Moving to New York City has not been without it’s sacrifices, but it has still been the best thing I have ever done. Just as Moving to Melbourne felt like the most valuable experience I’d had, when I moved there five years ago, moving to a new country and a notoriously dynamic, exciting and difficult city has now surpassed it. It’s really difficult moving to a new country, and sometimes it can feel like a giant mistake. When I finally felt like I’d made a life here, complete with an Apartment that feels like home, good friends, favourite cafes and gardens and shops and crucially, a job, it was worth all of the frustrations.
Despite walking past (and sometimes, accidentally through) many film shoots, my celebrity sightings have been limited. My favourite sighting though, has been shopping alongside Cynthia Nixon at my local bodega. Highlight of my year? Quite possibly.
I had planned to celebrate a year in New York by dining at one of the restaurants I’ve been dying to try, but instead, we ordered in from Rezdora and celebrating with a bottle of Champagne.
A new chapter
We moved to New York from Melbourne, where we’d been living for four years. We arrived in New York in April, to catch the true beginnings of spring. We had temporary accommodation for two weeks in Midtown East, and I was delighted to find streets filled with daffodils and tulips – my flower, and my mum’s favourite flower, respectively. I’ll never forget stepping onto the tiny balcony on our first morning of living in New York and seeing the Chrysler Building peep out from behind some buildings – I had to pinch myself!
On my first morning in the city, I headed out to find some groceries and found I had the streets of Midtown mostly to myself in the early hours. Within a few minutes of leaving the apartment, I was in a conversation with a gardener, tending to the tulips and daffodils at a small square, who was from Slovakia and had moved here with his wife. People in New York are famed for being in a hurry, but I’ve always found that people here are often very open to a conversation with a stranger.
In our first few days, we witnessed the magnificent first blooms of the cherry blossoms in Central Park, the creativity of the extravagant Fifth Avenue Easter Parade and the community of the Greek Independence Day Parade. New York was a spectacle that I couldn’t take my eyes away from.
Our first task was to find an apartment, and we were lucky that David’s work provided a real estate broker to navigate the mad world of New York City rentals. While we’d had strong recommendations for Murray Hill (close to Midtown, for work) and the Upper East Side (quiet and residential), we had our heart set on finding an apartment downtown, in a neighbourhood that could feel like home. We looked at 8 apartments, in Chelsea, West Village, Nolita and East Village.
We fell in love with the first apartment we saw, and we were lucky to get it. It’s a constant trade off between location, security, natural light, storage and the state of the kitchen and bathroom, and I think we did pretty well on all counts.
Once we’d looked after the basics (Internet, electricity, a bank account, a social security card), we started the slow search for furniture and basic household “stuff”, as our shipment from Australia wouldn’t arrive for three months. In between, we filled every spare minute with exploring our new city. The first couple of months were busy and exciting. I wondered when the other shoe would drop.
The three month slump
The three month slump is real. Even when the move is everything you’ve ever wanted, and you’ve spent years trying to make it happen, and it feels like maybe all your dreams are going to come true, at some point you will feel like you are falling apart. After three months living anywhere, nothing is novel and exciting, but everything still feels foreign and frustrating. It’s the awkward teenage years of a move, with all of the angst and existential dread to boot. It creeps up on you slowly, and then all at once. From months three to five, I remember being shocked at how dramatically my feelings for the city had changed, and struggled to see what inspired me to move there in the first place. The feeling that haunted me every day was that I felt like I had worn out any resilience that I had. That I didn’t have the capacity to face the next problem, which was surely just around the corner. I felt like I couldn’t make anything work.
I was a little worn out by the insane bureaucracy of the US, which made setting up a life very difficult. I didn’t realise how easy life is in Australia, until I moved here. Within a few months of being there, somehow both my credit card and my travel card had been hacked and tidying up both of these messes was a nightmare, and watching my savings get eaten up by a crook while I wasn’t working was gut wrenching. I swore off AirBnB after this, because part of the fraudulent spending was on their site, and their customer service team couldn’t have cared less.
At a poorly-instructed Pilates class, I hurt myself quite badly and pinched a vertebrae in my spine. I spent the entirety of the next day in bed, barely moving. I frantically called physiotherapists, and mostly reached call centres who promised to call back in 48 hours to schedule an appointment – most never did. Luckily, I eventually found one who was close by, and got me back up and moving within a session. It took a few more weeks to be fully recovered, and then I had weeks of follow up physio to sort everything out. The whole episode shook my confidence, being home by myself all day and not feeling safe in my own body for a while. In Melbourne, I went to a pilates studio I loved nearly every day, and fitness was a huge part of my life. I started to get anxiety if I felt a twinge in my neck or shoulders, and had constant low level anxiety about hurting myself again, because it made me feel so helpless. I think this, combined with anxiety about finding a job and staying in the country, brewed the perfect storm of discontent which started to make everyday problems seem bigger than they were.
