Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Top 10 Lessons I've Learned as an Expat & Easy Pad Thai

Happy New Year! I can't believe it's 2015 already. I know everyone says this but I really mean it - where did 2014 go?! And, why have I been such a blog slacker? My last blog was in September, 4 months ago. I didn't plan on not writing, it's just that like all of you, I have been busy. Busy with raising kids, maintaining a household, running errands, managing a small baking business, and all the other details that go into our daily lives. Probably another reason I haven't written is that this blog takes me a long time to write. There is a lot of research that goes into my blog that is sometimes daunting for my little writing hobby. Today's blog has no research behind it, just my experience of living abroad. I have seen several articles on the internet recently about what people have learned being an expat. It prompted me to write as my experience is different. A lot of these articles are from young backpackers who have travelled abroad and may not have necessarily lived abroad for an extended period of time. I am the latter having lived in Sydney, Australia now for 5 years. I've learned a lot and wanted to share this for anyone who cares and/or might be moving abroad.
Card given to me by my girlfriends before I moved abroad.

1. The first year is challenging
Moving overseas sounds very exciting and glamorous to many. Before leaving, many people will tell you how great it all sounds, how they wish they could pick up and move somewhere, how brave you are. There are others who look at you with a weird face and tell you that you're crazy. And like other milestones in life - getting married, having a child, the thrill of living overseas lessens when you settle into a new country and have to start all over again.  It takes a while to figure out the logistics of your new life  abroad and you mostly have to figure it out on your own. Note to anyone moving, don't move over the holiday season; it's rough. I was not happy the first year, as I felt like a lonely isolated foreigner. Like anything, it takes time, patience, effort, a positive attitude and a hopeful leap of faith.
2. If you move to a modern, first world country that speaks the same language, don't assume it will be the same.
While Australia is a modern first world country that speaks English, it is still different. I didn't realize moving here, that even with a lot of similarities, there were many differences too such as the lingo/slang, social norms, a more casual lifestyle, a different work outlook, different government, different school system, and many other aspects. Life down under is different.

3. Not everyone likes Americans
Some people love Americans and some people hate them. I've been told that Americans are so friendly, nice, energetic and fearless. On the other hand, we are brash, loud, ignorant, ethnocentric. Some despise American consumer culture as we "force" new trends, clothes, foods, holidays on them. Several times I have been asked if I'm Canadian. When I've said 'No, I'm American,' I am told, 'Oh, I thought so but didn't want to offend you as Canadians hate it when I ask them if they're American.' Gee, thanks...

4. When in Rome, be a Roman
You have to be willing to be flexible and adapt to your new country. No one cares if they do it differently in the US; you are not in the US anymore. Learn the local colloquial expressions, try new foods, don't complain how the prices/government/schools/holidays etc are different from your home country. Be where you are; adapt to your new home.
5. You become nostalgic.
That said, nostalgia comes at unexpected times - whether its a food you miss, a smell that reminds you of home, a person that looks like an old friend, holiday memories creep their way out of your memory. It is this nostalgic that can make you long for home.

6. Building friendships requires time and effort.
 Moving overseas, I had no friends and I found it a real effort to establish new friendships. It is easy to make acquaintances if you put yourself out there but finding a few good friends can be hard. Australia has a small population (24 million) with  8 capital cities. Most people live in and around the cities so the women I've met have family and friends they have known for 20+ years. Many are not looking for new friends. I actually made a friend strategy last year choosing a few women I really liked and focusing on building a friendship with them.  This was worth the unexpected effort.
7. You can reinvent yourself.
Since you have left everything behind and are starting over again, you can recreate yourself. No one knows your past history and you may try things you haven't tried before. You can also change your behaviors and hopefully improve upon your shortcomings.

8. As an ex-pat, you become more independent, self reliant, confident and resourceful.
Since you have said goodbye to everything you know and moved to another country, you now have to rely on one person - yourself. You will have to step out of your comfort zone to navigate a new place, solve problems, and do a lot on your own. With successes and failures, you will be stretched as a person and will learn that you are capable of more than you thought you were capable of.

