PROGRAM - by Puva Arumugam

Studying Diasporic social behaviour and migrant cultural assimilation processes have always been one of my many interests. I now dedicate a fair bit of my time being involved in research work that would provide an interesting and creative insight to the how migrant and expatriate communities adapt, adopt and assimilate in a different country over a period of time.

Living away from home is never easy! Whether you moved because of better prospects, needing a change in environment, or out of sheer necessity, one has to adjust to new practices, habits, ways of lives, thinking and social surroundings when you begin to start life in a new country!

This adjustment can be quite daunting! Life has never been the same for many once they make the decision to move away from their homeland! However, creative thinking can always help you adjust to all these challenges and make the best of given situations!

With this as a background, I have started a Gemz Creative Arts Cultural Integration Program in January 2013 where I work closely with migrants, expatriates and diasporic communities to understand and work with them as they integrate into a new society, cultural environment and adjust to a different lifestyle as part of their journey to a foreign land.

Do visit this page from time to time to get an update on the Research Program as this has been truly a wonderful experience for all involved.

Feedback is always welcome and if you live in Melbourne and wish to participate in this program, do send me an email. 

Gemz Creative Arts Cultural Integration Program 2013

In this page, I would like to share snippets of my research that I have conducted with migrants and residents who are here on transit.

Part 4 - Interview with Ms Lei Liu from China

My next participant in the Gemz Cultural Integration Program is Ms Lei Liu, a Chinese IT professional who has been living in Australia since 2005.

This interview piece is my personal favourite as I know Lei personally both as a friend and as a colleague for almost three years. In fact, I am constantly inspired by her as I have seen her adapt and adopt practices to make her life comfortable in this foreign land which she now calls home.

I am also happy to mention that this entire interview was conducted in Mandarin as Lei is one of the few people with whom I practice my Mandarin here in Australia. Hence, it was a pleasure to conduct this interview with her in Mandarin and then to translate it in English for the purpose of this research.

1)Living in Australia

Lei came to Australia in 2005 as a student to study Masters in Information Technology in Adelaide. She says that she was really fortunate as her degree was sponsored completely by her parents who lived in Beijing.

It was a challenge from the onset as Lei was studying a major that was totally different from what she graduated in back in China which was Telecommunications Engineering.

As Lei went down her memory lane, it was clear that this young petite woman has gone through a lot of challenges in a new land adapting to a totally foreign culture. She recalled how difficult her student life was in trying to cope in a new country with new people and a very new subject.

When she failed a unit in her first semester, Lei was devastated and was questioning her decision to come to Australia. At that time, she could only think of the shame she would be bringing her family if she returned home without her Masters degree. She was also conscious of the financial sacrifices that her parents were making for her.

Lei, however, took her failure as the first step to her subsequent successes. Lei set herself two personal goals to help her achieve her results that she came for. The main one was that she needed to master the English language and secondly she had to return home with the degree she came for. Lei knew that this degree will hold the passport to a good job for her both in China and in Australia if she decided to stay on.

2)The Australian Language

Lei's initial reaction to the Australian English was similar to many overseas students. She found the English spoken in Australia to be fast and hard to follow. However, she broke her own cultural barriers of being shy and started mingling more with Australians and English speaking friends in University. She said her closest friend in Uni was an Indian girl with whom she practiced her English before she worked up the confidence to talk to other Australian friends.

In time, she mustered the courage to ask questions in class to help her understand her units better. Her determination to master the language also helped her to understand the Australian language and culture a lot better.

3)Working in Australia

Upon graduation, Lei decided to stay here in Australia as the prospects were better. She then applied for her Permanent Residency and moved to Melbourne. Lei's move to Melbourne was also to be closer to her younger sister who was married and was living in Melbourne.

She said the journey to finding her current job had not been easy and she was happy to share her challenges that she had faced.

Upon submitting her Permanent Residency (PR) application, Lei started looking for jobs in Melbourne. She was given a conditional PR approval and was told that her PR would be approved once the paperwork had been reviewed. Her friends then told her that this meant that her PR is a given and that she would be getting her PR really soon. Being new to the work force and to Australia, she was advised by her friends that she should indicate in her resume that she was eligible to work in Australia.

