Who am I? A love-hate relationship with Australia.

I have lived in Sydney for 6 years now, and while I have not regretted moving here those many years ago, there have been some moments in my time when I have questioned how I have managed to pass a significant portion of my life in such a passive, complacent and limp country like Australia, despite personally harbouring a deep connection with a more vibrant, cultural and inspiring environment.

I recently read some words from D. H. Lawrence, which gave me insight into how I truly feel about Australia.

“This is the most democratic place I have ever been in. And the more I see of democracy, the more I dislike it.” 

I found myself agreeing with a lot of Lawrence’s views on Australia, in his letter correspondences that he had with his sister, despite it being written in 1922. So why does it seem like nothing has changed in such a long period of time?

This led me to really think more about why I have such an apathetic view of Australia. I wondered if, somehow in the midst of the many harrowing experiences I have had in Sydney, if this had somehow distorted my views and altered my overall opinion. And then one day, I found a few philanthropic projects that I had enthusiastically started as a student at The University of Sydney, but had subsequently abandoned into the I-will-try-again-another-day pile as it received little traction and interest. I felt saddened that this was a lost passion, something that was more of a distant memory of who I was rather than an active image of who I currently am.

This sudden and stark realisation about myself was not so startling as when I went out to dinner with a few friends and they described me impassively as “the scientist” or “the academic”. I had never aspired to be a scientist and was not pleased to be immediately categorised and pigeon-holed into this confining space; devoid of freedom and stifling even in hypotheticals.

I felt suddenly infuriated that I was not engaging in actively doing more to help the many people in the world who were suffering from poverty, disease, failed governments and unemployment. I had fallen victim to my once greatest criticism of others who I observed around me: I had lost myself in the myriad of quotidian toils and had allowed everyday worries to overwhelm my life. It felt as if I had lost it all: the many years spent cultivating my independent views and opinions, and my diligent collection of the many worldly vices that were anathema to me. So in a desperate attempt to rectify this passing label of “the scientist”, I clambered to speak about my youth, a reminder to myself and to the new people who had entered my life, that I was more caring and compassionate at one point in my life. However, it failed to have the impact that I was hoping for. Instead, I felt like a fraud.

So I thought deeper about myself and who I am. “Who am I?” I asked myself. I realised that, while the course of my life was my decision, I was not the only one to blame for my predicament. Australia has long since been moving towards a more conservative society, engaged less and less in international aid and philanthropy. This was significantly different to the culture I am most familiar with in South Africa, where caring for our fellow kindred and the concept of ubuntu are underlying cultural attitudes.

I feel like over and above feeling foreigner, there is a deeper underlying sense of cultural disconnect between Australia and myself. It is not just the recent changes to citizenship laws in Australia which has made me feel foreigner, nor the casual racism towards Asians (and other foreigners) in general, but the far right wing opinion of extreme politicians like Pauline Hanson, Australia’s insouciant attitude to international aid and philanthropy, the lack of- and dwindling engagement of Australia in helping refugees, that causes a major rift between my own values and the values of the country in which I reside. I am reminded again of a quote from D. H. Lawrence in his experience with Australia:

“I have never felt such a foreigner to any people in all my life as I do to these. An absolute foreigner, and I haven’t one single thing to say to them.”

These matters of international concern are dear to my heart, and something that I feel so passionately about and I think when you are shrouded in a society entrenched in complacency, and a casual lack of concern for fellow humanity, it makes it challenging to constantly remind yourself of who you are and what you want to stand for.

 

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The benefits of studying as an international student in Australia

Travelling internationally to pursue a better tertiary education experience is growing in popularity. There are many benefits such as personal development and the chance to create a stand-out profile and resume that differs you from your peers. Travelling internationally for a university experience prepares you better than studying locally, and makes you better equipped for paving your path to success.

One of the greatest benefits of travelling internationally as a student, is that you are presented with an opportunity to explore yourself as a person, learn more about how you react in challenging situations and invest in personal development. This process of personal development is facilitated by travelling opportunities, the constant exposure to a wide range of cultures, languages and foreign practices, as well as the spate of challenges which you would unlikely face studying locally. When I moved to Australia in February 2011, the challenges began as soon as I stepped out of my front door. It was the first time that I had caught a plane alone and the daunting task of arriving in a large airport, and navigating the routine procedures, was overwhelming as a young traveller. From exchanging money at the airport, to ordering and paying for a meal, the basic tasks seemed to be so foreign. This trend continued when I arrived in Australia, with transport, navigation, establishing my own bank account and mobile number all posing the same challenges. I learnt a lot about myself in the process and my continued willpower to overcome extremely stressful situations and hardships has continued to surprise me.

A second benefit of studying internationally is increased employability. When the time had come, I graduated with my hard earned combined degree in Engineering and Medical Science. I found interviewing for jobs arduous and generally boring, with prescription answers a norm to the host of uninspired employer questions. However, I found that my brave move to Australia was paying off. In general, employers favour candidates with greater general knowledge, as it aids in creating a friendlier and more co-operative workplace. In interviews, I had life evidence to prove my success, paralleled with my academic success. I followed the seasoned advice of “fake it until you make it”. This experience made me stand out, and I was as a result, more employable overall.

My time abroad has certainly not been without many tears of both laughter and sadness. I have pushed myself to my limits and have not regretted any step along the way. Despite the hardships faced, such as financial pressure, making tough decisions, high pressure for success, these skills are indispensable to face the challenges of the real world.

While it may seem conflicting as to whether the challenges are worth the effort, studying abroad as an international student is an experience like none other, with benefits far outweighing the costs.

Welcome to my world.

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Hello world,

My name is Irene, there is no nickname for that although I still occasionally get variations of spelling, the latest, being Irine (on the scholarship form I received…).

I was born in Johannesburg South Africa to two modest Chinese parents. They had moved to South Africa just when I was born and only now, do I realise that they really must have had it tough! How on Earth did they manage two children (I have an older sister) while moving countries, to a place where they don’t speak the language, know anyone really and no internet, skype etc to stay in contact with the only people they did know? All I have read recently is that to have a successful move with your partner, you need to do a lot of preparation, or maybe, you just need to be Chinese!

Anyway, I grew up very quickly for a number of reasons, and moved to Sydney, Australia when I was 18. I’ve since spent the past 6 years here in sunny Sydney and currently, I am unemployed but figured I might start a blog to document this process of life… surely, they way I feel might be shared with just about everyone else who has moved internationally before. I’m very much at the other end of that process though, and so this blog won’t be about the move (although sure enough the move has played a major role in my life and will likely be mentioned at some point)… rather, I think it will serve as insight into a millennial’s life, to somewhat prove that we are not a generation born from entitlement but a generation born into globalisation and how that effectively affects our everyday lives.

I welcome you to my world and my life. Please, share with anyone you know, because I think I have tried just about every medium to connect with the wider world through the internet and instagram lasted all of a week before I realised how empty it is and how likes are so underwhelming! So, this is my last go at creating a network online. All or nothing I guess.

So, if you like the sound of this, please register to keep me motivated. Your subscription to my blog is the only thing that might keep me typing and sharing!

If you have travelled internationally before, please share your experiences with me. I would love to know what you would like to read and discuss and I have many, many stories. If you are about to move overseas, what advice would you like or what do you want to read?

Irene