In the last five years or so, I’ve spent significantly more time outside of the United States than I have in my country of birth. A year and a half in Ireland, nine months in Canada, a year in New Zealand, and now Australia. While being away is just business as usual for me now, what is notable (to me, anyway) is that this current stint abroad is the longest I’ve spent without a visit back to America. Previously, I spent 13 months out of the US when I returned to Ireland after a trip home for Christmas and didn’t leave until February of the following year, but this month beats that with 14 months from heading to Ireland for a month in October 2017 and continuing straight on to my working holiday in NZ. Now I’m in Australia, and not only did I not visit home between the two countries, but I have no plans to visit home until my visa expires near the end of next year, at a minimum.
For the most part, I don’t mind being away from home, getting to explore some of the most beautiful places in the world rather than enjoying life under the Trump clusterfu—I mean, administration. And there are a lot of things I like about life abroad compared to living in the States (chip-and-pin cards are so much better than chip-and-signature, public transport here in Melbourne is amazing, etc.). But even as someone who loves being in a new country every year and feels no rush or urge to get back to the States, there are still things I miss about living in America.
Obviously, being on the other side of the world from my native country means that I’m on the other side of the world from the majority of people I know. Friends, family, not only are they thousands of miles away but the time difference also means that I’m usually awake when they’re sleeping and vice versa. We keep in touch through the usual technological ways like email and Whatsapp and Slack, but sometimes I just want to cook dinner with my parents or cuddle my cats or drink margaritas and binge Netflix with my best friend. I was lucky enough to have both my family and my best friend and her husband come visit me in New Zealand, and I’m hoping to convince a few people to make the trip to Australia next year, but it’s still not the same as being close by.
The other main downside for me of moving around a lot is that while I watch everyone I know blossom in careers in their chosen fields, I’m bouncing around haphazardly from short-term gig to temporary assignment. Obviously this is a sacrifice I’ve chosen to make in order to travel and see new places, but it does feel frustrating sometimes. This is especially true here in Australia; my visa conditions say that I can only work with an employer for a maximum of six months, and as I’m job-searching I’m coming across so many 12-month contract roles that sound perfect, except I’m not allowed to even apply. I’m in no rush to settle down in one place, but I am looking forward to the day when I can find a role in which I can actually progress and grow.
One thing that America values above all else in day-to-day life is convenience. From Amazon Prime two-day shipping to mega superstores that have every item known to man to the proliferation of 24-hour diners and shops even in the tiniest of rural towns, America is all about one-stop, anytime accessibility. Not the case elsewhere. Even here in Melbourne, a city of five million people, there are only a limited-number of all-night options that aren’t clubs or casinos. Now, I’m into living my best nana life so it’s not that I’m trying to stay out into the wee hours all the time, but sometimes you want to be able to order something and have it show up on your doorstep a few days later rather than trawling through shops looking for that exact obscure item, and sometimes your boyfriend cuts his finger and needs stitches and you have to traipse around town to find the only 24-hour pharmacy to fill the antibiotics script. There’s definitely something to be said for convenience.
There are a lot of little things like that I find myself missing about the States. Not thing that dramatically affect my overall life, but little differences in my day-to-day. The fact that Halloween, my favourite holiday, isn’t big outside of the US. The lack of air conditioning in residences. The fact that The Office US isn’t on international Netflix. Screens on windows. Fahrenheit (I’m used to kilometres and kilograms, but I still maintain that 100°F is a better indicator of “really freaking hot” than 38°C).
Whenever someone asks me what I miss most about the United States, I always semi-jokingly say Kraft Mac’n’Cheese. Yeah, the bright orange stuff that doesn’t taste much like mac or cheese but does have a distinctly American flavour. When I’m in the States, I rarely touch the stuff, but when I’m abroad I crave it. I think it started when I studied abroad in London and, after I complained about a sudden bout of homesickness, my friend mailed me some. It weirdly did the trick, and now on the rare occasions I get homesick for America, I seek out the nearest import food store and look for that bright blue box.
To be honest, most of the strange little things I miss about the States are food-related. Good peanut butter. Iced coffee that’s just coffee with ice and not some weird ice cream concoction—looking at you, NZ. Girl Scout Cookies (although I have to give a shoutout to my BFF for schlepping over boxes of Thin Mint and Caramel Delites when she came to visit). Real bagels. Ice water. Good Tex Mex. Trader Joes. I could go on. It doesn’t surprise me that when I talk to other American expats about what they miss from home, food tends to top their lists as well.