Within the first month and a half, she was offered a very good IT related job with a good salary package. Lei was overjoyed and had informed her family back home in China of the good news. Her first day, however, was marred by HR not being happy that she was not a PR and they also accused her of lying in her application that she was a PR.

Lei tried her level best to explain that she had received a letter that her PR was approved and that it is will be finalised once the paperwork was reviewed. The company, however, did not agree and told her that they would not be going ahead with the appointment.

Lei said that the company’s refusal to offer her the job came as a double blow as it was not only the loss of a job opportunity, but also the loss of face as her integrity was being questioned.

Lei stressed that she tried to explain that she did not intend at all to cheat or lie to the company. She was new and took the guidance that her friends. And it was a great loss of face for her in her culture if her integrity was questioned. She also thought that this incident will cause others to lose faith in her and was very affected by it then.

However, much to her surprise, her Permanent Residency status arrived in due course and her subsequent job applications were never a problem. Lei said her dream was to always work in the city in a corporate environment and within a year, she was given such an opportunity to realize her dream.

4)Working with Australians

Lei identified a few cultural differences that she picked up during her work experience over the last few years here. She said that the Asian culture where she comes from is one that seeks harmony. Everyone tries to keep peace and it is a norm to go with the flow rather than to cause a disruption to the flow.

In her initial days in the Australian work place, she had been happy to remain quiet and just be a listener at meetings as she was still learning the job anyway. She picked up the trend on how her colleagues voiced their opinions quite openly and at times quite bluntly too. This expression did come across as a culture shock as it was not in her nature to question authority or job description issues openly.

She also realized that her quiet nature has been mistaken as a weakness. At times, she did feel discriminated against because of her personality. There had been incidences where work had been passed on to her as her colleagues did not expect her to question. She said it only changed when she reached her patience threshold and “pushed back” some of the work given to her that things took a whole new turn in her work life.

Today, Lei is not afraid to ask and question or express clearly what she can do and cannot do and what she is expected to do etc.

Lei reiterated several time that the most valuable lesson learnt over the past few years working here is to be assertive. Something that I had to learn to as an adapting process to survive the local work culture. There is no room for quiet achievers in the corporate work force. And maintaining peace and harmony is really subjective and relative to the nature of the work and the company.

5)Connecting with home

Lei now calls Australia her home and she is a happy mother of a toddler, Alex. She juggles her family and work with the help of her visiting parents and parents-in-laws. Lei does miss her relatives and tries to visit China occasionally.

Lei is truly enjoying her time here in Australia and she is happy to have moved here. She has met with challenges in many facets of her life here but these challenges have only enabled her to help her settle down in her new home.

As stated in many theories that govern Cultural Studies, there would always be tensions when two cultures come together. It is managing this tension and adapting to the new culture that presents the opportunity for the formation of new hybrid practices within societies. Lei is a classic migrant example of being this person who has started to adopt hybrid cultural practices.

I look forward to presenting my next interview soon...till then, stay connected!

Part 3 - Interview with Mr Vutay Man from Cambodia.

While I am in the process of collating my material from the interview with a participant from China, I am happy to present the details of another short interview I had with another participant, Mr Vutay Man, a 35 year old lawyer from Cambodia:

It was by chance that I managed to get this interview as I approached Vutay a few weeks back and it was not till last week that we both could make time for the interview.

This interview was truly a cultural exchange for me as I learnt a lot about life in Cambodia from him as well.

I am also in great admiration of Vutay for the sacrifices that he is making to ensure that his wife completes her education.

Vutay left his permanent job as a Legal Advisor at a Cambodian NGO to accompany his wife who is here to complete her post-graduate law degree at the University of Melbourne sponsored by the Cambodian Government. She has a year and half to complete her degree and Vutay feels that he should take time off his work to make sure that she is able to dedicate her time effectively to her studies while he takes care of their five year old daughter.

While the adjustments must be hard, Vutay said that he takes this as a positive opportunity. Despite being home alone most of the time while his daughter and wife are at school, Vutay occupies his free time by attending English lessons offered by AMES and volunteering at a local legal office to understand how lawyers work here in Australia.

1)Living in Australia:

Vutay describes his stay in Australia as being an interesting temporary interruption to his busy life in Cambodia.

Vutay is used to working long hours back in Cambodia helping fellow Cambodians sort out their legal tussles through a local Non Government Organisation known as the Cambodian Community Legal Education Centre.

