In the second installment of our The Expat Mama Meets… series we have a good old chinwag with serial expat-er Claire Hauxwell! She’s lived all over the U.S. and is currently found in Johannesburg, South Africa- although along the way she’s also ticked off Switzerland, Belgium and Mexico off her list. Not bad going for a woman/wife/mama also kept busy with raising two girls and two pooches (for shameless dog stalking check out her Instagram @mytheoryonblooming ). The ultimate Expat Mama kinda woman she describes herself as enjoys good food, good wine, good gin and as a lover of laughter. Oh yeah, and as if all that isn’t enough to make you want to be her best mate, she’s also a self confessed overachiever who has a super pretty blog over at mytheoryonblooming.com
So Claire, where are you actually from?
I’m originally from the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, USA. I grew up freezing in the winter, and sweltering from humidity in the summers. I left the Detroit area at 18, and headed for Michigan State University. Met my husband at 21 in St. Louis, Missouri while interning at a chemical company. And, as they say…the rest is history.
How long have you lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, and how long are you planning on staying?
We’ve been here for 7 weeks (at the time of writing). It kind of feels like 7 months already, but that’s just because so much has been happening so quickly. We are still living in our house with rental furniture, and a splattering of new stuff….so it doesn’t feel like home yet (update: belongings have arrived since we spoke to Claire in December!)
What made you move?
My husband’s job is the driver behind our globetrotting. I feel like I work for his company too….without me, he wouldn’t be able to move. I’m the CEO of the house….
What has your experience been like so far?
Johannesburg has been a pretty easy transition. I think most people I talk to feel the same way as well. I mean, I didn’t have to learn a new language (thank God), and it reminds me a lot of Mexico City in some ways. It’s very westernized in a lot of ways…the stores are very nice and the infrastructure is pretty good. You can see a deep cultural divide. But, I think the culture runs deeps. I’m still needing to learn more.
What has surprised you most about your move?
Remarkably, I have found driving on the other side of the road easier than I thought it would be. I was absolutely petrified at the very thought. After I put on my big girls pants, and actually drove…I found it to be pretty easy. I still double check myself before jetting out into traffic, but I’m getting better every day.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Hmmm…biggest challenge. Well, I’m not sure yet. Everything is so new still. I’m sure there are many more situations waiting for their turn to crop up at an unexpected and unwanted time. But, so far, I’d say moving the kids during the school year. Don’t get me wrong, they are doing great. Meeting friends, learning like crazy, and loving their new school. But, I feel like I’m somewhat failing them, as I don’t know anything…who to call for the bus, where to go to pay for lunch tickets etc. It’s the little stuff, but for me it feels like a whopping boulder needing to be pushed up Mt. Everest.
Would you recommend South Africa, or Johannesburg, to anyone else?
I totally would. So many people couldn’t believe we were going to move here. Yes, there is a lot of crime. But, you’ve got to be vigilant. There;s so much this country has to offer…safaris, great beaches, good food, and great people.
If you plan on moving again, what would you do differently?
I’m going to move again…that is inevitable. Every time I move (I’ve moved 8 times, and 4 of those were internationally), I learn something new about the process of moving. You just need to be prepared. Rid yourself of the excesses you don’t need, and plan the best you can. This last move went remarkably smooth on the front end. We are still waiting for our container to arrive in South Africa. And, since it’s supposed to show up sometime in December, I’ve put it’s delivery off until after I return from my Christmas holidays. No sense in being full of anxiety during my vacation. I’m sure it will be comical, so we’ll see how smoothly it goes from this end.
How does South Africa compare to your home country in terms of quality of life, family benefits, careers prospects, healthcare and opportunities for women?
I find Johannesburg to be a good place. Quality of life is good (for expats), it’s across the board for South Africans. We’ve seen the inside of an emergency room, surgical theatre, and an orthodontists office in our short time here…all were very good, and better than I expected. Of course, these were private hospitals and doctors.I find the city to be very family friendly with lots of things geared towards kids. It’s a very outdoorsy culture, so hiking and safaris etc are huge here…my kids LOVED their first safari. As far as career goes…I’m not really sure. There is a high unemployment rate in South Africa, so I’m not sure how easy it is to actually get jobs in SA as a foreigner…but I can’t say this is true, just what I’ve heard. And, I think the same goes for opportunities for women…I believe there are movements here to help equalize women’s rights and opportunities.
What is your favourite thing about living in Johannesburg?
I love being able to talk with people. I’m a total talker, and I always wanted to talk with random people at the store or in the restaurants during my time in other countries…but I never felt confident enough with my language skills. I love talking to locals…it’s the one way you really learn about a culture. They know the places to eat, where to get stuff, and how to deal with situations. It’s always great to have a couple locals you can call in a pinch.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is thinking of moving to Johannesburg?
I always like to go into new posts with low expectations. Life is going to be difficult at first, it’s not going to always be a barrel of laughs, and sometimes shit will hit the fan.
Johannesburg has been a pretty easy transition…like I said before, the lack of language issues has been a breath of fresh air. You’ve got to know what you want out of living here. Make a list of needs, and them.
Is safety an issue? Then you’ll want to live in a secured estate.
City life or suburbs? Apartment or house?
Is driving an issue? Well, you’ll need to get over that because there’s no public transport.
Do you have kids of school age? Start early to find a good school that fits your child.
It’s a lot of the same things you’d think about when moving to other places all over the world. Keep taking deep breaths, keep going, and never stop trying…one day, you’ll realize things are gong just fine.
If you enjoyed reading about Claire’s South African adventure then why not pop over to her Instagram and give her a follow for more?
Want to be featured on The Expat Mama meets? Simply drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and introduce yourself!