The American Dream

After “Are you dating Jake Gyllenhaal yet?” (To which my answer is, “I’m working on it.”), the question I’ve been asked most by my family and friends since moving to the USA in November is, “What’s it like over there? You know, now…”

The best answer I can give is it’s surreal. I feel a bit like I’ve run into a burning building. It’s like going over to your friend’s house and arriving right when they’re in the middle of a heated argument with their spouse. It’s awkward as hell, my timing couldn’t have been worse (seriously – I got here one day before the election), and you’re not really sure if you’re welcome anymore or if you should just leave and go home.

California is predominantly a Democrat state, so I can honestly say I am yet to meet a Trump supporter. At best, they’re cautiously neutral on the topic, but not one person I’ve encountered has been like, “YAYYYYY! TRUMP! He’s that guy who’s making America great again!”

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Also, I can practically wave at the Mexican border from my apartment, so there’s that…

Most people are angry, disbelieving, frustrated and scared. The vibe is a bit like a death. Probably the slow, painful death of a nation…

As you may have noticed, this is not my first time at the rodeo. I’ve been to America many, many times before. Now, I understand visiting a country is completely different to actually living in it, but one of the things I loved most about the US – aside from the diversity of its people – was its energy. It was always vibrant, colourful and fun! Then again though, I’d usually just go to Sephora, stock up on makeup, visit Disneyland and then piss off back home to Australia.

Since the election – but more so since the inauguration – the vibe has completely changed. People walk around shell-shocked now. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Trump has brought about so much contention and so many changes in such a short amount of time, most people are so overwhelmed by the situation, they don’t even know where to start. (Hence the many protests, which some people are starting to call disorganised.)

The other night I met a young Iranian man who has been living here for eight months on a green card. He’s studying at university, but he told me he was worried he was going to be deported back to Iran.

“I just have to wait and see what happens now,” he told me, visibly stressed and saddened by the whole situation.

What Mr Trump needs to remember is that we are all more alike than we are different. Most people – no matter what their nationality, race or religion – are good. And they just want to create a better life for themselves and their families. I know that’s what my grandparents were doing when they migrated to Australia in the 1950’s.

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I took a DNA test last year and was surprised to discover I was nine percent Middle Eastern. (I’d be interested in seeing Trump’s DNA results… He might even discover there’s some Mexican and Middle Eastern mixed in there.) If my family had never migrated from the Middle East into Greece and then eventually into Australia, would I be banned too?

I obviously have some strong opinions on the whole situation, but I am going to put my journalist hat on and try to remain as objective as possible, mainly because my family is genuinely worried I’ll get deported. Even though last time I checked, freedom of speech was still a thing in America – or has he abolished that, too? I can’t keep up. He’s been moving so ferociously…

I’m not saying America was perfect before Trump came along. Obviously there were and still are many problems. The cracks were already there. But what he’s done is rip them wide open. And instead of working to mend the problems and rebuild the bridges, he’s building walls.

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Fight Like a Girl!

I don’t want to say it’s been raining ever since Inauguration Day, except it’s been raining ever since Inauguration Day… There were actual storm warnings on Inauguration Day, and heaven knows it hasn’t stopped raining today. Not once. In fact, the only day the sun came out was yesterday – for the Women’s March. It’s like even God thinks this whole Trump as President thing is a bad idea.

But it did stop raining yesterday – thank God – because it made it a whole lot more pleasant to be charging the streets of Downtown LA.

When I first found out about the Women’s March, I really wanted to go. Obviously. I think anyone with any integrity and decency would want to go. But I was so tired from my first week at work, especially after almost a solid week of waking up at 5.30am everyday to get there. (Anyone who knows me knows I am legitimately allergic to mornings.) Would I have rather spent my Saturday morning sleeping in? Yes. But I felt like this was important.

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You can’t talk politics with Uber and Lyft drivers as much as I do and then refuse to put your money where your mouth is when you are given an opportunity. It’s time to DO SOMETHING! We can’t afford to be complacent anymore. Not now. Not when there’s so much at stake. Complaining just won’t cut it.

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So I showered, dressed and made my way over to the train station in Universal City, bound for Downtown LA. The train was packed, and I spent the commute talking to the African-American gentleman beside me.

