The Lonesome Postdoc - Part IV: Uprooting (again)
That familiar twinge of excitement that comes with the prospect of starting a new position in a new institution was back! This time I was prepared, and I was a local so the process was far easier for me and probably much easier on my spouse! We got his 457 visa organised (roughly $1,000, although now being phased out and replaced with a Temporary Skill Shortage visa) and paid for a year of private health insurance (also around $1,000 and 100% necessary according to the visa). Then it was the usual cull – get rid of absolutely everything but the essentials that can fit into a couple of suitcases.
Selling everything is tough. It’s actually quite mentally draining to worry about posting ads, answering questions, meeting people who may or may not show up, haggling over prices, trying to time the sale of each item so that you will no longer need it but not be stuck with it either. It is my least favourite part. Then you begin to worry about having to re-buy all this stuff yet again. Having had this experience before I wanted to make sure that we would have the opportunity to relax a little before being thrust into brand new positions, so we decided to have a few weeks break in Thailand and Singapore along the way. I strongly recommend this strategy to anyone starting a new position. If you don’t take the time between contracts you can easily get stuck without any holidays for quite a while.
To avoid travelling with numerous suitcases we arranged with an airline freight company to send them along to Australia when we left Canada and then keep them in storage until we arrived. This seemed like a great idea and it was reasonably cheap as far as air freight goes (about $700). The alternative was to send them by sea… in which case they may arrive six months later but there was no guarantee, and it cost about the same.
Thailand and Singapore were amazing! Not just because they are beautiful countries, but because it gave us that well-deserved break we needed to recharge and become truly excited about the fact that we had managed to get two postdocs in one place!! We did not have to do the “distance thing” that so many budding academics do. After a few weeks of sun, sand and jungle we hit Sydney at a frantic pace. We had to find the freight holding to retrieve our things, pass them through customs, mail them to our new home town to avoid paying huge excess baggage fees and then catch our flights. We had five hours. We just made it! Getting through customs ourselves was easy. We quickly grabbed local SIM cards in the airport and got a maxi-taxi to take us to the freight area. It took a while to locate our things and then we piled them all in the van and headed to freight customs, filled out the forms and paid the inspection fees (a few hundred from memory). By the time we got back to the airport our taxi fare was also $100. Thankfully there is a post office in the Sydney airport and we had checked ahead of time that we could send all our bags. It had meant reshuffling some items among them to satisfy the weight limits, but we got there. Another $150 and we were off to the domestic terminal to get our next flight.
We arrived in our new home town of Armidale in the dead of winter. Just to clarify, not everywhere in Australia is gloriously hot all the time! It does go below zero, some areas do get snow and the houses are not built for such shifts in climate. There is no central heating, no minimum R value for insulation… it’s more like be thankful you even have insulation. It is cold!! We were lucky enough that our new advisor had a spare room and we could stay there while we looked for a house to rent (apartments are less common in some areas of Australia).
The first week was spent familiarizing ourselves with the new campus, going through the usual HR forms, setting up bank accounts, finding somewhere to live, changing over licenses etc. At least this time I knew the companies, I knew what costs to expect and I knew how the system worked. It was a little different for my partner… but he had the benefit of a guide. Some things that anyone contemplating moving to Australia should know/consider: 1) yes, wages appear high (~$80,000 per year for a Level A postdoc) but they are reflective of the living costs, don’t get too excited; 2) rent is paid weekly (expect to pay ~$400 a week depending on the city) and you will have numerous rental inspections to ensure you are maintaining the property; 3) you are expected to set up all the power/water/gas; 4) Australia is a drought stricken country, don’t waste our water or you will pay dearly for it; 5) we drive on the left, which is the RIGHT side of the road; 6) while we do speak English it is a unique sub-dialect rich in slang that confuses the hell out of most other people; 6) tipping is not expected, it’s just nice; and 7) we have more than drip filter double-double coffees, you should try them.
We settled in a fully furnished 3-bedroom house. It was a little excessive for the two of us but that is the standard accommodation. After years of living abroad it was strange to be back. Some things were comforting, some things had obviously changed, and some things had become downright annoying. The food, climate and language were great. Hearing magpies and kookaburras, smelling eucalypts, hearing dry grass crunch under your shoes… these things were all home to me. There were a few cultural/political realisations though. Racism and sexism are still issues that Australia is working on and I do think they will get there in time, but for some people this can be quite confrontational and hard to deal with. My love for both countries always leaves me wishing I could meld the two into a hybrid with superior fitness to either parent, although this would likely upset most Australians and Canadians! I guess that is what the international travel is supposed to do – make you more worldly/tolerant.
Jump to the other Lonesome Postdoc posts:
Part I - moving abroad for a postdoc
Part II - living like a local... or trying to
Part III - putting down roots
Part V - the importance of friends
Part VI - is working remotely really that great?