When his wife was awarded the scholarship, she arrived first in Melbourne to get herself organised and settled. She was lucky to meet an old friend from Cambodia who helped her to get a house and settle in before her classes commenced and before her family arrived two months later.

When Vutay arrived, he had no idea where and what sort of house he was going to be staying in. He was not sure what life was going to be like for him and how his five year old daughter was going to adjust to her new environment. All he knew was that he had to get adjusted quickly in order to aid his wife effectively to complete her studies. It was not easy but he found his way around.

1)Living in Australia

Vutay describes that the cost of living in Australia as really high. He said the vegetables and fruits are very expensive in this country. Other than that, he is still adjusting to life here.

Vutay has been here for six months and most of his friends are from his daughter's school or from the English classes that he attends at AMES, an organisation that provides training and education to new migrants and residents.

Vutay observed that he finds it hard to make friends with local Australians as they speak fast and he can't catch a few words they say. Being a law graduate, he speaks very good English, but he feels that it takes him a while to understand the local Aussie slang and tone before being able to engage comfortably in a conversation.

2)Education in Australia

Vutay mentioned that the school hours in Australia are longer compared to the hours the children get back in Cambodia. According to him, back in Cambodia, the children are in school for only four hours. They are then picked up by their grandparents, parents or carers after school to attend extra classes or be at home to play.

He mentioned also that he did enrol his daughter in extra English classes back in Cambodia prior to their visit here in Australia. But it was still a tough adjustment for her initially. Her first two weeks were the hardest as she was always crying and refusing to attend school as she had no friends and found it hard to communicate. Things began to change in just a month and these days, it is much easier for him as she is really happy to attend school and speaks English rather fluently.

Vutay is happy that his daughter is getting this exposure as it would certainly help her in her studies when they get back to Cambodia.

2)Connecting with Family

Vutay calls home once or twice a week to speak to his family back in Cambodia. He finds that this connection is necessary as life can get lonely here in a foreign land.

He does have a few friends from Cambodia here in Melbourne but since he doesn't drive and with his wife in school for long hours, it is hard to connect with friends here. The only setback is that calls to Cambodia are expensive.

3)What is good or not good about living in Australia?

For Vutay, this is a short stay and he is making the best of it.

Since he is not actively looking for a job, Vutay did not comment much about the job market here in Australia. He found iteasy to be a volunteer since he was not asking to be paid and was only there to observe. So that too was a plus for him as it was in his favour.

When I asked if he would stay on after his wife's studies, he was quick to add that he would love to go back home. He smiled broadly and said that is where I live and that is where I would like to be.

My interview with Vutay was an eye opener for me about life in Cambodia. Vutay mentioned that it is not always a case where both parents work in Cambodia. Many of the locals in Cambodia run their own business or are into retail. Childcare is not an issue and life in general is very simple.

Being here in Melbourne is a short stay and he is not worried much about the politics, making new friends or travelling. He is very focussed on one purpose which is to help his wife complete her education with minimal disruption and return back home.

In the meantime, learning the language, and understanding the local culture is just part and parcel of his temporary resident status and he is willing to embrace it as it comes.

I hope you are enjoying my research program as much as me as I am truly learning heaps from everyone's experience.

Till my next interview...stay tuned!


Part 2

Interview with Mrs Hari Sri Vidya - An expatriate wife and mother from Bangalore, India

Being an expatriate will certainly earn the envy of migrants as most expatriates are professionals who are posted here on a one or two year work contract with a reasonably lucrative secured income which at times is topped up with allowances given for housing and school for children among other perks. These assignments allow these families to save money and also gain a wider work and cultural experience during their tenure.

I have had the wonderful chance of meeting Mrs Hari Sri Vidya who is a very active volunteer/contributor at my daughters' local primary school in Melbourne CBD. When I approached her for an interview, she was very happy to contribute to my research as she certainly had her observations and personal experiences about living away from home which she wanted to share.

Sri Vidya comes from Bangalore, India and her husband is working in InformationTechnology for an established firm. The couple have a six year old daughter and they arrived in Melbourne in June last year.

To Sri Vidya, this trip to Australia is a dream come true. She had always wanted to travel and she is thoroughly enjoying her stay here. To her, Australia has certainly lived up to her expectations. She is full of praises about the neat roads, green gardens and big lovely parks. She also finds the quality of fruits and vegetables to be really tasty and the variety is certainly a plus for her.

