August 6th, 2022
Five years ago today, I landed in Sydney Australia. I had flown via Maui from San Francisco after a stint in Chicago and two weeks in LA. I was on no shortage of a farewell tour and my final destination was only a mere six thousand miles from home: Down Under.
It's funny how long ago that time period feels, while also containing some of the most vivid Sydney memories I ever collected. Maybe anywhere! I was alone, on the precipice of a new life chapter. I was hungry, a bit clueless, drained from already having traveled and emotional wiped from saying goodbyes, eating final meals, and checking off bucket list items like it was my job! It's not as though I was leaving the planet for an interplanetary frontier; it's not as though I wouldn't be home eight weeks later for Britt's wedding to Jeff and my second-ever gig as bridesmaid. However, it's easy to forget that the start of this new chapter was also the end of an era.
Five years ago today, I left [my heart in] San Francisco. After three adventurous years of living in the city, trying new things and countless firsts and making an indefinite amount of friends and workBFFs? I was bidding adieu to Silicon Valley. SF was arguably the town that changed my life, sparked a level of my independence and introduced me to the people who would change my career trajectory. I'd fall in like and love with countless work crushes, neighborhood "holes in the wall," parks to lounge in and neighborhoods to explore. I'd rent my first moving truck solo, find my first two bedroom with a total stranger, stay away for the weekend with my first "guy I'm seeing" (wishing he was actual boyfriend and finding, also for the first time, the guts to tell him as much). I'd learn to love yoga, I'd train for a marathon, and I'd help organize my first charity 5K to bring my love of running across the city. I'd cross the Golden Gate bridge, take my first ferry to Sausalito, run across instead, and jog the entire circumference of this city in order to see it close up, first hand.
It feels so long ago that it's hard for me to recall each local haunt, each fave. I miss the brunch place that was totally too mediocre for me to know the name, and I miss the coffee shop that was decent but beloved because of its reliability and proximity to our home (mere steps). I miss the Italian place around the corner where I found sanctuary when I was locked out of house and home, roommates out of town. I miss the rooftop balcony overlooking Coit Tower where I had countless housewarmings, roommates "byes," Galentines dinners and Bloody Mary fundraisers for Pencils of Promise.
When I think back to that final week or two of farewells, I think I did pretty well at exhausting my favorite bites. I tried House of Prime Rib (finally!) and ordered Brandy Ho. I had Salt & Straw post park-day and got a Minty Mojito from the Philz coffee truck in the Marina Green. I probably fit in acai bowls from Basic Cafe and calzones from Italian Homemade. I remember that I wanted everything and also to do nothing, and simply savor life's simplicity. I was embarking on an adventure that would lend to [plenty more food and] new friends, new cuisines, new hobbies, and new horizons. Some things I'd carry with me, but I wanted to squeeze all the juice I could out of my city by the bay.
Finally, I remember having oysters and bloodies with Nancy Dave Talia and Chels. My San Francisco fam was made up of none other more unconditional, more instrumental to my life here. If it hadn't been for the Lowerre's or Talia's friendship or Chels as my ride-or-die, I might not have found nor felt as at home.
Now it's five years to the day that I touched down in Sydney. I ventured out for a jog around Darling Harbour... the same Darling Harbour that I had met at age 19 in my fleece peacoat. I looked out each morning at the CBD skyline atop the trees of Hyde Park. I reunited with Danielle, met Rupert, had dumplings with Ash... and then went to bookclub. Life would change forever, once again, and not for the last time.
Five years ago today, I saw the sun beaming through those Sydney winter grays and thought: there's always a trade-off and yet, there's a silver lining on each new horizon.
Abroad Back Home
September 4th, 2020
As I sit under the covers in my double bed at my Carp AirBnB, I don't want to ever forget exactly what this feels like. Despite the discomfort, nerves, sadness and longing - I know that it's a special feeling that's going to also fade before I blink twice.
I am all showered and clean, a little overheated because I don't know how to control the water temperature quite yet. I'm wearing my Harry Potter PJ's from Peter Alexander, my sleepy lotion from Lush and my sterling silver moon from "baby anything" (a local jeweler) in Paddo. I'm also tired to the point of exhaustion, wired to the near point of delirium, and so ready for a hopeful twelve maybe ten hours of restful sleep after 24+ spent traveling.
I left Sydney on a rainy Friday morning after breakfast at Silk, almond flat whites and haloumi. I left with a quick hug from Pimm (my beloved barista), lots of tears from Lou and Des, tight squeezes from Sim and Michelle too, and the perfect amount of time and love from Phil -- my fateful fellow expat since college trips in 2010. I climbed into the lifts with Danielle and Becca just to venture down to the parking garage, where Dani had put her new Suburu for the night so that we could stay up late preparing, talking, packing, and crying a little. The night before, I did last minute things like write cards and make a photo collage for James and Rupert. I cuddled my giant Rupert bear, and drank Vuerve, and had dumplings and noodles from my favorite hole in the wall place across the street. I opted out of my all-time favorite gelato -- Messina -- but only because I had boba tea with James that day instead.