9. Living abroad changes you.
Living in another country gives you a new perspective of your home country. When you are removed from all you know, you develop views on your country from a personal perspective (eg. friends, family, work) and from a macro perspective (eg. culture, government). Because of your new perspective, you will feel changed. I often feel like a stranger in a strange land both in Australia and the US. In Australia, I will never completely fit in because I am a foreigner. In the US, I find my friends and family haven't changed much but I have. The US looks very different to me now that I have been away for 5 years.

10. You may not want to return home.
After living abroad, you may not want to return to your home country. We recently got our permanent residency (aka green card). If you told me when we moved here that I would be staying, I would have laughed. Then again, life is a journey full of surprises. I have learned you need to take that leap of faith and enjoy the ride.

Thai food was foreign to me when I moved here but very popular in Australia. There are Thai restaurants all over Sydney and it's become one of my favorites with the fresh flavours, spices, curries, noodle dishes, lovely soups, etc. I have always been intimidated to make it as recipes call for spices and condiments that I don't usually have in my cupboard. However, I saw a recipe in one of my cookbooks and thought why not give it a try? I had no problem finding the noodles, fish sauce, chile sauce, soy sauce in the Asian section of the grocery store. I found this dish easy to make, full of flavor and versatile as you can chose your type of meat. It is also nice for those gluten-free easters who may be craving pasta as rice noodles are gluten free.

Easy Pad Thai
adapted from Everyday Food:Great Food Fast 
by Martha Stewart Living

Serves 4 as a main, 6+ as an appetizer
Prep Time 30 mins
Total Time 45 mins

12 ounces/350 grms rice-stick noodles
1/3 cup tomato based chile sauce
1/3 cup lime juice
5 tablespoons Soy Sauce
3 tablespoons Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
4 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
4 cloves garlic, minced OR 4 tsps of garlic from a jar
500gm or 1 pound of your choice of meat - shrimp/prawns, pork, chicken, tofu
3 cups of Bean Sprouts
8 Scallions/shallots, cut into 5cm/2inch pieces

Possible Garnishes - chopped roasted peanuts, lime wedge, lemon wedge, bean sprouts, red pepper flakes, chopped cilantro/corriander, 1 scrambled egg

1) Bring a large pot of water to boil. Remove from heat and add all the rice noodles. Soak for 4 minutes until softened. Immediately drain in your sink and rinse noodles under cold water until they are cool.

2)In a small bowl, whisk together chile sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and fish sauce.

3) In a large skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of oil over high heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add your meat and cook through until done. I used shrimp/prawns and cooked them quickly, until they were opaque. Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.

4) Using the same skillet, add the other 2 tablespoons of oil and coat the pan. Then add the noodles and chile sauce mixture and stir through for 1-2 minutes, so that sauce coats all the noodles.

5) Cut up the bean sprouts and then add them, the scallions and shrimp to the noodles. Over medium to high heat, stir for 2 more minutes.

6) Serve topped with garnishes if desired.


  1. Great post Susan! The first year was a challenge for me too and was making new friends. Have you ever been to an expat meetup group? I've met several people through the American Expat Group on Meetup.com and from there have meet Aussies and UK expats that are friends of friends.

    Thanks for including the Pad Thai recipe. Always looking for something quick and easy to make after a long day at the office. :-)

    Looking forward to hearing more about your experience living in Sydney.

  2. Hi Lauren! Thanks for reading my blog; I really appreciate it. I think this one has hit a nerve as I am receiving lots of emails. As you know, living abroad is harder than it looks. I don't know of the American Expat Group you mentioned. I will look them up on Meetup.com Thanks again for reading and yes, check out my recipes. They are taste good and are easy to make.
    Cheers - Susan

  3. Great Post and Nice Article.All of the Photos are so good and looking Delicious.I like it.Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you Turkey Tours! I need to go to Turkey someday. I am fascinated by the architecture, merging of cultures, coastline and caves. Turkey is on my bucket list.

  5. Hi Susan, I love your article! This is exactly how I felt when I left the UK for Sydney. At first I felt very excited, but then I would start to feel a bit depressed thinking about back home... I love Australia, but I really wish it was closer to Europe:)


Special design for SuzyQ Under Down by GeCe