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What if your wanderlust wasn’t limited to a 10-day vacation? In our series ”My Life Abroad,“ we ask expats from around the world what it takes to resettle thousands of miles away from home, plus how their new city has influenced their style. 

Who we are: Lauren van Aswegen, a creative at Apple and cocurator of @visual_thread, and Matt Edwards, an executive creative director.

Where we used to live: Cape Town > Prague > New York. 

Where we moved (most recently): San Francisco.

How long we’ve lived in our current city: Four years.

Why we moved: We moved from South Africa to Prague originally. While many South Africans move abroad, we felt like Prague was a very unique option, as it gave us access to the European Union while still being very different from the life we had grown up knowing. After spending three years there and exploring all the nearby countries, we were beginning to see the ceiling in our industry and decided to look at other places that could accelerate our careers. 

We were not ready to move home and wanted the adventure to continue, so we looked at Australia, but when a job opportunity arose in the U.S., we ended up moving to New York. After spending six years in the East Village and Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, we moved to our current home in San Francisco. We actually did a year of long distance (we had an apartment in Brooklyn and one in Pacific Heights). There was a lot of flying back and forth. Lauren ended up moving out to take a job here at Apple, and a month later the pandemic hit.

The logistics we needed to line up before we moved: When we first moved to Prague, we were on a South African passport, so the companies we were going to work for had to do a lot of heavy lifting to get us a Schengen work visa. This process took around six months and a lot of paperwork. In the end, it was well worth the trouble, as having this visa allowed us to visit so many places in the EU (Barcelona, Majorca, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, Marseille, Madrid, Stockholm, to name a few). 

When we decided to move to the U.S., it was a much bigger undertaking. We had both found jobs, and they were willing to help us with our O-1 visas (for Individuals with extraordinary abilities). However, the background checks were far greater than what we had experienced in Europe, and doing it all from a foreign country where speaking the language was difficult at times made it that much harder. We used to meet for an evening every week at our local bar in Prague and discuss logistics. Again, it took around six months to plan. 

Once we arrived in New York, it was a culture shock. Prague is relatively quaint compared to the hustle and bustle of this massive city. We did however make a great life for ourselves and ended up getting our green cards and getting married while living there. 

Then we decided to give the West Coast a try. This was our easiest move yet, already having our green cards and, again, our companies facilitating the move, but emotionally leaving New York took a massive toll on us. We had some great friends there. 

How we got our stuff overseas: When we moved to Prague, we were young and just starting out in life as a couple. We didn’t take much with us and saw this as a real blank canvas. We bought a lot of basics from IKEA, as this was a novelty we didn’t have back home. Along with that, we acquired some designer pieces from our travels, as well as some antique furniture from the Prague markets. Often around the cities, people would just empty apartments and put all the furniture and art in skips on the street. We picked up a few pieces that way. 

When we moved to New York, we gave up a lot of the basics we knew we could get there and kept the items that inspired us: a modular chest of drawers, some paintings, Czech crystal glasses. We still think of our solid oak dining table where we spent our evenings drawing and drinking wine—we had to let it go because we didn’t know if it would fit in our tiny NYC apartment. 

While in New York, we really started to collect things that felt timeless. This is where we started to discover our decor style. Our art collection also started to grow, as we made a deal that every year for our anniversary we would buy a piece of art for our home.

Rent or own: Rent.

What our house search was like: Prague has an abundance of high-ceiling old apartments, so this was the easiest of the property searches. As long as we were near a subway line, we could live anywhere in the city. 

New York was the complete opposite. The process was ruthless and the inventory was limited. We also had no idea about credit records and broker’s fees, so at our first apartment in the East Village, we had to pay six months rent up front to secure it. 

When we moved to SF, it was still in the tech boom, so while there were a lot of apartments, we were still met with competition. Our search here took a bit longer, as we wanted to find a place we could happily live in for five years. 

The biggest challenge with moving abroad: Being apart from your family. South Africa is far from almost everywhere. The familiarity and comfort to being in your own country (you know what’s around every corner; you know how to read people)…it’s just easier to get things done. If we needed a doctor or tax person, we had a support system to ask. However, solving these challenges by ourselves does bring about a sense of accomplishment. No matter how big or small. 

The biggest joy of moving abroad: It sounds cliché, but the adventure. There is something quite thrilling about everything being new and undiscovered. We think the friendships you develop with other expats is also a source of joy. When you are without your family, you tend to replace them with really deep friendships. 

It’s definitely a hard life in some respects, but when you are at the top of a mountain in Utah or up the coast at Sea Ranch, so far from home, you have to just enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. It feels like a life well lived.

The most surprising thing we’ve learned about our current city since we got here: The proximity to so much varied nature was a big surprise. The beach, the redwoods, the wine lands are all just around the corner. Our lives now revolve around getting out of the city and exploring as much as we can. That’s not to say the city doesn’t have things to offer; we have eaten at countless amazing restaurants, visited the ballet and opera, and seen great art exhibitions. 

Where we found design inspiration for our space: Prague inspired our love of European aesthetics (Bauhaus design, modular furniture, antiques). New York gave our style a bit of a punch. Since coming to California, we have tried to soften that a bit.

The best piece of decorating advice we’ve learned from our current city: Two of the biggest things we’ve learned from California is that new is not always better, and you don’t have to take things so seriously. Have fun with your space. 

The item we brought from home that brings us comfort: We have two: our collection of South African art (every single day we look at it and are reminded of what an amazing country we come from) and our antique tableware from Lauren’s mom. The dishes usually only make it onto the table when we are having dinner parties with our friends who are now family, and they always bring such warmth. 

The moment we felt like locals: Whenever we have visitors to show around our city, it makes us feel like locals. The other one is when people ask for directions and you actually know the answer. That’s a favorite for sure. 

If we were to move abroad again and could do anything differently, it would be: We don’t think we would do anything differently, because even when things went wrong, it taught us something. It was all part of the experience. If we could give advice to someone who just recently moved abroad, it would be to stick with it. The first six months anywhere are supertough, but after that you start finding your groove and carve out a life for yourself. You find the route to walk the dog, your favorite coffee shop, and before you know it, it feels like home.