquiring a U.K. passport. After nine years in the U.K. she took a role in Melbourne, Australia, where she currently resides.
Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?
A: Melbourne has a great cafe culture, with really good food at the most average-looking places — and there are so many choices! Also, I thought I had kicked my coffee habit until I came here. Melbourne prides itself on its coffee, and many places roast their own beans and set their grinders in a specific way to maximize the flavor. There are so many coffee accessories that you can buy, but really, with the number of options, I don’t make coffee at home anymore!
Q: What’s the worst culture shock you experienced as you settled into your new home?
A: Prices for everyday items. It’s very expensive to live here; think $12 for a dozen free-range eggs or $8 for a gallon of milk. And the flies in summer. They stick to you when you are walking or running along the beach — or try and fly into your mouth! Yuck.
Q: Do you find that living in a foreign country makes you a better traveler when you visit other places? If so, how?
A: Yes, definitely. I try and see tourist highlights, but I also look for where the locals go and what they do, especially if I have a friend or friend of a friend who lives there. There are many things to do as a tourist, but when people come to Melbourne, I try and suggest places to go that give them a sense of what Melbourne is like on a day-to-day basis — not just the tourist attractions. This might include a walk on Beach Road, a visit to the South Melbourne Market, or a wander in Brunswick or Carlton.
Q: Which tourist attraction in Melbourne is most overrated, and where should travelers go instead?
A: The view from the Eureka building or the view from Vue du Monde in the Rialto Building.
An alternative would be to head out to one of the bridges that connect Southbank to the city and have a view up the Yarra. If you have time, a great walk (although quite long) is to start at the bridge at Swanston and Flinders in the Central Business District (CBD) and either 1) walk to Rod Laver Arena if you’re a tennis fan (10 minutes) or 2) cross the bridge and head down St. Kilda Road (there is also a tram). You can have a wander around the Royal Botanic Gardens if so inclined. Otherwise, walk down St. Kilda Road toward the bay, and you will eventually get to Albert Road. Follow this to Albert Park and Lake (a Formula One venue). You can go around the lake and cut through to the bay or simply follow Lakeside Drive to Fitzroy Street, turning right toward the bay.
Fitzroy is a bit seedy, a bit gritty, but I like it (go in the daytime). It is not a long stretch of road, and in about 10 minutes you will come upon Beaconsfield Parade. Head right on Beaconsfield (so that the bay is on your left). If you keep walking about 2 – 2.5 miles, you will have a great walk on the beach, with lots of places to stop and eat. Tram 109 will take you back into the city from Port Melbourne.
Q: No one should visit Melbourne without tasting __________.
A: Candied bacon from Third Wave Cafe in Port Melbourne. Some caramel, some maple, some spice, plus the fatty deliciousness of bacon. What’s not to love? Unless you are a vegetarian!
Q: What’s the toughest thing about being an expat? The most rewarding?
A: Being an expat can be very lonely and somewhat isolating, especially if you are in a job that has unusual or demanding hours. You have to actively try and develop relationships outside of work; otherwise, your world becomes very small.
The most rewarding is the accumulation of rich experiences — I love that I have been able to live or work for extended periods of time in so many countries and not just visit. This is related to the point about being a better traveler — you start to want and seek out more meaningful travel experiences and not simply visit a site and take a photo.
*Marie’s name has been changed by request.