What’s The Worst Thing About Being An Expat?

What’s The Worst Thing About Being An Expat?

Living abroad at the behest of your employer can be an exciting adventure for some. It can also lead to culture-shock, isolation and depression. We quizzed OKI Australia’s globe-trotting managing director about how he adjusts to different work climates (in both senses of the word).

Expat picture from Shutterstock

Yesterday, we caught up with OKI Data Australia’s managing director, Dennie K. Kawahara and asked him about his professional experiences abroad. Kawahara is a Japanese expatriate who has spent more than a decade working in foreign markets, including Europe and multiple locations in the US.

He subsequently has a pretty good insight into how work cultures and attitudes differ from country to country.

“There are difference in every country you need to adjust to and they all have their own character,” Kawahara told Lifehacker. “Even Australia and New Zealand are quite different, despite being close together.

“If you go to Japan, from early morning to late at night, people are constantly working. Over here, when it’s time to leave, [employees] are usually gone, but they still get the work done. So Australians are more relaxed; they know how to strike a good work/life balance.”

Kawahara arrived in Australia following a managing stint in his homeland of Japan looking after Oki’s market development. This meant having to endure two back-to-back winters; one of the unspoken hardships of an expatriate lifestyle.

“I came to Australia expecting the sunlight to last longer. Instead, the days actually got shorter and shorter. It’s amazing how important sunlight is to your sense of well-being,” Kawahara said.

Attempts to immerse himself in the Aussie way of life didn’t always go smoothly either.

“When I first came out here I tried surfing in an attempt to get involved with the culture. I failed very badly,” he joked. “But my son really enjoys it.”

Apart from wintertime blues and the occasional surfing mishap, Kawahara said he has found it quite easy to adjust to life in Australia.

“My wife is actually American, so English speaking countries are pretty easy for me. We’ve settled in well. In many ways, Australia is quite like Florida or California.”

How do you cope while working overseas for prolonged periods and what do you miss the most?


  • I live in Singapore these days, but I’ve had a stint in the US as well. Funny thing is that with all the US culture we got in Oz, the US was more isolated to me than Singapore – no Australian sports were on TV (apart from 1 year they showed the State of Origin live), driving was on the opposite side and they couldn’t understand me when I asked for a Coke. Singapore has been much more closer to home – apart from the similar time zones, I get rugby league on TV, the Australian channel has all the ABC current affairs shows and the AFL game of the week and there are plenty of Australians around. But I miss the 4 seasons, the relaxed lifestyle and the variety of beers you can get.

    I always try to spend my money when I go back to Oz – I feel that as an Australian I should bring back some cash to help the economy.

    • Woahwoahwoah, when you asked for a coke there was trouble, wha? How? What happened? I know they have it over there, it’s not a pepsi (bleh) nation like some countries I’ve been to, but anything that gets between me and my coke is a vital impediment to be planned for and overcome as quickly as possible.

    • On this trouble getting a Coke thing: There was even an advertising slogan, “Have a Coke and a smile,” back in the day. The particular soft drink of which you speak is referred to as “Coke” or “Coca Cola” in the US. Did you perhaps ask for a “Coke Cola” (the way that some Aussies I’ve met say Coca Cola)?

      Also, Australian sports may not be on TV in America, but they don’t need to be. We have the Internet now. And it’s not just for pr0n. 🙂

  • I hop between Australia and America. Definitely, the worst is when you miss a summer, and have to do 2 or even 3 cold seasons in a row.

    I miss: a stable mailing address from which I can actually get my mail in whatever country I’m not in. I also miss not having my favourite “big things” that I’m not going to ship back and forth, whenever I’m in the country in which the “big things” are not (pushbikes, TV’s, receivers, etc.).

    In the US, I miss John West tuna, Heinz Very Special Spicy Lentil Soup (I’ve broken the Tim Tam habit, so OK with that) and easy access to green pawpaw with which I make Thai salad. I also miss Australian pubs and classic pub rock. I also miss the ability to get phone calls to my Aussie number through Google Voice, the way I can get phone calls to my US number through Google Voice in Australia.

    In Australia, I miss Zatarain’s rice dishes, peach-nectarine essence unsweetened sparkling water and unsweetened Cheerios cereal (any volunteers to bring a yellow box of Cheerios back for me the next time you’re in the US?). I miss bars with cheap FOOD as well as drink at happy hour, and kitchens open until 11pm that serve more than junk like kebabs, fast-food burgers and chips. In Australia, I also miss newegg.com and cheap high quality clothes. And affordable high quality fruit, like heirloom tomatoes and raspberries that don’t spoil within 24 hours. Since I live in the city here, I also miss easy access to safe areas to do about 20km on my pushbike after work.