“This is what it’s all about,” he told me. “We come from different countries, our skin is a different colour, but we’re finding common ground…”

“In a weird way, I’m kind of glad Trump won the election,” I replied. “Because he’s been so divisive with everything he’s said and done, but in trying to tear people apart, he’s actually pulled them closer together and blown open the lid on a lot of issues that were simmering under the surface, things that probably would never have been addressed otherwise.”

As usual, I was right. Marching yesterday was so many things – powerful, moving, inspiring, beautiful. There was nothing but actual love in the air. You could literally feel the energy! A complete stranger wished me “nothing but luck in life”, and her kind words, along with the complete sincerity with which she said them, left a huge smile on my face for the rest of the day.

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It was such a surreal experience. I had several moments throughout the day where I thought, “Holy shit! We’re making history right now! This is HUGE.” I wasn’t around in the ’60s (not in this life, anyway), but it reminded me of the movements happening back then. It was such an incredible day – one that I’ll never forget.

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A part of what made it so special was not only seeing just how many people turned out for it (approximately 750,000 in LA alone), but also how diverse the crowd was… There were women, of course, but almost as many men turned out. I cannot even begin to describe how it felt to see so many men – young, old and everything in between – down there. Not only do gentlemen still exist, but they’re willing to stand with us AND fight for us! It was incredible to witness.

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There were people of all different races, all different religions and all different sexual orientations peacefully coming together. It was beautiful! I saw humankind at its very best yesterday. Is this what John Lennon was talking about when he wrote, “Imagine”? Probably.

The reality is, we’re stronger when we come together. It may seem idealistic, but I witnessed it up close yesterday. We’re currently living in a world where fear is at an all-time high. Fear of terrorism, of globalisation… Fear of “the other”. And then you’ve got a select few, like Donald Trump and Lord Farquaad, the guy behind Brexit (I can never be bothered remembering his actual name), who have used this fear as an opportunity to advance themselves and their agendas. Our responsibility – as citizens of this world – is to not cave into the fear. Don’t believe the hype! For the most part, people are still really good. No matter who we are and where we’ve come from, we’re all just doing our best to get by in life. Live with kindness and compassion.

So, this is why I marched…

1. There’s that whole feminist thing…

I’ve been a staunch feminist for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I used to have a lot of discussions/arguments with my dad about gender equality. (Yes, these are the things we argue about in my family.) Frustrated, my dad would usually say to me, “Geez, you’re such a feminist, Demeter!” Like it was a dirty word. “YEP,” would be my proud response.

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2. As women, we can’t expect others to stand up for us until we learn to stand up for ourselves…

This is a conversation I’ve had a lot with my friend, Sylvia in recent months. While it was amazing to see so many men out there yesterday, it was just as good to see so many women standing together and supporting each other. As women, we can often be our own worst enemies. We often tear each other down unnecessarily, instead of lifting each other up. If we banded together, we’d be unstoppable. How can we expect anyone else to stand up for us when we won’t even stand up for ourselves and each other?!

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3. Because women are pretty amazing…

We’re kind, powerful, beautiful, strong, gentle, complex, intuitive, opinionated, smart, brave, valuable, and it’s about time we all started realising it! I was reading a book the other day, and there was a line that really resonated with me: “The closest thing to God on this earth is a woman’s body – it’s where life comes from.” Powerful stuff.

4. Because women are still treated like second class citizens…

We’ve come a long way, sure, but we still have such a long way to go! I want to feel safe when I walk down the street by myself. I want to earn the same amount a man earns for doing the same job. I want to be able to go out without feeling hungry eyes on me. I want to have ownership over my body. I don’t want to have to grit my teeth whenever someone makes a sexist or suggestive comment… And don’t even get me started on our sisters around the world, who are often still systemically abused and discriminated against solely because they happen to have been born female.

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5. Because if we’re having to deal with periods and having babies, we shouldn’t have to deal with misogyny, too. That’s just the cherry on a shit pie.

6. Because we’ve gone from having a kind, self-confessed feminist as President of the United States to a racist man who boasts about sexually assaulting women…

This is NOT okay, and ALL women should be shocked, outraged and offended by the fact he was elected to office. It shows how little America – and the world – values its women and minorities.

