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Aussies Of The Bay – Sandy Handler

Name, job, part of the San Francisco Bay Area you live in

Sandy Handler, Music Teacher and Freelance Writer, Pacifica

When did you first come to the Bay and what’s the backstory there?

I moved from Australia to London in my early 20’s. After a decade I’d had enough of bleak British weather and decided to move back to Australia, but via San Francisco for a six week holiday first. This was in 1999. Well, two weeks into my SF stopover, I met my husband. We married a couple of years later and I planted roots deep enough to keep me here for 18 years and counting.

Hardest thing about moving here?

Giving up Brisbane’s year-long warm weather

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

Back in my first year in SF, I had a wonderful summer afternoon on a charter yacht on the bay. That memory sticks out because the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the city skyline and a perfect warm, cloudless day was so impressive. I realized I felt strangely at home in a place that was foreign to me.

What impact has being Australian had on your life here? In dating? In work?

I’ve always liked sticking out a little (I’m a redhead, we naturally stick out) so having an Aussie accent has been great. People seem to notice straight away. I think we can use our differences to further our positions, career-wise, or in our social life. So yep, being Australian here has only been an advantage!

Most American thing you’ve experienced in your time here?

The obvious answer is probably Independence Day, because there’s a stars and stripes image everywhere you turn, from t-shirts to cakes, to garden flags. But, I’m going to say a baseball game. That’s where you find all the stereotypes. The fans in jerseys, the anthem before it starts, kids with baseball gloves, the hotdogs with ketchup, mustard and sauerkraut, the Cracker Jack, the songs, the people keeping statistics. It’s all good American fun.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

If coming to the SF Bay Area, lose all preconceived ideas about American people. This place is so multicultural, you’re going to meet people from all over the globe with different perspectives on life.

Plus, this is a country of extremes, you’ll experience sweltering summers in the same place as bitter winters, meet a super intelligent person at the same party as someone with very little education, see a gun shop next door to a yoga studio (or is that just in Pacifica?) and find a Michelin star restaurant with homeless people sleeping on the doorstep.

Try not to judge on first appearances, because the extremes are here but everything in between is too. I guess I’m trying to say keep an open mind, and if there’s something not to your taste, just turn the corner and you’re bound to find something that is.

Any additional thoughts?

After 18 years I still have my Aussie accent. In fact, I cultivate it a little every time I go home. It’s a part of my identity I don’t want to lose!


Aussies Of The Bay – James Chartres

Name, job, part of the San Francisco Bay Area you live in

James Chartres, Chief Engineering, Millennium Engineering and Integration Services,  NASA Ames Research Center, San Jose.

James is also the owner and race car driver of Kanga Motorsports an amateur road racing team competing with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA).

When did you first come to the Bay and what’s the backstory there?

I moved to the SF Bay Area in November 2007. I met the NASA Ames Center Director while I was studying in Europe and he asked if I would like to work at NASA. How can you turn that opportunity down? I said, yes! Then I packed up for the United States. I started working and loved it. I have now been here for over 10 years.

Hardest thing about moving here?

The hardest thing was leaving friends and family behind. Next to that, getting all the paperwork in place including the work Visa took some time.

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

There are so many great SF Bay Area memories. I enjoy the region for all the activities that you can go and do. From hiking through Redwoods to scuba diving the kelp forests. Perhaps my most favorite memory was the first time I got to race on the world-famous race track Laguna Seca that I used to drive on video games as a kid.

What impact has being Australian had on your life here? In dating? In work?

Most people like Australian people and/or have had a great experience in Australia, so it has helped to start conversations and open up opportunities.

Most American thing you’ve experienced in your time here?

I have been in the US for a while so I have been lucky to have lots of amazing experiences. Several that come to mind include watching NASCAR in person, experiencing live Ice Hockey games, exploring Yellowstone National Park, driving the California Coast and hiking half dome in Yosemite.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

If you get the opportunity, take it. You never know what doors it might open. The most important thing to do is get all the paperwork in place before you come over. Then make the most of it by seeking out new experiences and exploring.