      • @wordsmith, I actually bought a box of Cheerios here once. I saw that they were multi-grain rather than straight oats, but I figured, close enough, should taste just about the same…. One handful (yes, I eat my breakfast cereal dry, by the handful, often combined 1:1 with melon chunks or berries) later, I was exclaiming, “EW! WHAT IS THIS? IT’S SWEET!!???”. For all Aussies criticise American food as unhealthy, they sure do have a thing for America’s sweet breakfast cereals. Whereas, try to get nice, unsweetened stuff like puffed wheat/rice, chex of any variety, etc., even plain unsweetened Crispix in Sydney, and you’re out of luck.

  • And, oh, yes — in Australia, I really, really miss ubiquitous free wifi. For my laptop, I cope by having a 3G dongle on a really good (but no longer open to new subscribers) plan. Once you’ve spent some time in the US, you understand why for many people, buying a tablet without 3G isn’t a major inconvenience. It’s simply the case that almost everywhere you’d want to use it, you can find wi-fi. Here, for me at least, it’s a major hassle to have to bluetooth tether to a phone.

  • When I lived in Amsterdam I really missed Sydney cafes and the high quality, interesting breakfasts you can order, crumpets and warm weather. When I came back to Sydney, I really missed the much more evolved attitude to cycling in the Netherlands, the cheap prices, the lack of rules/regulations/police/security guards/cctv/control compared to Sydney, and the long summer days where it only gets dark around 11pm.

    • One million Australians live and work overseas, Michael. I can’t imagine that number being so high if living away from Australia was so onerous.

      Still, I used to think we had the best country in the world too when I was a kid, but a bit of travel made me realise that Australia is no better or worse than most other first world nations. Every country has its good and bad attributes, including Australia. If you like sun and beaches and barbeques and (incessant) sport, then Australia is wonderful. But it is also expensive, conformist, culturally bland, moderately racist, overly regulated, and has an uncomfortably large population of bogans, Other than that. it’s paradise.

        • Oh dear me. I wasn’t expecting that. Your powers of extrapolation are … bewildering. But I’ll apologise anyway on account of my ‘racism’. Sorry to any bogans (like Mikey here) if they were offended by my post. It’s probably not your fault you have a Year 9 education and thinks the world is represented at the nearest Westfield – or for the really adventurous – Bali. Apparently it’s rude to indicate that broad travel experiences, a post high-school education, and an aversion to A Current Affair and Today Tonight all go a long way to providing perspective on Australia and how it measures up in the world. For all those offended by my original post, apologies.

          • That is racist. You are racist.

            (its always fun when older expats come looking for trolls)

  • Living in America = real Mexican food, great customer service, cheap everything
    Living in Australia = all the benefits and charm of living in a land not overpopulated.

  • I moved to Australia from the UK 14 years ago, I came over in April 99 – straight out of the UK winter – to a particularly wet & stormy Australia. The lack of sunlight did have an impact, but just being in Aus and out of the UK made up for that.

    In 14 years, I’ve never once wanted to go back to the UK for more than a 2 week holiday!

    • Funny story – A married couple I’m good friends with are mixed Aussie/English. He is English and She is from Melbourne. They met in England and soon moved back to Melbourne.

      Since having a child they have had stints of several years living in each country, but they can’t agree on where to settle. The English husband wants to stay in Australia, while the Aussie wife wants to settle in England. Perhaps the grass IS always greener on the other side 😛

  • Having scooted between a few countries in Southeast Asia, each with small western expat communities, the one thing I miss the most is my home social circle. Friendships at home are based on common interests, whereas overseas, more often than not, they’re based on more banal commonalities like having kids.

    I also worry my os income isn’t growing as fast as it would be in Australia and I might be locking myself out of the lifestyle I’d like to attain when I return.

    On the whole, being an expat is pretty fun, though.

  • The worst thing is knowing that you will probably not be able to use your internationally-acquired skills when you return to Australia. I’ve had three periods in the US and Europe, and find that it’s almost impossible to get a job back in Australia due to the expectation that you’re a high-flyer who will be bored in any local job. I have a number of friends who would like to bring their kids back to Australia for schooling but have discovered they’re similarly locked out of the Aussie job market. It’s rather disconcerting when there are patently so many underqualified people filling jobs here.

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