My goodbyes on Thursday prior were both sad and anti-climactic. I packed early while Charlee and I sipped coffee from downstairs. I also hugged Liz, cuddled Scarlett and said bye to Wendy on the phone while staring over Coogee beach for the last time in a while. Liz and I had iced lattes while she held Scarlett, and I walked to the edge of the boardwalk's lookout (only to remember doing the same eleven years before, when I had last set eyes on Sydney). Who knew that 2009 would have been my first of two times saying goodbye?
As I sat with Liz and became overwhelmed by the daunting task of departing, I realized one of many lessons - that not only do I not have to do it alone, but that asking for help lets others be more vulnerable and trusting in me right back. Liz told me so in her beautiful handwritten card, but she showed me so when she cried on her couch or let me into her life during hard moments. That morning in Coogee, I sat on her baby blanket and did the same: shedding tears and hyperventilating while Scarlett nursed happily. I gripped the beautiful pink and turquoise mug they gifted me. Liz also got me tall socks that say: Watch out, I'll fucking hug you. I intend to keep those socks forever.
After my quick jaunt over to Coogee, I bid adieu to the girls and the beaches while heading home to transfer luggage to Fedex (and pay the cleaner). Our morning had been productive; the house was ready, my final possessions were on the balcony and James had deconstructed the bed so that I could sleep on it one final time (but so that L could also take it). Though I had wanted him to come over, spend time, help me take it apart and maybe break it down in the process -- I'm confident that everything that happened that afternoon was as it should have been. There were no drawn out goodbyes; no awkward chemistry or latent sparks. I gave him my final love letter in the form of a very brief and casual card - he took his jumper, gave me a hug and texted me Friday to have a "safe flight Xx." Just like these strange feelings tonight, that undeniable crush and love hangover that made my torso ache would soon fade too, slowly crystalizing into a fond and sexy memory.
Tonight i fought my jet lag by chatting with friends & my new landlord Debbie, and by heading to the beach for sunset. I ran back to grab a jacket because the coastal air told me I wouldn't be warm for long. I'm so glad I did -- the ocean breeze off the waves was perfectly comfortable through my breathable sleeves. As I hit the sand and strode toward the tide for firm footing, I felt the ache and a lump surge into my throat as the day closed. I didn't want it to be my last day as abroad down under. Not yet.
The moment I turned west, seeking that sunset on the horizon and wondering if I had made the right decision leaving one coast for another, two dolphins rose out of the water directly in front of me. My heart skipped so audibly that I laughed, swallowed tears and didn't decide -- I knew that they were the sign I hadn't known I was looking for. If I've asked God and the Universe lately to help me know I've made the right decision, She did so immediately and showed me that I won't be alone here. As I walked briskly, listening to my familiar tunes and checking out my new skyline where the sky meets the sea, the dolphin duo kept me company. What were the chances of that?
I think it's normal to feel the sticky discomfort of a new place, a bit of solitude, sadness for what's gone and nervousness for what's to come. Heck, I should know the feeling by now: I've done this a minimum of twice by leaving LA and SF.... more when you count the times away, in strange dorms and hotels and apartments that were not yet mine. Each time, I sit in curiosity and also ritual: praying, listening, watching familiar characters on TV and lathering myself up in my favorite scent. I know that things will more than smell familiar soon.
Until then, I'll forever be abroad in mindset.
Abroad at Heart
It's been one week since you looked at me... but you seem to like it here enough, girl!
I catch you lying around on the fake hard wood floors, always in a patch of sunlight and with your avocado catnip toast nearby. Sometimes, you're on the couch instead - at home on your gray fleece blanket or your cream colored sherpa that blends with the hair you leave behind. You wake me up at 6:30am, meowing for your daily drink out of the sink or squeaking because your feeder hasn't turned yet. At night though, you make your way into my room eventually and hop up onto the foot of the bed where you can nestle into the warmth of my legs under the covers. Wherever we go, some things never change.
After one week of living in my new Studio City apartment, I have already fallen hard (and all over again) for Los Angeles - her brains and her beauty. I wouldn't say I'm right at her center, but I've landed amongst her northernmost hills and begun to explore what locals call "The Valley" alright! Merely 45 minutes south of my family and 45 minutes east of Jill and Carolyn on the west side, I feel like I'm exploring my very own brand new neighborhood while also sitting right in the middle of everything.
Here's what I love about it so far: - I'm right near some of my staple people in LA - Scott's place is about a ten minute drive through the Valley and Briona is mere steps down Laurel Canyon Blvd. Jess and Scott came over Saturday night for casual pizza and game night. Jill drove up to help me unpack and was so much closer than we were in the past. In my first week, I tested the drive over the canyon to WeHo...my old stomping grounds!
My kitchen has its splashes of red and my living room with purple accents and Aquabump's "Rise" featured front and center -I have a quaint and yet perfect balcony. I can perch in my comfy rattan chairs from Wayfair, and welcome Simba to come out and join me - at which point, she doesn't hesitate. I have three small tables for all of my plants and we sit out there together, plant family and all - enjoying the aforementioned LA sunshine on my shoulders (and I can't imagine having found a place that didn't have an outdoor haven for us to escape to!). The work from home days are long but the space feels like me- ever under construction but also oh-so-me.