I called my Dad, in Australia, when I was feeling a little frustrated one day and felt like I needed to talk it out, and instead barely managed to spit out a “hello” before the floodgates opened. My Dad is the best person in the world to speak to when you have a crisis. He does it for a living, and I’m very lucky to have such a compassionate and soothing lifeline to call when I’m ready to throw in the towel. He gave me an excellent pep talk, which helped me start on the path back to feeling like a regular human being.
I was also very lucky that shortly after this, we were going to Greece for two weeks to attend a wedding. The change of pace was a blessing, and gave me some time to catch my breath and change my perspective, before I returned to the city. I realize that a dramatic change of scenery isn’t normally so easy, and it was a bit of a “get out of jail free” card for a couple of weeks. I came back from Greece feeling more like myself than I had in years, and with a fresh resolve to make it work.
Moving is a lonely business, even though I was lucky enough to be moving with David. Because I didn’t have a job at first, and he works insanely long hours, I spent way too much time at home alone. I’m an introvert, I have a number of “solo” hobbies and I actually like walking around the city all day by myself, but it was still too much.
Starting from scratch with friendships is tough, but I find that once you meet one or two people, the rest takes care of itself. Making friends and finding a job go hand-in-hand in New York, and I was surprised by how generous people were with sharing their connections, and sharing their time, to meet for coffee with a total stranger. I made friends through work-related coffee meetings, by joining two book clubs, through an introduction from my former boss and through David’s work. Putting yourself out there can be exhausting, and in the early days it felt like I was going on endless blind dates. It’s easy to take having friends for granted, when you’ve lived somewhere for a long time, or have never moved. It was such a nice feeling when at last, people were contacting me to catch up, or I had a full weekend of social plans!
Luckily in New York, much like in Melbourne, the city is full of people who are new, or who have been new once. People are much more open to making new friends than what I’ve experienced in smaller cities.
I’ve noticed how embarrassed people are to admit that they’re lonely, or don’t have friends. Loneliness is common, very real and very difficult, but I also don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. Not being embarrassed about my lack of friends at first, and not being embarrassed to ask acquaintances whether they want to get a drink, is crucial for becoming un-lonely.
We didn’t do a lot of travel in the US in our first year, and it’s easy for me to regret sometimes but then I remember there were so many very valid reasons that we didn’t. First of all, we were living on one income in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and were already spending two weeks in Greece that summer. Second, the nature of David’s work makes it nearly impossible to plan in advance, but we found it impossible to make any last-minute weekend getaways work (despite hours of trying!). Third, we’ve travelled a bit around the US already, so perhaps we weren’t as anxious to start travelling as we would have been otherwise. Finally, there is so much to see and do just within New York City, we felt like we never had a spare moment! Now that we’re more settled, and both working, we planned to do a lot more weekend travel this year, but March 2020 has quickly seen to those plans. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to make up for lost time later this year.
I took a solo trip to Chicago in September, to do some research into the hospitality industry there. According to every local I spoke to, I absolutely lucked out with gorgeous weather – a rarity, apparently. Chicago is famous for architecture and deep dish pizza, and sadly I missed the pizza, but loved the architecture, and the gorgeous river. I visited 30 bars and restaurants in three days! I’ve recently shared a round up of the best bars in Chicago, and I’ll share my favourite restaurants soon! I really liked visiting for a few days, but I was expecting that I’d like Chicago better than New York, as I’d heard it’s more liveable. I was relieved to find that my heart didn’t stir for Chicago in the slightest, and while I had a pleasant visit, I’m not planning a return trip. New York has my heart.
One of the perks of moving somewhere new is that you’ll end up exploring the local region, in a way that most visitors don’t. We made three day trips to Upstate New York, all in the Hudson Valley. We took a day trip to the adorable towns of Beacon and Cold Spring in summer, we went apple picking outside Peekskill in autumn, and got some fresh air in Tarrytown in winter. I love taking the train along the Hudson Valley, its so easy from Grand Central, and the views of the river are so relaxing.
Since starting work, I’ve had two work trips to Charleston, which is one of the most charming cities in the US. I first visited Charleston with David in 2015 on our first trip to the US, and the city is just as lovely as I remember it. I highly recommend it as a weekend getaway from New York!
We had booked a weekend in DC in late March, for cherry blossom season, but the coronavirus put an end to those plans. I was also meant to be meeting a friend from Melbourne in Asheville in April, but this has been postponed.
We were so lucky to have so many visitors in our first year. Friends I used to work with in Australia were on a research trip in July, so I tagged along for a few days of bar-hopping and work gossip, which was so much fun. Casey, a friend from Melbourne who I used to work with, came to visit in August, and my friend Marlo and her boyfriend Josh came to stay for a few days in September. My family came to visit in October, and David’s parents and our friends Becs and Tom came to visit in January. I was so excited about every one of these visits and they were some of the major highlights of my year.
