young immigrants talk about making a life in australia

Last year, it was reported that 28 percent of Australia's population was born overseas. That number has been increasing steadily for 15 years. In 2017, being Australian often means making the choice to uproot another life and replant it in our sunburnt...

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Jan 26 2017, 3:05pm

Dominique Ayanami Seo and Ara Cho

Ara and Dominque emigrated from South Korea five months and two years ago, respectively. They each came here to embark on a new chapter of personal growth.

How do you describe Australia to friends back home?
Ara: They do not mind if women have unshaven armpits.
Dominque: Three words: chill, joy, and warm.

When you first moved here, what did you find most surprising?
Ara: The locals aren't eating as much SPAM as I expected.
Dominque: The prices of cigarettes and salt and vinegar chips!

How has moving to Australia changed you?
Ara: I started to love myself.
Dominque: It has inspired me to wear more colors.

Julius Sackey

Julius emigrated from Ghana eight years ago for love. He has a daughter in Melbourne with his Australian partner.

How do you describe Australia to friends back home?
I tell my friends back home how far Australia is, the time differences, the opportunities, and how multicultural it is.

What element of Australian life and culture took you the longest to get used to?
Well, I am still getting used to it. The system is what it is taking me longer to understand than I expected.

How has moving to Australia changed you?
Moving to Australia has changed my thinking and perspectives. I see and understand things from a new light over the past years of living and studying here.

Jonathan Homsey

Jonathan Homsey is a dancer and performance artist born in Hong Kong to Cantonese and Syrian parents. He emigrated to Australia seven years ago from the United States to complete his degree at Victorian College of the Arts.

How do you describe Australia to your friends back home?
It is nothing like Outback Steakhouse and I have not met anyone who speaks like the Crocodile Dundee.

When you first moved here, what did you find most surprising?
How uptight I was. Australia's laid back attitude made me face my social anxiety head on. My fast-paced American lifestyle had conditioned my brain to think a certain way. Australia surprised me by teaching me to calm down and be in the present in the moment. 

How has moving to Australia changed you?
As a dancer in Los Angeles, I was only interested on booking my next gig or dancing behind a musician. There is nothing wrong with that, but when I learned about human rights issues and Indigenous rights in Australia, I knew I had to use my gifts to promote human equality. I now use my gifts in a way I never expected to and for that I am grateful.  

Titgyeth Kwajakwan

Titgyeth emigrated to Melbourne from South Sudan with his family 16 years ago.

How do you describe Australia to friends back home?
I tell them there are lots of opportunities. It is easy to create a better future for yourself and family. You can make something out of nothing.

When you first moved here, what did you find most surprising?
The way the houses were built and looked. I hadn't seen suburbs and single stories before. Also so many white people; I wasn't used to be surrounded by so many. We were used to be secluded into our community.

What element of Australian life and culture took you the longest to get used to?
It was the slang and accents. I don't feel like there is much culture in comparison to the traditional culture I'm accustomed to, so there wasn't much for me to get used to.

What do people misunderstand about young immigrants?
Colored youths especially get judged easily and heavily. The color of your skin creates so many misunderstandings here; it's about taking the time to know each person as an individual not a stereotype.

How has moving to Australia changed you?
It has made me appreciate my tribe and traditions. I feel more attached to them and understand the importance of not losing my culture, despite the fact in Australia a lot of the time people expect us to simply abandon our traditions upon coming here.

Ciara Dunne

Ciara emigrated to Australia from Singapore as a child. Her parents raised her with an equal focus on her traditional and Western lifestyle. She has been a citizen for 11 years and is pursuing a career in social justice.

How do you describe Australia to friends back home?
Laid-back, friendly (most of the time), and definitely not as judgemental.

What do people misunderstand about young immigrants?
When some people find out I wasn't born here they tend to talk down to me, like I'm not as intelligent as they thought or won't have the same English skills as they do — even though Singapore is an English-speaking country. I think it's just ignorance; your level of intelligence definitely comes into question just because you were born somewhere else.

How has moving to Australia changed you?
It has changed me in every way possible. I wouldn't be who I am if I hadn't moved here. 