My reminder to self is that to move is to grow, refine and yet expand. As Briona's housewarming card read so fittingly:
Wherever you go, go with all your heart.
Abroad Down in LaLa Land
Since moving back home to the U.S. in September, I've had all sorts of ideas. I've crafted a new bucket list and made lists of the things I want: want to buy, want to craft, want to do and visit in my new life back in Southern California - Stateside.
Sometimes I feel as though I haven't progressed as far as I would have liked. Then again, when I think about it, I'm proud of all the things I've accomplished - often for the first time.
1. I went on a road-trip with my parents and visited Yosemite National Park (two firsts!)
2. I flew to visit DC once again, and drove to visit Brittany and Jeff at their place in Virginia for the first time since they got married. (insert: historic Jamestown ghost tour)
3. I moved into my very own apartment for the first time
4. I had my legs waxed (and I don't recommend the underarm region - ouch)
5. I baked sourdough!
6. I went on five new first dates - and had a dude cook for me in said apartment =)
7. I drove to see my California besties in their new places: Chels in San Diego & Shira in Marin Country
8. I flew to visit both my high-school besties: Bre at her home in Orangevale and Jenna at her new home in Portland!
9. I swam in this side of the Pacific (all over town: from Carp to Newport Beach)
10. I made dairy-free pasta sauce with yeast & nut milk
*Bonus: I got promoted to a senior consultant -- and a global program manager
There are more things, and tiny things, and big things, and countless small things. I tried Island Brew Company; I participated in a virtual beer fest (thanks to the pandemic). I drank at a cidery in Virginia; I also went to a new hair salon and had my hairs trimmed by an old family friend.
I went on a date wearing masks; I kissed my first Californian dude in years. I got a new tattoo, for the first time in my home region of Ventura County. I drove all the way to San Francisco and back solo, for my first time in seven years since moving to SF in 2014. I made a gallery wall of photos and prints from around the world. I had my own paint night on my balcony. I built a lamp. I garbage-picked a new office chair from my neighbor's sidewalk out front.
Most importantly, I started therapy. I started meditating more days than I don't. I kept journaling (as fiercely as I have since kindergarten). I went back to Hawaii (for a sixth time?) but for my first time with just Mom. We swam with a sea turtle for the first time in my life.
I've kept putting myself out there, in the pursuit of new relationships and new experiences, riding in the wake of their possibilities.
The novelty and awe inspired by new experiences don't have to wait until global travel resumes to re-emerge.
Abroad Down Under
Emergency Weather report:
February 1st-February 5th, 2021
Who am I, if I'm no longer Sydney-Cory?
This is the thought that came into my mind, late one night on a hard week of missing my former home.
These existential questions and residual bouts of nostalgia might be emblematic of something. Is it the five-month mark since departing from Sydney? Was it the uncharacteristically touching few words from my old housemate Rupert on our recent phone catch-up? Maybe these feelings have been amplified by the dermatology appointment I had this week (causing me to reminisce scarier moments of diagnosis Down Under), or my encroaching 32nd birthday.
It most definitely could have been the letter from AU immigration, which arrived in my inbox Monday morning. My visa has been cancelled - due to my lack of employment in Australia - and while months have gone by, it reminded me that the chapter on Oz is finally and officially closed. Closed forever? Not necessarily! But this symbol, in a time of limited travel and pandemic constraints, made me yearn for access to the door into Sydney simply because it's locked -- for now.
Over the past three years of living abroad, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what made me feel at home while living halfway around the world. That self-awareness is helping me now as I attempt to cultivate the life I wanted to create upon moving back to Cali. As an avid loyalist to my journal and nerdy goal-setter since childhood, I have determined eight areas that I want to cultivate in particular. I think they'll help me feel intentional, cozy, comfortable in my own skin, and supported along the way.
These are the versions of me I want to be.
As I "cultivate," I realize that I'm still Sister Cory, connector-Cory, yogi-Cory and so much more.
1. My wellness. My daily wellness rituals make me feel so much stronger. I'm grounded, self-aware and more relaxed going into my work day. I'm also more self-compassionate, a better sleeper, and more focused when I start the morning with a short breathing meditation followed by my living room yoga! Doing things like yoga or even home-cooking also give me quality time with ME to notice my thoughts and cuddle with Simba (see below).
2. My home! I have looked forward to this milestone of living on my own for a while now. It's finally here - I'm in my own apartment! With the help of my sisters, parents and bro-in-law, I am nearly set up for the coziest homey space of "hygge" ever. I can rest, exercise, lounge, or host. I can bake, blend, create and even sit outside! Finally, I have countless blankets, candles and essential oils that will help me quite literally infuse Sydney into my home.
3. My community - both old and new. I could not be more grateful to be minutes from the Welsh fam. Weekly dinner with the Brocks or routine backyard catchups have been the soul-fuel for my transition back home. While I am back in my home county and surrounded by friends from childhood and USC, it's been hard to reconnect with as many as I'd like during a pandemic. Luckily, I have Zoom trivia and Jackbox TV game nights lined up with my closest friends so I can stay in touch with them from around the world.