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7. Because I believe ALL people are equal…

I don’t care if you’re black, white, male, female, gay, straight, disabled and everything in between. We are all the same, and we should all have the same rights and opportunities. We all belong to one race – the human race. In fact, why are we still even having to discuss this?!

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8. Because we’d be letting down the feisty, determined women who came before us if we DIDN’T do something! We have a responsibility to the sisterhood and to humankind to not just sit idly by.

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Dear, well, everyone…

I’m sorry I haven’t been in contact much… I promise I haven’t gone “all LA” on you. I’m still the same person I was when I left Australia in November, except now I’m a little bit poorer.

I think about you all often, and I mean to message and call, but I usually think of it while I’m in the shower, and then by the time I’m out, I’ve forgotten.

Bottom line is, I really, really miss you all. Today, as I stood in the queue for the checkout at Marshalls, I found myself thinking, “I could have a good life here in LA… If my family and friends were here, too.”

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Don’t get me wrong – I’ve met some really great people over here (shout out to American Steve, mainly just because I like saying “American Steve”), but they’re no substitute for the people I left behind at home.

Also, it’s been really hard keeping myself alive! I don’t mean for that to sound melodramatic, but when you move overseas, the safety net is pulled right out from under you. If you can’t pay your rent, that’s on you – there’s no one to bail you out. Speaking of bailing me out, who would I even call if I got arrested over here…?

It’s been terrifying and exhausting, and I’ve challenged myself in ways I couldn’t have even imagined…

For one, I’ve recently realised that I’m going to have to drive in LA. Despite trying to avoid it for the last two-and-a-half months, there’s really no way around it. If you don’t drive in LA, you’re basically screwed. I was really nervous about driving over here for a few reasons…

1. Everything is opposite – opposite side of the road, opposite side of the car…

2. Traffic is a nightmare in LA, and if I’m being honest, so are the drivers.

3. Have you seen those freeways?! They’re like the Costco of freeways! Six lanes on either side, and cars and trucks flying past you!

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Feeling stressed about the whole situation, I decided to book myself in for a two-hour driving lesson, just to familiarise myself with the roads and rules over here. I even drove on the freeway! I swear to God, when I entered the freeway for the first time, the car suddenly smelt like a church. It was probably just the instructor’s aftershave sweating off him, but I think something holy was happening in that car. I must’ve done okay though, because the instructor felt comfortable enough to take personal phone calls while I was switching up lanes on the freeway.

And in other news, I’ve finally found a steady paying job over here! I’m going to be freelancing at the Daily Mail down in Venice Beach. That means I don’t have to prostitute myself out just yet… I can (hopefully) pay my rent for another month!

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If you’ve been wondering what the hell I’ve been doing over here, I assure you, it has not been all crazy days out at Disneyland. (I’ve only been once, FYI. And it was a crazy day!) In between going on supermarket runs to Trader Joe’s, I’ve spent the majority of my time looking for and applying for jobs. It’s been a hard slog, and can be demoralising at times – especially when some of the only people contacting you for work are people who want you to sell retirement insurance or replacement windows. How did these people even get my number, and did they even bother to look at my resume?! It’s made me question my career path, if I want to be a journalist anymore, and if I even should keep writing!

It really hasn’t been easy over here. A lot of people have told me that LA is a city that will “make or break you”, and from what I’ve experienced so far, I wholeheartedly agree. Most times I feel like I’m just barely treading water, but I haven’t drowned yet. I won’t let LA break me!

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So I just want to apologise if you haven’t heard from me in a while… I promise I haven’t forgotten about you. I’ve just been busy with, well, life.

Love you and miss you,

Demeter xx

It’s a New Year…

Yes, I know we’re already almost a week into 2017, and this blog post might have been better if it was posted, say, last week. But I’ve been really busy, and now I need closure on the year that was 2016, so screw you and your judgemental opinions! Here’s a rundown of my last year. Month. By. Month…

January

In true Demeter style (I’ll try to refer to myself less in the third person this year, promise), I started the year off in a sling. Typical. I also went to Hawaii in January, so it wasn’t all bad…

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February

This month is really just a big blur… I probably just slept through it, to be honest.

March

I had shoulder surgery (again) to hopefully fix my dodgy shoulder for good this time!

