Summer in Darwin, Australia
Autumn in Berlin, Germany
Winter in Berlin, Germany
Spring in Berlin, Germany
Nice view from my office, Exeter Uni
Walk to work, Exeter

Sydney to Exeter via Berlin

Blog written on 24 April 2015 and posted on 07 May 2015

I have been in Exeter for three weeks now. Just long enough to get some perspective on the place so I can start writing about my move to the UK. I moved to work as a Post-Doc at the University of Exeter in the southern English countryside. I have only been in the UK once previously, for 3 days or so to attend an interview in 2013, so I did not really know what it was throwing myself into.

Initial transplant shock

I has living in Berlin for 12 months previously. Just enough time to feel settled, make a few good friends and start to become a Berliner (but still very much a foreigner at the same time).

If I am totally honest Exeter did not make much of an impression on me. After living in Berlin, and Sydney previously, I guess it is not that much of a surprise that my first reaction was not exactly positive. I knew very little about the town before I arrived. The job location did not contribute much to my decision to move. I felt I would learn about the place when I arrived.

When I pulled into Saint Davids train station my initial reaction was: oh god what I have I got myself into. I think this feeling was as much about missing Australia and the idea of living in a different country to my husband than it was about the town.

When I arrived a woman saw my two suitcases and asked if I had been somewhere fun. I said that I previously lived in Berlin and I was moving to Exeter for work. She surprised me then by saying "and you have an Australian accent. What on earth has made you come to Devon?" That was the first hint that what I am doing is not exactly the norm here.

After checking into my motel I went into town to find something to eat as it was past dinner time for me. I could not get my atm card to work and I ended up walking around parts of town that are not so nice. So my first night I was hungry and a bit emotional.

When I started work the next day things felt more comfortable. My only purpose in living here is because of my job so once the unknown/unfamiliar part of that was out of the way, aka meet the people I will be working with and get a feel for the university, things felt more normal.

I was living in a motel for the best part of two weeks and once I moved into my apartment things improved to the point that it very quickly felt normal. I have been in Exeter three weeks now and while it does not feel like 'home' as yet I have everything I need to be comfortable. The rest just takes time.

If I were to set my internal compass to 'home' I am not really sure where it points anymore. Most likely Sydney but Berlin still moves the compass point. So too will Exeter in time.

It feels weird being back in an English speaking country. I got so used to feeling like I was a foreigner. I had forgotten what it felts like to have people in the street walk past and you understand them. Or you ask a question or order something and you don't have to repeat yourself or speak at a quarter of the pace.

Part of me is relieved that I can speak English in all my interactions. But part of me also feels like I am cheating myself out of an experience to learn German. I had this romantic notion that in time I might be fluent enough to talk to people in German. But I know that probably will not happen now.

I initially only planned to be in Berlin for 3 months or so and it ended up being 12 months. I should have come away with more language skills than I did. But there is always something to look back on and wish you had changed. I honestly don't know I could have fit it in.

Exeter itself (and England in general I suppose but have no experience to judge)

It is really hilly. REALLY hilly. Well especially compared to Berlin. There is only one or two natural hills in Berlin and the rest are legacy from burying rubble from World War II. In Exeter when I get back into running it is going to take some time to get used to the hills. I have adjusted to the flat terrain of Berlin and I bet my legs are going to cause me trouble here. I have registered for the Exeter half marathon in autumn so I better get used to the hills quickly.

There are a variety of English accents in Exeter. Less than in other places I am sure but still a lot. There are also a lot of 'others' in my department too who are not from England and together we have a variety of accents. I have no idea what parts of England the accents belong to. Maybe in time I will learn to hear the difference. Apparently I sound funny but from my perspective I sound normal and everyone else sounds funny. I guess it's all in your perspective.

If I were to describe Exeter I would say it is a rural style living but with a town large enough for me to have some fun. For example its Friday evening and I am currently sitting in a wine bar with a rather large glass of red. There are a few cinemas in town, a number of gyms and reliable transport.

Its not like you can describe town by a list like this but these are things that I enjoy. I get a strong sense that there are a lot of outdoor things that I can do here; hikes, riding and the like. But I have not ventured out into that aspect of Exeter yet.

A few unexpected things are the seagulls, the fitness community, the fact that most people are super friendly and the CCTV security cameras EVERYWHERE.

