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Expat Business – How long does it take to feel at home?

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I recently walked into a special homewares and gift shop in Caloundra, Villa Verde Living, as it had been recommended to me. When I entered the quaint white cottage on Ormuz Avenue, I heard a woman with a welcoming Dutch accent chatting with customers. The upbeat, friendly lady caught my eye and I thought that she must be the owner. I saw a connection between some of the prints and styles in the store with those I saw during a trip to visit my own relations in Holland.

Villa Verde Living

I soon found out that the lady’s name is Anna Honder’s and she is the proprietor of Villa Verde Living. I began talking with others in the shop, including an American and Kiwi customer. It certainly did not feel like a shop but rather a meeting place where you want to spend time before you buy, in a way only few shops do.

The conversations continued and the sound of mixed accents reminded me of all the great times I have spent travelling the world and the knowledge that can be gained from others with different backgrounds and cultural experiences. I asked Anna about the length of time it takes for an expat to truly feel a sense of being at home and if, in fact, that ever happened. Anna was quick to convincingly reply, telling me that Australia is her home now and that she loves it here. I was taken aback when an American lady chimed in, saying that Australia feels like home for her as well. I could not resist asking the American lady if she had married an Aussie and when she said she had, we laughed about the fact that I was the only Aussie in the shop.

I explained to Anna that my own experience of spending nearly six years sailing the world on a small yacht with the man who became my husband en route had given me a sense of compassion for expats. Although I absolutely loved the travel, many years away from my loved ones and the sights and smells of Australia reminded me that my home country was a piece of me that could not be replaced unless I returned. The other point is that I have never stayed long enough in any country to make the transition from visitor to long-term resident or the even the bigger commitment of becoming a citizen, as many expats do.

Anna went on to explain her journey from Holland and how she has created her new life and home in Australia. Anna told me that after she graduated from marketing and advertising in Holland, she travelled to Australia on a working holiday and met Wayne, her future husband. Together they travelled around Australia and Asia, then back to Holland where she began studying interior design. From there, an amazing journey ensued where they travelled the globe on some of the world’s largest and most luxurious super yachts as crew for the rich and famous. As the chief stewardess/purser, Anna was responsible for all of the ships’ interior and guest services, travelling to amazing destinations and ports of call.

The constant inspiration of amazing boutiques, hotels and resorts that were frequented along the way helped to create Anna’s dream of owning her own little boutique.  So after seven years on boats, Anna and Wayne decided to settle down and start a family in Australia.

I was curious to find out how she developed this beautiful boutique and homewares cottage in Caloundra. Anna saw the future growth potential with all that was planned for the area so they jumped on the opportunity to purchase an old run-down house in a key location in the CBD with main road and laneway frontages. She said that Wayne had started doing small residential property developments, which came together naturally with her dream of her own little boutique.

Villa Verde Living

The renovation of this gorgeous cottage became their next project and with all the cool things Anna had seen around the world and the desire to create a unique and special place in Caloundra, they went ahead. The big picture for Anna and Wayne was not just opening Villa Verde but the expansion of this idea to help activate the CBD. This was where the idea for the Paisley Park Project was born! The location that backs onto Villa Verde is a street called Lamkin Lane that is being developed into a hub based on a vision to create an ‘experience’ destination for shopping, live music, arts and culture and ultimately the creation of a vibrant creative precinct. The hope is that they inspire others to contribute to, and be a part of, the current monthly ‘Lamkin Lane Live’ laneway activation event that is on the last Friday night of every month.

Anna said that the next stage is a restaurant or bar, with future stages including a wellness centre, retail and other creative spaces.

Anna tells me that she informs all customers, whether they are international tourists, regulars from Brisbane, Caloundra or other parts of the Sunshine Coast, to support the Paisley Park Project and what is coming in the future.

I would like to see expats encouraged in business because I believe they bring knowledge, creative additions, fashion, technology and culture that can make our experiences more interesting, diverse and connected to the world. I asked Anna if she thinks expats share a bond just because they all come from a different experience and perspective, while all having to accept being part of a whole new life. She feels that it’s hard to explain but expats somehow automatically understand each other’s challenges in making a new life and adapting culturally while often missing many aspects of their homeland and family.

I told Anna that it took my father, a Dutch immigrant farmer, many, many years to feel Australian. He said that the defining change came from understanding Aussies jokes and being able to participate in the play on words and this gave him acceptance and the self-confidence to be himself. Australia is home for him now and he feels that the only things that gives away that he originates from Holland is his Dutch accent. Anna thinks that Australia is definitely her home now and it really became a true part of her once her children were born here. She will always consider herself Dutch, of course, but does not feel that Holland is her home any more. She feels very blessed and grateful to live in such a great country with great people and the laid back lifestyle she enjoys with her family.”

I asked Anna what is something that few people know about her and she told me that she spent seven years on boats travelling the world but she gets seasick. Really seasick! But she managed by accepting that everything eventually passes and while keeping focused on the big picture you get through. Life is like the sea, sometimes it’s rough and crap and other times its smooth sailing and great. You need the bad to appreciate the good times. Unfortunately, many people miss that. Also, before working for the rich and famous she spent a couple years doing it really rough, backpacking on a shoestring through third world countries, seeing so much poverty first-hand and came later to realise the wealthy who had literally everything were often much less happy than those who had nothing. The difference being that the less fortunate had dreams and hopes, while the most fortunate had nothing more to wish for. You need to have something to wish for and accept the good with the bad.

Anna and I have been in so many of the same ports and marinas, probably walked over thousands of the same paths and cobbled streets at different times. I am sure that we have looked at the same islands as we woke up on anchor, possibly even shared sunsets without knowing and now we are both in business, living in an amazing place that we both call home. The type of super yachts Anna was working on often helped to direct us regarding local knowledge on restocking our boat, accessing fuel docks and visiting customs. The bonus during the time we spent travelling was that we were often asked to dinner as guests because of our accents and the fact that we were sailing the world on a small yacht with few facilities so far from home seemed interesting to our hosts. We had many stories to tell and the upgrade to super yacht always allowed us to ask just as many questions.

I believe life is most exciting when we remain curious about people and Anna reminds me that remaining interested usually means finding out more rather than less, looking beyond our life experience, wondering and exploring what else we can seek to learn.

My favourite quote from Anna is, “the less fortunate had dreams and hopes”. I think if we run out of those two inspirations, life has far less purpose. The Paisley Park Project is about inspiring others to have dreams and hopes but to also turn them into a reality.

Anna is keen to meet anyone interested in helping and collaborating through the initiatives of businesses surrounding Lamkin Lane. Anna said, “Ultimately the Paisley Park Project will be a grassroots development and gradually bring together a range of retail, food, pop-ups, lifestyle options, live music, arts & culture and other creatives in a central location to benefit the community and other local businesses.”

I think Australia has gained from having Anna here and I’m looking forward to showcasing the talents of many more wonderful expat businesses.


Article and Photo by: Gerardine Lear

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