Our latest stepper is Ian who is living the life over in Perth, Australia. He is originally from the Midlands in the UK, where he lived until 2011 when he decided to take a chance & headed over the Atlantic to Canada. Read on to hear Ian’s story & the valuable advice he gives to those of you thinking of taking the step abroad.
I was born & raised in the UK in a town called Rugby, Warwickshire. By British standards, Rugby is a reasonably small market town with around 60,000 residents & one major claim to fame, being the home of Rugby School, where legend has it William Webb Ellis once picked a ball up and ran with it, giving birth to the game the World now knows as Rugby Football.
For all intents & purposes, Rugby is a nice town, it’s green and leafy, located perfectly geographically within the UK & it has a relatively low crime rate. Most of the people I grew up with still live in Rugby & will probably never leave, my parents were born & raised in Rugby & have never left, but for me, I always needed something a little bit more than Rugby could offer me.
At 19 I moved to Birmingham to study International Relations at the University of Birmingham. Whilst I was far from a perfect student, I enjoyed most elements of my course & ended up graduating after three years. Whilst I gained a decent education from my time in Birmingham, what I really learned was that I enjoyed living in a big city with great friends. In hindsight, I think it was my time living at University that confirmed for me that I had to leave Rugby & see the World.
“I really appreciated having another person to plan the move with, we bounced ideas off each other & offered each other support”
At a crossroads
I returned to Rugby after graduating in 2008 & was met by a job market that was on its knees after the financial crash. Jobs were few & far between in the big cities in the UK, imagine what it was like in a town the size of Rugby. After months of hunting for work & surviving on the dole, some family connections managed to land me a job for a construction company on an industrial estate where I would earn a paltry £11,000 p.a. It was more than I was earning on the dole but it was nowhere near enough to consider moving out of home and so, after three years of living in Birmingham I was back living with my parents again.
Ultimately I would end up back at my parents’ place for almost three years. The wages never improved beyond £15,000 p.a & there was little evidence of further raises to come, so I started to consider my options.
“As a young man with no idea what direction my life was going to take me in, this option seemed the most non-committal & appealed to me a lot”
Before I had managed to land the job in Rugby I had undergone telephone interviews with an organisation that flew British graduates out to Korea to teach English as a foreign language, some of my friends that I went to University with had gone down this route & were enjoying themselves but for some reason I could never quite fall in love with the idea of moving to Korea so I didn’t pursue this.
Another option I considered was to move to Western Australia as a backpacker in Margaret River. Again, I had had initial discussions with an organisation that would arrange employment & accommodation if I could organise my own travel. As a young man with no idea what direction my life was going to take me in this option seemed the most non-committal & appealed to me a lot. But, I was a bit too scared to do it on my own, I spoke to a friend who was considering doing something similar & all plans were underway when for various reasons they were no longer able to travel, once again I was back to square one.
Just when I thought I was running out of options a chance encounter with a friend in a bar in Rugby one day raised the possibility of moving to Canada rather than Australia. I was unaware that there was a reciprocal working holiday program between the UK & Canada but this friend had recently spent three months working in Toronto & advised that the process was quite simple to gain the working holiday visa. I’m not entirely sure why but the prospect of moving to Canada really piqued my interest, & more so than moving to Australia, I was prepared to do it on my own. Out of nowhere, my decision had been made, I was going to move to Canada!
Whilst I was prepared to move to Canada on my own, as chance would have it, I ended up planning to move with a close friend anyway. Whilst I had been exploring all of my options to move overseas, he had been making arrangements with a school in Korea & was due to move out there the same year I was looking to move to Canada. When I explained what I was planning, he decided that he would also like to spend a few months in Canada & could fly on to Korea from there when his contract was due to commence. In the end, I really appreciated having another person to plan the move with, we bounced ideas off each other & offered each other support when we were having some initial difficulties obtaining our working visas. Together we decided that we would fly to Toronto in May 2011 & from there we would decide if or when we would move on to other parts of Canada.
“I have enjoyed every step of the journey it took to get me here”
We landed in Toronto at the start of one of the hottest summers they have ever experienced, we checked into a downtown hostel & instantly met an amazing group of people who by chance were in a similar position of having moved to Toronto with no major plans for the future.
Through a combination of great friends, great weather & a truly incredible city I fell in love with Toronto from day one. The city is a true melting pot of culture from all corners of the Globe & for someone that loves sport as much as I do, it was great to live in a city with major sporting franchises in all of the big four North American sporting leagues.
“It was perfect for the situation I was in at the time & I loved it”
Shortly after arriving in Toronto my friend & I got wind of a job fair that the organisation that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC was holding. From that job fair, I landed a job as a ‘Beer Hawker’ which constituted selling cans of beer in the stands at sporting events. It was hot & heavy work but the silver lining was that it gained me access to some of the biggest sporting games in Toronto without having to buy tickets, that were often very hard to get hold of. It was perfect for the situation I was in at the time & I loved it.
By August of 2011 the friend that I had arrived in Toronto had moved on to Korea & I was quickly running out of money, I was at a crossroads. It would have been easy to fly back home to the UK & look back on my time in Toronto as a great, fun summer. Instead, though I decided to knuckle down & bed into a city that I loved. Through an agency I landed a coordinator job with a Provincial health authority which again I soon realised was a fantastic opportunity with great people, ultimately I would work there up until the day I left Canada.
