The Expat Chronicles – Julie

This month we chatted to Julie, a criminologist from Johannesburg whose career saw her moving from South Africa to Quantico, Virginia.

Where did you move from?

I moved from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Where did you move to and when?

Quantico, Virginia, USA – May, 2009.

How did your move come about?

My company gave me the choice to stay in Johannesburg and take a promotion, or stay in my current position but move to the States, where the opportunities were much better in the long run. I had just gone through a divorce (at the age of 31) and could think of no better way to “get away from it all”.

Why did you choose the country you chose?

The company I worked for in JHB was an American company, so I did suspect I might end up there some time. If were up to me I would probably have chosen New York or California though!

What is the best thing about your new country?

That my ex husband doesn’t live in it.  Honestly, the best thing is probably the freedom I feel to go wherever I want, the level of safety I feel, and also it’s like a whole world in one country. I have travelled extensively throughout the States in my three years here and I love how different every place is. I love getting in my car with a friend and doing a road trip. I have even flow to a different state, rented a car, done a road trip and then flown back home.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Obviously I miss my family terribly. I do get two tickets home a year, and one of my benefits since being promoted recently is that I also get to fly two people to the states once a year – the first people I’m bringing are my mom and dad! I also miss SA guys, to be honest. And I miss the laid back SA vibes. I miss holidays in Cape Town and boerewors rolls! I miss rugby and cricket and the South African sense of humour.

Anything you struggled to get used to in your new country?

I struggled to get to grips with the fast pace of my industry (criminology/legal) and the long working hours expected. Driving on the right hand side of the road is still weird, as is the set up of US cars. Oh – and the cars here are HUGE!! Also it’s taken me a while to get into sport here, but now I’m enjoying baseball!

Will you ever go back?

If you had asked me a year ago I would have said “hell yeah!”, and I probably still will one day, but even though the first two years were really hard, in the last few months I have really come to love this place. I have been on camping adventures and gone horseback riding on a real ranch. I’ve been to Las Vegas and proper rodeos and baseball games and spent the day on set at a big movie studio. There is so much potential for “living” here and I would like to be here long enough to become a bone fide citizen. I also think this might be the best option for raising kids. I get to go home twice a year and each visit I feel more and more like just that – a visitor. So what can I say? I love it here!

Which country do you identify with most strongly now?

I thought it would always be South Africa, but I really identify strongly with the US now.

Which country’s sports teams do you support?

SA and USA don’t really compete in many sports, so it’s hard to say, but I think I would always support the Bokke, Proteas and Bafana Bafana no.matter.what.

How does the food compare?

The portions here are humungous! BBQ is not quite the same as a braai and I find the meat in SA better all-round. Otherwise I can pretty much always find what I’m looking for and in recent years there has been a move to a healthier way of life, but in general, it’s very unhealthy and loads of fast food everywhere!

Was it what you expected?

It is so much better than I thought it would be. As I said, I hated it initially, but something changed and I really love it. I have made a stack of really close friends and in general it’s been easier for me to make friends here than it ever was in South Africa.

How has your life changed?

My career is soaring and this was no doubt the best move I could ever have made. I have more friends and a better social life than ever before and I have become a travelbug.

What advice would you give to others wanting to do the same?

Living in another country is a real eye opener which enriches your life. If the opportunity to do so comes up, I would say grab it!!!

If you’d like to give life in a foreign country a try, visit or call 0808 141 5508 (UK free phone), 0800 003 163 (SA free phone), 1800 039 300 (free phone within Aus), 0800 224 322 (free phone within NZ).