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April

I was made redundant (well, look at that – there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…) and I celebrated my birthday – in a sling. For the second consecutive year.

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May

Still slingin’ it…

June

I started working as a freelance journalist, which has been interesting… Not having a steady income has been bad. But finally getting that whole work/life balance thing down has been good.

July

Lots of physiotherapy on my shoulder. And sleep.

August

See July.

September

I announce I’m moving to the USA after qualifying for a Green Card… Shit just got real.

October

This month was really just one big farewell party. Oh, and my sister turned 30, so more parties…

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November

I flew to America with my mum in tow and proceeded to set myself up for a life in sunny California.

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December

Turns out California isn’t so sunny after all… Also, it’s cold! Why is it so cold here?! My friend, Cathie flies into LA and spends Christmas and New Years with me. In return, I show her the sights and let her use up all my toilet paper.

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I have no idea what 2017 will bring, but so far it’s been interesting… Here’s hoping for a happy new year! xx

There’s No Place Like Home…

Moving to LA has given me a new appreciation for Sydney and Australia – one I almost certainly wouldn’t have developed if I’d never left.

Having been born and raised in Sydney, I spent my first 33 years there, and – especially recently – certain things were starting to grate on me. The increase in crowds seemingly EVERYWHERE (Seriously, do people have nothing better to do than drive around for 45 minutes looking for a parking spot, only to then line up for an hour to order an overpriced and overhyped gelato?!), the endless traffic (It’s Sunday, people! Get off the roads!), unaffordable housing (So, I guess I’ll just live at home forever…), the high cost of living (“$16 for a toasted cheese sandwich?! Is it cheaper if you don’t toast it?!”), the high rise apartments popping up everywhere (Oh, look – another crane…), expensive and unreliable public transport (Signal failure? Again? Really?), the pretentious douchebags mixed in with our heavy drinking culture (“I’m gonna get really pissed tonight!” said no American ever), and an out of touch government (If we all ate less avocado smash, we’d be able to afford houses apparently. Problem solved. You’re welcome, Australia!)

You get the idea… Sydney was beginning to feel incredibly hostile. I was drained, exhausted, and tired of fighting a battle I felt destined to lose. It was time for a change. Time to step out of the bubble, get off the treadmill and set off on a new adventure…

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What I didn’t expect though was just how much I would actually miss Sydney. It turns out my old foe was actually also my friend. Let’s just call us frienemies… And while I’m sure all the things that aggravated me about Sydney haven’t changed, putting some distance between us has made me able to appreciate the good things!

For one, it really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, something which is easy to take for granted when you’re constantly surrounded by it. It’s also clean! That was one of the things I found most shocking when I first arrived in LA – there’s so much rubbish littering the streets here.

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Collectively, we’re also incredibly laidback and friendly. No problem is ever too big for Australians (except for legalising gay marriage and accepting refugees, but that’s another blog post…). I noticed this while attending a movie screening in Hollywood with my Aussie friend, Tade recently. The lady on the door was being especially snappy with all of the guests. Her rudeness was actually shocking to me.

“Well, she seems delightful,” I murmured to Tade.

“Are people still nice in Australia?” Tade replied excitedly. “Oh my God! They are, aren’t they?!”

Tade has been living in LA for two-and-a-half years, and in that time, she hasn’t gone home once. She said even just listening to my accent was making her homesick.

“I’m going home in January, and I can’t wait!” she told me. “The first thing I’m going to do is stick my head under the tap and drink the water!”

“What’s wrong with the water here?!” I asked her, a rising level of panic in my voice.

“You haven’t been drinking the water, have you?!” she shot back.

“Yes!” I practically shouted at her.

No one drinks the water in LA! Everyone drinks bottled water!”

More than an hour later, I was still obsessing about the water situation… No wonder I’d had a funny stomach for the last four weeks. What the f***, America?! This is a first world country!

“I just ran into Nicole Kidman in the toilet!” Tade told me after returning from the bathroom.

“That’s great… Seriously, what’s wrong with the water?!” I asked her again.

The film just so happened to be an Aussie movie called Lion. There was a scene where one of the characters says, “Australia is a great place!” That was it – I was gone. Tears started streaming down my face, as I silently told myself, “It really is.” I cried even more when the camera panned across the iconic Australian landscape.

