Jul 1, 2020
Interviews & Inspiration | Lauranne Heres
This month on Wanderlust, we talk to two friends: Jenna*, a Student Experience Officer from Melbourne, and Marine*, co-founder of an eco-friendly start-up from Singapore. They’re both 31 and met at school in France. They have since moved to far away shores. Their friendship has survived the test of time and distance, as Jenna was recently Marine’s Maid of Honour.
Where are you from originally?
J: I’m Australian and French by birth.
M: I’m French. Where did you study?
J: I went to primary school in the USA (mostly California, but also Oregon and Massachusetts), then from 5ème upward (Year 7) I was in Lyon, France. I started a Fashion Design course at Epsom Uni but didn’t enjoy the lifestyle there so moved back to Paris to complete my degree there.
M: For primary school I was at a private European school in Oxford, followed by a public school in London. Then for secondary, I was at a public school in London and a private international school in Lyon, France. I attended Uni in Birmingham, but also a private art school in Lyon How many countries have you lived in so far?
J: Three - USA, France and Australia. But I also went to Tunisia for a few months during an internship.
M: Five – England, France, USA, Australia and Singapore. What is the biggest move you've done so far? (if there are several please describe all)
J: Too many moves, but my biggest move for myself was Paris to Melbourne as a life decision. I used a box storage solution to transport over my things. I had to get rid of lots of things and sort through the rest due to customs. There are specific rules on wood and plant materials including dried flowers, and you have to declare any wooden items when you get there, so it’s best to cut it down to a bare minimum. The move wasn’t hard as it was a choice, unlike most of my other moves. Luckily, I have relatives here so they did help support me when arriving, then I found myself a shared house and casual job within 6-7 months. Now I’m living in my favourite Melbourne suburb in my own place.
M: Geographically, the move from Paris to Sydney. Also career wise, as I left my first paid job for the unknown to follow my boyfriend of five years. Then I did it again, this time to go to Singapore. Both times with no idea of job prospects but the knowledge of always finding something. Though I’ve maybe regretted the security and passion of my first ever job that I do get nostalgic over. Childhood wise, London to Lyon was hard and not my decision. My father passed away and my French mother needed family support, so we headed back to Lyon. Needless to say, I’d have grown up with a quite different education and influence had we remained in the UK public schools (I think).
What where some hurdles you had to overcome? J: Moving means you have to meet new people all the time and uproot your house to resettle. I’ve kind of mastered this with something ridiculous like 20 moves (I’m 31 so that’s 2/3 of my life)! I’ve learnt a lot more I think than those who never move. Some important skills include adaptability, being good with money, people reading, identifying true friends, problem solving and finding the positive in all things. Keep an open mind, don’t make assumptions, or have set expectations, be adaptable and have trust in yourself. It’ll always be a challenging change but if you remind yourself of the reasons why and look at the positives it will slowly take shape. Also go make friends! Meetup groups exist and are fantastic.
M: Feeling like people treat you as a tourist or temporary friend. It creates a lack of attachment, a barrier for people to get close and this gets truer every time you move. Leaving friends and starting fresh is tough, but more so trying to simply get a bloody job! It was difficult to find work in Sydney because they would use rubbish excuses like “oh you don't understand the Australian market, it’s a different way of working, we’re not sure of what your experience is worth etc. Thankfully, I wasn’t questioned about my visa as I usually came across as British and so they'd ask me about that later down the line. It’s been more difficult in Singapore because I can only work for one employer at a time, it’s just a law here for dependant pass owners (the spouse of someone on a work visa).
How difficult was the visa process? J: I’ve only ever had to get a visa for my stay in Tunisia - not sure the process was really that straightforward. My USA visas were organised by my family, so I don’t know. I have double nationality so didn’t need one for France and Australia.
M: Depends which. For the USA I didn’t have anything but a tourist visa and worked unpaid for three months. ESTA, online application, simple. Sydney, I was on my husband’s work visa. Simple, allowed to work, his company did the paperwork for me. Just a long process to prove he was my long-term partner (not husband at the time) which was needed to get into his visa. Singapore on the other hand was a bit of a nightmare because of the work restrictions. The application is super long, they ask you detailed questions and you have to list all addresses from the past decade, as well as translated judicial records from police etc. Was it easy to find a new job, or did you move for work? J: Nope - cultural differences even exist in job hunting. I find it’s networking and staying strong in my work ethic that helped me break through. Also keeping an open mind and being ready to do whatever job it takes to pay for rent. You can learn from every experience and a job doesn’t always mean it’s the one you’ll have forever. I never moved for work.
M: It was hard for me and easy for my husband as we moved for the opportunities he found. He’s an expert of sorts in his field so is often headhunted. We don’t get transferred; we always start from scratch on an opportunity. And then I have to make something work for me. This time I created a start-up (I actually had two in Sydney but didn’t get very far).
Why did you move?
J: Many reasons, but my personal move was because I rediscovered other living styles when I went to visit a friend in Beijing. I realised I really didn’t enjoy my life in France (depressing, restricted, negative, rigid... and so on) so I packed up my stuff within 8 months and moved. Best. Choice. Ever! Happiness, positivity, like-minded people, and just good people who won’t steal your things because society is making them desperate - I can go on for a long time. I finally felt homesick for the first time when I had to go to Europe for Marine’s wedding.
M: Bored of five years in Sydney. It was too far from home. Not enough happening for me in terms of art/culture. And just too far from the world in general (I mean it takes 48hrs to get out for the love of God!)
Would you consider moving again? J: Nope, I’ve found home!
M: Yes of course. Just not sure where yet, so not planning a move right now. But we won’t stay here. How has living away from home affected your relationship with friends and family? J: No, I think it’s made them stronger. This is when true friends are revealed! Also, it’s a great way to improve communication.
M: Wow. Hm. I feel like I miss out on so many good times. But it’s shown me that friends last over time and distance. My wedding had primary friends as bridesmaids despite living oceans apart for over 2 decades. I’ve always been close to family; I just use Facebook like I’d check on mum at home. Time difference makes it a bit harder, but overall, I don’t feel less close to my direct family. It does put pressure on us when we return to visit everyone and I get stressed that I have duties to fulfil towards my parents in law. My Mum wouldn’t fuss so much but there are more expectations on my husband’s side. My brother just tells me he loves me when he’s had a few too many. No difference then.
What differences do you see between where you live now and France or the UK?
J: I don’t really miss Paris at all. People are rude and I did not like the way my life was panning out there. I certainly miss silly things like pastries and such, and friends of course.
M: Safety wise, Asia is great. Singapore just has so many laws and reprimands, so it severely reduces issues, but that also depends on who you are. Cases of maid abuses are frequent. As a woman I feel very safe here. In Europe I don’t feel safe on public transport, in France there’s so many cases of women being molested. Sydney was safe mostly; a lot is done to avoid drunk pub fights and such and to try and control drinking culture. When it comes to food, there’s too much takeaway culture here, and everything is wrapped in plastic. We import 90% of our food; in Sydney things were more local and people cook a little more. Also, healthcare costs a fortune. It was worse in Australia, but it’s not like back home.
*Names have been changed for privacy purposes.