These days I am celebrating the 20th anniversary of arrival in Australia. While I never regretted my decision to settle in Australia, I can say in hindsight that this life-changing experience has been more challenging than anticipated.
In Slovenia, youth unemployment rates at the moment are sky high and many younger people consider moving out. Australia with its skilled migration program presents a unique opportunity to go somewhere civilised, sunny and exciting (as we tend to believe).
While some migrants do their homework properly and find a job and organise the basics well before they set out on this journey, there are also many who approach the move somewhat naively and sooner or later become depressed or get in all kinds of trouble.
To mark my anniversary I thought of preparing a list of key questions one should answer honestly before making the decision to move:
1. Can I speak and write English fluently?
Generally, we tend to overestimate our knowledge of the English language. If we manage to have a conversation with a few foreign tourists in Slovenia who say that we speak English well we are quite happy to believe them. But the criteria for living in Australia is so much higher: in order to find a job and feel comfortable in your workplace and in your new environment, you need to speak fluently, without hesitation and search for words. You must be able listen to the radio and understand most if not everything what is said there. You need to be able to read Australian newspapers or magazines and find only a handful of unknown words.
Admittedly, I know people who have been in Australia for thirty, forty, even fifty years and they still don't speak English well. But take my word, they never managed to feel integrated in this country. They were unable to find the job they could aspire to in their home country, they could not and would not mix with the Australians, they can't participate in the wider community. Instead, they have sought refuge in the Slovenian community and to this day continue to grumble against the Australians.
2. Am I willing to live without my family and friends?
Australia is far away from Europe. Flights are very long, exhausting and expensive. It might not be possible to travel back to Slovenia frequently. It is much easier today than it was twenty years ago to keep in touch over Skype and similar application; nevertheless, contact over the phone or the internet is not the same as live presence. Parents grow old and need help: I am not there to meet their needs. Family birthdays and anniversaries come and go, I am not there to celebrate theirs and they are not here to observe mine.
Old friends go their own way, have their own experiences, and soon there is nothing to share. When I go to Slovenia these days, I see the persons I used to know when I was a young girl but they have changed a lot and so have I. There are very few with whom I can still connect in a meaningful way.
It helps if you have relatives in Australia as they can smooth the transition. But that was not my experience.
Making friends in a new place is not something that happens overnight. Of course we are all different and make friends in our own way. I was brought up as a Slovenian and was not particularly outgoing as a young woman. It took me years to open up and become more laid back, as Australians tend to be, which considerably improved my social life.
Regardless of your friend-making style, when you first arrive in Australia, you know nobody and nobody knows you. Your personal history is wiped out, you start from scratch. For some, this is an opportunity to start a life without the baggage that burdened them before. For others, this is too disorienting and difficult to accept.
3. Am I open to change and adaptable enough to integrate in another country?
Regardless of the currently prevailing multicultural ideology which may advocate assimilation or integration or whatever, when you move to another country you can't expect the new country to adapt to you and your habits. You can scream and fume as much as you like; if you wish to have a good life in Australia you will have to observe the Australian way of life and adapt yours accordingly.
It is our human nature that resists change, but change you must. Australia changes everyone anyway, with your participation or without. For a happy life, it is advisable to be as observing and mindful as possible. The more one is open to change, the easier it is. The more one is mindful, the more conscious the process.
I know people who have been grumbling for thirty, forty years. Australia has turned them into miserable and deeply unhappy people. But in fact, they did this to themselves by resisting change. I also know people who are accepting of Australia and the Australian way of life. Generally they come across as considerably happier and more successful than the first group.
4. How much am I going to miss everything known and familiar?
I remember missing the view of the Alps. Are you going to miss your home town and your neighbours? Skiing or summer holidays on the Adriatic? Abundant cultural events, Slovenian TV channels? The four seasons? The local gostilna and its regulars?
In Australia, everything is different. I expected nice and warm weather, what I got is this beautiful but harsh climate with cold winds and burning sun. To my eye, the Australian landscape is fascinating. However, the countryside is largely free of people and man-made objects. DIFFERENCE is the name of this game. Can you live with it?
What is your experience? Is your list of key questions different? The Slovenian would like to learn about your views and present them to our readers.