Expat in San Francisco- Bright Lights of America

GoodMigrations Whale


Katherine Fenech, of Bright Lights of America, is an Australian living the expat life in San Francisco. Her new life in San Francisco is a far cry from the life she had in Sydney. However, two cities could not have more similarities. Both are cities surrounded by water, both have an incredibly high cost of living where rent is a huge expense and both offer great food options. San Francisco gets a bad weather rap but let’s hear more from Katherine.

What initiated your move abroad?
I’ve always been a traveler – whether it be visiting my family in Malta, spending a sneaky weekend in Melbourne, or traipsing around Europe. My first expat experience was in London, which I adored, so when a job came up in San Francisco I knew that the idea of moving across the world shouldn’t hold me back. I jumped at the chance because I hadn’t had the chance to properly explore the US yet and I knew this was the perfect opportunity to get started!
expat in San Francisco-Bright Lights of America

What do you enjoy most about being an expat?

Being a little bit different. It sounds a little self-centered and maybe a bit arrogant, but I love noticing the big and sometimes tiny differences between myself and the people around me. It’s fascinating for me to realize that some people grew up in completely different circumstances, and with a totally new way of seeing the world. Plus, I think that when you’re an Aussie expat you get away with a little bit more. People think we’re all lovable larrikins, and I’m totally fine with that.

What’s the best part about living where you live?
California is so laid back and reminds me of Sydney in a lot of ways. Sure, it’s hipster central, but I get to go hiking and camping all the time, there are a million things to see and do, and great bands come through here all the time. What’s not to love?

What’s the hardest part about living where you live?
The bureaucracy can be a pain in the posterior sometimes. Getting my driver’s license was a nightmare, not to mention the social security and banking hoops you must jump through. There are extra fees to be paid with mobile phone carriers and utility providers because I didn’t have a credit history to begin with. It can all be a bit confusing.

What was the biggest culture shock of your new location?
There are two, which are nowhere near being on par in importance, but they are both disturbing to me. There are lots of homeless people in San Francisco, many more than I was used to seeing in Europe or Australia and many of them are dealing with mental health issues. It’s pretty sad.
All of the food is very sweet. You’d imagine that there can’t be that many variations on sliced bread in the world, but in the US, even that is sickly sweet. I remember the first time that I stepped into a grocery store and just being completely lost. No real butchers to speak of, no bakeries, just massive supermarkets with weird things that you’ve never heard of sitting on the shelves.

Would you live abroad again? If so, where?
Most definitely. It’s such a hard decision though. I’ve stuck to English-speaking countries so far but I might need to switch that up and give a Nordic country a go next time. I hear they have an excellent quality of life over there, even if it does get a bit dark.

If you could go back to the time before you moved, what would you do differently?
I’d bring more chocolate over from home. And do a little bit more research on the boring nitty gritty stuff like finances and social security numbers and credit histories. Because there are easy ways around some of that stuff, but I just didn’t know about them. I’d get myself an Amex a few months before I left Australia and use it to build up my credit history. That way I’d have the beginnings of a credit history in the US.

What’s one thing you miss most from your home country?
I’m supposed to say family and friends, but I’m going to say real chocolate. Are you seeing a theme here? Food is important to me. People at work make fun of me because I won’t touch Hershey’s or the Cadbury’s that they share around. They have a strange taste – I think they use corn syrup as a sweetener? After that, I miss smashed avocado on toast. I haven’t found a suitable alternative here.Expat in San Francisco- Bright Lights of America

If you were to move back to your home country, what is something you would miss most from your new country?
I’d definitely miss the great service at restaurants and cafes. Service in Australia is completely abysmal in comparison. I’d also miss the great hiking trails!

Pepsi or Coke?
Coke hands down.

Dogs or Cats?
Dogs and cats? That’s a valid answer, right? I do want an Irish wolfhound one day.

Sun or Snow?
Always the sun, I freeze in the office air conditioning in summer, I’d probably get frostbite otherwise.

What’s something you wish you knew before arriving in America?
I wish that I’d known how different Australian and American workplaces are. The Aussie sense of humor does NOT go down well in a US office. Don’t be sarcastic, make slightly off-kilter jokes and do not be a smart alec to the higher ups.

What’s your favorite neighborhood in San Francisco?
Marin County, The Castro and Russian Hill. My own neighborhood is pretty good as well, just a bit on the boring side.

What’s your favorite food in San Francisco?
Burritos, cinnamon rolls, Five Guys burgers.

What one thing could have made your transition easier?
Having my friends with me to start off with, but it’s easy to make friends here you’ve just got to get out there a bit!

Love Katharine’s story of being an expat in San Francisco? Check out more on her blog.

Interested in moving to San Francisco? Check out our San Francisco City Guide and find your perfect neighborhood.


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