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Aussie families are increasingly heading overseas to reap the benefits of international mining. But what's it really like? Mining Family Matters women spill the beans on living and working across the globe ...

Living the expat's dream ... by MiningFM's regular contributor Brooke Martin

Would you believe me if I told you that I wake up to the ocean crashing outside my bedroom window every morning, live on a beautiful Caribbean island, and that my boyfriend and I work for a … gold mine? Well, believe it, because I am living an expat's dream!

I didn't know what to expect when relocating from the remote goldfields of Kalgoorlie WA to paradise in Dominican Republic 18 months ago. My boyfriend Matt and I both worked for a large mining organisation in Kalgoorlie before Matt was offered a transfer to a gold mine in DR.  It wasn't a difficult decision to relocate – we saw it as an opportunity to experience a different lifestyle, meet new people and live on the other side of the world.

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We absolutely love our lives here. We have a beachfront penthouse condo in Cabarete, on the north coast of Dominican Republic. Our home is a five-minute walk from the local strip of beachfront bars and restaurants, and it is warm all year round.  Everything in general is less regulated and more carefree.

The people are very friendly.We quickly realized that the Dominican people love to eat, dance, and drink rum! Of course there are seedy places and people, just like anywhere in the world, but generally we have found the people to be fantastic value.

Our friends and families back home in Australia (my family) and New Zealand (Matt’s family) are really interested in hearing about our expat adventures and tell us all the time how lucky we are to live like kings! The prospect of not only living in the Caribbean, but also working at a gold mine in the Caribbean is so foreign to most people. 

There are a lot of expats here, especially on the north coast in the towns of Cabarete and Sosua. The expat wives who arrived just before me were such a tremendous help. Matt started work immediately at the mine on a Monday to Friday roster, meaning that he is home on weekends and away at the mine all week.  The expat wives took me under their wing, drove me around town, took me to the supermarket, invited me out for lunches and over to their homes for dinner – they definitely made my introduction to expat life so much easier!  I'm not sure what it's like in other expat environments, however from my observations the mining expat wives here tend to stick together for the most part. There are others like myself who make friends outside of the mining group, but mostly the expat group is its only little community within the community. 

In some parts of the world, expat families have to live in mining compounds or mining estates. Here in DR, expat families can choose to live wherever they like, whether it be on the north coast or in a city.  It all depends on what your family's priorities/needs are.  We chose to live on the north coast in Cabarete as we wanted to live on the beach.  

Meeting new people from different countries is a big bonus of working as an expat. We have made so many friends who are based here, and also others who come and go throughout the year. Mining is such a small world and we frequently have conversations with other expat miners about somebody who knows somebody who works with somebody they know!  

I think we are the luckiest miners in the world for living and working where we do. I wish I could say it was love at first sight when we arrived, but it was quite the opposite!  I had massive culture shock and had to overcome a few challenges.

DR is a Spanish-speaking country, and upon arrival, I only knew how to say a few words. Many English-speaking tourists flock to the area so quite a lot of the shops and restaurants/bars have English-speaking staff. 

I also initially struggled with not having to get up and go to a full-time job every day. I know that doesn't sound exactly horrible, but I felt a bit lost in the beginning, especially with Matt being away four nights per week. I accepted every invitation and did as many activities I could around town to meet people! Now I don't have a problem filling in my days, catching up with friends, spending time on the beach, going to the gym, studying online and I also work casually for my old gold mine in Kalgoorlie. The other expat wives with children had no problems meeting friends through school and after school activities with the children.

It's safe to say that other expats here in DR have faced more issues than we have, mostly because they have children. There is an English-speaking primary/high school, however some of the expats are unhappy with the quality of education. The school is also quite small so it doesn’t have the same resources as those in Australia. However in saying that, the mine pays for the children's school fees each year which is quite a significant amount. 

Some expat wives have also had to dash home to Australia because of family members falling seriously ill. I haven't been home since we moved here in April 2010, but for some women it hasn't been easy making the long haul home for emergencies, with children in tow and stuck on a plane for two days. The health insurance we receive here as mining expats is fantastic – I have needed to use the health cover on numerous occasions in regards to specialist visits, testing and hospitalization. The health cover is worldwide which is so handy for Matt and I when we’re travelling on holidays. This cover is not something we would receive in Australia, so we value this very highly! 

Living in a Third World country, we are obviously more prone to foreign illnesses and various health issues. Nearly all of the mining expats have been sick with Amoeba’s, Dengue or food poisoning.  You need to be very careful when preparing food in relation to bleaching salad and vegetables, and it's a risk when eating out as you're never sure if they have prepared the food correctly (which has on occasion led to the odd tummy bug or two!)

Another thing we expats need to consider is exchange rates – here in the DR we are paid in US dollars which isn't good for us when the US dollar drops. This is just something to keep an eye on, but it would be silly to get too frustrated as it's not something we can control - and money wasn't the sole reason we decided to set up home in the DR for a few years.  

Matt and I miss our family and friends so much in Australia and New Zealand. We use Skype every day to keep in touch with loved ones and of course also rely on email and Facebook.  Being so far away has made me appreciate and value my friendships and family so much more, because they’re not just a five-minute drive or plane ride away.  To keep myself from getting homesick, I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to be able to live like I do and that there is probably no mining expat position in the world quite like this one! 

People often ask how my relationship with Matt has been affected and how it’s changed with him working away Monday through Friday every week. But nothing has changed at all. I think you need a good foundation of trust and respect in your relationship to begin with when entering into a situation like this, and if you have that then everything will be fine.  I miss him during the week, but I stay busy and before I know it the weekend is back around again, and Matt is home.  In a perfect world, we would be spending every night together after his day at work, but every expat’s situation is different and has its pros and cons.

Living as an expat sure has its challenges, but it also has its major good times too. The memories and friends we have made and will make here will last a lifetime and it has certainly opened up my eyes that there’s a big wide world out there ready to be explored!  Many people ask us when we are going to head home back to "reality" ... to which we answer "we have no idea!"  We have a taste for the expat lifestyle now and it's excellent.  So for now we will continue living our Caribbean dream and being grateful for the advantages of being a pair of mining expats!

Ever worked and/or lived overseas for an international mining company? We'd love to hear your story!