Mia’s is the first in a series of four interviews – A Shared American Dream – that I’ll publish on Big Little Lives over the coming month. In each blog, I’ll explore a single, central, cutting question:
Is life in the US all it’s shaped up to be?
We’ll meet four incredible women who’ve helped shape my American Dream.
London. Melbourne. Malta. Bruges.
Berlin. Paris. Mallorca. Rome.
Scotland. Glastonbury. Bali. Milan.
And New York.
Some friendships take you around the world. Ours has. Other friendships do this and more, branching off into the lands of your craziest, wildest, most surreal travel dreams.
Ours has done this too.
Mia. A close comrade-of-a-friend of mine who I met back in 2007 while living in London. Sharing the same, densely caffeinated blood coursing through the veins of our fellow Melburnians-at-heart (should I admit I don’t really drink coffee?), we got to know each other on a trip to Malta with a mutual dear friend, Rae, clicked and, over the course of the following 5 years, had the most terrific adventures.
We’ve lived together, skydived together, had babies together (albeit in different countries and, coincidentally, at the same time as each other’s wedding). And even now, we’ve enjoyed our latest travel/living challenge to date: adapting to life in the US.
Mia lives in Madison, NJ (New Jersey, for the uninitiated). She’s married to James, a Brit she met in London, and she has 3 young boys under 5 (including twins!).
This is her story.
Whereabouts are you originally from?
People ask me often ‘where are you from?’. My standard response is ‘everywhere’. It’s easier.
The long answer is I was born in Australia, naturalised British (after 11 years living there), and I’ve just spent four years living in South Africa.
Whereabouts did you move to the US from?
Johannesburg, South Africa (via a seven-week transition back in London).
How long have you been in the US, and what brought you here?
About three months. We live in Madison, and work in Manhattan, NYC.
Many things encouraged us to make the move. Being deported from South Africa (well not really, but almost), not being in love with the idea of heading back to London, not wanting to move somewhere completely new again (like South Africa), a British husband with no Australia working visa… oh, and a great job option for my husband, James (and then me!).
Did you have friends here before you arrived?
Yes. And it was a big factor [in deciding to move].
The idea of moving to another brand new country/city again, starting from scratch, well… I was just not up for this, at this time, at this particular stage of life. That left Australia, London, or New York (or the Greater New York Area where we find ourselves, technically).
In three words, describe how you’d imagined US life to be before you moved here.
Big. Loud. (Full of) Possibility.
In three words, what are your first impressions of life in the US?
Big. Old-fashioned. (Still full of) Possibility.
What do you love most about living here?
The space. The fact that I don’t (nor does anyone else) talk about the colour of my skin. Online shopping (that I can do it, and that when it’s delivered someone won’t steal it!).
What do you loathe about it?
I ‘loathe’ very few things…but the biggest one [here]? Checks (and that they spell it like that… with a ‘ck’ at the end!). Checks, and the fascinating philosophy that surrounds their use and existence/dominance in the financial system.
I also mused with fascination my US contract that referred to my employment as ‘at will’, where I can be terminated – or I can terminate my employment – ‘at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all’. I am embracing the liberated freedom of it in that I just stepped out of a minimum 12-week divorce period from my employer into a completely immediate parting-of-ways freedom. God bless America.
What do you miss the most about South Africa?
Friends. After four years of amazing and crazy times in Africa, and making friends with some pretty phenomenal women I worked with who taught me a lot, it was hard to leave them.
Outside that, the weather, and the wine. Although in full disclosure, our 40ft [shipping] container did include 400+ bottles of wine that James attempts to a high level of futility to keep me away from because they are ‘…only good bottles, not Tuesday night bottles, Mia’. Bless him.
What does the US do better than SA?
- Online shopping. Oh how I have missed you! Supermarket aisles with 100s of varieties of cereal… I really like cereal.
- Power. I have a fairly high level of confidence that my power won’t go off, at any point, with no notice.
- That I can drive around with my handbag on my front seat, not turn my rings over when when walk through a shopping centre, and that I don’t have to hesitate when I come up to a set of traffic lights to assess the surrounds for likelihood of thieves/car-jackers.
How do you feel about raising kids here as compared to South Africa?
My children were born in Australia and South Africa. They are dual Australian/British citizens, although they have never technically lived in either country. I don’t think that how I raise my boys has any bearing on geography. I like to think it is entirely about them feeling supported, loved, and excited by what their little lives get to have in them every day.
My greatest hope is that they develop a curiosity and resilience (and likely a love of planes – as Ethan has!) that sets them up to be successful in whatever they choose to do, or choose to be, or wherever they choose to live as they grow up into men.
Do you have any concerns about raising kids here?
I have concerns raising kids. It’s not a US thing.
It’s a funny old world we live in these days, and I have been privileged to live in so many different parts of the world…what it does make me realise is these few, simple facts that you find everywhere… including here in the USA:
- We are all the same, but we are also all different, and the obsession that seems be so dominant, more than ever, to focus on those differences as a way of division, is deeply unsettling. The US is living through this, but no more or less significantly than South Africa is, or so many other parts of the world are. I really do wonder what that means for our kids in the future.
- Bad stuff happens. Everywhere. I look at my boys and find it impossible to fathom the idea that something bad could happen to them. Leaving South Africa was a big weight off the shoulders on this point, but we still live in a country of guns. It’s better, but not great.
So, for sure… bringing up kids is terrifying… here, or anywhere. But what I have found so far being in the US is that my ‘white boys’ have as much opportunity as anyone, a consideration I never before thought would be a thing!
The education system is amazing, Ethan has a great school with fantastic teachers, and I know that him learning here, for however long that is, will never be a bad thing. The world of technology we live in, and have access to here, means that all my boys can stay super connected with their grandparents, cousins, people all over the world…. even Ethan’s ‘ya ya’ back in South Africa.
Pretty amazing when you think about it!
How long do you think you’ll stick around here?
Absolutely no idea. I always say ‘…never start anything with the end in mind’. It makes you focus on all the wrong things and not enjoy, embrace and succumb to all the challenging, uncertain and adventure-filled parts of the journey.
What would you move away for?
Family. The constant and most driving force of sacrifice for those who choose a life of adventure and travel, and for those who live away from those they love.
15 years and counting…
Some pictures of Mia and her family, back in South Africa, and now in the US