EXPAT life

Jakarta – The transition into Expat life

posted by jodiemellor September 24, 2016 0 comments

This time 12 months ago, I was getting ready to board my flight to Jakarta. My husband had already been in Jakarta for 3 months and it was now time for me to make the move.

A life in a new place is a scary thought. I have already done it once in my life, relocating from sunny, warm North Queensland in my early 20’s to follow my now husband back to his hometown of Perth. I’m still not sure to this day whether he invited me to go with him or if I just clung on to him! Lucky for me, Perth is absolutely gorgeous. I found it a little hard at the start. I didn’t know anyone but my husbands friends. I had to start a new job. I had to find my way into a new hockey team. I had to navigate my way around an unfamiliar city. Before too long however, I found my groove. We purchased a quaint little villa in a beautiful suburb, I loved the hockey team I joined (I didn’t have much choice with this one as it was the team the rest of the family played for – but I wouldn’t have it any other way) and we had a new family member – our puppy Jassy.

Before I knew it, we’d been in Perth for 8 years! I loved it. Admittedly the weather got a bit colder than I preferred but nothing I couldn’t handle (especially with a few extra kg’s over those winter months!). My husband was making his way up the chain in his career when an opportunity presented itself to run the office in Jakarta. A no-brainer really. It was a big leap for his career and with the instability in the workforce in Australia at the time, a guaranteed job was a positive. Hubby had been flying to and from Singapore multiple times a week in the 12 months leading up to this opportunity which was taking its toll also.

The downside of this opportunity was that he started straight away. We decided he would head to Jakarta and I would finish the hockey season and pack up our house before heading up a few months later. I headed up for a reconnaissance trip a few weeks after Pete came up. We found an apartment to move into and got a feel for the place. It’s hard to get an idea of a location over only a few days but it looked ok.

Pete struggled through the first few months by himself, keeping busy with work and trying to make new contacts. Until you’re in this position you really can’t understand the loneliness that comes with business travel. Pete has always done lots of travel with his job and people often comment on how lucky he is to be able to do so. What they don’t understand is that while he is off seeing places of the world (usually from the inside of a hotel room or conference room), his loved ones are back home with friends and family, enjoying celebrations, weddings, milestones etc that he misses out on. Even I was oblivious on how hard it was for him up here by himself. I was still living a normal life in the comfort of my own home, with my own things and a structured life. Only when I moved did I truly understand.

I boarded my flight and proceeded to silently cry myself to sleep. I was open to the idea of relocating but now that it was actually happening, I wasn’t sure.

The first few weeks started off ok. For me, it felt like a holiday. We had a trip back to Perth planned for a few weeks time to attend a friends wedding so I spent the first few weeks setting up the apartment and getting to know my surroundings.

Before long however, things really hit me. I was desperately trying to live my old life. I missed my home. I missed my dog. I missed my friends, and I missed my job. Some days I wouldn’t get out of bed for most of the day. I’d be crying when Pete left for work and still going when he came home.I’m sure this was harder for him than me. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to help and I didn’t know how to help myself either.

It got to the point where Pete would write me a diary of things to do for the week. Simple things like going downstairs to the gym, meeting him for lunch and massages. He’d call me during the day or pop home to visit me to check I was going ok. He was already struggling himself to find his feet in a foreign country and trying to learn new skills for his new role,  yet he made me his number one priority. Still, I couldn’t pull myself out of this rut.

Pete surprised me by booking me on a photography tour through Bali and Borneo. I had never done anything with photography but seeing as though I am always taking photos, he thought I might like it. He also bought me an amazing top of the range SLR camera to learn with. I had a great time and took a real interest in photography following the tour so I guess his idea worked

Over the following months I still really struggled. Our time being broken up by trips to Perth and Queensland and Christmas made it a little easier to get through. Post Christmas we didn’t have any trips back to Australia planned however another expat based here told me that I might find it easier to do a big stint here without going home. I had been told by plenty of people that it will take 6-12 months to find my feet. 6-12 months!? I couldn’t see past the end of the day let alone look ahead 6-12 months.

In late January I finally got myself to ANZA House (Australia & New Zealand Association) for a Friday coffee morning. ANZA is an organisation that helps connect expats. They have all kinds of activities that you can take part in. Every Friday they have a coffee morning where you can drop by and meet others. The morning I went was very daunting. There was a huge room full of people. They were all happily chatting with each other and I suddenly felt extremely insecure. I didn’t know one person and I didn’t know where to start. I am normally a very outgoing, very chatty person and would usually find my way into conversation with someone without issue. Not this day. I sat on one of the chairs by myself for a while and when nobody had struck up conversation about 15 minutes later I decided this scene wasn’t for me. I hastily made my way back towards the front door. Just before I left I noticed a poster for a party the next day celebrating Australia Day. I made note of the details and headed home. Once I was home, my world fell apart again. I was really counting on meeting some new friends seeing as though I still didn’t have any. But I had failed. I spent the rest of the day in tears again. I was so embarrassed about having to tell Pete about my day. He had been encouraging me to try and go to ANZA for weeks as he had heard it was a good way to meet people as well, and I had to tell him I’d failed miserably.