She admits that there are pros and cons in being an expatriate wife but certainly the pros supersede the cons only because of the job and the lucrative allowances that her husband earns.

1) Life in Australia

Her first month in Australia was spent looking for a house to stay and it had to be close to her husband's work place and her daughter's school. Renting was not easy for the couple as dealing with housing agents was certainly a new thing. In India, the tenants deal directly with landlords and have very little to do with agents. Sri Vidya said that at times she felt the agents were making the decisions and refusing their queries instead of the landlords when it came to lease or tenancy matters. She feels it might be better to deal with landlords directly.

In looking for a place to stay, it is important to this couple that there are other expatriate families from their hometown or country living nearby to offer support in times of need. I have personally observed that the Expatriate ladies take turn to drop and pick up the children on certain days allowing families to take a break when needed. This camaraderie is essential when you have no other form of support system to depend on. That is why we see the formation of diasporas who use the familiarity within the community to help ease the tension of coping with challenges that they face in a new land.

Sri Vidya observed that over the last few months, her family have adapted very well to their life here. Their house is a stone's throw away from her husband's workplace. He comes home for lunch and both parents take turns to drop the girl off in the mornings. Sri Vidya said that in India, the travel time to work takes ages and there is hardly room for the husbands to share the load with their spouses to take care of children as they have to leave early and come home really late. So the bond within the family has certainly strengthened.

She has also gathered a lot more Australian friends after she helped to organise a Bollywood Event in her daughter's school. Prior to that her friends have been mainly the families that had arrived from India.

Once she offered her help and time to mix with the locals here, she was happy to see that it opened up new friendships for her.

She also noted that Australians were not really happy when she gave her opinion on matters without being asked though. "They will accept it only if they asked for your view. If you give it unsolicited, they usually just ignore you." She said that "The the local Australians do have a close knit circle and one can enter only if they allow you to do so. Once you are in their circle, then they are very friendly and nice to you." It is an interesting observation and this works both ways I would say.

2) The Australian Language

Sri Vidya speaks five different languages and English is one of them. She feels that the Australian language is very colloquial. Being trained in British English and as a person who speaks and writes five languages fluently, she is appalled at the slangs, short forms and jargons that are used here in Australia. She is still baffled as to why the Australians like to use the term "No worries" for everything! A term that I am slowly refraining from using after my interview with her!

3) Education in Australia

From language, we moved on to education in Australia as this is very important for families with children when they move to a new country to work or live.

When I asked if she was happy with Education standards here in Australia, her reply was: " If you are already a citizen here, then you have no choice but to educate your children here...but if you are not a citizen, then I would suggest that you move your children back to India to continue their studies when they are in Grade 5 and 6!" To her, the school is only exposing the children to a broader cultural perspective but not giving them a good foundation required for higher studies or international standards.

She is not alone in this thought. Most expatriate families who are here from India, that I know, do coach their children at home with extra work that would allow these children to be compatible when they return back to India. The standard in Indian schools are much higher than what is taught here and it is very competitive.

I would share the same thought even though I am not from India. I grew up in Singapore and our primary school standards are higher than what is taught here in Grades 1 to 4. So I push my children to do a lot more homework than what is given at schools as I feel that they are not taught enough at school. But as Sri Vidya pointed out, my kids are born here and this is their home. I just want them to be good in their studies.

4) Cost of living in Australia

Sri Vidya observed that the cost of living here in Australia is way higher than in India or even the United States where her friends have been posted to before coming here. She is shocked and wonders how the locals are coping with such high costs of living. The good part of being an Expatriate is you save with the allowances given and the families do not need to buy appliances, vehicles and just use the basic so that they can save the money to buy them a better living back in their home country. But even the basics such as public transport, books, food and rental are costly and this reduces the amount that they can actually save when they are here.

5) What is not good about Australia?

Well, given that Sri Vidya did start her interview saying that there are more pros than cons, her main concern about the cons was the medical facilities and its cost and care that is offered here. She said that she is shocked at the lack of care that the patients get when they have to go to Accidents and Emergencies at hospitals in this country.

She had heard of encounters by friends and relatives of having to wait for several hours at the A&E for just basic treatment. This applies to both infants and adults.

