Changes

Back in February, I participated in an expat blog challenge that was hosted by my fellow expat Cristin, an American in Sydney who blogs over at In an Opal Hearted Country. The month-long challenge was a success and a little community unexpectedly emerged from it. In the Facebook group, we talk about blogging, post links to daily entries, and post prompts.

My blogging results are mixed. I tend to read a number of other expat blogs, but I comment little, and my own blogging has been sporadic lately. Sometimes the prompts just don’t speak to me, but the June monthly prompt does. The prompt is changes, to talk about the ways in which we’ve changed since becoming an expat.

Continue reading

The Road to Residency Part 5: Death and Taxes

Medicare

In my last entry on residency in mid-April, I mentioned that I had all my ducks in a row and my application for a de facto partner visa subclass 820 was being lodged. That went through without a hitch and Immigration issued me a bridging visa.

A bridging visa is a temporary visa that allows me to say in Australia in the period of time between when my previous visa expired and my current visa application is being processed. Think of it like being in Limbo.

Despite all the planning, work, and expenses, Immigration can reject a visa application, but I guess the assumption is that they generally won’t because the bridging visa does a number of important things.

First, the bridging visa allows me to stay in Australia indefinitely. Unlike a tourist visa or a working visa, there’s no expiration date on it.

Second, the bridging visa allows me to enrol in Medicare. In the US, Medicare is a national social insurance program that guarantees access to health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older, younger people with disabilities, and a few other folks as well. In Australia, Medicare is a publicly funded universal health care scheme. It was easy to enrol. I printed out the form from the Department of Human Services website, completed it, gathered other necessary documents, and took all down to my local Medicare office. I took a ticket, waited about half-hour, and submitted my paperwork. In about a week, the card arrived in the post.

The third thing that a bridging visa allows me to do is work in Australia. After enrolling in Medicare, the next thing I did was apply for a tax file number. Much like a Social Security number, a tax file number is a unique nine-digit number issued to to individuals and organisations to help the Australian government administer tax. You can apply online and it’s easy. You don’t have to provide much information because the Australian Taxation Office will check the status of your residency. In about a week, I had received my TFN in the post.

My de facto visa application is still being processed and it will take months, but I have public health care and a job in Australia, and that’s a lot and I’m happy about it. Looking and finding work has been its own adventure so I’ll be sure to write more about that later.

What’s your visa process been like?

Read
The Road to Residency Part 1: The Visa Medical Assessment
The Road to Residency Part 2: Tricky Language
The Road to Residency Part 3: The Relationship
The Road to Residency Part 4: All the Extras
The Road to Residency Part 5: Death and Taxes

Facebook Messenger to Keep Expats Connected

Facebook_Messenger_02

In August 2012, I wrote a blog entry on three tools to help expats stay in touch with family and friends abroad: Skype, the magicJack, and Viber.

As it turned out, I rarely use Skype with anyone other than Theo (and he’s in the next room or just beside me; we use it to share links and files). My family just never quite caught on to it and my friends never seem to be on it when I’m online. Viber never caught on either. The magicJack is my most used device for staying connected with folks back in the USA.  I easily make and receive calls any time and will chat for hours with family and friends.

Facebook puts up a good fight though. It seems like everyone is on Facebook all the time and it makes it easy and convenient to keep up with people. It’s definitely not the same as talking over the phone and it will never replace my calls to dear ones in the USA, but Facebook has changed the way we communicate. I like the witty observations my friends make, the news and photos they share, and the intelligent discussions that take place.

One thing I was missing was being able to communicate via text message with my sister. We texted each other all the time (despite the fact that we were neighbours), but texting long-distance would result in outrageous costs. Enter Facebook Messenger.

Facebook Messenger is an instant messaging application for Android, iPhone, and Windows phones. The beauty of it is that it’s a standalone app. You don’t have to open your Facebook app to access the chat.  It’s free on Wi-Fi and uses your existing data plan otherwise.

You can learn  more about Facebook Messenger here or download it here.

Do you use Facebook Messenger? Have you used it for texting abroad? What other tools do you use to stay connected?

The Road to Residency Part 4: All the Extras

I set my foot down on the road to residency in June 2013, nearly a year ago. The process is finally coming to an end. Well, sort of.

I’m applying onshore (that is, from within Australia, as opposed to offshore) for a de facto partner visa subclass 820, which is a temporary visa. If granted, if the relationship is still intact after two years, I will be granted a permanent visa, subclass 801. Today is the day my application will be lodged.

I thought this day would never come. Every time I thought I had everything I needed, my migrant agent asked for more. There is a list of documents that Immigration requests. Then there are documents you can add to support your application.

Immigration requests all the documents you would expect: various forms, copies of your personal documents such as passports and birth certificates, evidence of a “genuine and continuing relationship”, an Australian National Police check, an FBI criminal background check, a medical check, two passport-sized photos, and a personal statement on the history of the relationship and your future together. And they want a lot of detail. For example, you have to provide a list of employment “since birth” and explain any unemployment gaps. You have to provide a list of all the places you’ve lived at for the past 30 years.

