Adjusting My Expectations of My Working Holiday in Australia
I often make the travel mistake of trying to force an experience where it’s not natural. While backpacking in Cambodia, I was insistent on satisfying my craving for frozen yogurt. On Ios, Greece, I spent €30 on a Mexican meal. Both were subpar. The experience that I thought I’d have in Australia on a working holiday visa was tainted by unrealistic expectations. Now having lived in Melbourne for over a month, I realize where I went wrong. I’m living the lifestyle of a nomad while craving the stability of a community, and becoming frustrated that I’m having difficulty building it. I didn’t come to Australia with the idea of being a “backpacker.” I came with the idea of integrating. What I failed to foresee was how trying to have a local experience would be affected by my status as a foreigner on a budget. Some of the barriers I’ve encountered:
A working holiday visa is as the title implies: permission to have a temporary job and travel temporarily through a country. Despite being aware of the stipulations of the visa–especially the fact that I’m only allowed to be at the same employer for up to six months–I still had hopes of getting a job outside the typical backpacker realm. I poured my time, energy and passion into applying for these jobs. I should have realized that it would be hard to convince employers that I was worth their effort, given the fact I’d have to leave after a few months.
I finally found a job at a café, a hard-won victory. Since working there and frequenting other similar establishments, I’ve realized that often the employees are international students or other foreigners on working holiday visas. It’s always nice to meet other travelers, but when they are the only people you have direct contact with, it’s hard to feel like you’re learning much about Australia.
No Automatic Support System
Arriving in Australia without any network results in extra challenges in having a local experience. It’s not like a study abroad program whose main mission is to integrate its participants into the host country. Programs like these set up homestays, culture classes, and extracurricular activities with locals. Integration under working holiday circumstances isn’t impossible, but requires much more work and effort than if I’d gone to a country with an established framework for learning.
Being on a Budget
Being on a budget means that I am limited to having drinks at certain times of the day (great news: Melbourne is full of happy hours!), low-budget restaurants and bars with drink deals and no cover change. I’ve discovered that most of these places tend to be full of others in my same position.
While first looking for housing, I wanted to live with other Australians. I went to one interview for a small room in a shared house with five other locals. We hit it off right away, and I was really excited by the idea of living with them. I daydreamed of learning more Australian slang, laughing on the porch and meeting their friends. The next day, I got a Facebook message explaining that because my time here is temporary, they didn’t want to go through the process of finding a new flatmate in a few months.
Rent is expensive in Melbourne. For a traveler on a budget, this means my options are limited. The cheapest, most central and most convenient housing are crowded apartments, often with makeshift ‘bedrooms’ in the living room. This type of housing is ideal for international students or travelers – there is no time commitment and landlords are used to the turnover of tenants. They are also typically the easiest sort of accommodation to find.
Things have been difficult, but I’ve learned a lot, too. If it hadn’t been so difficult for me to find a job, I wouldn’t have cleaned the rugby stadium for less than minimum wage alongside Korean immigrants, and seen the plight of many immigrants around the world. Under-the-table pay with no job security is a reality for many people. I am seeing a side of Australia that perhaps many Australians never do. Breaking out of the foreigner circle won’t be easy, but establishing connections and having a “local experience” doesn’t happen overnight.