4. My creativity. Something I've been missing is the hobby of embracing my tactile, analog creativity! Especially after long days of virtual collaboration and screen-time, I long to leverage my creative juices in the evenings. I can do this by way of crafting or puzzling. I've even started sorting my Sydney prints for a scrapbook-gallery wall, and assembling a photo collage on my fridge was a simple pleasure. My friend Sue sent me a jewelry-making mandala kit - which fittingly fits into multiple goals like my wellness and this one!
5. My relationships... and maybe even romance. Beyond the community I know and love, I am open to meeting new people and want to invest time in dating. Little things like going outdoors for a (safe-distance) walk with a new coworker make the biggest difference and FUEL me while working from home.
6. My consciousness. This one is about being aware of those around me and intentional with my choices. Being back in America, I want to be politically engaged and environmentally conscious in the face of a climate emergency. I want to be mindful instead of reactive, and this starts with doing one thing at a time with greater ease and love. I'm reading the news, listening to podcasts, and talking with friends who make me smarter. I can't help but think of Jimminy Cricket on my shoulder, reminding me to let my conscience be my guide.
7. My service orientation. From helping someone with their LinkedIn profile to donating when I have the means to support a friend, I am living my purpose when I am giving back.
8. My professional development. Being in a new role during such a heavy period of change, I'm focused on purely honing the skills for my current role - coaching and consulting. I try to learn or read something new every day and reflect at the end of every week. I'm also scheduling mentor conversations twice a month to learn from those who lead teams [in- and outside LinkedIn].
I can do some writing, quick learning or email backlog on the balcony. Simba's not so sure.
Whatever it is that brings the rain, Sydney is etched deeply on my heart. Sometimes her imprints feel like scars - sensitive to the touch. Other times, they're beautiful and joyful tattoos of memories and friendships... not to mention the great scenery! It's melted onto my heart like a screen-print tee that I'll wear forever.
The silver lining about this month's weather report? You know what they say about rainbows - you can't spot them without a little rain.
Abroad in Cultivate-mode
Something I've been thinking about writing for WEEKS is the list of things that people never tell you. Who are "people," you may be asking yourself? The proverbial "they" -- the wiser and all knowing elders, the fellow expats, your friends who did something similar to you and perhaps moved abroad, built a life and moved home to their country of origin in order to be closer to [insert here: family, their calling, aging parents, better resources].
They don't tell you how bittersweet and weird it will feel moving back to the place you used to call home, yet so long ago. They don't tell you that your heart might feel split in two - divided by a chasm only x-thousand miles wide (and an ocean deep). They don't talk about the little things - seemingly mundane and too insignificant to possibly constitute "reverse culture shock." Am I petty for missing my coffee shop? My mattress? The Sydney coastal breeze?
I arrived on a sunny September morning after 15 hours in flight, twenty hours of travel combined. I walked through immigration at San Francisco International, reminiscent of many a work trip and morning spent looking for coffee through the fog of "the Mondays." I felt different this time, and yet immediately felt a piece of me so consumed by déjà vu that I was the same - transported back to age 25. I walked past the familiar terminals, acronyms and hanging symbol of red white and blue, realizing that I was back on home soil for the indefinite time being. It wasn't just a visit. I was moving "home" - but what did home mean, anyway?
My first weeks back as a SoCal resident have been smooth, familiar and yet sticky in the most unexpected places - like an old and comfy sweater discovered stuffed in the back of your closet or uncovered from under the bed after years, covered in dust bunnies. I drove on autopilot from the rental car hub up the 405-N, remembering college days and weekend drives to see my not-boyfriend in my early-twenties years. I connected to Bluetooth and called B, instantly grateful for the literal LUXURIES i hadn't had living in a hip metropolis for the past six years. Bluetooth and CarPlay? Starbucks drive-throughs? Don't mind if I do, I thought guiltlessly.
This year had been about choosing ease, after all.
I reflect constantly that there are parts and costs of traveling that people never tell you; they don't post them on Instagram or shout them from a giant-tree swing on their youtube travel vlogs. Traveling. home. is. HARD. Traveling period is taxing on the body, the soul, friendships, routine, our health, sometimes family, and unavoidably-- our wallets. But traveling home after time away is something that I have yet to read much about, and I want to know more.
I've been through this before. I keep telling myself this in moments of lonely solitude or doubt. I am in a new world with new direct peers, but I've known all of them for some time now and I have a long standing brand and series of work stories that lay behind me. I must have felt the same when I first moved to SF, again when I moved to Sydney, and even when I moved stores, roles and, finally? companies. During some of those moments, other people were new: my cohort were new to that environment of work; when I first went to bookclub that fateful night in October 2017, I wasn't the only one checking it out for the first time.
And so I had friends, courage, vulnerability and creativity to get me through. I am trying to leverage those same muscles now. When I'm in with my boss, I ask a lot of questions; when I am with my peers I still embody the new girl and ask as many questions as I have (rather than hold them back). Yesterday, I asked a question that I'm glad I broached instead of biting my tongue. I did exactly what Brene recommends: I chose to rumble instead of hiding or guarding myself from judgment by holding back and hoping that no one noticed I'm an imposter.
To daring greatly on the road back home.