Any additional thoughts?

If anyone is interested in seeing motorsports up close, we are racing 27-29 July at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, CA. My car has a big Kangaroo on the front so you can’t miss it. Come by, say hello, get a selfie sitting in the race car and watch some great wheel to wheel action. There is only a small $5 fee for entering the county park after that the entry for the racing is free. Kids and Family friendly.


Aussies Of The Bay – Peter Williams

Name, job, part of the San Francisco Bay Area you live in

Peter Williams, Commercial Director, Sunnyvale

When did you first come to the Bay and what’s the backstory there?

I moved here 2 1/2 years ago – I was working in Doha, and received a phone call out of the blue asking if I wanted to move to California! The decision wasn’t difficult… I am working for a real estate company, creating office space for a very large Tech Company. I am used to moving around the world – we have lived in 14 different cities, and moved 25+ times in the last 20 years.

Hardest thing about moving here?

It was relatively easy – getting services sorted out was unexpectedly difficult, compared to the rest of the world. And the banking system – cheques / checks? 🙂

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

So many – cycling through Golden Gate Park, whales at Half Moon Bay, the ability to be at Lake Tahoe in 4 hours.

What impact has being Australian had on your life here? In dating? In work?

The reason I got the job was being an Australian, while being a specialist in what I do! It was easier to get an Australian here on an E3 than any other visa type.

Dating = not applicable – I am here with my wife of 29 years, my kids are back in Australia.

In work, I am a novelty, and get to talk about crocs and roos a lot.

Most American thing you’ve experienced in your time here?

The formality of Thanksgiving – and having to eat the stuff as a pudding! It’s bad enough as a vegetable.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

Just do it (apologies to Nike…) – bringing a different viewpoint to the workplace can provide many opportunities.

Any additional thoughts?

My wife wasn’t expecting to take so long to (1) get the SSN / E3D sorted out, and (2) find a decent paying job. After almost a year, she opened a home daycare – which she finds huge fun and pays far better than any formal employment she could find.


Aussies looking for opportunities – 26th June 2018

Lizzie Matkovich – Communications / Stakeholder Management

I’m Lizzie Matkovich, I’m 29 years old and from Sydney. I have over seven years experience in the development and execution of stakeholder engagement and communication strategies for both internal and external clients.

Having worked for organizations both big and small and across a range of industries (Arts to agribusiness to most recently building and construction), I’m particularly adept at cultivating relationships with individuals from diverse organisational backgrounds.
Having spent many times visiting the Bay Area, I’m keen to make the move over to not only build upon my current skill set but also experience new challenges that stem from an overseas relocation.
I’m looking for a customer-focused role, such as a Communications Manager / Stakeholder Management, that draws upon my strong communications background. While my most recent experience lends me towards the construction and tertiary education sectors, I’m open to all industries, organization sizes and opportunities. While still based in Sydney, I’m available to relocate with minimal notice should the right opportunity come my way.
If you know of any roles that sound suitable, you can learn more about my experience via LinkedIn:
Or email me at

Aussies looking for opportunities – 12th June 2018

Tasha Nabila – PR

Hi there! I am a PR & Communications professional with over three years of experience in the public relations industry across agency and in-house, with a background in and a passion point for technology. I graduated with a double degree in Communications and International Studies in 2015 from the University of Technology, Sydney.

During my professional career, I have worked within a wide array of communications and marketing areas, including corporate and consumer PR, brand sponsorhip, social media and events. In addition to this, I have developed a wide breadth of public relations and industry knowledge spanning corporate, health, travel and consumer & enterprise technology.

Currently, I work as a PR & Communications Manager in Sydney, Australia and am looking to relocate to the Bay Area as soon as possible. Here is my LinkedIn. Please feel free to get in touch with relevant opportunities at

John – Sports / Biz Dev

Hi I’m John Birtwhistle (but please call me Jack), I am 28 and from Sydney, however have been living in Canberra the last 8 years. I have come to the Bay Area looking to get some exposure to the Sports Industry, both professional sports and collegiate sports.

