Zoe’s is the second 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.
There’s something super magical about meeting a new and wonderful friend overseas. Especially when that person has a scarily similar history to you, and especially when that person experiences the same relocation-related challenges, in real-time, to you and your family.
Well, I’ve written a lot about Zoe before. Remember my friend-making exercise back when I’d only just moved to Palo Alto? If you don’t, or need reminding of the huge way in which I put myself out there, take a look back at Blog 15.
Beautiful Zoe was a total angel that rescued me from the hellish depths (and near regrets, let’s be honest) of move-related loneliness. We met on Facebook, before either of our big moves, Zoe having landed in Silicon Valley only two weeks before me and direct from the glistening, white sands of Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach too. We bonded instantly over our wide-eyed wonder at the opportunity (and fear!) that lay before us.
An artist, deeply stylish dresser and home decorator, and a fiercely loyal friend, she’s been a total breath of fresh air (and constant source of support and contentment) right from my very first days in the US of A.
Zoe lives in Palo Alto, CA. She’s married to Ali and has two gorgeous children, Frankie and Buddy. This is her story.
Whereabouts are you originally from?
I grew up in a small, seaside town in Dorset, England. Home to fish and chips, and a huge, retired population!
Whereabouts did you move to Silicon Valley from?
From beautiful Bondi in Sydney, Australia where I had lived for 13 years with my husband and two kids.
How long have you been in Silicon Valley, and what brought you here?
We’ve been here just over a year and arrived just two weeks before the lovely creator of this AMAZING blog!
As most people reply when you ask this: the tech is what brought us here. My husband got offered a ‘once in a lifetime’ position at the Mountain View office of the Australian tech company he worked with in Sydney.
Did you have friends here before you arrived?
NOPE! Not a soul… although I had made ‘Facebook friends’ with Clare. It was a little like online dating for friends, really! Thankfully the dating paid off, as I couldn’t have survived the first year without her. Truly.
In three words, describe how you’d imagined SV life to be before you moved.
Futuristic, expensive, fast-paced-and-power-crazy! I thought that the tech industry meant it would be the most technologically advanced place on Earth.
In three words, what were your first impressions of Silicon Valley?
Suburban, expensive, (a little) backwards!
In three words, describe what you think of it now.
Expensive! And confused (it doesn’t know if it wants to be modern, old fashioned, forward thinking, backwards facing, or what…). And easy.
Bust a Silicon Valley myth for us!
It’s not necessarily the most forward thinking, technologically advanced place to live.
Yes, there is some amazing/crazy technology used (like takeaway food delivered via robot, and self-driving cars), but there’s also the reality of having to use cheques (yes, that’s how I spell it!) to pay for some things. It can often feel like one big contradiction.
Reinforce some Silicon Valley stereotypes for us: what’s totally true about living here?
There’s a LOT of money and wealth, and not necessarily taste and style! Also, there seems to be a general dominance of Tesla-driving men (who work in tech) co-existing alongside outdoorsy, wanna-be Californian hippies
As I said before: it’s a place of contradictions!
What do you love most about living in the wider Bay Area?
People have moved here from all over the world, converging in one big melting pot. That is something that my kids didn’t have much experience with in Sydney.
I also love that you can experience incredible natural beauty only hours away from home. You have San Francisco for your arts and culture fix, too.
Last but not least, the friends I have made here are now totally, utterly lifelong friends. This means the world to me.
What do you loathe about it?
The rich are rich! Like crazy rich. And the poor are poor. Ridiculously poor. The divide is hugely evident.
There’s also a lack of good, cheap food (I am used to the wonderful food of Sydney, remember!), as well as a lack of decent public transport, and an overwhelming ‘drive everywhere’ culture.
And then there’re the beaches… the closest beaches are sadly disappointing. They’ve got nothing on Australian beaches, that’s for sure.
What is the biggest challenge you face in terms of living in Silicon Valley?
For me personally, being just that little bit too far away from the coast/beaches. I need the sea air to clear my mind!
The obsession with power/wealth/status can also be downright depressing, and you really can see it spreading into the education system here. I’m striving to make sure that this doesn’t get ingrained into the thinking of my kids.
What do you miss the most about Australia?
The beaches (obviously), the good (inexpensive) food when eating out, and my amazing friends (who are really my second family) in Sydney. Also, Australian fashion (and no, I don’t mean thongs and boardies!).
The advantage of being in USA, however, is that I’m a mere 11-hour flight from my family in the UK rather than the torturous 24 hours from Sydney. I love that.
What does Silicon Valley do better than Australia and the UK?
Online shopping! Seriously you can get anything delivered! And fast!
Christmas has got to be the other thing. Americans really know how to put on a show when it comes to the holiday period, and for someone who grew up with a cold Christmas in the UK, I’m loving that snowmen and Christmas jumpers once again make a whole lot of sense to us as a family!
How do you feel raising kids differs here than where you’ve lived before?
Generally, education seems to be very results-focused and the pressure put onto kids here is really evident. Having said that, in true Californian style, many schools have come up with some great ways to ensure a more wholesome, holistic approach to teaching children.
You do, for example, see Forest Schools popping up every now and then where kids use nature as their classroom (something the Scandinavians have long embraced). We also found an amazing local, independent school that makes mindfulness a part of the children’s daily routine and teaching. The beautiful, unique principles of these teachings are so exciting, and if nothing else, showcase the Californian sense of wanting to break free from the norm and question the traditional. It’s good to see.
Leading on from this, with all the beautiful nature around us here, it surprises me that kids spend so much time indoors and that recess is slowly being removed from schools in favour of more lessons. The Aussie kids don’t know how lucky they are to have such an incredible lifestyle.
The obsession with kids’ extra curricular activities makes me both laugh and cry! I have never heard of kids being enrolled in so many classes/courses etc. It’s nuts.
Do you have any concerns raising kids here?
Yes. Because myself and my husband wanted to bring our kids up in Australia (one of the many reasons we left the UK) surrounded by the beaches, the sunshine, the ‘Aussie’ culture and its appreciation for nature, we’ve got a few child-raising concerns having now moved to the US.
Schooling here in Silicon Valley in particular is more focused on being ‘the best’ at everything. The pressure on kids here makes me sad and frustrated.
Also the obvious issue: guns. It is always in the back of my mind and something I HATE having to even consider it. I am, however, embracing the fact that my kids have friends from all over the world now, something that sadly was lacking for us back in Sydney.
How long do you think you’ll stick around?
Probably another two years.
What would you move away for?
A better lifestyle for us, and for our kids. And perhaps to save some money!