Choosing a new home away from home.
By Ashima Sethi and Rubani Sethi
After completing high school in Bangkok, I was given an opportunity to move to Melbourne, Australia in 2007 to study a Bachelor of Arts in Behavioural Science and Marketing at Monash University, after which I never moved back home.
I knew a lot of Thai-Indians studying in the same place, so it wasn’t a very daunting experience being alone in a foreign country. Within three months of moving, I got a job, and was able to tell my parents to stop sending me money as I wanted to try doing things on my own. With no family there for support, it was the ultimate crash course on how to be a full-fledged adult.
During my first semester, I met my husband who also grew up in Bangkok. Five years later, we got married and now we have two beautiful children and are all Australian citizens. Although it was extremely difficult to get our permanent residency, I never gave up and sought assistance from a lawyer. The rules kept changing, every day was a new challenge, and there were so many times I almost gave up but I’m glad to say I won!
Looking back, when I first moved, I had no idea that I would one day settle in the country. My intention was to move back after completing my course, but studying in Australia opened my eyes and I began to see the world from a new perspective. I loved the challenge of being independent. It was hard work but now we have moved into our second home, and I am a sole trader running my own business. Hiring help costs a fortune so you really have to be the cook, cleaner, nanny, and driver. It is endless work, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
While my family was supportive of the move, they weren’t exactly enthusiastic about it. It was a big shock to my dad as I promised I would return after three years, but my mum has always been my biggest cheerleader. It has been 15 years now since I left and I couldn’t be prouder of the person I am today. For anyone contemplating a move, I highly encourage it. A large part of growing into an adult is navigating life’s challenges on your own, and if you are lucky enough to live in a new country, it will enrich you. It will help you learn new languages, appreciate other cultures, adapt to new challenges, and gain a better understanding of the world.
I grew up in Bangkok and graduated from NIST International School in 2013. When I decided to study abroad, I was completely clueless about where I wanted to go, I just knew that I needed to see the other side of the world because I hadn’t travelled much before and it would have been my first time leaving Asia altogether.
Quite honestly, it was the most spontaneous decision I had ever made, as my young self wasn’t calculative at all. She didn’t know what the weather was going to be like, what the place had to offer, what exactly she wanted to do, she just knew that she wanted to go. Luckily, my mum supported my decision without hesitation. She’s the ultimate gal pal and made sure to make it possible for me.
I ended up at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver. A few friends from high school were attending the same university, so settling in was a smooth operation. We were surrounded by an international crowd, often doing the same things we would do back home in Bangkok…but with more restrictions!
It wasn’t until I graduated and started working that I truly noticed the big differences. This took a bit of navigating, years actually. During the times that I struggled, my mum would suggest coming back home but I knew I wanted to continue seeing what I could do with my time here, and she continued to support me, as long as I was happy with the pits and peaks of what I was doing.
Being far away from home has made me miss it more and more. There really is no place like home, but I continue to enjoy my journey here because I shifted from enjoying the city as a student, to enjoying it as a businesswoman. Being out of my comfort zone for so long has certainly been challenging, but learning how to bounce back quicker from those uncertainties, each year, has been very rewarding.
When I arrived in Australia, I did not intend on staying. I am very attached to my family, and everyone who knew me during my student years, knew me as someone who would likely catch the first flight home after graduation.
I came to Australia on a student visa and after graduating with a Master of Counselling at Monash University, I applied for a two-year visa for post-graduate level students who want to gain work experience. A year into that, my fiancé and I applied for my partner visa, after which I was granted a temporary one. When we got engaged last year, I was granted a permanent resident visa.
Although I don’t have my own family here, I have my fiancé, my in-laws, and friends who have become family. Meeting my fiancé was such a chance meeting as we met during our last day on campus. After a few dates, it took a lot of convincing on his part to make me extend my visa, one after the other. I was so tempted to go back to my mama, but eventually he ended up asking her for one final visa, my hand in marriage!
In Australia, I don’t receive the pampering I would get in Thailand (although my fiancé tries his best [Laughs]). Having said that, the life here is one I created myself and I am proud of that. It’s independent and offers a lot of freedom. Everything you do, and its consequences, are all on you. I’ve made many mistakes but they turned into lessons thathavemademewhoIam.Iloveithere,andIloveitwhenIamabletogohome. No place is better than the other.
I lecture at the Australian College of Applied Professions three days a week, and I lecture at the University of Melbourne two days a week so life here is career-oriented. After work, I practice and teach hot yoga, and on the weekends I see clients in my private practice, hang out with friends, and go on romantic dates with my fiancé. I cook, clean, play the piano, watch Pakistani dramas, and study in preparation for my doctorate degree. My calendar is jam-packed but it’s always fun.
To live abroad, you need a strong social circle. Everyone’s lives during early adulthood is dedicated to career or family, which can get isolating. This is something people don’t talk about when they move abroad. I have found great and empowering friendships with people who are like-minded, high achievers who are goal-oriented and from international backgrounds.
One day, I would still want to go back to Thailand, but not permanently. The job opportunities here exceed what I would be able to find in Thailand, and the recognition of my knowledge and support from other women in STEM is much more prevalent. I visit home often to see family, but also to collaborate with other professionals in the field in order to contribute to my home-country and I hope to do that more.
I am lucky to come from a supportive family. They recognised that I would have opportunities to build my career in Australia, so they did not hold me back. Whenever I feel defeated, they are always the ones to remind me of the value of my journey so I really owe it to them. I text home every day, call at least four times a week (sorry mum, I’ll call more!) and try to go back every 4-6 months.
As someone whose parents themselves are expats in Thailand, I had decided from a young age that I wanted to carve out my own path and settle somewhere where I could benefit from exposure to different cultures and
maximise my career potential. Lawyer by education and accountant by qualification, I work for Brookfield Asset Management in their real estate practice and have been working in London for almost seven years post graduating university, and have recently become a British citizen.
My main motivation to live abroad centres around career prospects. Career opportunities vary strongly by country and a career in the financial hub of London offers stability, a greater earning potential than in Thailand (though equally higher costs!), as well as exposure to leading professionals in fields outside of my own. As I am in a relatively early stage of my career, I have prioritised building my knowledge and a global network which can later be leveraged should I want to shift my career to a developing economy such as Thailand. I had reservations initially about being an ethnic minority female in an industry heavily dominated by Caucasian males, but I soon learnt that diversity is valued and also a strength.
On a personal level, I have a strong network of friends, hobbies, and even an affinity for the unpredictable weather which makes London feel like home, although it has been tough not having family nearby which indirectly makes you grow up faster. One of my life goals was to see as much of the world as possible and this has been made easy living in a transport hub like London. I am fortunate that my parents are supportive and encouraging of both myself and my sister living abroad and have faith in us to make our own decisions (and mistakes) in how to best lead our lives as they hadn’t had some of the opportunities that we do.
I highly recommend living/working abroad to the new generation of Indian youth, even if for a short while post studies or as a transfer from your existing job. I understand that a prolonged absence from home doesn’t appeal to everyone, but such experiences fundamentally change the way you approach life and what you value. The political and economic outlook of the world are constantly changing, so I’d recommend thoroughly researching where would be a good fit for you but there are certain experiences you just cannot have as a tourist, so immerse yourself in a foreign culture and get out of your comfort zone – you won’t regret it!