So, we bought a house. There’s no way of tip-toeing around that one, so there it is. We bought a house.
As a new migrant, this is no small undertaking. There are the exchange rates to consider… are you cashing in your foreign currency at a rate that won’t make you fume in a few years time? There’s the fact that you have little credit history with which to support any mortgage application. You also have to familiarise yourself with a buying process that is rather alien, particularly if you buy in an auction. And then there’s the psychological question of: what does this really mean?
I like the house we bought. It seems homely, it looks like it has been well looked after and it’s in a nice neighbourhood with lovely views over a golf course. On the other hand, it’s not one of those properties that we looked at from Europe and which caused us to salivate over how much more our money could buy in Australia – you know, one of those swish designer homes, with a large garden, a pool, maybe even a paddock and clear views to spectacular scenery.
In truth, as at least two of our friends have observed, the house we’ve bought is pretty similar to the one we sold in Europe – but perhaps that’s why we liked it so much. But more than that, it gives us the reassurance of knowing that we have secured a home that we like, within cycling distance of our kids’ schools, and which can now become our new project – the project of making it feel like ours.
There’s a psychological impact on our loved ones too. At least three have made a comment akin to “I guess that means you’re staying in Australia then?” And I suppose it does imply a little more permanence than our rental home did. For my part, putting down these roots, however shallow, has helped me to make sense of a couple of things.
First, the immigration programme that sees Australian states sponsor the visas of new migrants in return for them agreeing to live in that state for the first two years.
When we first signed up to our ACT-sponsored visa, we wanted to like Canberra, we felt it was the right choice, but of course, you can never know. More than a year later, the sense that Canberra was the right choice has converged with another realisation – that having started our lives anew once, we don’t want to do it again straight away. The kids are settled in schools, we’ve made friends that we like hanging out with, we’ve got to know the neighbourhood… our neighbourhood, and, as much as anything else, that creates a kind of inertia which probably explains why we’ve bought a house in the same neighbourhood we landed in. It has become home.
Second, I’ve had a realisation that, whatever my own feelings about being here (and I still have my moments when I miss Denmark more than I thought would be possible), there are three other family members who have quietly gone about making Canberra their home, without any of the prevarications that have dogged me.
There may be a reason for this. Some new expat friends we recently made were of the strong opinion that new migrants who avoid visits back home for the first five years tend to be the ones who stay permanently, while those who make return visits too soon are more likely to become ‘ping pong Poms’ – the term for Brits who never quite settle and end up going back to the UK.
My current work commitments see me returning to Europe at least three times a year. By the time you read this, I’ll be on my fourth trip back to Europe since moving down under, whereas Mrs CBRbound has only been back twice, and the kids just once. And guess who is the most settled into life down under? Yep, the kids, followed by Mrs CBRbound and then me.
Coincidence? Possibly, but buying a house means we are leaning more towards the kids’ sense of belonging and less towards my sense of wanting to belong but not quite feeling it yet. Whether wholeheartedly or part-tinged with doubt, we’ve taken another step towards staying, and there’s a sense of relief about the decision being made and the security it brings – particularly for the boys, who increasingly see themselves as Aussies above anything else.