It’s been one month since we moved from our home and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and got on a plane to begin life anew in Austin, Texas. You can learn more about some of our thinking around making that move here.
The experts say that you don’t really know anything about the success of a move until you have been somewhere for two years. I can see why they say that. I guess you need to get over both the dread and the allure of the newness of a place before you can objectively know if you like it, and being somewhere new brings both of those things in bucket loads.
Dread and draw.
Worry and wonder.
Exasperation and excitement.
It is a bit of a rollercoaster, if I am honest. We have had so much joy, and we love our new home, but we also miss our old one at the same time. Humans are complex enough to experience both of those things simultaneously.
So, because we have been here for such a short space of time, I will keep the subject matter of this blog to the general experience of moving countries and won’t zone in on the specifics of life in Austin. I hope to be able to write about that soon as Austin is a very interesting city, in an extremely interesting state, but I need to learn more. With all that said, here are six things that have stood out about moving countries in our very short experience.
Moving is Hard and I Wish I had Been More Empathetic To Others Who Have Done It
Don’t worry. This isn’t whining. I am fully aware that we made this decision and so should live with the self-inflicted consequences. I am also aware that South Africans have experienced lots of people moving away and don’t particularly enjoy much whining from those who have. I certainly didn’t. I have watched lots of people leave – some for good reasons, and many for bad. But what I hadn’t really embraced was the weight of the decision and the difficulty involved in actually doing it. I probably owe a few people an apology for not being particularly helpful when they were moving or after they had moved. The pain that Sue and I felt when those thrusters pushed us off of OR Tambo’s runway is impossible to describe. I wasn’t prepped for it.
In addition, being an immigrant in a new place is extremely difficult. The system isn’t built for you and it is really difficult to find your feet and your confidence. You should have seen us trying to buy a car (first world problems, I know). You need a history of credit to get credit, but the only way to get credit is for someone to give you credit, which requires a history of credit. The system isn’t built for outsiders, and so when you are one, you really feel it. I have felt like a child in many interactions. Everything is different. Banking, insurance, driving, shopping, schooling, putting the garbage out. You have to learn it all again.
Once we settle here, I am going to devote lots of energy to finding people who aren’t from here and to helping them settle. If you know someone who is leaving where you are, it is good and right to be sad, but do all you can to stay close to them in what is actually a traumatic season.
Christian hospitality is a life-saver
I don’t know how we would have done this without The Austin Stone Community Church. This church family has loved us in ways that we can’t really fathom. We arrived to a house that had been carefully and thoughtfully decorated and furnished. We have had people bringing us meals and inviting us into their lives. We have had two vehicles loaned to us by people who had never met us. They have embraced us, and it has been marvelous. Hospitality is a truly Christian virtue that is tragically under practiced. Being received this well has opened Sue and my eyes to how we can serve others in the future. It really helps, and it really matters.
Being away from a local 24-hour news cycle is liberating
This has surprised me, but I don’t really care about the news here yet, and that is really liberating. Obviously I care about the big global stuff, but I don’t yet care about the local level politics and sports even. That has brought a tremendous freedom as I just don’t follow it. I realized that I was pretty addicted to News 24 and 702, and all of its pseudo breaking news that just (for the most part) doesn’t matter. I also realized that there is no person more annoying on the planet than the guy who emigrated who still follows SA news and feels free to comment from across the seas and so I have cut myself off from it, and I think I am a great deal better off for it. I hope and pray I don’t get sucked into another endless local news cycle here. I don’t miss it.
We judge people from other places harshly
I have been a big fan of jokes about American ignorance. Their current caricature of a president makes it easy to be fair. So, when we announced that we were moving to Texas, a lot of our friends thought we were moving to a cowboy backwater, with fat Republicans who love shooting communists, or even Democrats. I kept having to tell them that they had Austin and Houston confused (little insider Texas joke…see?).
What we have discovered though has been truly amazing. People (obviously not all, but most) have been informed about SA and really interested in what is going on in the world. They have been quick to listen and slow to speak, and they have been embarrassed by the way that they have been perceived on a global scale. It has been really disappointing – to be honest – how nuanced, textured and complex people are up close. It destroys my well formed caricatures and takes away most of my good sarcastic jokes. It has also made Sue and I realize how ignorant we are of US politics, history and even geography. I simply know nothing about this place but have been content with that sort of ignorance without feeling the irony of that.
The world is small and big at the same time
Technology is so helpful and social media keeps us right up to speed with what is going on with hundreds of people back home. I love it. The world feels small and so we feel like many of our relationships haven’t changed one bit.
But you can’t embrace via FaceTime or shake hands on WhatsApp. There is something about physical proximity that is tremendously comforting. I had friends in Joburg that I didn’t see often, but I valued living under the same stretch of sky that they did, and I loved that I knew that I could see them face to face at the drop of a hat if something went sideways. It’s a strange thing feeling that people you love are simultaneously right with you and also unthinkably far away.
There has been so much fun here and so many new things to enjoy that we haven’t really bemoaned what we left too much, but homesickness is a funny and unpredictable thing that sneaks up when you least expect it and leaves you teary eyed on the wrong side of the road when some Johnny Clegg comes up on Apple Music. Someone played Toto’s “Africa” at the office the other day, and I instantly wanted to light a charcoal fire and watch the Lions smash the Stormers with my mates who I have done life with for the last thirty years. Instead we got some barbecue and spoke about College football, which wasn’t quite the same.
South Africa, with its texture, colour (yes that is how you spell it), beauty, struggle and diversity is in my heart and always will be. It feels to me a little bit like how Christians ought to be homesick for heaven. We thrive where we are but we have a part of us that knows we are from somewhere else. It’s a painful yearning, but a beautiful reminder to not sink your roots too deep.
So that’s it. One month in. We are finding our feet. We love our new home, we are enjoying our new city, and we are thriving in our new church, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel deeply for what we have left behind. You can be excited about where you are and sad about where you left all at the same time. We’re human. We are complex like that.