She also cited the case of how one of her relatives was not given the proper diagnosis after a four-hour wait at an Emergency Ward. He was sent home with just a report and pain killers after an x-ray. His situation worsened after a few months and he was told to fly back to India for treatment as the wound was infectious and it could be contagious! Incidents such as this could be few and far between but to let something serious as this fall through the crack is not a pleasant memory for a mother who has a young child.

Given that India is a very progressive country in terms of its medical facilities, the expatriates from India are shocked at the lack of nurses on duty, the lack of duty doctors and how little the GPs here are of help for a flu or an injury! It is just ironical how money can buy some of the best medical services in India but the same amount of money cannot buy at times even basic medical service here in Australia.

Apart from the medical care, Sri Vidya also mentioned the drinking culture that seems to prevail in Metro cities.

She is just shocked not because she is conservative but at the drunken display of stupor among women and men that is so public in Melbourne CBD. She said she used to look out of the window whenever she heard a scream or a shout from below the streets. She was shocked to see how often it would be drunk women pulling and shouting at each other and a group of men running in many different directions down some alleys. Nowadays, she just shuts the windows and is quite immune to the public display of drunken aggression.

But overall, Sri Vidya is having a great time living here with her family. She feels that her daughter has toughened up a lot here. She has been a very confident child even back in India...the past few months, has also made her rough and tough. There are no monkey bars to climb back in the schools in India and Sri Vidya is just happy that her daughter is now trying everything adventurous.

She is impressed at the level of publicity that tourism gets in Australia. She observed: "Even a small water creek gets such great publicity that wants to make you visit this place. Once you get there, it is shocking because we have seen many other better creeks or falls in India! The thing is no one gives the places of interest in India much publicity. I am just impressed that the cities or local governments spend heaps of money for publicity here."

I had a great time talking to Sri Vidya as I could relate to many of her experiences here even though I am not from India. We are kind of the same and yet not the same. Given my hybrid identity of being a Singaporean Indian, I have been to India several times and I know the windows from which Sri Vidya is looking at when she is here in Australia.

The country we are from plays an important part in adapting and accepting changes into our lives. The status of our visa also matters as if you are here temporarily, you would brush off many things that do not concern you or likely not to have an effect on you. After all, you do have a home to go back to.

But for migrants like me, this is home. It is hard to brush 'not so good' medical facilities and education standards off the chart only because my family is here to stay and we do have to live with these conditions whether we like it or not. The windows through which I look at Australia have to certainly be different so that I can adjust and adapt to life here accordingly.

I will be talking to more migrants and expatriates from different countries and it would be interesting to compare their observations based on where they come from and what they are used to back home and what they expect from Australia too.

Till my next interview....stay tuned.

Part 1 Cesar and Carol - 

Migrants from Columbia

I recently had the privilege of working with two Colombian Migrants, Cesar and Carol for a period of two months on their adaptation and assimilation process in a new land.

I initially became involved as an English tutor but our discussion led us to expand this and we explored how they were adapting themselves as new migrants in a foreign nation.

Cesar arrived in Australia last October after he obtained his Permanent Residency Visa to be a skilled worker in Australia. He has given himself a year to find a job in the IT industry as he is well qualified in developing programs and systems. While he was busy sending out his resumes and contacting recruitment agencies, he also made sure that he was getting English tutors by both Native Australians and English Teachers to improve his spoken English. He felt that learning the Australian English would certainly help him to understand Australian Culture and get his job faster.

I was his tutor no. 4 as he juggled his lessons with three other tutors on different levels. The other three were Australians and Europeans who were teaching him different ways of speaking and understanding Australian English.

Cesar's girlfriend Carol arrived in January this year after she received permanent residency visa as well. She is a trained Mechanical Engineer by profession and she too was keen to get a job so that both Cesar and her can start their life here.

Both of them are in the view that the current job situation here in Australian is tough and they have given themselves till June this year before they decide to return back to Colombia.

As part of our Cultural Integration programs, we would meet twice a week and chat about life in Australia for two hours each session. This exercise was very interesting for me as I could apply all the theories of Cultural Studies in the way both Cesar and Carol adapted, assimilated and resisted their integration into a new country.

It was also refreshing as I had gone through almost all their shocks and apprehension 12 years ago when I first migrated to Australia but on a different level.

