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Aussies Of The Bay – Craig Ward

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

Craig Ward, Sales Manager, Petaluma, North Bay

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

First came to the US (via the UK) in 1991 following a girl. We travelled back and forth between San Rafael and Brisbane and eventually got married in the USA in 1993. We decided the best way to get ahead was to head back to Australia which we did and moved back to Brisbane. We lived there for 15 years where our 4 children were born and decided in 2008 to move back here where my wife could be near her family for a while as well as let our kids experience their mother’s country for a while. Fast forward 10 years and we are still here. However, at this stage we now have two children who have graduated college, 2 Tae Kwon Do black belts, one of which is now an instructor, and the other who has just graduated high school and not sure what direction he wants to go.

Hardest thing about moving here?

Leaving family and friends. Not being around for family milestones (ie birthdays and anniversaries of immediate family). Plus having my kids grow up here and not have their grandparents as a close part of their life. Yes, they Facetime and text but it’s not the same. More recently having my eldest son move back to Australia with a view of joining the Queensland Police Service and knowing I will potentially be missing out on some of his milestones.

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

Too many to name. Living in Petaluma and being so close to the wine country and the microbrewery explosion is always a good time. And driving over the hill from Mill Valley and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and the City never grows old. Renewing our vows for our 20th anniversary at the same place we were married and my wife wearing her original wedding dress was a very special moment and we shared it with a lot of people who were at our wedding.

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

Being in sales it breaks down a lot of barriers in the work field as people just love hearing you talk and I think it gives you a level of trust that people accept. Dating never came into it as I’m still married to the girl I followed here over 25 years ago.

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

My wife has worked for a couple of companies in Petaluma who participate in the local parades and helping out in those (Butter and Eggs Day parade and Veterans Day) is always special. But I think the most American experience would have been becoming a citizen back in February. Over 1100 people received citizenship and it was a very emotional experience.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

Do it. For all the negative and bad press you hear it is a unique experience. Yes, the traffic bites and you might not be able to find a good meat pie but the things to do in California and especially the Bay Area are sensational. Nothing like going to a Baseball or Football game and taking in the hype and hoopla like in the US. Go to the Redwoods and wine country in the North Bay or head further north in the winter and go skiing in Tahoe. Take the scenic drive down Highway 1 and the spectacular scenery along the coast. Of course, there are all the attractions in LA and then San Diego is a short stop away. Or check out some of the best National Parks in the world, Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Alcatraz just to name a few. But most of all the people. The people are awesome. Don’t judge them all as loudmouth yanks but take the time and find out about them and their history whether they be from Finnish, Panamanian, English, Mexican or Australian backgrounds they are all here living their dream.

 

 

Aussies Of The Bay – Lisa Le Lievre

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

Lisa Le Lievre, Pilates and dance instructor and independent filmmaker, Sausalito

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

I came from Sydney 11 years ago with my husband’s solar company.

Hardest thing about moving here?

The subtle cultural differences that underlie everything.

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

My recent short film production working with Dani Rowe (ex-Australian Ballet star), Luke Ingham (ex-Aussie ballet and current Principal dancer at SF Ballet) and my best friend Larissa Kelloway (an incredible performing artist living and working in the Bay area).

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

In work, I think it has been an asset. I teach a lot of kids and they love the accent. When it comes to independent filmmaking the ability to get things done is a big plus.

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

That would be a toss-up between 4th July celebrations and Halloween.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

Do it. The culture of innovation and risk-taking is exciting to be a part of and if you want to do creative work there is a lot of opportunity.

 

Aussies Of The Bay – Christine Gee

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

Christine Gee, Research Specialist, UC Berkeley, El Cerrito

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

I first came to the Bay area in 2006 for a post-doc at UC Berkeley. I stayed for nearly four years on J1 visas, and then returned to Australia to work at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne. However, while I was in the US I met a fellow, and long story short I ended up getting married to an American and moving back here.

Hardest thing about moving here?

Family and friends are so far away. Also, I really can’t wrap my head around the fact that I may never live in Australia again. Also, and perhaps more trivially, the lack of really good iced coffee, you know that kind with ice cream and whipped cream.

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

Getting engaged on the Golden Gate Bridge is up there. Also riding the cable cars from Powell St. up the hill standing on the side and running/walking the bay to breakers.

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

People don’t always understand my accent. Once in a bar, I asked for a Chardonnay and got a shot of Jager. Let’s just say it was NOT what I had in mind. I have also gotten a soda instead of a cider!

I work in a pretty multinational environment at a university, so I suspect there is less impact from being Australian at work than there might otherwise be. I still occasionally come out with some slang that has everyone confused though. Who knew that arvo and fortnight were not universal concepts!?

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

A county fair, complete with show chickens and pig races and giant smoked turkey legs.

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

If you have the opportunity, you should take it. You never know where it will lead and probably you will have fun.

Any additional thoughts?

As my husband says its a lot easier to get a cat into the US than a wife and I was unemployed for a while with no status after we first got married. My cat however just needed a rabies shot and an airfare and she was good to go. The photo is from a trip to Sonoma with my husband and an Aussie friend.

Where we live deer regularly wander in the grounds and on the road, as do turkeys! The turkeys actually are a bit mean and I have been chased by one!!!!

 

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 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 (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:

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 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.