That said I am open to any and all opportunities and my most recent experience has been as the Business Development Manager for a Small/Medium organisation. I would be well suited to roles focused on Business Development and Business Strategy.

I am also open to any opportunities elsewhere in the US. I have always loved visiting the USA and am really excited to be here and very hopeful of establishing a home here for the next few years (or more).

Linkedin – Phone – 323 397 3479

Kyle – General

I’m looking for any leads for e3-sponsoring companies hiring someone with my experience.

I’ve got a degree in global business from a 4-year college in the states, a specialization from UC San Diego in interaction design.

I have work experience as a media intern as well as experience in operations at Sprig (a healthy food startup) from the year that I have lived here after graduation. I absolutely love the city and the culture and am trying to find the most efficient route forward to stay here. LinkedIn. Email:



Aussies Of The Bay – Larissa Kelloway

“My techie husband was asked to relocate to the Californian office, based in San Ramon…,” says Larissa Kelloway. “I saw it as an opportunity to finish my PhD thesis, but it turns out I have worked as an actor pretty much full-time since I started actively auditioning in February 2017.”


Aussies Of The Bay – Katherine Fenech

Name, job, part of the San Francisco Bay Area you live in

Katherine Fenech, Technical Writing Coordinator, Belmont

You started this great website ( where you blog about your experiences. So what’s it about, how did you get started and what can we expect to see on it in the future?

Once upon a time, I was a newspaper and online journalist, but it wasn’t a career that I felt I could sustain and have a family. Plus, the arms of the media that I was most experienced in were tanking – lost advertising and boring things like paywalls, so I decided it was time for a change.

I first started Bright Lights of America because I wanted to look back on my time here and remember what it was like to be in a shiny, new place. I’d lived in London for a couple of years as well and I’ve got a shocking memory, so I don’t really have much in the way of great stories from that time.

But it’s kind of morphed into a place where I document my travels to places in and around the US and give tips or advice on expat life and everything you need to know about settling down in the US. What can you expect in the future?

Well, that’s tough to say since I try to plan things in advance but end up winging it mostly. I’ve got lots more to write about travelling to Toronto, Maui and I’m on a trip to Vegas very soon. But in terms of expat-minded posts, I generally take cues from my own life for inspiration. And my readers, so hit me up!

What are some of the most popular posts on the blog so far?

I’m really lucky to have such a supportive group of Aussie expats who read my blog. Although, sometimes it can feel like I’m just talking at myself. The most popular posts seem to be the universal expat issues and a couple of travel pieces thrown in:

If I was just checking it out for the first time, as an Aussie expat in the USA, where should I start?

I would say just go to the Expat Life tab on the site and scroll through for anything that’s important to you at the moment. Don’t get too overwhelmed by it all though.

I’d definitely read up on driving and renting a car here, and to make your life easier check out the Aussie words and phrases that Americans don’t understand. You’ll save yourself some pain with that one. They don’t have news agencies here (at least not in California) and there’s some other shopping quirks you should probably know about. And it doesn’t hurt to read up on opening a US bank account either.

That should keep you busy for a while.

What are some common questions or problems readers ask you about?

Healthcare is front and centre of that list. I think it’s the most confusing part of moving to the US and I’m still so far behind on my own understanding of it all that I haven’t tackled that subject yet, except to write about a trip to the hospital for surgery. People also always want to know how to open a bank account, get a credit card to build credit history and navigate the DMV.

So let’s switch gears and learn a little more about you. When did you first come to the Bay and what’s the backstory there?

I first moved here in late July 2015 on an E3 visa. I was lucky enough to apply for a job with a solar company and after a few Skype interviews managed to land the job. I still don’t quite know how. Sometimes I think it’s just being in the right place at the right time.

Hardest thing about moving here?