While there is potential for this study to be a good research paper or an academic paper, I would like to start by sharing my study in this platform to create initial awareness under several headings...Language, Perception of Australia vs living in Australia, Job market, People and Culture and Connection with home!

1)The Australian Language

Cesar speaks very good American English and his mother tongue is Spanish. He has a post graduate degree from Colombia and he code switches between English and Spanish quite often.

He speaks with an accent which is not hard to understand but he thinks it is hard for Australians to understand him. He also finds it hard to understand the Australian slang when he speaks to recruitment agents on the phone.

He feels that the native Australians were speaking too fast and was at first afraid to ask them to repeat what the agents were saying on the phone. So most of the time, he ended up not answering the questions in full or sometimes answering them wrongly. He would feel very silly as he knew they were asking something that he knows quite well but due to the way the question is phrased and asked, he feels he had not given his best shot!

We then worked on breaking the barrier of not wanting to ask the speaker to repeat the question. This is tough as the confidence has to come from within. Cesar had to fight the urge to be quiet on the phone and speak up a lot more. At times, it is a cultural barrier of not wanting to seem silly or slow when you ask someone to repeat themselves a few times.

Having studied Theories of Language and having taught the Representation of Language and Culture, I explained how the certain words were pronounced, articulated here in Australia, I showed how certain vowels are pronounced in the Australian slang which is quite different from how he and I would speak. This helped Cesar to understand why certain words like "No", "Home" and "Day" were stretched when spoken and sounded like they had a letter "I" even when there was no letter "I" in the spelling of these words.

Given that they both spoke fluent Spanish, they tended to pronounce the letter "V" as "B" and vice versa! So I would always pick it up for them until they made a mental note to change it as they spoke.

Carol was also very careful not to make a mistake when trying to express what she means. She would often correct herself while she speaks and question me if she phrased the questions correctly. The need to be understood was inherent and the need to belong in the Australian community using Language seemed to be a pressing need.

As English is my first language and I speak three other languages quite fluently, I have never had the difficulty of being understood here in Australia although my accent is not Australian. Hence, the importance given by the couple to be fluent in English was a foreign concept to me. I kept assuring them that I understood them perfectly but they were not convinced that the fellow Australians understood them as they were met with quizzing looks or questions on the phone that made them stumble!

2) Perception of Australian

Lifestyle vs living in Australia

Migrants often come with the view that the pasture is always greener elsewhere. In the case of Cesar and Carol, they wanted to see what was outside Colombia.

Both Cesar and Carol had good jobs back in Colombia and led fairly comfortable lifestyles. It is natural to expect that when they decide to migrate, their lives would be similar if not better than where they came from.

But were these expectations met? Not exactly...They were surprised that the cost of living here in Australia was really high. The strength of the Australian Dollar had a great impact on their financial planning. 1 AUD$ was equivalent to 2000 pesos! While they had come with a reasonable amount of savings, they found that food, transport and rent were fairly expensive when compared to back in Colombia.

When Cesar first arrived, he was told by his housing agent to pay a six month rental up front! That is not the norm here but his housing agent made him do it. Why was he told to pay that much?Neither of us had the answer! I was explaining that it is usually a month's rent in advance as bond and month's rent. Having paid so much in advance, he is certainly unable to move for six months unless the new job offers a good pay and that warrants him giving up his payment here. The couple also mentioned that they noticed more violent behaviour displayed on the streets and read about more violence in the suburbs in the news than they would back in Colombia. This made them question if this is really a place where they want to stay long term. They are used to seeing and reading about crime and violence in Colombia but when you are in a foreign land, it is just natural to fear the same crime and violence owing to the unfamiliarity of the location and people.

Things like connecting a phone line took more than a week to happen here in CBD Melbourne! They can't imagine the time it would take if they moved to a suburb! Internet connection was just as hard. The customer service was appalling with some agencies and these are major phone line or service providers! Getting utilities set up or just getting a furniture ordered took days and weeks unlike in their home country. This was certainly an issue that shocked them. These are issues that shock many locals too, believe me!

Carol mentioned that when she told her friends that she is going to Australia, they were envious that she can now visit Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam and Bali for holidays as these places were really near! She was surprised to find that it was not as near as she thought these places would be and the price of airfare was also not as what she imagined the fares to be!

The perceptions have been altered and it is not until you get to the place that you can actually find out how it is to actually live there.

