6 Years in the Australian Outback: An Expat Interview with Benjamin Kimitsuka

The City of Canberra is Surrounded by Outback

This is an Expat interview with Benjamin Kimitsuka who—after growing up in the Bay Area—moved to live in the Australian outback. After 6 years, he has even become a citizen living in the capital city of Canberra.

What is your full name?

Benjamin Kimitsuka.

Where are you from in the USA?

Cupertino, California. San Francisco Bay Area.

How long have you been an expat?

Well, let me see. . . I guess I’ll be coming up on six years in November?

How old were you when you left?

Uh. . . 29? Yeah I turned thirty when I was in Canberra.

Where have you lived?

I have only lived here in Canberra, Australia. The capital city of Australia.

What do you like about Canberra?

It’s a really international city. Half of the people who live here were born overseas. And there’s great cycling everywhere. There’s a good bike path everywhere, so I can ride to work barely touching the road. I ride to school. Yeah!

Oh yeah, you’re taking classes?

Yeah I’m getting my masters!

Oh sweet! In what?

It’s a computer-science-based course, basically in data analytics. So, a lot of number crunching, statistics, programming.

Is it a rural area?

It’s a small city—less than 400,000 people. And it’s really, really spread out. It’s kind of like a planned city, so it’s kind of broken up in different town centers—like major suburban areas. But it’s really spread out. There’s a lot of open nature reserve stuff here and there, so it doesn’t feel like a proper city at all.

Do you get like giant scorpions and giant spiders and all that stuff we see on TV out here?

We see some pretty big spiders once in a while. Otherwise just lots of kangaroos.

That’s cool! You just see them out and about like you might see a moose or a deer or something?

Yeah, except for more it’s like road kill.

Awww! That’s actually kind of sad.

It’s brutal. I was driving down to work the other day, and down this one road that kind of goes between these two nature reserves—and where the dump is—and I must have seen like four or five, just dead on the side of the road on like a mile and a half stretch.

Damn! That’s actually a lot! But I heard that they’re overpopulated anyway, right?

Oh yeah, yeah. It’s a big thing around here. Like every year there’s a big culling of the kangaroos. They go into the nature reserves and shoot a certain number of them at night to try and keep the populations down.

We should film a documentary and make it all tragic, like The Cove.

It’s pretty controversial. . .

Sounds controversial! I mean, well I say if they kill it, then at least eat it. I mean, I don’t know if pragmatism can solve this dilemma. . .

I think it’s more that it gets made into dog food.

What’s your least favorite thing about Canberra?

I would say it’s kind of like a cultural dead zone. The local music scene is—to me—non existent. Which is really disappointing. I mean, there’s two universities here, but it doesn’t have that university kind of vibe. Even Santa Cruz [California] is like a small town, but with the university you get a lot of good music through there. But here, it’s like there’s really nothing. I’ve gone to maybe one or two shows in the almost six years I’ve lived here. But in Santa Cruz, I would go once a month out to every little show. That’s not to say that there aren’t like little music venues, but there’s nowhere near as good as living in the Bay Area was.

Oh I know man. I know. Trust me, in my little city it’s probably worse than Canberra. Here in Mexico, where I am currently, I can totally relate. What do you like about being an expat?

Oh, I think just the experience of living overseas—living somewhere new.

How do you view the United States from afar?

I guess, I’m nostalgic for people and places. Friends and family. Things I like to do. Places I like to eat. But from a political standpoint, it’s kind of scary. Like I said, it’s not that big of a deal for myself. Well, more or less is what it comes down to: I’m not the target of persecution, but it’s still pretty scary.

What would you say are the cultural differences between Australians and Americans?

I’d say in general, people are a lot nicer here. They’re a lot more helpful, and willing to help their neighbors. And then, I work in a bike shop. It’s basically retail. My experience as someone in a customer service role having to help people, [Australians] are generally a lot nicer to you than people in the States would be. Like in the States, for instance in food service where it’s the culture of tipping—people who serve you are viewed quite differently than they are here; where you don’t tip anywhere you go here. People just get paid well. It’s very different, I guess—that interaction with people.