Abroad Back Home
The Start of My Look-Back
I have a habit of waiting to start something; waiting for the perfect moment or opportune time, waiting for inspiration to flow or the adequate amount of time to present itself in my calendar. This is flawed. When will the perfect moment ever arrive to face the bittersweet nostalgia that flows every time I think of Oz? As I sit down to begin writing, I realize that the definition of “perfect” is subjective. When I reflect on my time in Sydney, freshly ended (for now) a mere eight weeks ago, I know in my heart that it was not only the “perfect” city in which to live, thrive and try something new – to face constant adventure, learning, heartbreak, romance and a newly intense kind of love that only meets the heart when placed in its most vulnerable and open kind of circumstance – but that it was also home to a season in my life that was the perfect length, degree of richness and distance from everything that I had known before.
What more perfect time is there than today?
That habit, or tendency to wait? It had arisen in the earlier years of my “twenties” too, taking the form of procrastination to “bite the bullet” and pursue my dream of living overseas. Since the later years of high school – in which my soccer team traveled to Europe and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants hit the big screen – I dreamed of moving to a far-off land for a time and immersing myself, speaking a bit of the language, meeting strangers in their local markets (aka playing soccer with cute older boys) and becoming friends with both citizens and fellow travelers who would become my new crew of worldly adventurers.
As college began and my exposure to the Earth’s corners expanded, I started to snag glimpses into this potential future: David left for a summer Euro-trip and sent postcards from countless cities; my closest comrade Jill left for study abroad in Sydney herself and did exactly what I had pictured: she lived in a shared house mere steps from the beach, tried foods and coffee orders of which I had never heard, and sky dived over parts of the Ocean of which I had barely heard the name and couldn’t even picture: Cairns (home of the film festival?), the Great Barrier Reef (like in Finding Nemo?). Finally, throughout my university years and with the help of my on-campus mentor and boss in the Study Abroad Office, I sought out as many chances as I could to venture across the proverbial ponds nearest me. I traversed Europe for five weeks, Singapore for two and Hong Kong for ten in my longest travel adventure yet. I was hooked. I had the itch and yet to start scratching. I knew that my first chance, or break, or job that I’d get would be “the one” to land me in a foreign country.
Five years went by and I fell into the [absolutely wonderful, privileged and fortunate] cycle of professional life – working for two corporations and indulging in the blessings of full-time, pseudo-adult employment (as well as the discretionary income this came with). I took trips, ate well, fell in love, and even ventured abroad again on an educational-service trip to Japan (chaperoning high-school students). Was my chance lost, or had my time passed? My first employer had shown it was possible to work overseas through a boss who made me feel encouraged by his leadership stint in Asia. He had worked temporarily in an emerging market, claimed to have loved its lessons and its people, but had recently returned home for the future of his family (wife and new daughter). While I pondered the possibility of following in his footsteps, I found myself in a work format that was grueling – though I’m ever-thankful for your teachings, retail – and switched careers before I could explore transferring enough to be dangerous.
Over the following three years (2014-2017), I loved working for an international company that allowed me to learn from peers around the world. I worked on global projects, had calls with communities of knowledge to share “best practices,” and even met a few international friends through work trips, conferences and onboarding sessions who would later become not only inspo, but assistants in my transformation. I began to get the proverbial “itch” again, approaching the age of 28 and wondering if I’d missed the opportunity to do something crazy. I examined what my career pivoting options were, and my long-time boss Donna then asked me what I now realize was a pivotal question.
Sitting on the communal couches on Level 15 of our SoMa offices, we were overlooking the East Bay of San Francisco and the infamous open-air AT&T park. Donna leaned in and asked me “Cory, if I told you that you only had one more role and “tour of duty” left at LinkedIn – what would you want that to be?” I hesitated to speak though the answer rose in my mind and heart immediately:
“I want to do a stint abroad.”
Why did I hesitate? Am I too old? Is it too late? Will my family ever forgive me? I’ll never forget a local teammate at the time and future friend telling me that she had recently secured a new role in London. In response to my outward wondering of whether it was “too late to pull it off,” she said that “it’s never too late to pull it off if I’m 31 and pulling it off now.” Little did I know then that my boss Donna’s scenario also wouldn’t be the case. I’d have at least three roles ahead of me once I embraced the desired future I could no longer deny. That day, Abroad Down Under was born -- if only to be cultivated a significant number of months later.
The going wasn’t always easy, and I hadn’t even moved away from home yet. Once I decided that I was finally ready to, I started to experience a preview of the pains that come with leaving your home and everyone you know and love. I applied for a role in Asia’s glittering headquarters, Singapore. I was rejected for inadequate cultural experience with the intended market I’d serve. I told my current beau that this was something I had always wanted. He rejected my hopes of making it work and maximizing the time we had left together. I began to tell my friends and family that this was the aim, by the halfway point of what was now my 29th year. Some of those same friends asked why I’d want to venture so far away. Didn’t I like my friends, or love my life back home enough?
The implied notions – that I didn’t love home, wanted to be far from family or wasn’t enough of a cultural chameleon to thrive abroad anyway – led to inevitable self-doubt. There were months of wondering and conversing ahead of me. I faltered in confidence at times, but I also refused to falter when it came to having calls, reaching out to colleagues whose names I had heard and asking questions incessantly.
