Six months in to my new expat life

I’ve been in Pretoria for six months. Six months and four days, to be precise. I didn’t actually notice on the day we reached our six-month milestone – we are so busy and wrapped up in our life here, it passed me by completely. Which has to be a good thing! No-one’s first half year in a new country is all sweetness and light, and I have had my fair share of downs as well as ups. On the whole though, I think I have got off pretty lightly in the “difficult first six months” department, certainly compared to other places I have lived.

Looking back, it seems incredible that only six short months ago I felt like the helpless toddler that I described in this post – Starting expat life: feeling like a child again.

Or even the pre-teen I was when I wrote this post, three months later: How far I have come.

But am I an adult yet? Well, perhaps not quite – but I certainly feel like someone who knows their way around, is comfortable negotiating daily life here and even feels ready to give advice to newcomers. And so, to mark my six months anniversary in Pretoria, here is a list of some of the things I have learned so far from our time in South Africa:

  • You can get used to living with a high level of personal security. I don’t really think twice now about all the keys, padlocks and bolts we have to open and close to get in or out of the house. I automatically lock my car doors every time I drive anywhere. I am always aware of who is around me, and if a car is acting suspiciously on the road behind me. I never have my handbag open, I put money away when I get it out from the ATM before walking away. You do have to live in a sort of state of high alert all the time, but it doesn’t ruin your life. Having said that, one of the things I am most looking forward to when I return to the UK for a holiday is walking out of my front door at night, simply closing it behind me, and walking….
  • A GPS is a damn fine thing – it brings you freedom in a way no map can. Up until now I have eschewed these relatively new items of technology: early experiences with one back home in the UK when they were still called SatNav’s were not good: they fell off the window; you could never get a signal; they took you down ridiculously narrow roads leading nowhere. But here they have been a revelation – allowing me to go anywhere I wish, knowing that not only will “James”, “Kate” or “Sarena” get me there, but they will help guide me home too. I love my GPS so much I even wrote a whole post about it.
Always ready to go....

Always ready to go….

  • Culture shock comes in many guises. I think I have suffered more from the differences in the school community we are now part of than in the differences of South Africa itself. The school is an American international school so we are having to learn about a whole new curriculum and a whole new way of doing things. Many of the frustrations I have felt since arriving here have been directed at the school. That isn’t to say I haven’t felt culture shock in other ways and places, but perhaps this was the least expected. I’m not sure yet where I am in the culture shock “cycle” with the school but I would guess somewhere between negotiation and adjustment..
  • South African politics and race relations has to be one of the most complicated in the world. You think you know a place….and then you move there. We all followed what was going on here durning the Mandela years, followed his release from prison, the election that brought him to power….and then so many of us stopped watching. I think we thought it was all resolved and everyone would live happily ever after. Of course, something like Apartheid is going to leave a massive legacy that is going to take decades, if not centuries, to unravel. There are problems on all sides of the political spectrum and underlying everything is the question of race. Never have I felt so aware of my skin colour on an ongoing, daily basis. As an outsider it is fascinating. But for the average South African there are difficult times ahead. I hope the “rainbow” nation holds together as when it works, it truely shows the world how things can be done.
Laundry day in Soweto - the racial divide is alive and kicking in South Africa, although the antics of the ANC government mean things are not as straightforward as they seem....

Laundry day in Soweto – the racial divide is alive and kicking in South Africa, although the antics of the ANC government mean things are not as straightforward as they seem….

  • It doesn’t matter if you live in the most wonderful place in the world and go on the most incredible trips every few months – your children will still be children. They will still have tantrums even on safari. I know this from (bitter) personal experience.
  • Living without airconditioning when it is 43 degrees isn’t much fun. Again, bitter personal experience.
  • All Netflix’s are not created equal. There is Netflix UK and there is Netflix US and then there is Netflix SA. We got all excited when Netflix SA arrived and joined up to see what it was all about.Β  On recommendation from friends, we got stuck into Narcos – which, if you haven’t seen it, is excellent. But knowing it would come to an end pretty soon I started asking around to see what other shows people would recommend. The suggestions came in thick and fast, mostly from my friends in the UK. I got all excited, thinking that for just a fiver a month we would be able to watch all sorts of fabulous shows. Only to find out that you can’t get most of them here in South Africa. Ah well, back to the drawing board it is then (luckily the local TV service DSTV actually has some pretty good shows and we are currently getting into Billions and the second series of the Leftovers).