Have you gotten used to the fries with sour cream and sweet chili sauce? [laughs]

Yeah! Or gravy.

With gravy! That’s almost like an Australian poutine, or something, right?

Pretty much the same, but without the cheese curds. [laughs]

How do you end up making friends?

Really, it’s only been the people I’ve met through work. A lot of people who move here complain that Canberra tends to be very isolated. Everyone is kind of in their own little circles. It’s also a very transitory population. People come to work in government or go to school here. A lot of people are always coming and going. I guess that’s what it comes down to. So it’s pretty common to complain about from people who live here or move here, that it’s really hard to meet new friends and get into social circles. But there’s multiple people who I’ve met through work.

That is revealing as to where you’re living. I guess that kind of goes into the next question: What challenges have you faced abroad?

Yeah, mostly meeting people. Trying not to feel isolated socially. I’d say that’s been the biggest challenge because Australia is an English-speaking, white, Western country. So, there’s not like a big culture shock around here. It’s not like when I went over to Asia or something.

So you became an Australian citizen?

Yeah, I became a citizen. I had to live here for four years, I think. And I’m a citizen now, and I definitely think if I was going to live somewhere else overseas, New Zealand would be top on the list. And also, as an Australian citizen, I can just go live and work there now. I don’t even have to do any paperwork. Well, I’d need to file for like a tax identification number, but other than that, I could just start living and working over there.

Wow! But I hear it’s really similar to Canberra, in the sense that there’s not a lot of people and it’s spread out.

Yeah, it would be even more isolated because it’s a tiny country, but I don’t know. It’s beautiful. In terms of feeling more at home, it looks a lot more lush and green, whereas I’m in a dry and arid area. It doesn’t really feel like home.

I guess it’s the outback versus the Lord of the Rings. [laughs]

Yeah, exactly.

Well, what about something like Sydney now that you’re a citizen?

Yeah, well. . . I’d like to go down to Melbourne. I haven’t been there yet—which is about a six hour drive south—but from what everyone tells me, that would probably feel the most like home. I mean, everyone kind of compares it to Portland. It is kind of that hipster city.

Well that might be kind of cool, in the sense that you could live there and see cool shows, and have a bit more of a social life. . .

Yeah, it would be. Sydney is really expensive—like ridiculously expensive. And I’m not really willing to deal with being stuck in traffic and commuting for hours and hours every day, paying super high rents.

Yeah, that sounds awful. It sounds like the Bay Area again.

Yeah, as much as I’m nostalgic for home, I don’t think I could live in the Bay Area again. The way things are going, people like me are getting priced out of the Bay, y’know? It’s way too expensive to live there.

What have you learned from traveling or living abroad? Have you grown?

I don’t know if I can say any one particular thing, other than I know a system of socialized health care and medicine can work quite well. [laughs] Here in Australia, it’s quite good. Despite what people might feel in the United States, it definitely does work very well.

When I went to Vietnam, I certainly realized how Westernized I was.

Did you go from Australia to Vietnam?

Yeah, my partner was doing some work there for her PhD thesis, so I went to visit.

How long ago was that?

That was a couple years ago now. Three years ago?

Wow! How long were you there?

Like ten days. She was there for like a year. It’s a beautiful country.

That’s what I hear! I hear it’s absolutely gorgeous and the food is amazing.

Yeah, the food is good. It’s really cheap to travel. I’d recommend it. It’s cool.

Would you recommend the expat life? And if so, to whom?

I would recommend everybody try it, or at least move somewhere outside of your comfort zone. I guess, that’s maybe big talk because I can’t really say I’ve grown or developed much, but I do think it’s a good experience for people to go live somewhere new. You know, some never leave home. So yeah, I would definitely recommend it.

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