For me it was breaking the news to my family. This might be a little TMI, but I’d moved to Sydney from London because my mum was ill, and then back to Sydney from Perth when we found out it was terminal. The few years that followed were obviously really rough and I felt the guilt of “leaving” my dad to live on his own. I was lucky that my family was supportive of my decision and I know that not everyone has that backing from parents and friends.

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

There are too many! I just love wandering around the SF neighbourhoods because I always find something new or cool to experience. Is camping at Yosemite and seeing a bear behind our campsite, outside of the “Bay Area” scope? [Editor’s note: definitely in scope 🙂] Because that was pretty bloody awesome. I’m going with that one anyway. We saw a bear and a deer all on the same day. No deer were injured by bears while I was present.

What impact has being Australian had on your life here? In dating? In work?

When people ask me what it’s like living in SF in comparison to Sydney, I have to confess that it’s pretty similar. The weather and the people (to an extent) make it feel like home. But dating and work are completely different stories.

I think maybe my accent had something to do with the amount of gentleman vying for my attention when I first moved here. They weren’t backwards in coming forwards either, which was very different to what I’d experienced elsewhere.

Let’s be honest, I’m not a looker, and I’m a bit of a wallflower socially so I can only imagine that it was the accent. My sense of humour does not compute with the US workplace either. Honestly, those first six months were a minefield of Arrested Development moments. I’ve learnt not to crack jokes for the sake of my own job security. It’s just easier that way, because I honestly can’t gauge what’s going to offend sometimes.

Most American thing you’ve experienced in your time here?

People on electric skateboards “walking” their dogs is a firm favourite for me. Getting my first Superbowl Party invite and thinking I’d just be interested in watching the ads but actually getting into the game (and the queso).

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

That first week or couple of days is going to be unsettling. Even with all my stupid confidence, I still arrived here and spent the first week thinking “what have I done?”. I’m almost sure that’s a normal response. It’s just the unfamiliarity of the situation and it passes pretty quickly if you throw yourself in.


Aussies looking for opportunities – 1st May 2018

Rob Grant – Marketing Insight and Strategy

“I’m a senior marketing insight and strategy specialist, looking for a new role in the Bay Area (my company is relocating to New York). I have nearly 20 years experience in both agencies and client organizations (open to both), across numerous categories (especially CPG and liquor).

Consumers, brands, innovation, packaging, communication and trends are my specialty. Please contact or at”

Lewis Farrell – B2B/B2C Marketing Expert

“I’ve been in the US many years now, arriving just before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake! And even so I have loved the Bay Area. I studied Science at Syd Uni before bouncing down to Melbourne (do miss the restaurants on Lygon St.) and then on to here.

I am a green card holder, so no probs working anywhere here. I have B2B/B2C marketing experience in Big Data, SaaS, Blockchain, Enterprise IT, and Cloud and I have led global, cross-functional teams. If you think you know of any opportunities or leads and could make any introduction I would love to chat. or resume –

Antoine Khalil – Biomedical Equipment Technician/Engineer

“I am a highly skilled and experienced AAMI CBET Certified Biomedical Equipment Technician/Engineer with over 12 years experience in the medical service/sales industry.

I have an extensive knowledge in Anesthetics, IVF, Apheresis, sterilization, medical gas systems (High & Low pressure systems), hospital biomedical equipment, electrical standards, Australian, American, international standards and many more!

With over 7 years experience as a State Service Manager and over 12 years as a Field Service Engineer, I have the skills and knowledge to make an impact in my field. Over the years I have learned and developed the skill to increase business revenue and also eliminate costs for my employee. LinkedIn


Aussies Of The Bay – Dean Flynn

The accent breaks the ice so that is a good conversation starter. But there is definitely a different business and social etiquette here. Re-learning the unwritten rules takes some adjustment. The entrenched Aussie behavior of putting yourself down has to be flipped to pointing out your highlights.