I am forever indebted to the friends and strangers who had “coffee talks” with me, even at my most clueless of times: Claire, Neil, Audra and Jonathan. Next, there were friends who I had recently met at a culture convention of sorts within our company: they were four new work-friends who hailed from Australia, and the perfect acquaintances to surge my aspirations and spark a fire in my search. To Millie, Kat, Chris and Mary: I couldn’t have done it without you! Finally, I began interviewing for what seemed to be the perfect role Down Under: a job within my company and function that I was thriving in, amidst a slightly different business but related industry and newly growing team, into which I’d be eligible to transfer at my current level and into a young organization smaller than my own.
The more I type the words “little did I know,” the more I realize how little I knew about the pain that was ahead of me. There were countless heart aches, personal losses and days of uncertainty yet to come. At the same time, the road to the sunburnt country was also joyous and encouraging. I interviewed with two gentlemen – kind souls who pushed me and might have become adopted “dad” figures in Sydney – and the female mentor who would lead my soon-to-be greater team. I conversed with my god-sent recruiter named Millie, took my first stab at negotiating, and learned an endless amount by simply listening and verifying what I understood. The day I verbally agreed to come Down Under, I sat in a transparent glass-walled conference room on that same fateful Level 15 and felt – for the first and DEFINITELY not the last time – the bittersweet loneliness worthy of those on the path less traveled. Seconds later, I texted my best friend in the world since kindergarten, Chelsea - who had thankfully become a Work-BFF in the preceding year and worked in the same office that I did circa 2017. She immediately came to meet me, and held me as I sobbed with the realization of this thing I was manifesting – as well as the distance I’d be creating between me, and her, and home.
Little did I know...
xo,The following months were a blur and a joy as well. I began selling my things and coordinating with my two roommates. I planned farewell festivities, took road trips across and down my home state of California and soaked up every inch I could have of San Francisco. Highlights stand out in my memories, of the small moments: laying in the grass outside my favorite city landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts with my more recent BFF Stephanie, her reading my tarot cards; sharing açaí bowls and body scrubs at a Korean spa alongside my three closest gals, both times cleansing the heart and soul of my SF-self in preparation for a new chapter. I relished in the glory of this city by the bay right as soon as I was getting ready to leave it. I went back to the aforementioned beau and gave in to the romantic bliss of knowing – or not knowing, rather – the expansive and distant future that was now ahead of us. I drove my cat and my things to Southern California, Mom there for moral support in the front passenger seat. I recall laying grasswards, watching fireworks in the final patriotic display I might witness as a CA resident for the next several years. July 4th fell a mere few weeks before I left the Mainland and country, and - surrounded by three women from different phases of my life spanning sisterhood, childhood basketball teams and later-in-life work friends-turned-soul sisters – I finally began to realize the implications of moving 6,000 miles across the ocean… including the moments, traditions, milestones and company that I’d miss.
There were constantly moments like the aforementioned one which simultaneously broke my heart and got me through at the same time. They began right then: one of those friends above gifted me a beautiful necklace containing the coordinates of home – asking me to be at her side during her wedding, regardless of where we were in the world! My sisters and Mom met me in a Hawaii for a well-earned stopover on my route to Sydney; there, they gifted me one of my most prized possessions still today: a simple, home-constructed memory box filled with notes from over forty of my other family members of friends to get me through the expat days ahead as a Broad Down Under. Finally, my beloved and pen-pal-extraordinaire Gramz not only wrote constantly but took my FaceTime call as I sat in the window seat aboard Delta flight XXX to SYD, August 4th 2017. She told me that although she’d miss me, she was also proud of me because going abroad would make me a better broad.
That was the day that not only my dream began coming to life; I see now that the woman I would become and the pages to follow were coming to life as well.
As I embark on a new writing journey of reflecting back on my time in Oz, I ask myself: Do I want to live hours of each day reliving my time and months in Australia? In part, I do. I've always wanted to write, not only to savor and taste life twice but in the off chance that I'll inspire one person to write too, or go abroad, or move away from home, or try something they might not have tried otherwise. Moreover, November marks National Novel Writing Month in the USA... and we know we'll measure our life by the risks we took and the absence of shots we didn't take!
So to the past three years abroad Down Under that were to come… here's to relishing and celebrating them!
Abroad Back Home
October 3rd, 2020
My dearest Sydney,
How are you?! Are you faring well Down Under where the spring air must be warming up? How are your waterways and your ash-strewn outback this time of year? I remember fondly that this month typically marks the start of silly season!
It's been harder than I could have imagined to leave you. I'm only an ocean away but the 6,000 miles and [I still can't convert how many] kilometers feel like lightyears thanks to the change of season, time-zone and routine. I arrived smack dab at the end of a wet hot American summer in California, where it's been the opposite of wet and fires are rampant (at risk of continuing through Oct). I can't help but be reminded of your tragic bushfires earlier this year: countless homes, acres and families either devastated or terrified at the brink of evacuation. P.S. What is the world coming to that we can't contain nor avoid these devastations, even on opposite sides of the world?