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A few days ago, I went into Bath & Body Works – a shop in the US.

“Are you Australian?” the shop assistant asked me.

“What gives me away? Is it my accent or my Akubra hat?” I replied.

Despite the fact I was being a smart ass, we spoke for a bit, and she told me how she’d lived in Sydney for seven years. I asked her if she’d ever move back there.

“No, because my family and friends are here – this is my home,” she explained. “This is where I belong.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I told her.

I’ve met some amazing people in my short time here, and I know I’ll meet some more along the way, but they don’t erase the family and friends I have waiting for me back home. As cheesy as it sounds, home is where the heart is, and – much to my surprise – my heart is still very much in Australia.

So while I’m determined to make the most of my adventure in the US, I know that one day I will return home, and Sydney and I will just have to find a way to get along. Because even though you’re beautiful, you don’t have to be a bitch about it, Sydney…

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My So-Called Glamorous Life

An update of what I’ve been up to in LA over the last week…

1. I’ve been watching a lot of Friends. You know, because no one told me life was gonna be this way…

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2. I’ve also been watching the new Gilmore Girls series, and it’s freaking me out how relatable Rory’s life is to me right now. (Especially because everyone is like, “Get your shit together, Rory.”)

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3. I’ve spent a lot of time applying for jobs in the hope that I will land one soon. Mainly because I really like money, and it makes me cry when I don’t have any.

4. I’m also starting to wonder if maybe I should have ticked “yes” instead of “no” on the visa application form where it asked, “Would you ever engage in prostitution?” Looking back, it seems like it could have been a job opportunity. Plus, things worked out okay for Julia Roberts – she met Richard Gere and eventually won an Oscar.

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5. I did some washing, but I didn’t have enough money left on my laundry card to dry it, so I had to lay my clothes and towels out all over my apartment, open the windows and let the sun and air dry it. I think the neighbours think I’m running a laundromat out of my apartment, which is probably one of the best business ideas I’ve had in a really long time.

6. A guy pushed in front of me at Starbucks, and my instinct was to cry. In hindsight, this was probably a gross overreaction. I should have just kicked him in the groin and run away. But I was feeling lonely and I’d just received a bill addressed to “Gemeter Stamell”, so I was extremely vulnerable. Also, I really hope Starbucks screwed up his order. Karma, bitch!

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7. Immediately after this, I went to the supermarket to pick up some milk, bread and bagels. I handed the lady at the cash register a $20 bill, and she snapped at me and told me I needed to unfold it for her. I told her that I’d be able to unfold it for her if my arms weren’t full of milk, bread and bagels, but since she wanted to charge me for a plastic bag, she’d have to unfold it herself. Then I lugged my groceries home. Without a bag.

8. I went to my friend, Rachel’s 30th birthday, where I got to talk to some of her lovely friends. I told them it was the most face-to-face interaction I’d had with anyone since talking to the cashier at Best Buy on Wednesday. Rachel’s party was on Friday night.

9. I had the following conversation with Rachel’s friend, Eliza…

Me: “What am I doing with my life?!”

Eliza: “What do you mean?! You’re taking a chance! Do you know how brave you are?! So many people don’t have the guts to do this! When I was 18, I decided I wanted to move to Israel, so I did.”

Me: “How did that work out for you?”

Eliza: “Hated it. I moved back after a month. But at least I tried! Just give it a go!”

Me: “Well, I didn’t buy four plates and four glasses for nothing.”

10. I realised just how Australian I really am (I’d seriously never noticed before), when I dropped the terms “budgie smuggler” and “goon bag” within minutes of each other while having lunch with my new American friend, Amanda. (And I’ve never been prouder.)

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11. I broke down in hysterical tears again while FaceTiming with my friend, Sarah in Australia. I seem to be crying a lot these days. It’s like whoever is in charge of my emotions is punishing me for hardly ever crying over the last 33 years. I’ve seen Inside Out. I know how this works.

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Making a Move

You may have noticed I’ve been MIA for a while. It’s been more than two months since I last posted. So, what happened? Life. Life happened.

