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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 – 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 – 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.

 

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.

 

Aussies Of The Bay – Matt Holden

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

Matt Holden, Founder, Black Opal, Sea Cliff

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

We arrived in 2013 when I brought my startup www.MavSocial.com from Australia. MavSocial is a social media marketing platform and we worked with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn so San Francisco was the natural choice for us. I sold MavSocial last year and now have a new startup that is focussing on Chatbot Marketing Platform

Hardest thing about moving here?

The most obvious is leaving family and friends behind but having said that there is not a lot of joy that I see in Sydney given the high cost of living there.

Favorite Bay Area memory to date?

I got some great seats to AT&T Park and watched the Giants baseball. First time was great but then you realize baseball needs a ‘Big Bash’ moment to speed it up.

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

My posting before San Francisco was Singapore and you’ll find many Australian expats who are always well regarded. Australians are always well regarded in the United States and Americans still love our Aussie accent!

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

I was at a Social Media conference in San Diego and Candace Payne was interviewed. She is the Texan who became ‘Chewbacca Mom’ and racked up 170 million Facebook views with her viral video and since then has built a multimillion-dollar business – as they say “only in America”

Best advice for anyone who is thinking of coming over?

Given the strong economy, I urge others to come to America now. The time is right and opportunity abounds. I do caution that if you have school-age kids life is tricky and expensive given schooling and housing.

Anything else?

I’m now advising lots of startups as a mentor. For technology companies getting that investment is critical and there are many Australian founders moving here so I really enjoy hearing pitches from them and how I can help.

 

Aussies looking for opportunities – 20th Mar 2018

William Brooks – Full Stack Software Engineer

I relocated last year from Perth to Oakland with my wife, who is originally from the Bay Area. I studied Computer Science at UWA before working in the family business, managing hotel & hospitality businesses for 8 years.

I recently completed a full stack web development course at UC Berkeley extension while waiting for my work visa. I now have full work authorisation and am looking for a full-stack or front-end web development position. If you think you could make any introduction I would love to chat. brooks.william@gmail.com or www.linkedin.com/in/william-brooks