In past years -- if I were in Sydney -- I'd be wandering the noodle markets and planning for my first boat party or yacht social club by now. Last year this time, I had just moved into my new apartment on Pitt Street and was still discovering new Chinese food haunts, my commute or yoga options beyond Surry Hills. I was also continuing rituals like book club (three years after attending with Ash, Charlee, Kristen and Becca!) or Cultivate-Club over dinner of snacks. These are things that I will miss so much and I wonder: Can I continue them? Recreate them? Realize that there is a reason or season for everything and that maybe I shouldn't try to relive the expat experience here at home?
California has been divine in some ways and an adjustment in others. It's nice to be in familiar cities, driving comfortable streets that I know like the back of my hand. As I write this, I am flanked right now by two puppies that love me... with one more at home where I move tomorrow, thanks to Mom and Dad. When I arrived in Cali on September 4th, I had a temporary living space that felt like something out of a childhood memory at the beach: a small one-bedroom apartment, one block back from the sand and sea. I landed on a Friday afternoon after what felt like hours of traveling that also absolutely flew by. I opened the unlocked door to Apartment 29 and saw not only brightly-lit tiles, a large kitchen and dining table that i knew would convert to a work space... but I also noticed a familiar face perched on my living room side table. Not just one face, but another -- then a group of them! There were ten women to be exact, they were everywhere. My Mom had printed and framed no less than ten moments in time captured merely days before in your very own streets of Sydney, Down Under. She didn't want me to feel alone when I arrived "home."
Where to begin with what I miss about you most? The photos featured Maybe and Silly Tart and Jacoby's in Newtown. There were the work gals, the book club gals, the epic jumping photo next to your STAR - The Opera House. I woke today thinking of more things that I miss: including but not limited to Canopy on the Park, spontaneous run-ins in Paddington, mixed berry muffins with Jenna and long walks through Surry with Simran. I miss Paramount Coffee Project and PRC upstairs, not just for our final moments together but for what it WAS when I went to daily six AM yoga, had coffee there, and generally ordered almond flat whites wherever I could get my hands on one -- all before COVID times. I miss Humming Puppy; I miss the pad see ew from Chin Chin. More than any single place I miss your resident bachelor and Peter-Pan for life: Rupert. I miss his couch and his presence.
Finally, I miss my days: waking to the glowing line where the sky and north of Sydney met the sea. Reading in bed after meditating to the city street sounds. Wandering down for a flat white in my freshly showered wet hair, donning my purple Disneyland shirt or Kindness is Cool jumper (it was winter when I left, wasn't it?!). Next, I'd work a bit; then, I'd walk again or escape through Hyde Park to the Botanic Gardens for that daily view of TOH. I'd cook Marley Spoon or sneak Macchiato wraps with haloumi for lunch; I'd stop at Coles for bakery cookies or more almond milk and fruit for smoothies. Finally, I'd chat with Rupert and crawl onto our couch with the blue and gray blankets. Though I know time will fade them, I don't want to lose these memories.
What do you miss most about me? Can't wait to hear from you.
Abroad Back Home
This past weekend I rose to an already beaming sun, shining through the headlands and over the north edge of Sydney Harbour. It was muted somehow by the morning mist, but relentless in its warm intensity against my legs while I sat under my desk, facing the window.
The sun was always a beacon to me, a sign of universal humanity and Mother Nature's energy source. It was a friend I longed for in winter and craved in bulk during summer. Long days at the beach, from dawn til dusk while camping or hanging out with the soccer team, were long accompanied by this yellow personality, nearly always there for us.
I'd lie in the hammock out back as well, or on beach towels in the grass reminiscent of summer days, and pray that her friendly rays would hang out with me- enough to make me cool. I associated being tan with looking skinny, feeling "hot," standing out in tennis whites or my summer break short-shorts.
Later, I indulged and upgraded from the occasional spray tan to UV beds in the University Village. I liked the solitude, the meditative nature of these beauty caves and I'd sit for six minutes, soon lying for seven or eight. Wasn't I knowingly frying my skin? I most definitely was, but I thought I could get away with it.
I was invincible -- basking in the seasonal glow of sunshine and warmth and the positive hormones that permeate our bodies when sparked by Vitamin D. I had magical day after day in that sunshine, teenage romance pulsing through my sun-kissed limbs as a fifteen year old picnicking with Adam, my first boyfriend, at that park behind Amgen in NP. Later, I'd lie in the grass outside Golden Gate Park or at Dolores in SF, twisting daisies into flower crowns. Was that my mid-twenties or was that at Manzanita? Either way, her loyal beams of light made my skin glow, lit up our selfies, made us brave and led Matt-something to roll over in that grass a la Pocahontas and kiss me like we were in a romantic comedy. Wasn't it the sun to blame then?
When else was the sun at my side and looking over me?
The first time I circumvented the globe, I looked up at a Sydney sky and realized that the sun was the same, unanimously known and loved whatever side of the Earth we found ourselves on. Later that summer, I found myself in London watching her set on the Thames. Same girl, different day! From Paris and our warm nights, prolonged by her lingering radiance, to Roma's burning hot days dripping with melted gelato, the same emanating star was with me and I finally understood - this is why Mom always loved her. Why she symbolizes joy and radiance.