It was about this time I really started to analyse my life and what I could do to keep busy. What was I good at? What could I do with my days? I can’t really get a job here because of Visa requirements, so what else can I do? This has been a real eye opener for me. I’m a people person. I usually interact well with others face-to-face and it has become quite apparent that I really don’t have any other skills. I had honestly never noticed before. I hadn’t needed to. I was so caught up in a job that I absolutely loved and thought I was good at. Looking back now, I realise that is not the case. In actual fact I hid behind my personality (and to be honest, my relationship to one of the directors – my father-in-law) which got me through. For me, this is probably the hardest part. I spent 9 years at a job, completely unaware that I wasn’t there because I was the best person for the job, but because of who I was related to. I did have people tell me during my time there but I always managed to convince myself otherwise. It’s so embarrassing for me that for all this time I thought I was good at what I did, but wasn’t.

I am now so lost. I don’t know what I am good at in life. I sit and listen to my husband on a work call -he is extremely good at what he does. He is so passionate about his work and it makes me so sad that I don’t have anything in life like it. Sure, I take photos, write a story on places we have travelled to, have got really good at wasting time on the internet and I am up to date with most tv series’ but that is the extent of my skills.

Everything I’ve have known for the last decade of my life isn’t as it seemed. I spent all day at my job then after work a few times a week I would spend at hockey, which is my other love. I had worked my way up to the leadership group in my club team and played for the state team for a few years. Most of my closest friends are my hockey girls. I lived and breathed hockey during winter. My life was organised around hockey. We didn’t travel on weekends and Tuesdays and Thursday were reserved for training. Then it all stopped. 23 years straight I played for before taking this year off. They have a hockey team up here but the Ladies don’t play very often so I used to join with the Men. I stopped that when I fell pregnant. I have come to believe it was a blessing being up here for the season as I would have gone mad being in Perth and having to watch each week. A positive for Jakarta!

I digress. The turning point?

I told Pete the afternoon of the ANZA trip about the party the following day. He told me he would come with me and see if we could meet a few people. We turned up on the Saturday to a house with plenty of people in the back yard. We made our way through the crowd to the bar. We ordered our drinks and looked around for an opening in a conversation. Nothing really jumped at us so we chatted together for a while. After a little while a few people noticed we were new faces and popped over to say hello and find out our story. During this time, we both noticed a guy wearing a NQ Cowboys jersey. We got his attention later and found out he was from Townsville. He introduced us to his wife and we spent most of the rest of the afternoon chatting to them. My glass hadn’t been empty most of the day and it was definitely time to head home. We swapped phone numbers with a few people and headed home.

I arranged to head back to the Friday morning coffee the following week as I knew a few of the ladies I met over the weekend would be there. They were. We chatted. I met some more new people and I now go most weeks. 12 months on and I have started volunteering at the front desk at ANZA and have some really great friends there. There are a few ladies having babies around the same time as me too which will be great.

Pete and I have done more travel in the past 12 months than we have in the whole 10 years we have been together and some of those places we would never have travelled to if we weren’t living in Indonesia. We have also spent more time together in general than in the past 5 years, which has been great.

I have started to learn the Indonesian language which has proved quite useful and has given me purpose and structure for a few weeks at a time while taking classes. It makes general living just a little easier as well. Pete has learnt the basics too which is great for him and he can now direct drivers to some of his favourite places.

I still struggle when we go home for a visit as I feel really lost. I’m not sure what to do with myself and find myself wondering how I got it all so wrong. I wonder what I would ever do for work if we moved back there. We have a house that we intend to demolish and rebuild one day so maybe that will give me something to concentrate on. I forget that in just a few short weeks I’ll have someone much more important to concentrate my time on. Maybe that’s the job I am meant to do in life? Be a mum. Hopefully be a good mum…

So 12 months in… I no longer ball my eyes out each time I board a plane back up here. I enjoy my daily routine even if the whole gym thing is getting harder and harder. I enjoy our one bedroom ‘studio’ that we moved into a few months ago, even though there is no kitchen and the computer hums all night, it makes me get out each day. I enjoy the outside temperature being constantly higher than 30 degrees. I enjoy getting out of Jakarta every few weeks to a new (or familiar) place. I enjoy having my husband home for dinner most nights. I have enjoyed being able to let my tired, bloated and growing body to rest whenever I need to. I enjoy my new friends.

There are so many people that have made this year possible and to be honest, bearable. The new people we have met, our families (even though our dog now loves her Aunty and Uncle more than us!) and our friends back home. Those people hopefully know who you are. Sometimes just a text message can make our day go from bad to good. Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember that your lives go on without us around. They don’t stop like ours do without you.

Would I jump at the chance to move home? Of course. Do I miss the open green parks and fresh air? Yes. Do I miss my best friends and family even though they are just a call away? More than I can tell you.

Would I put my insecurities and luxuries ahead of my Husband having a successful and fulfilling career? Absolutely not. The one thing I have learnt this year is that when you find something you’re good at, stick to it. If you enjoy it, even better!

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