The seagulls are huge, their cry is alarming and there are so many of them. For anyone who watches Doc Martin you will know the sound of the seagull cry.

One of the things I really missed in Berlin was the fitness community. This was one of the nicest parts about Sydney. I was part of UNSW Netball for three years, a regular at my local gym and liked to run from Randwick to Maroubra via the coastal walk. It was a large part of my life. When I arrived in Germany I could still run but it took a long time to know where to go, the gym was much more expensive than I was willing to pay and the mention of netball drew funny faces as they have never heard the word before.

In Exeter it is really common to see cyclists, runners and other people out exercising at all hours of the day (and in all weather conditions). There is a gym community that is affordable and in time I plan to become part of the netball community as well.

But it was in Berlin that I leant that a cheese sandwich is a perfectly acceptable evening meal (in fact that is what I plan to eat this evening). If transport is late you are allowed to have rage almost instantly after you identify that it is indeed late (this used to make me laugh). It is not necessary to say sorry if you bump into someone, even though I wish it was, nor is it expected that you get out of the way if you are indeed in the way. You can speak frankly without asking for permission, this part I did like. You can have a bakery treat or buy flowers every day. Another thing I leant in Berlin is that once the temperature drops below 20°C or goes above 25°C you are allowed to complain, it annoyed me that everyone complains all the time about the weather. Oh and its okay (expected even) to queue for everything. Oh and the bread, cheese and cake options are divine.

What strikes me is how comfortable it feels in Exeter. Berlin was so foreign. The language, the culture, the houses, the way of life, how you shop, what and how you eat. Everything was different. In England it feels like Australia. Its more than language. Its more like the philosophy of how we live. It just makes sense to me even simple things like: having a lounge room is normal, the idea of a backyard (which to me is weird but in Australia very common) or bringing your lunch to work. Sure there are subtle differences in culture between Exeter and Sydney but it still makes sense to me.

I did get used to people driving on the right hand side of the road. So now traffic is back on the left and consistent with Australia but now I have to look both ways cause I have no idea anymore which way cars will come from (instinct anyway - logically I know the difference).

The language itself is a constant barrier in Berlin. Watching TV, listening to the radio, reading labels in a supermarket, medicines, news, going to the cinema (though this could be done but not near where I lived) and just simple day-to-day stuff like reading your own mail.

This feeling ties in with the feeling that I am missing out by not learning German. Part of me loved how foreign Berlin felt. So many things were really complicated (even often simple things get really complicated) but that is what I expected. Here in England its almost too easy. Like I am cheating some how. I miss that foreign and exciting feeling that came from exploring Berlin and its culture. I will still get to experience it when I visit but I no longer live there and that makes me a little sad.

Exeter feels really expensive. My salary was so much higher in Australia but my rent and living expenses seemed comparable. Living expenses here might even be more expensive compared to Australia. Germany was cheap so maybe I got used to how much things cost there but here I am constantly thinking ... really? You can charge that much?

Exeter Uni

I was pleasantly surprised by the uni. It is a large campus with lots of facilities and is a lovely looking campus (lots of ponds with ducks, rabbits hopping around and lots of spring blooms). It reminds me very much of my years at Wollongong Uni.

Most importantly for me ... which is hard to describe exactly ... is the university institution itself and the support and community that comes along with it. It has been a year since I have been part of the institution that is a university and I really missed it. Working from home and as a guest visitor were both fine but its the university institution that I missed. I am so pleased to be part of a community again.

I think I will be happy and productive here in Exeter. I like what I have seen so far. I am still trying to work out how I feel about being away from my husband. It is the only part of my move that has not worked out so well. Leaving him in Germany and moving to the UK was a hard decision to make. Even harder still was getting on the plane and leaving.

There are just some parts of living abroad that will never be easy. Missing family and friends. Not being present for the big events like weddings, births, birthdays or hearing first hand exciting news (rather than via facebook or similar). However, when you do go 'home' you still feel included and with a few friends you can continue on like you never left. But its hard being out of the loop and feeling like you are a foreigner even at home.

But I should not complain. I chose to leave. It was, and still is, the right decision. I have been exposed to a lot in the last year and the longer I am away the more I get to experience. This life is not easy but it does reward you.