Maybe the Earth is the canvas of our sun. Everything she illuminates shines, transforms and grows.
In my third week in Europe and fifth week traveling the globe, I realized that this exact "sun" was the perfect symbol to embody how I was feeling about life and my inner workings, not to mention my calling: I wanted to light up every room I entered, like she does. I felt enlightened. I felt that on this trip, that light had been shed on my soul and on my potential, on the common nature of the world and of humankind no matter the country, city, park or streets we wandered. I doodled said "sun" on business cards and Metro maps, finally perusing a parlor in Prague where the uncannily perfect sun appeared to me.
It had six rays and six mini-sun beams, perfect to represent the six cities I'd travel through by end of summer 2009. I was still headed to Italy (five) and had a week of freedom in Madrid -- that'd make six! So I did it: Emily B (now married with a new name and still a beaming ray of sunshine from what I see in pictures) held my hand while Sabrina, mentor and early boss who ultimately changed my trajectory around the sun for the better, stood at my shoulder. She taught me that my body is my canvas. Insert my first-ever tattoo here; July 2009.
Maybe the Earth is the canvas of our Sun. Everything she illuminates shines, transforms and grows. Her energy can only be transformed, never destroyed. The fruits of transformation aren't always perfect; they're often flawed. The evidence showed in me as she traveled me around the globe on my next travels.
Maybe there are a few lessons here. Today, I glare out my window and over my balcony at the sun with mixed feelings. On April 1st, I learned that she played her part (though I did too) in a small, pre-cancerous case of melanoma in situ. A happenstance trip to the dermatologist led to a quick callback, an urgent biopsy, a sizable removal of a piece of me and twelve stitches.
Author's note: Pathology reports show that all cancer cells are completely gone. I'm high-risk but all clear.
This month, I've begun my days and approached my daily walk with a strong dose of icky, undeniable fear. My longing and prior love for that beautiful sun are now mixed with resentment - and guilt toward my own lack of boundaries. I am partly afraid and also sad that she and I will never lie together for hours on-end, no protection between us. She is dangerous in high doses. Her rays are relentless and also hurtful when over-used. She's not cruel, but in some ways toxic.
I have to remember that energy can only change, not disappear entirely. Maybe it's purely time for us to change our tune, evolve our dance... at least lessen my dosage. She's the same beautiful soul that circles our world and anchors us too. She shows up every day and models restfulness and resilience each night. She appears unconditionally and resurfaces after storms. She's the physical embodiment of love and light, God's two greatest qualities.
For now, I'll keep turning toward the light. Sun, I refuse to give up on you entirely.
Abroad Down Under
My new M.O. on walks takes sun protection and social distancing to new levels!
Last month, I was aboard my fourth flight of the year to Singers -- and it was my tenth international long-haul of 2019. Considering how often I'd been finding myself "up in the air" lately, I was deeply reflective upon the idea of home is where the heart is. Can you blame me? Where was my heart these days anyway?
It's no surprise that I then found it heart-wrenching to walk into Singapore's Changi airport, only to be greeted by this new sculpture featured near immigration. Its title? "Coming Home."
En route back to Sydney this weekend - having just completed my fifth and final trip to Singapore -- I am more conscious than EVER that the idea of home is fleeting; fluid. After taking ten+ long-haul flights this year between Oz, New Zealand, Cali, India, Japan and Singapore, lately I worry that I don't even know what home means anymore. Am I forgetting what it feels like? I realize that I'm not only feeling disconnected from home but even from my fam (who I was just with), my friends Down Under, my routine and my own well-being. I've been away too often to feel grounded but not home enough to feel a part of my own family.
I read a quote recently that I pulled out of my Daily Dose box. It said that "every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." Could this be it? Do I have it in me to find a sense of home while still in motion?
A few weeks after these feelings emerged, I started realizing that there are a few things that feel like home wherever I am. They're not all easy to find, some are abstract. But they are the things that remind me of who I am.
Running the world
Hearing my songs
Chatting with the fam
Seeing the ocean
Taking a bubble bath
The smell of Sleepy
Writing down my feelings
Opening a paperback
Singing in the shower
Making a connection
Smiling at a stranger
Breathing myself to sleep
Taking a mindful moment
Hearing from a friend =)
Watching one of my favorite movies
Having a smoothie for breakfast that I made myself!
Cuddling a pet
Cuddling a person
Sending a postcard
Reading my favorite writers (like Steph, Liz Gilbert and JK Rowling)
Saying thank you! especially in writing
Talking with C
Cooking something new
Walking into work
Taking a ferry ride with my AirPods
Group FaceTime with all 15 of us (including boys and pets)
The list goes on. The important part is that I've begun identifying the things, the rituals that I need to prioritize to be my most authentic self. As candid moments show, these are the things that bring me to life! Some of them are pillars of well-being; some align to my core values. Some are basic hobbies and some are objects of my obsession -- "Sleepy" scent from Lush included.
For now, I'll keep building out the list and filling my days with intention.
Abroad Down Under
Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island and a girl who loves the sea; it calls me.