In my last blog post, I announced that I was moving overseas to America. Well, that day has come and I am now settled in LA. (Disneyland won out. Not that I’ve even had time to go to Disneyland…)

To say I was naïve about just how hard moving overseas would be is an understatement. I feel like I’ve aged about 20 years in the three weeks I’ve been here! I’m not even kidding. I went down to San Diego last week for Thanksgiving with my family, and in one of the photos my aunt, Penny took of me, I noticed my right eye was drooping. “Oh my God!” I yelled. “Did I have a stroke and not even realise it?!”

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Said droopy eye photo…

See, the thing is, in the weeks before I left Sydney, my life was one big farewell party. Literally. I’d never been more popular. I was out almost every day and night, catching up with friends, laughing, having fun, and generally trying not to think too much about the enormity of what I was about to do. Nobody does avoidance like me! Nobody! I knew that if I stopped and actually considered things, there was a very real possibility I wouldn’t get on the plane.

The only time I cried before leaving Sydney was when my 17-year-old cousin, Sini broke down in tears while saying goodbye to me. And this was probably only because she’s some sort of teen witch who has cast a spell on me, causing me to cry whenever she does.

I flew into LA with my mum in tow, and we hit the ground running. Our to-do list was long, and it kept getting longer as I encountered good ol’ American bureaucracy. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was a long, hard slog, and I may have thrown a tantrum or six along the way.

In just three weeks – with the help of my oh-so-patient mum – I’d opened a US bank account, set myself up with a US phone number, found an apartment, signed a lease, fully furnished an apartment, opened electricity and gas accounts, set my apartment up with internet and moved in. Am I missing anything? Probably. So when my dad asked me over the phone if I’d found a job yet, I wanted to punch him in the mouth. He was back in Sydney though, so, you know, geography prevented it.

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Mood.

“People have no idea!” I seethed to Mum. Despite what you’ve seen on Instagram, let me assure you all – this has not been a holiday. I would have uploaded photos of my bank manager or the girl at AT&T, but I didn’t think it was appropriate.

Still, it hadn’t fully hit me. I was still so busy running around, doing stuff, preparing to move, that I hadn’t even had time to think about moving – until yesterday. Last night, my mum flew back to Sydney, and I finally had my “Oh, shit,” moment. (It took a while, but I got there.)

At the last minute, I decided to go out to LAX with Mum to say goodbye. I sat silently in the backseat, staring out the window and crying, all the way from Burbank to LAX (which is a really long drive, by the way, especially in peak hour/post Thanksgiving traffic). After sobbing through one last hug at the airport, I climbed back into the backseat of the black SUV (yes, I’ve gone full Hollywood), and continued to cry all the way back to Burbank. My poor driver (Hector Elizondo in every role he’s ever played) didn’t know what to say or do to make me feel better, so he kindly offered me a bottle of water, allowed me to choose the radio station, and then told me about how much he missed his homeland, Armenia.

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Literally my driver. (Just kidding – this actually is Hector Elizondo.)

After letting myself back into my apartment, the quietness startled me, and that unleashed the big, heaving sobs. I suddenly realised I was all by myself in a big city, and almost everyone I loved was on the other side of the world. What the hell am I doing here?! I even miss my cat, and she’s a bitch.

I’m trying to stay positive, and I know it will get easier, but I’ll be honest – right now, it’s tough. Really tough. The other week, I was at Nordstrom at The Grove. I was at the checkout, making a purchase, and the sales assistant kept telling me how “adorable” my accent is. “I love the Aussie accent!” she said. “You could be swearing and telling me off right now, and I would just think it’s the cutest thing in the world.” We spoke for a while, I told her I was moving here, and she told me to come back and see her if I ever needed a friend. At the time, I thought I’d never see that girl ever again, and now I’m actually considering it.

This morning I woke up and cleaned my already clean apartment, just to keep myself busy, then I checked my long overdue emails and started looking for work. It’s all about keeping myself distracted at this point, so I don’t just curl up in bed with the jar of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter I bought and continue to cry.

But, I know that sunny days are coming… Aside from the fact I’m in California (which has been having an unusual amount of rain lately), I’m yet to meet anyone who has regretted doing a stint overseas. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to has found their lives enriched by the experience, and say it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done. I’m not there yet, but it’s still early days.

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Here comes the sun…