Lydia Hambour: The easy-going and laid-back nature of Australians is generally seen as a strength

Lydia Hambour has travelled a long way from her first home in the small, rural town of Eudunda in the mid-north of South Australia, to her current home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As a kid she always dreamt of traveling overseas but like many expats thought she would only be away for a few years rather than indefinitely. Ten years after she left Adelaide, with a journey that has included living and working in Melbourne, London and Dallas, she is currently in New York working for JetBlue Airways as the Manager of their Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS). The Australian aviation industry is relatively small and she says it has been her “willingness to move” that has provided her with “career growth opportunities and amazing experiences living in different cities around the world”.

After Lydia undertook a double degree in Air Transportation Management and Business in Melbourne, she won a position as a FRMS Analyst with EasyJet, in the UK. She originally moved to London on a working holiday visa where her intent was to “stay for a couple of years, travel around Europe and then move back to Australia”. However, she ended up living in London for four and a half years, with a brief trip back to Australia to change visas from a working holiday to a highly skilled migrant visa. After new aviation regulations in the United States led to a requirement for all US airlines to implement a Fatigue Risk Management program, she saw an opportunity to start a program from scratch with American Airlines in Dallas, Texas, where she worked for three years on an H1-B visa. After a six-month break to travel around South America, Canada and South East Asia, she moved to New York to work for JetBlue Airways, where she was sponsored on an E-3 speciality visa for Australians.

Lydia attributes her success overseas to the lifestyle and work ethos of Australia. She describes how “the easy-going and laid-back nature of Australians is generally seen as a strength and appreciated in what can at times be a high-stress work environment”. Though Lydia has been overseas for more than ten years and now has an American partner, she feels like she has “two homes”. “All my family are in Australia and we are really close, so I will always see Australia as my second home, no matter where I live in the world.”   

Interview by Rosie Roberts, School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia

What does your role as a Fatigue Risk Management Specialist entail?

As a fatigue risk management specialist, I am responsible for designing and developing programs that reduce the risk of human fatigue impacting safety. This has primarily targeted work groups that include pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians and ground operations personnel, but can really be applied to any industry and workforce that operates in a 24/7 environment. I have recently met with hospitals hoping to apply the same approach to the work practices of doctors and nurses.

I develop programs that monitor the impact of fatigue on performance. For example how much things like reaction times, situational awareness and memory retention degrade throughout different flight operations, workload and shift systems due to fatigue.  We use this information to improve rostering/scheduling design and determine how different task complexity is managed across a workforce and shift system.

Do you have any advice for Australians looking to move to New York?

I was lucky to have contacts in JetBlue before I applied for the position and moved to New York.  I think networking is really important and especially so in New York where there is so much competition in certain industries like finance, marketing etc. Anything you can do to stand out in the crowd and make a positive impact on potential recruiters is important. Also knowing the visa requirements and the process for applying is really important. Some companies may not be familiar with the E-3 visa. The H1-B is much more complicated and expensive than the E-3 for companies, so talking them through this can be helpful.

As far as moving to New York, understand the cost of living (it’s high!) and ways to save where you can – different apps (streeteasy is a good one) for finding a place to rent and places without a broker fee are available but you have to be quick. I was not lucky enough to find a rent-controlled apartment though. There are lots of shared apartments available through Craigslist and other sites, which can be a great way to meet people too.

What’s your favourite part of New York life?

I started off in the East Village, which was great for food and going out, meeting people, etc.  The Upper East Side (UES) of Manhattan, where I now live with my partner, is more relaxed and a little less expensive – it’s also close to Central Park and the Met, which I love. In New York, there are endless options on your doorstep. I have no car, but the subway is convenient and makes the city so accessible – bars, any cuisine you can think of, museums, sport, great music, jazz, local, even Aussie artists pass through pretty regularly. I just saw Sarah Blasko for 15 USD in a small, intimate space about 15 minutes from home.    

What is the most challenging part of New York life?

The most challenging part has definitely been the small apartment living. Most social occasions occur out at a bar, restaurant, local park, etc. which is great. One of the best things about New York is the number of different things you have available to you. But one thing I really struggle with is the lack of space and especially outdoor space, which we’re used to having in Australia. Just relaxing after work in the back-yard with friends – this is something I’ve had everywhere else I have lived, including London but in New York it is really rare, especially in Manhattan.  I have no outdoor space and limited space for visiting friends to crash.  Entertaining usually involves everyone cramming into a small apartment, with most people standing up!

When friends visit from overseas, where do you take them?

The Metropolitan Museum – it has something for everyone (even a rooftop bar overlooking Central Park) and you can spend an hour, or all-day depending on your mood, plus it is ‘pay what you want’. I recommend at least one Broadway show or catching a baseball/basketball game – a great New York experience and for someone like me who grew up watching NBA, it’s a real highlight of any visit. Renting a bike is fun too. Gets you around the city a lot quicker than on foot and there are a lot of bike paths – you can go over the Brooklyn bridge or ride around Central Park.

As for food spots, I generally tailor where I take people, depending on their tastes. I love the East Village for Asian food (Momofuku), there are some really good steakhouses all over Manhattan and Brooklyn and then there is awesome Italian (Uva) near my place on the UES and a load of great restaurants in the West Village.  A $1 slice of NY pizza is iconic and probably good at the end of a visit when the money is running low. I also have some less touristy rooftop bars I usually take people to – my favourite rooftop bar is the Roof at Park South. The New York skyline is incredible and I never get sick of seeing it!