There are, of course, many others things I have learned since living here. I know the sound of a displaying weaver bird. I recognise when a huge black cloud means hail, and when it means just rain. I understand a bit more about what happened during the Apartheid years, and why there is a whole generation here whose education was messed up. I know which shops I need to go to for cleaning products, and which for food. I even know where to get the best type of puppy food (less than four weeks now until the puppy arrives!). However, there is – of course – still a LOT that I don’t know.Β  A HUGE amount. And so I start the second six months of our time here with lots of unanswered questions: why DOES the weaver bird keep destroying his beautifully crafted nest? Who WILL people be voting for in the next set of elections? Just how cold DOES it get in the winter here? How likely AM I to see whalesharks in Mozambique????

Yup, the next six months look like they are going to be as much fun as the first.

My Expat Family

23 thoughts on “Six months in to my new expat life

  1. Glad to hear things are going well. I can help with 2 of your questions πŸ™‚ . Regarding your weaver bird, he is tearing down his nests because the female has deemed them not good enough to house her and her offspring. They are fascinating little birds, I wrote about ours here when we first moved to South Africa :

    As for how cold it gets… cold. Very cold. Let’s just say I enjoy summers without air conditioning so much more than winters without central heating. When it is really cold, I sleep with 2 fleeces, sweatpants and 2 pairs of socks!

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    • Aww wonderful – our weaver is like your second one, only builds one nest at a time in our garden and then destroys it. He hasn’t been around lately so I guess he is away with his other nest as I think he also builds in our neighbour’s garden. He has had some interest from a lady weaver but obviously she wasn’t impressed enough to stick around…I wonder when the egg laying actually happens? As for the cold….we do have a fire in our living room and heating in the bedrooms (where we do, admittedly, also have aircon…) but I have the blankets ready….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this “Many of the frustrations I have felt since arriving here have been directed at the school. That isn’t to say I haven’t felt culture shock in other ways and places, but perhaps this was the least expected.” was the hardest part for us in the NL as well. It wasn’t so much about school but more about that I had certain expectations of what was going to be the “hardest” part of the transition and it turned out that it was the unexpected stuff that totally threw me off and that was the hardest part of the adjustment!! And as for school – we’ve done the opposite, gone from American system to a British one… so I hear you!


  3. Lovely summary. And gah, there is Netflix SA? Like you I am quivering at the thought. But yes, bound to disappoint. You need something like Unotelly, I wrote about it once. I think it still works the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The strange thing is I didn’t really know what Netflix was before moving here – our tv in the UK is so good we don’t need to worry about any additions. However in all honesty a combination of BBC that I am able to watch with a VPN, Netflix SA and what is available locally on DSTV (which often gets US tv shows straight away, quicker even than the UK) means I have more than enough to watch.


  4. Glad to hear that you’re getting on with your SA life and getting used to your new home! Perhaps, a puppy would outweigh the troubles with the school for your girls πŸ™‚ Looking forward to reading about your trip to see whale sharks! πŸ™‚

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  5. Ahhh 6 months, i love how your SA expat life coincides with Freddies πŸ™‚
    How exciting that its only 4 weeks until puppy arrives, what kind of dog are you getting?
    It is funny how things that seem absolutely crazy at first become routine. There is a big lock down procedure on the house we are in now (a relief for this security conscious mama after what happened). At first it was a pain but it already feels normal, just two weeks in. Of course that is nothing on the lines of security we are talking about with you! I’m pleased that it does feel normal for you though already, thats really good!
    I’m afraid that when i read the line not a child but perhaps not adult a Britney spears song came rushing to my head haha!!!!
    We had DSTV here for a while but have just switched away from it as we have just recently got a local cable service (very exciting and big news!!) its half the price of DSTV, not as good but we only really have it for the sport and we just download whatever else we want to watch. Netflix doesn’t work here in any form sob sob sob!!!

    Thanks for linking up with #myexpatfamily Clara πŸ™‚


  6. congrats on the 6 month anniversary! as always one of my favourite reads hearing about the fascinating expat journey you have undertaken – and knowing even a seasoned international gal like you faces the same daily struggles and emotions around the every day – let alone the greater political picture #myexpatfamily (PS – VPN and download torrents its the only way to get good tv abroad!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What an adventure! For me, one year was the mark of “adulthood” in the expat journey – when I finally started feeling settled. Sounds like you’re making great strides in a very different lifestyle!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Clara – I stumbled across your post today and read with great interest about your experiences and adventures in SA. As someone who will be one of the newbies in Pretoria in six months’ time it was reassuring to hear you sounding generally positive! We are looking forward to our next move (despite the early get-ups for school!).
    Thanks for an informative read.

    Liked by 1 person

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