Life Abroad: Emigrating to Australia was the best decision I have ever made
I arrived in Sydney without a support network – which let me develop in ways I could never have imagined
Down under: John Drennan (left) with friends in Australia
Shortly after moving to Australia I found myself sitting high in a Sydney skyscraper, very late at night, questioning my decision to leave London, where I had lived for several years after moving from my native Belfast. I had seemingly left everything in that uncompromising and fascinating city. I had left a girl I liked, my best friends and a career.
Every day in Sydney I would go for lunch in the same sandwich place. The lady who served me was from Cork. Bound by the familiarity of an accent, we’d chat about our new lives in Sydney, the struggles of adapting to a place far from home, and making your first steps without the support network of those you know and trust.
Within a few months she had returned to Ireland, unable to fight the anxiety of being in unfamiliar surroundings. Despite a constant and unwanted knot in my stomach I decided to stay, to try to make my life in Sydney work.
Before I moved here I could have plotted my life relatively simply into the future. I had built a steady and trusted group of friends and enjoyed the comfort of routine. I was in a safe environment with people I loved, and was able to work out where my next steps would take me.
I moved to Sydney to challenge myself, to live in a place where nobody really knew me either professionally or personally. My reputation was a blank slate. I was excited at the possibilities that lay before me but, equally, daunted. Some people are adept at embracing the unknown, but this was a skill I needed to develop.
As I stepped on to the plane my dad’s words swirled in my head. “Jonathan, if this doesn’t work out you call me, and you can come back home. Nobody will think any the less of you. You have nothing to prove to anyone.” Those words became a comfort blanket and a jagged file over the coming months, as I struggled to adapt. I didn’t expect the move to be difficult: why should it be? But I had a constant fear of failure, coupled with the temptation to go back to what was familiar in Europe.
I arrived in Sydney with only a few contacts. Loneliness is something I have been lucky enough to have rarely experienced in my life, being surrounded by a large family and friends most of the time. But in Sydney I walked strange streets from one speculative interview to the next, wandering around bookshops aimlessly, not wanting to go back to the empty room where I was staying just yet. I sat in faceless offices, trying to sell myself as best I could, unable to gauge the reaction of the interview panel.
But I found a job relatively quickly and started working with an incredible group of people. The role was not a natural fit, however. My stomach contorted as I went into the office every morning. I feared making mistakes. I compensated for a lack of natural nous by trying to teach myself, working late into the night. I had swapped a happy life in London for longer hours in an anonymous skyscraper.
Life is often about perceptions. When you post a picture of blue skies and sea from Sydney, people assume that your life resembles this paradise every day. But, as in any city, you have to struggle initially to make your mark. So after four months of mental contortion I decided to try to find a job where I would be happier.
It wasn’t a panacea, but my new job gave me some mental stability and an opportunity to build a life far from home. I wrote a list of things that could make me happy: new friends and a routine that works. Every day I searched for new opportunities both professionally and socially. I forced myself to go to sports and cultural events alone.
The lack of a support network in Sydney enabled me to develop a resilience and an independence that I could never have imagined. After a year I found myself writing in my diary that I had never been happier. I woke up looking over a crystal-clear sea, and looked forward to the opportunities that can come with a transient life. I had made new friends and embraced experiences that would have terrified me not long before.
My advice to anyone thinking about moving abroad is to seize the opportunity. You rarely get these chances twice. I found it extremely difficult at the start, but with tenacity and time I have found emigrating to be the best personal and professional decision I could have made.