Dina Smirnova

Azerbaijan-born, America-raised yoga teacher and artists Dina Smirnova first came to Australia for a performance commission then decided to make it her home.

How do you describe Australia to friends back home?
It's like America in the 90s...with no broadband Internet. Kidding. I also describe Australia as having some of the most beautiful nature I've ever seen.

When you first moved here, what did you find most surprising?
I was in quite a bit of culture shock, especially when it came to communication styles. I'm generalizing quite a bit here, however, my experience has been that Australian culture can be extremely vague, and indirect. This took me a long time to get used to and I found this very frustrating, in fact, I still do from time to time. But have come to appreciate the slowness. It has taught me to relax a little bit.

How has moving to Australia changed you?
It took me a long time to get used to Australian life, but it has allowed me to become a softer, more present, and a kinder version of myself. 

Katherine Gailer and Oscar Jimenez

Katherine and Oscar are a Colombian couple who married in Australia three years ago. They work in arts and social engagement.

How do you describe Australia to friends back home?
As a country of beautiful nature and many opportunities. [We] also tell them a bit of the beautiful things I know about Aboriginal culture [and] how much it should be protected.

What element of Australian life and culture took you the longest to get used to?
Katherine: The lack of connection to their own land and ancient roots.

Oscar: I think I felt misunderstood a lot of the times. There is a big stereotyped version of Latin people. It's been hard to change, but we are making progress. Many times I got asked about drugs just for the fact I was Colombian — I felt that was the most stupid assumption.

How has moving to Australia changed you?
Katherine: My whole self is still rooted in Colombian culture and is still protected by its mountain spirits. Being in Australia I have learned to observe from a distance and still connect to my culture. I have changed [because of this], and now I think I am ready to be a citizen of the world.

Oscar: I've opened up my thinking in many ways. Colombia is still a very conservative country and to be here has made me see things in a different way. Women are treated a bit more equally here and there is bit more respect for [LGBTQI] communities.

Lara Killham-Walter

Lara moved here as a young teenager with her father from England. She has just completed high school and is an emerging musician and sound engineer.

How do you describe Australia to friends back home?
I always find it hard to describe Australia, as I am aware that my perspective is slightly limited to the inner north of Melbourne. But I tend to rave about the music scene or complain about the heat.

When you first moved here, what did you find most surprising?
I was most surprised by how different Australia was. I guess I'd always assumed it was just a sunnier England, but I was struck by the cultural differences. I was also confused by the constant abbreviating!

What element of Australian life and culture took you the longest to get used to?
I found the school system the hardest to get used to. I found there was less overall academic pressure and that more focus was placed on expressing my own opinions. I'm sure I'm better off for it.

What do people misunderstand about young immigrants?
Us English immigrants don't often seem to be called as such, but other immigrant friends have spoken of the xenophobia they face, so I suppose people misunderstand a lot about young immigrants. Many wrongly presume criminality, and just have a basic lack of empathy for people from different walks of life.

How has moving to Australia changed you?
Moving to Melbourne has made me embrace my individuality. I realized I would always in some ways be an outsider, due to not being from here, so I decided to forget about trying to fit in.

Melissa Lum

Melissa moved to Melbourne from Singapore to focus on establishing a balance between her work in advertising and passions as a waacker — a form of street dancing originating from queer clubs in Los Angeles.

When you first moved here, what did you find most surprising?
I was expecting fish and chips, toasties, and maybe bad Chinese food. I wasn't expecting legitimate international cuisine at all. A good Banh Mi is one of the reasons I love Melbourne.

What element of Australian life and culture took you the longest to get used to?
I am still getting used to being more of an extrovert and expressing myself.

How has moving to Australia changed you?
I started thinking about 'me' and how I can elevate myself and affect the people around me. Through my dancing, I've been introduced to a community where everyone is very unique and in tune with who they are and what they are looking for. Each person is committed to elevating themselves through art and all of that has inspired me both as a person and a dancer.

Credits


Text Jonathan Homsey
Photography Tasha Tylee