Continue reading

Spring in Autumn

Image: DTTSP

Image: DTTSP

I have Seasonal Identity Disorder. Ok, I made that up; there’s no such clinical disorder (not yet), but it’s a thing, really it is. Keep reading and you’ll see.

It’s autumn here. It’s brought a bit more rain and the leaves are turning glorious shades of golden orange and deep red. The days are mild and the nights are cool. The grey, rainy days aside, it’s mostly a nice time of year.

A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to host an autumn picnic and so I went shopping for some decor. I was looking for pretty items such as cornucopias, gourds, leaf-shaped platters, golden-coloured wine glasses – if you’ve been to Target in America, you know what I mean. Apparently, that’s not a thing here in Oz. Target, K-Mart, the arts and crafts shops, the fabric stores, and so forth didn’t have any new, seasonal stock for autumn. That’s okay; now I know and I will be prepared next time to be more creative. I think the reason may be that there are no major autumn festivals to decorate for. Australians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and Halloween, while a harvest festival, is still celebrated in October, which is in the spring.

There is one major holiday approaching: Easter. So, while it’s autumn and it’s getting cooler and the leaves are turning colours and dropping from trees, it’s a good time of year to stock up on spring-themed decor. Shops are now full of pastels, bright baskets, bunny figurines, and so forth. I wonder whether Aussies consider Easter a spring festival celebrated in autumn, an autumn festival with spring themes, or if they think about it at all. Perhaps they simply accept it as a Christian holiday and don’t much consider its seasonal origins and symbols.

Back in the States, not being a Christian, I took only a secular approach to Easter though, as a Pagan, I observed the spring equinox. In Australia, I have to divorce these two festivals, just as I have to divorce Christmas from the winter solstice, and Halloween from autumn. And that feels strange because these festivals are rooted in their seasons and that’s how I have always experienced them. I wonder if those lack of connections with the land and seasonal changes contribute to what I perceive as a general lack of enthusiasm for holidays here. I mean, how can you muster up genuine excitement for rebirth and renewal when everything around is wilting and dying?

Do you feel comfortable celebrating seasonal holidays outside their seasons? How do you make that work for you?

Vote for Batman

Vote for Batman

I received an amusing letter last week.

First of all, it came from the Division of Batman. Apparently, I live in the Division of Batman. Seriously. I live in Melbourne and in Darebin and in the Division of Batman.

Melbourne is a metropolitan area, which means it is a region with a densely populated urban core and its less-populated surrounding territories, which share industry, infrastructure, and housing. So, I live in the greater metropolitan area of Melbourne. Then, I live in the City of Darebin, a local government area that contains 11 suburbs. I also live in the Division of Batman, which is an electoral division.  It takes its name from John Batman, one of the founders of the city of Melbourne

On to the letter. It reads:

Dear Cosette

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has no record that you are enrolled for the address below:

[address withheld]

If this is your permanent address you need to enrol online today at www.aec.gov.au. This will ensure you are correctly enrolled to vote.

It goes on a bit more, but that’s the gist of it.

Interesting, huh? I recently obtained my Victoria driver’s license and I’m guessing that’s where the AEC obtained my information, but you’d think they would check on my citizenship status before sending the letter.

I’d rather live in the Division of Wonder Woman.

Between Cultures

Image: DTTSP

Image: DTTSP

The prompt for the Expat Blog Challenge on Saturday, February 16th was to respond to the following quote from Sarah Turbull:

It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.

Growing up in Miami, I was like everyone else – Cuban. Ok, there were other people in Miami such as Haitians, Nicaraguans, Dominicans. I even knew a Polish kid. But with about 35% of the populace being Cuban, Miami is the largest city with a Cuban-American plurality, and I lived smack in the middle of it in Little Havana. I grew up on Spanish-language soap operas and arroz con frijoles (rice and beans).

I didn’t know I was a minority until I left Miami and traveled just five hours north to attend college in Tampa. Funny enough, Tampa also has a large Cuban population, but those Cubans have been in the USA longer. Cuban culture isn’t really felt much in Tampa. Among my college friends, I looked and sounded different. Suddenly, I wasn’t white anymore; I was Hispanic.

I was born in Havana, but I left with my family when I was two years old. To people on the island, I’m probably as American as they come. I’m not Cuban enough for them. To Americans, I’m Latina (a term I don’t identify with at all). I’ve always lived between cultures.

Moving to Melbourne made me more American. When you’re an expat, you suddenly become a representative for your entire nation. It’s also highlighted my Cuban edges. There are so many little things about the USA that I don’t know and don’t understand due to a certain lack of American culture that wasn’t strongly present in my life. For example, American folklore is almost entirely lost on me and I didn’t try Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese until I was 19.

