The A to B of getting to Melbourne from Toronto was objectively probably one of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had. Unpleasantries arose during every leg of the journey. From sitting in that row of screaming kids (I get it, it happens, it can’t be helped), to New Zealand confiscating my deodorant for no good reason, to being in the middle seat on the twelve hour stretch overseas (and the widow seat passenger taking up half of my legroom in addition to his own). All around it was almost laughable how many frustrating scenarios popped up. But even so, I mostly kept my cool despite the circumstances. Giving in to feelings of frustration never made anyone any happier. Certainly not me.
I had been kind of nervous about dealing with customs in Australia. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to get a visa, but it’s the first time I’ve been on a non-strictly-holiday visa. And the approval process was way too easy. Disconcertingly so. What government approves your visa application the same day you submit it? (Australia’s, apparently.) Anyways, I’ve been shelving for months this slight fear that there was some sort of misunderstanding. And I wondered if I would be like detained and questioned and asked for ten thousand documents (which I had with me, ready to present, damn it). But I was barely at the immigration counter for thirty seconds before they dismissed me and I was magically a resident of Australia. I was acquired from the airport by the lovely Anna, whom Sunita and I were charmed by and enamored with pretty immediately upon meeting a few years ago when she couchsurfed with us in Olympia. She’s one of those people with whom I only spent a smattering of [much too short] days. But I knew with absolute certainty that Anna was someone that I trusted, and respected, and cared about, and would be thrilled to have more present in my life. She’s one of those women whom you hope to be shaped by. And so coming to Australia was exciting in itself, but getting to share a city with Anna was definitely as enticing as anything else this continent has to offer.
At Anna’s house we were greeted by her sister, Nelly, their housemate Liz, the dogs, Bear and Sophie (and the budgie, Caterpillar), and coverage of the American election in progress on tv. To my surprise and amusement, Nelly and Liz were sporting anti-Trump and pro-Hillary shirts, respectively. Liz was sprawled across the floor compiling a state by state chart of the progress. Hillary was currently in the lead. Various members of the household disappeared for a few hours, and I settled into the little sunroom bedroom nook Anna had created for me to reside in until the housing I would inhabit for the next few months was available. Liz returned with beer, and we ordered pizzas to finish the election evening. By now Trump was in the lead, and it was seeming pretty final. Nobody in this household was impressed by or excited about the results, and I was surprised to find over the next several days how invested Australians in general felt about the American election. Young Australians, especially, were just gutted by the outcome. Upon waking the following morning, I knew that as an American, arriving at this particular time, I would have a lot to answer for. This has proven true. Everyone I have conversed with for more than a few sentences is curious about my opinion on the matter. To be honest, I used to be shy about claiming to be a US citizen while in foreign lands. But I’ve found that most people I encounter in this world are willing to take me as an individual, who has certainly been shaped by, but is not defined by my country of origin. I am thankful for this. Particularly now. I don’t want to go on a political rant, but for the purpose of my situation and my story in this current place and time, some political delving is relevant. So I’ll say this: Donald Trump may have been elected as the president of my country of citizenship, but he does not represent me. And he is a poor representation, if that, for many of the people I am proud and glad to know, including, I’m quite sure, some people who voted for his presidency. I mean no disrespect to those who did vote for Trump, my point is I wouldn’t sit down to dinner with the man (that probably isn’t true…love and understanding and all that, but I wouldn’t like to), but I imagine I know quite a few who supported him whose dinner tables I have frequented. All of this to say: I’ve come to consider my traveling (and this, my residence in Australia) to be a subtle form of ambassadorship for my country. A means of connecting and knitting together the world, individual to individual from one country and culture to the next. I don’t fit the stereotype of An American Girl (I’m told this, by surprised foreigners, frequently), and I am far from the poster child of a resident of Donald Trump’s America. And so I hope that my interactions – with anyone who lacks an intimate knowledge the United States – portray a kind, caring, understanding, thoughtful, open minded, not-only-tolerant-but-embracive, passionate, engaged, diligent, calm, peaceful, globally conscious and concerned individual. That is to say, I hope I challenge the stereotype. I hope to show people that while there are people who fit into the American generalizations, there are others who certainly do not. We contradict ourselves; we quite literally contain multitudes. Donald Trump’s election to presidency, and most assuredly his actions throughout his term will promote a lot of conversations for me here. A lot of opportunity for discussing similarities and differences between the US and Australia and elsewhere. Discussing likes and dislikes and failures and potentials and hopes and fears. It’s certainly an interesting time to be living abroad.
Politics aside, my first weeks here have been comprised in part of just chilling and being still and enjoying not moving from one place to the next after three months of such. In part of getting stuff done. With some exploring and socializing thrown in as well. I was surprised by how delighted I was to have new clothing in my wardrobe after three months of wearing the same few outfits. And I’ll say, too, that my luck with finding second hand clothing (that both fits and I like) in Australia has been superior to my American experiences (lookin’ at you Olympia Goodwill). I’ve had some stellar, albeit expensive food. After multiple instances going to cafes with people who’ve said, in response to my not drinking coffee, ‘but will you at least try it?!’ I have, I’ve added coffee into my diet, after long, stubborn years of disinterest. Not that the coffee itself is superior, but I think I like the forms in which Australians drink their coffee better. That, and tea is weirdly more expensive than coffee here. I have been truly surprised by how smoothly all of the official things I’ve needed to accomplish have gone. My first order of business was acquiring a new SIM. I decided on a pay-as-you-go plan and had it delivered in the mail. This, I used the following day to get a library card (which…I’ve used extensively). The mail and library card I used in combination to open a bank account. I filed for my tax number and it arrived soon after. Australia is an easy country to exist in. Anna, Nelly, and Liz were all quite thorough in orienting me to the culture in which I am now immersed. From explaining the trains and buses, to the avocado toast culture, to classic Australian musicians, to their new favourite game of ‘we’ll give you an Australian term, and you have to guess what it means.’ I feel prepared to be a resident without embarrassing myself too much.