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30/09/2011 / melgardener

Personal Story – I am an Aussie who lives and works overseas

Stuart and friends in China

Stuart’s first trip to China came about as the result of his involvement in the MS Society’s Charity Cycle Challenge. His experience in the country, coupled with a passion for Asia that was already well developed, led to him making the tough decision to leave his family and friends to live and work in another country.

Stuart explains: “The cycle trip was an amazing experience and I met some truly inspirational people. I had travelled to Yunnan province in China with a group of 40 people who had all been a part of the fundraising for the Charity Cycle Challenge. I added on an extra month of travelling around the country and fell in love”.

After making his way back to Sydney and his job in Audio with Channel 7 (working on TV show Home & Away) he realised how unsettled he was and began to question not only his career path but whether he wanted to continue to live and work in Australia.

“I finally came to the decision that I wanted to travel more and try living overseas for a while. Within quite a short period of time I had applied to be a tour leader for Intrepid Travel. Days later I flew to Melbourne for an interview, then I was offered a position in China,” he remembers. “I pretty much packed up my life and left with my backpack!”

Living and working overseas brings its fair share of challenges as well as plenty of learning opportunities. “Once I started travelling in Asia I began to realise the quality of life we have in Australia is amazing but not many people appreciate it. Living and travelling overseas gave me some perspective about the luxuries we take for granted back home – not everyone has the same chance for a good education, upbringing, environment etc…,” Stuart explains. “I love living and working overseas because it challenges me and I am always out of my comfort zone. I also love it because I feel I am more free to just be me”.

But trying to get ahead in a foreign country does pose its difficulties. As Stuart discovered, “living in China can be especially difficult because I am always a foreigner. No matter how well I speak the language, no matter how much history I know or knowledge I have, I am and will always be
a foreigner. Everything happens and runs in such a different way to Australia. It is too hard to explain – even Chinese people can’t explain how everything works”.

Stuart feels very lucky to have had the full support of his mother in his decision and he remembers her fondly: “My Mum was an amazing person and all she ever wanted was to know I was happy. I’ve had a few career changes, even since moving to China, and Mum always gave me the best advice. She asked me ‘what was the worst that could happen?’ I replied that I could have no money, no job and would have to come back home and live in her house. She then asked me if that would be so bad? I realised I wasn’t going to end up dead or on the streets so she gave me the courage to go for it”.

Ex-pats often report that one of the hardest elements of living overseas is the disconnection from family and friends at home. In September 2010 it became clear to Stuart that his mother was very unwell. She had not told Stuart the full extent of her condition, partially because the doctors she had seen were unable to provide a diagnosis, and she attributed many of her symptoms to stress.

“Initially she developed a cough that wouldn’t go away and she lost her voice a lot,” says Stuart. “I think she also kept quiet about the worst of it but when she came to visit me in China it was obvious that something was terribly wrong. By that stage the muscles in one side of her face had started drooping, she could hardly talk and would get very tired and emotional, very quickly”.

Seeing how ill his mother was, Stuart made the decision to leave China in October 2010 and come back to Australia. His mother was eventually diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease and passed away in July 2011.

Stuart found that one of the benefits of his lifestyle in China was that he was able to quickly pack up and move back home – something he does not feel would have been so easy to do in Australia. “I had the freedom to move back with my mum and we spent the last year of her life together,” Stuart recalls. “I will always be happy that I did”.

Stuart is now back in China with plans to stay for a while yet. He has just started a new job with Bike Asia which has an emphasis on cycling tours that Stuart loves. He finishes by saying: “I am happy. I miss my family and I email them often. Mum passing away brought me closer to my brother and his family, plus my Aunty and Uncle. At the moment, I still feel my home is here in China…but I doubt it will be forever”.

Personal thanks to Stuart Beard for allowing me to use him as my first test subject.

Do you live and work overseas? Would you like to? What is your dream country in which to work?

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