Thursday, 23 August 2012

Expat Interview #2: My Aussie Pal Rossco!

Lovely Readers! In this, the second edition of Expat Interviews, I'm chatting with Andrew Ross - one of my dear friends who I met while living in Australia, and who PIC and I have both visited in Japan and hosted in Korea. This guy's a Legend: he's a fully certified teacher, now headed towards his PhD, and not only is he one of the smartest kids I know, but he's also a mighty fun buddy to have around on the weekend.
This Aussie fellow started off his expat experience in London back in 2001, then tallied up just about four years in Bangkok, and recently completed a year of teaching university in Osaka. Between each of these trips, Rossco has opted to take a year or two and head back down under (probably because Australia = Tim Tams, and thus I don't blame him), so we're sure to get a good, balanced point of view out of him.

Let the barrage begin!

What did I tell you? Legend!
So, Rossco, what initially drew you to pursuing a life abroad?  

It’s funny, looking at this question, the apparently subtle, but actually significant difference that I feel exists between what ‘a life’ abroad means, and what it means to ‘live abroad’.

I first left Australia for an extended period of time immediately after I graduated from my undergraduate studies from the ANU. I was to go to London for six months (this became two years). Looking back, sure, I was leaving Australia to live abroad, but I never considered it in terms of ‘pursuing a life’. It was to be an extended period of fun and travel before heading back to continue ‘a life’ in Australia – ‘pursuing experience’ is perhaps more fitting. Regardless, in this time abroad I never really thought anything further than returning to Australia and doing my Dip.Ed and getting into teaching. At the time I was a learned, but otherwise useless Arts graduate (wouldn’t change a thing though!), so something leading to a vocation was next on the agenda. On my way home from the UK I was to do some travelling around SE-Asia, and was encouraged by my Mum to make contact with a very long-time family friend who … long story short … offered me a teaching job at the Royal School in Bangkok. I didn’t take it immediately, but went back a year later for 12 mths, and it was an incredible experience.

That time also triggered a deeper interest in, and realization that I was suited to, foreign language teaching and that it was a great vehicle for further travel and overseas experiences. After doing my MA back in Oz, I took up a university job in Bangkok, which has served me well to now. Of all the places I have lived, and I think not only because I spent the longest time there, it is Thailand I have developed the deepest affection for.

Last year I had a chance to teach at Osaka University in Japan, which was also very rewarding professionally and personally. I am now back in Oz (and loving it I must say!).

I should just add that the older I got and the more ‘seasoned’ at living abroad I became, it did start to fee more and more like I was attempting to make ‘a life’ in the places I was – a stark contrast to my initial extended period away.

Any close calls? Locked up abroad, anything like that? 

Hmmm … I have been robbed once. I recall turning up to a hostel in Barcelona and the first thing the American guy at the desk told us was to, “have a great time, but be careful at night, there will be friendly kids running up to you asking what football team you like and playing around – but all the while they will be patting you down and looking for goodies”. I remember having a bit of a chuckle at this, thinking he was maybe exaggerating a little bit … but sure enough, as a couple of friends and I left a paella restaurant more than a little inebriated, said kids ran up and asked said questions about football and patted down said pockets! They actually got my wallet the little shits, but I was not too fussed as I have always made a point of carrying only a little cash and no cards – take note fellow travellers.

Oh, and there was the time my mate (and yours, Our Dear Lady Expatriate) Teifi and I were brutally robbed of our cameras in Nicaragua … but that’s a story for another time ;)

Best adventure story?

I drove around Western Europe for a couple of months over Summer camping with some mates about 10 years back (wow … 10 years!). That was fantastic. Nothing too CRAZY happened, but if adventure can be defined by waking up in a foreign place with no places for that day or the next, and ending up somewhere new, interesting and fun that night – it was an awesome one.

What are some of the most shocking things to make their way down your gullet?