Whilst the job was an important element that would keep me in Toronto, what was more significant was that in September 2011 I would meet the woman that would become my partner. Hannah was an Australian girl from Perth that I had met previously through mutual friends but never had an opportunity to get to know until a mutual friend of ours had a leaving party. Without getting too mushy, I fell for Hannah instantly & thankfully the feeling was mutual. Hannah was working as an architect in Toronto & loved the city as much as I did. By July 2012 we were living together in an apartment downtown.
“The work that I am contributing to is going to have a real, lasting impact”
Both Hannah & I had work permits that allowed us to remain in Canada for two years only which were expiring at the end of May 2013. We were both eligible for Canadian Permanent Residency through our work & had a hard decision to make. We both loved Toronto but realistically our long-term future together was either going to be in the UK or in Australia. Neither of us was quite ready to leave Canada but we decided it made more sense to move in 2013 than to pay the costs associated with applying for Canadian permanent residency only to move two years later anyway.
The next decision was whether we would move to the UK or Australia. In the end, it was an easy one, I had no intention to move back home & Hannah was quite excited about taking me home with her. Perth it was.
We spent six weeks on an incredible trip journeying through the southern states of the USA immediately after leaving Toronto & managed to incorporate a short stay in Tokyo on the way to Perth, the trip softened the pain of leaving a city we both loved.
“There is a definite unwritten mantra of ‘work hard, play hard’ here”
Going Down Under
We landed in Perth in July 2013 where I was welcomed by Hannah’s friends & family with open arms. What struck me most when I landed was just how cold the nights were in the middle of a Perth winter. As a Brit, when you think of Perth you think of beaches & endless sun, no one prepared me for -1 degree nights & no double glazing/central heating. It is no exaggeration to say that I have been colder in Perth than I ever was in Toronto!
Cold winter weather aside through I found Perth to be a beautiful place, the Swan River meanders from the coast through to the city, the beaches are pristine with soft white sand & the view of the city from Kings Park is one that any city would be jealous of.
Away from the city, Rottnest Island is a paradise complete with possibly the cutest animal on Earth, the Quokka. The Margaret River wine region is Perth’s adult playground, just three hours south of Perth it offers incredible wine, scenery & beaches whilst even closer to Perth the Swan Valley wine region offers a smaller version of the same.
Many people that move to Perth from overseas suffer with the isolation of the place & on the surface, it is incredibly isolated, behind only Auckland in distance from the closest city of more than 1 million people. However, there are ways to deal with this, flights to Asia from Perth are cheaper than any other city in Australia, we have just had a great trip to Langkawi & Penang that cost less than it would have to fly to Uluru! Western Australia is also vast & has so many different elements to it, from Perth you can drive 5 hours south to the incredible beauty of Walpole and Denmark or 8-10 hours north & swim with dolphins & whale sharks at Monkey Mia & Shark Bay. Perth may be isolated but it is not hard to get out of.
Perth is not a cheap place to live & has a reputation within Australia of being expensive, however, though the cost of living is high, the salaries tend to reflect the cost of living. There is a definite unwritten mantra of ‘work hard, play hard’ here in WA. Nobody here is afraid of hard graft but they also know how to let their hair down & there is a good party scene in Perth if you know where to look.
Feeling Like Home
I have now been in Perth for almost five years & it really feels like home. After working in both the Oil and Gas & Construction industries I have spent the last 12 months in a role in the public sector working as part of a team responsible for transitioning the children’s hospital here in Perth from an old 100-year-old building into a brand new state of the art facility. The work that I am contributing to is going to have a real, lasting impact on the lives of Western Australian families & I am very proud to be a part of it.
Through my relationship with Hannah I have been a permanent resident of Australia for a few years now & in January of this year, I applied for my Australian Citizenship. It will be a very proud moment for me the day that my citizenship is granted & something that I am looking forward to immensely.
As with anything, no one really knows what the future may hold but our immediate future is in Western Australia. My partner Hannah has her own business here in Perth that is going from strength to strength & I am hopeful that my recent experience will stand me in good stead to contribute towards other public sector projects in the future.
Ultimately I am very happy in Perth, I could not have imagined that I would have ended up here when I left the UK in May 2011 but I am very glad that I did & I have enjoyed every step of the journey it took to get me here.
Plan for the future but don’t over plan. The best things that have happened to me have come when I have been most open to new experiences. Who would have thought when my Margaret River plans collapsed that I would be here seven years later in very different circumstances.
Be proud of your heritage but don’t close yourself off. In my experience, British people can be especially bad at not embracing their new surroundings & clinging on to their past. Trust me, it won’t kill you to call it soccer.
Make friends with locals whenever possible. The best way to really immerse yourself in a place is to live the way locals do. It is always tempting to seek out expats & there is a certain comfort that comes from hanging out with people from home but the more you can hang out with locals the more you will learn about a place.
Don’t be afraid to tell someone if you are having a hard time. Moving away from your support network is not easy & everyone that does so has bad days. In those moments reach out for help when you need it.