Name, job, part of the San Francisco Bay Area you live in
Katherine Fenech, Technical Writing Coordinator, Belmont
You started this great website (http://brightlightsofamerica.com/) 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:
- Why Aussies can’t say no and other linguistic failures (I hate those automated phone services that ask you questions. They never understand me.)
- Swapping your Australian Driver’s License for a California License (The DMV is a nightmare and I’m sorry)
- 12 Reasons moving abroad alone is a worthwhile adventure
- Where to get Aussie Meat Pies in the US (Very Important!)
- The “Haunted” Winchester Mystery House (Don’t ask me why, but this is my most popular post)
- A Tasmania Road Trip (One of my favourite places in Australia)
- Winter in New York
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.