I am actually a real wimp when it comes to eating gnarly foods. I guess some kind of bug (cricket or something) that I ate in Thailand … grasshoppers in Mexico … witchety-grubbs in Australia. Jeez, looking at this track record you would think I actually enjoyed such earth-dwelling creatures. Well, like anything, season them well and they aren’t that bad!

Stock question as, but what's your fave country/city to live in, and why?

It might be a stock question, but not the easiest to answer. Looking back, when I have been entrenched in foreign cities I can recall moments when I have thought each respective place was the best experience I have had away from home. I guess, though, in my life as an expat I would say that Bangkok/Thailand was the best place I lived. The fact I was there for quite a while helped, along with the food, culture, and general laid-back nature of the people (even in the midst of a huge metropolis) which, in particular, suits the Australian approach to life.

Having said that, I do find it difficult to name just one place as my favourite place. My expat life and my life at home are different beasts. Canberra is my favourite city to live in, and Australia my favourite country. It’s home.

Do you have a 'Never Again' country?

Not yet!
Do tell: one pleasant and one rubbish aspect of expat life.

It’s always easy to find work, especially in my profession. Also, particularly in Asian countries, foreigners are granted a great deal of respect, which is nice … although the more you start to feel a part of your foreign community, the less necessary it is!
Foreigner prices for things! Museum entries, tickets etc. even when you make it obvious you live in the country!

When you think of capital-h Home, where do you think of? Do you think of the lyrics from Ball Park Music's iFly?

It's a good song, and I kinda do think like that. Another song I have also played as I think about home is this one by the legend Tom Waits …

Wow, dude - good tune. So, when you have a pony and are no longer bound by the workforce, to where will that pony return home? Um, as in, any ideas where you plan to retire?!

Not particularly, but it will most certainly be in Oz. I would like to live in Melbourne I reckon, soaking up the arts, food, and footy for the rest of my days (Go Collingwood!!).

Go Magpies indeed.
Will the future find you expat-ing it up once again?

Perhaps. I think, though, that if I end up living abroad again it will be after my studies are done and will be on a more short-term basis of maybe six months to a year. My goal now is enjoy life and work in Australia, and to reach my academic goals here, and then consolidate them here with a university job.

How did you go with learning the languages of the countries you lived in? How much of a priority was it?

I’ll work backwards through the two places I have lived that use a foreign language. In Japan last year I took a few lessons but never really progressed too far. It was a good feeling, however, to be able to read some things on some signs in a different script after hours of poring over the characters. I was able to get from A to B, and to order basic things and maintain a degree of politeness, but by no means could I hold a conversation.

I was in Thailand longer, and certainly picked up more. One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to have a girlfriend from there … and this certainly helped me pick up a lot.

Being an English teacher, the workplace is essentially an English-language workplace, so you really do have to make an effort outside of work if you want to get anywhere with the language.

How’s your Khmer going?

I'll ask the questions around here, mister! (And if you are in fact curious, I've answered that question here.)
Back on track: In your opinion, what's one of the most pervasive stereotypes about expats? And do you reckon there's some truth in it?

Perhaps that they don’t feel any connection with home anymore, and that’s why they moved away. I encountered that a few times in my travels. It couldn’t be further from the truth though in my case.

I recall a frosty 3am 17Km run that you and I shared in Japan... Tell us more about your thoughts on running in the different countries you've lived in!
Sadly I don’t have much to add here – I only got into running seriously in Japan. In Thailand I was not a runner (maybe the odd few kms on the treadmill at the gym). So, having developed my love for running in Japan, I have very fond memories of running there.

I recall some sections of that run too – it was really cold!

"I recall some sections" - oh dear!
Final question: Asahi or Coopers?

Coopers. There’s no place like home.

Thanks so much to lovely Rossco for being a peach and agreeing to let us in on some of his expat insight. Catch the next expat interview on the first Thursday of September, featuring the delightful Whit of Whit B Nimble!

xx Lady Expatriate