3) Job Market

Both of them have arrived during a tough time in terms of employment situation and they are technically in a place that is inundated with migrants who are all competing for the same piece of the pie.

There are jobs but the couple are looking for jobs in niche areas and in the case of Carol, she stands a better chance of getting engineering positions in the mining towns or regional areas. As such, Cesar would then have to look for IT jobs there too.

Cesar noted that he might have been too hopeful of getting an IT job easily in Melbourne City but soon realised he was competing with a thousand other migrants from other nations such as India and Asia who are also sought after by employers. He felt that their command of the English language gave them the edge above him.

The next thing we noted was the lack of contacts to get Cesar his first job! He knows very little people here and those that he knew were not in the IT line.

He was finding it hard to understand why the agents were not getting back to him even if he had all the qualifications. One thing that hit him was that he did not know enough people here to get him contacts or in roads to the jobs that he wanted to do. It was easy for me to tell him to keep calling the agents to find out if they would see him but in reality, it is hard in some cultures to be so persistent.

While they have read that in the media that Australia had survived the Global Financial Crisis and that the dollar is strong and the economy looks stable, theactuality of their situation has thrown them off guard. The fact that the job hunt has taken more than six months is a worry! The only hope for them now seems to be Carol getting a job so that she can open up in roads for Cesar to get employed at some point.

4) People and Culture

What is the Australian culture? Certainly they were asking the wrong person as I am still learning what it means to be Australian!

We then observed collectively what a foreigner would perceive the Australian Culture to be. This would certainly be different from how Australians would perceive their own culture.

The first thing that was mentioned was how we had to be affiliated to some Footyteam to feel at home here! Cesar quipped: When I get my citizenship, I think I have to sing "God save the Queen and I love Footy!" It was like a passport requirement to belong to a Footy team! And of course his passion was Soccer which is not as popular here as Footy or Cricket!

I myself have yet to find a team to be affiliated to in these last 12 years as I can't be bothered with the sport really! My daughters are supporting a team because they like the colours and the team has been winning over the past year or two. That's as far as I would go in with the discussion of Footy! But Footy has sure been a great ice breaker with any Australian that I have met so far!

Cesar also said in Colombia, people love to watch people. They are basically very curious! And the people are generally very helpful and friendly. Here in Australia, no one cares if you walked half naked, no slippers or fully clothed. People don't watch what others do as much! I laughed out loud when I heard this as I don't come from a place where we watch people as well! I am not bothered with what others wear or do. Hence the curious stares of Cesar has been a worry at times even for himself!

Politics in Australia was also a topic that came up in the discussion. For a start, it is hard to comprehend who is in power and who is not. Who is a better leader and what is different about the politics here as opposed to home. Reading the news also gives a slanted perception depending on who is the flavour of the media! It was funto compare notes on what the couple thought about the ruling party as opposed to the opposition party! I was quite surprised that I was discussing politics quite readily and openly and that to me was a sign of me being assimilated with the Australian society. This is in the context that I come from a society that shunned political discussions openly some twenty years ago! It is of course a different scenario in my previous homeland these days.

5) Connection with home

While as migrants we have made a decision to leave our homeland, it is hard to be completely divorced from our homeland only because we have left our family and friends there!

When President Chevoz from Venezuela died recently, Carol said it really affected her! I was not even aware that he was sick! She was affected when she heard that her relatives were unwell. And this happens whether you have been here for two months or 12 years. News from the homeland will have an impact on the migrant as that affects the loved ones that they have left behind.

It is fair to say that while we are coping with our day to day demands here, our hearts and minds are, at least for the first few years, connected to our homelands. The issue would be that some migrants are able to let go of their sentiments in due course and move forward as they have made the decision to migrate, while there are some migrants who are too connected to their sentiments and family and leave for their homeland eventually to be where their heart is!

Both options have opportunity costs and in the case of this couple, they are just currently testing the waters here and are sure that they would one day return to their homeland as the pastures are not as green as they seemed to be when they were making their plans last year to migrate.

This program has been interesting for me and I hope you the reader have found it interesting too!

I look forward to sharing more of my future Cultural Integration exercises soon!

My next project is with an Expatriate who is transiting in Melbourne and let's find out if she is going to take the plunge to make Australia her home.

Stay tuned!

Dr Puva Arumugam