My beloved Nanna passed away in August, and not being there for her, or my family immediately afterwards, is the most awful part about living overseas. I flew home straight away, and spent two weeks in Brisbane, preparing for the funeral and spending time with my family. Times like this make you question your choice to live on the other side of the world of most people you love, and I find myself questioning that choice again, as we live through the coronavirus pandemic. There are no easy answers.
Finding my dream job
I work in marketing and PR, in the hospitality industry. I really love hospitality, and was hoping that New York would be a positive step for my career. At first, my prospects seemed bleak – despite meeting so many wonderful and interesting people at great companies, the right roles weren’t available. Usually, the only roles going were entry-level, and I knew that I was unlikely to get a job I was overqualified for, and also knew that it was the wrong move to take a giant step backwards.Working in a role that isn’t the right fit doesn’t benefit you, or your employer.
I arrived coming into summer, which I was warned was a terrible time to job hunt at one of my first coffee meetings in the city. It’s true – I couldn’t find a single job I really wanted, for months. I was starting to panic a bit, but decided to hold off on desperate measures until September, when everyone returns to work. In the first week of September, I saw my dream job posted online: a role as Director of PR & Marketing for a small but growing restaurant group. After four rounds of interviews, it was mine!
A nightmare visa process
Getting a working visa for the US has been the single most stressful experience of my life. It was a long and frustrating process, which involved much waiting, a terrible experience with an immigration lawyer (common, apparently), and a long series of flights from New York to Los Angeles to Sydney to Perth, to have my visa interview at the US Consulate in Perth. I’d never been to Perth, and I loved it, but the process was a nightmare. Some of my paperwork that the lawyer provided hadn’t been properly completed, which caused yet another two-week delay.
Due to the chaos of the visa process, I missed most of my family’s trip to New York, which was devastating, but out of my control. I did get to spend four wonderful days with them, which was so precious.
After spending two days in Perth, I waited out my visa in Melbourne and Brisbane, and caught up with all the people I’ve been missing all year. One silver lining of my trip to Australia taking 3 weeks instead of 10 days, was that I was still there when my family got back from the US, so we caught up again.
Autumn in New York & the Holidays
Autumn is a gorgeous time of year to be in New York, and it’s the start of a three-month long holiday season. Halloween kicks things off, and suddenly the shops are stocked with shelves of pureed pumpkin and pumpkin flavoured products that do not exist for the other 11 months of the year. I tried Starbucks’ ubiquitious #PumpkinSpicedLattes, and the artificial sweetness makes me gag. But I am a big fan of pumpkin pie. I went to the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade with my siblings, Georgie and Pierce, after a harried panic shop through a nearly-gutted costume shop nearby. We got some truly terrible fangs.
I spent most of November in Australia sorting out my visa, but returned just in time for Thanksgiving. David and I caught a glimpse of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and had an excellent breakfast bagel, which is all I remember from this day.
The Christmas decorations in New York are lovely, and I loved having my first winter holiday season. I especially love the larger-than-life lights and decorations in Midtown, and seeing the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. We hosted our first Christmas Day lunch in our apartment, with our friends Stef and Lachlan. We celebrated New Year’s Eve at Lachlan’s apartment, which is near Times Square, which was filling up from 4pm for the Ball Drop. Instead of battling crowds in Times Square or at VIP parties, we had a low key NYE in his apartment, with other friends who were also in town.
Cultivating calm & compassion
Who would have thought living in a crazy town like New York would be the trigger for bringing more calm and compassion into my life?
I knew moving to New York City would be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I knew it would be frustrating, expensive and lonely at times. But you can not be fully prepared for something you’ve never done before. It wasn’t one bad day, it was many. I don’t think I walked around moping, I think on the surface I tried to stay as close to my normal self as possible, but deep down I was feeling worse and worse until I barely recognised myself. I really struggled not having a job – I am quite industrious by nature, and even though I spent more time on this blog, I missed working with people. And being part of something bigger than myself. Very quickly, I felt like what I did with my days didn’t really matter, which is a tragic and silly way to live your life. I hated feeling like that, and just wanted somewhere to be. I found myself feeling very frustrated, most of the time.
I moved to New York City because I wanted the opportunity to grow, personally and professionally. You can’t grow without any change, and change is difficult. If I wasn’t finding it difficult, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of need for me to change, and therefore grow. What surprised me was that figuring out how to change, felt a lot like I was feeling around blindly in the dark for a light switch. What does it mean to become more resilient? What tools do I use to manage my new life here, if I don’t have them? How do I know what I don’t know?
I knew I had to find a way out of it, but had no idea what it was. Obviously, if I knew what was missing, I’d have already fixed this problem. So I spent weeks searching, all the while suspicious that perhaps I just didn’t have it in me.
I found the answer, of all places, in a Buddhist temple on the Sunshine Coast in Australia, when I was visiting my parents in August. My mum bought a book, Our Pristine Mind by Orgyen Chowang, and I quickly read it before I went back to New York. I’m not exaggerating when I saw that this book changed my life and been instrumental in helping me figure out what I was missing. What spoke to me the most was the need to cultivate calm and to live with more compassion.