Otherwise your self put down will be met with looks of confusion, or words of support saying you shouldn’t feel that way about yourself. The accent breaks the ice so that is a good conversation starter. But there is definitely a different business and social etiquette here. Re-learning the unwritten rules takes some adjustment.


Aussies Of The Bay – Sandra Witzel

Name, job, part of the San Francisco Bay Area you live in

Sandra Witzel, Head of Marketing at SkedGo, Castro

When did you first come to the Bay and what’s the backstory there?

I moved to SF with my husband in late August 2016. He applied for a job, got it and voila! After getting married in Germany in July, going on honeymoon in Tanzania and Kenya, we had three weeks to pack up our lives in Sydney. It felt like it was a good time for a change. We both love Sydney to bits but were excited about this new adventure.

I’ve also never really travelled in the Americas, so it seemed like a great opportunity to get to know a different part of this planet. So far, I’ve ticked off New York, Arizona, Colorado, Mexico, New Orleans, Detroit and several places in California. So much to see!

I live in the Castro – which is hands down my favourite neighbourhood. Stunning architecture, lots of nice restaurants, THREE good coffee places (!!) and lovely people all around. And dogs. Lots of dogs 🙂

Hardest thing about moving here?

Apart from paying an exorbitant amount of rent in San Francisco? I miss my awesome friends in Sydney and the beaches of course. Those spur of the moment trips to Parsley Beach or Coogee or Balmoral or … sigh.

Also really hard: we moved here two months before the presidential election – obviously totally convinced Trump would never happen. Well…

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

There are so many. Just walking down Castro Street makes me happy every day, it has such a positive vibe. A helicopter flight across San Francisco (including going over and under the Golden Gate Bridge) was definitely a highlight. Adopting our dog from the SPCA another.

I love exploring San Francisco and learning about its colourful history.

What impact has being Australian had on your life here? In dating? In work?

Having an Aussie accent is a great conversation starter (especially if I then tell people I am actually German). Makes me feel somewhat exotic 😉

I am still doing my Aussie job remotely. I love the flexibility of working from home or from a co-working space and having awesome colleagues all over the world. SkedGo is a small Australian software development firm, making cool stuff in the mobility as a service space. We don’t do office politics and everyone is super professional and chilled. Hard to beat, so I haven’t been looking for a job here.

On the downside, I don’t have any local work mates to hang out with, which sometimes sucks.

Most American thing you’ve experienced in your time here?

The good: large events that combine a very diverse audience, super chilled atmosphere, kids, dogs, alcohol, glass bottles, pot etc without anyone having any issues (looking at you Sydney Lockout Laws).

In the photo you can see me at my first Off The Grid in the Presidio (wearing about ten layers of clothing as it was bloody freezing) – an event where everyone happily co-exists and simply enjoys themselves. Despite the terrible political divide, I find Americans to be super friendly and accommodating everywhere I go.

Baseball game at the AT&T was fun too (for the first two hours…).

The bad: We live about half a kilometer away from beautiful Dolores Park. There was a shooting a while ago, on a Thursday afternoon, in broad daylight. Everyone’s just like ‘oh yeah, stay safe’ etc. and then goes back to business as usual. Gun violence is so normalised here, I still struggle to get my head around that.

Also normal seems to be the number of homeless people. That heralded ‘American Dream’ leaves so many people behind. If you want to help, just buy someone food or a coffee, it’s such a hard life for them here. Our neighbour is a social worker and recently introduced us to a lovely young woman in her early twenties who has been living on the streets since age 12! Every homeless person has a story. You really never know.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

Come prepared! Finding a job here can be hard from what I have heard, it’s super competitive. Since the Bay area is crazy expensive, your savings might not last very long. Explore California. It’s truly a beautiful state. Try to occasionally leave your little tech (or other) bubble.

Get out of your comfort zone, it’s so much more fun. Don’t get too upset about issues like shared coin laundries, ancient banking systems (remember how to write cheques?) and bad coffee. We’ve all been there. Join the Australians in San Francisco Bay Area Facebook group – super helpful.


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