Is it bittersweet living between cultures? Yes, perhaps it is. Travel changes a person enough. Moving abroad does something else to you. In some ways, it brings you closer to people like you. This is why so many expats find other expats. They want to be with other Americans. They are familiar strangers and they share a certain experience nobody else understands. It also creates a void between you and people that you thought were like you. When you return to your birthplace, it feels a little foreign.

Possessed

Adventure awaits! Image: DTTSP

Adventure awaits! Image: DTTSP

Today’s prompt in the Expat Blog Challenge is to explore the trait I possess that most equipped me for life abroad or the trait that held me back the most, or both.

More than once in my life, I’ve been told by friends that I am so brave, that they can’t believe I’m doing this or that. Moving to another country you’ve never even vacationed in? Crazy is a good word for that, but I’ll take brave. There’s really nothing courageous in it though. It doesn’t take courage to do something that doesn’t scare you. It was just another decision. It was a big one, but just another decision nevertheless.

I think I have a few traits that equipped me for life abroad, that equip me for life in general. They are rooted in how I view the world.

I embrace change. Change is the only constant. There are people who are born, live, and die in the same small town. Who fall in love and marry their high school sweethearts. Whose generations of family members are buried in the same small town cemetery. Their lives are full of routine and it may be seem mundane, but I’m certain it’s not. I’m certain they experience many changes throughout their lives. No matter how small it may seem to the rest of us, people’s lives are rocked and changed everyday. I’m okay with that. I’m not afraid of change.

Continue reading

The Pantry

Today’s prompt in the Expat Blog Challenge begins, “Since moving abroad, my pantry looks different because…”.

Back in Miami, I didn’t have a pantry. I think the house may have had one at some point, but by the time my family moved in during the early 1980s, what might have been a pantry once was closed off in the kitchen and opened on the living room side to create a small closet. We didn’t miss having a pantry. In Miami, it’s so hot and humid that we store most of our food in the refrigerator, and because my mother is something of a minimalist, storage space was never much of an issue. The kitchen cupboards provided enough storage room for all our food, appliances, pots, pans, dishes, and so forth.

Continue reading

Doing It Again

Today’s prompt in the Expat Blog Challenge says, “I would/would not move to another country after this…”.

With a few exceptions –  namely the most dangerous cities and countries in the world such as Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia, and so forth – I think I would move just about anywhere.

I feel like I complain about Melbourne quite a bit, but not as much as I want to. I definitely don’t express everything that runs across my mind. You can’t when you’re a foreigner; you’re not really allowed to. The unspoken rule is that you’re supposed to accept everything quietly. Otherwise, the retorts are usually “if you don’t like it, you can go back to where you came from” and “if you wanted everything to be like in America, you should have stayed there.” To be fair, Australians are not unique in this. Plenty of Americans have a similar attitude.

To wrap it up, I feel that life in Melbourne is harder than life in Miami. I think Australians know this on some level and take a certain pride in it, as if they are more rugged and tough because they sleep in swags and shiver at the train stations on freezing winter mornings while Americans are overindulged with our glamping and cheap central cooling and heating. Fine, whatever, call me spoiled; it doesn’t change anything.

I’m in Melbourne because this is where my partner wants to be. I like Melbourne. I even love it at times and I don’t have an iota of regret moving here. But would I remain if it weren’t for him? Probably not.

The tricky part is that moving to Melbourne made me homeless. My partner’s family is my family, but it’s not my family. I have almost no friends and no spiritual community here. But Miami is the place where my partner isn’t so that’s not quite home anymore either. And the truth is that while I deeply love Miami, I’ve long felt that I would someday leave it.

So, where is home? I don’t know. It’s a question that baffles a lot of expats. For the moment, home seems to be wherever my partner and I are together, and, so yes, I would move again and again.

The Fifth Post

Today’s prompt of the Expat Blog Challenge says: “Look at the fifth post you ever wrote on this blog. In hindsight, what do you think about your frame of mind and your style of writing?”

My fifth post is from January 5, 2012, How to Sleep, and I wrote, “You know when you’re really excited about something and you can’t sleep the night before? I haven’t slept since July.”

I don’t know when I decided to come to Australia, but by the time I wrote this, the plan was in motion. I had already bought my airline tickets and new luggage. Looking back on that entry, it reflects excitement and some naivete. I found all the good things I expected  – beauty, diversity, adventure, love – but I definitely didn’t anticipate the huge bouts of homesickness and isolation I experienced. I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it’s been sometimes. I’d begun reading information on traveling, moving abroad, and blogs from expats, but there are some things that nothing can prepare you for, that you just have to experience, and move through.

Even though that was two years ago, my frame of mind hasn’t changed much. I’m still tremendously excited to be in Australia. Melbourne hasn’t lost any of its charm and I look forward to seeing more of this sun-burnt country. And I still get a little homesick and exasperated sometimes, but it gets easier. My sleeping habits, however, have not much improved.