Slovenian postgraduate Denis Marin on his life and study in Brisbane

Denis Marin and Ana Robic
You arrived in Australia one year ago. First of all, why did you decide to leave Slovenia and what guided you in your decision to settle in Brisbane?

Reasons to leave Slovenia were many, the main one was my wish to complete my masters degree in the chosen field in a foreign language and at a high ranking university. Other reasons, such as the climate, economic stability in the country and employment opportunities also played a role in my decision. Brisbane was chosen due to the fact that it has the only high quality university that offers the program I truly wished to complete.

Are you planning to return to Slovenia when you complete your studies?

Upon completion of my studies my girlfriend and I hope to find work here in Australia. Even though it is gradually becoming harder for migrants to find employment here, I believe it is still easier than in Slovenia. Australia is a country where good, high quality work is appreciated and well-paid. Slovenia is a lovely country to live and enjoy life; however, the current economic situation is not conducive to enjoyment, thus we have no wish or need to return to Slovenia.

How do you view your chances of finding work here in Australia and what are your career prospects in Slovenia?

The Australian employment market in significantly bigger than the Slovenian market; consequently there are more career opportunities here. Having said that, one needs to keep in mind that competition is also so much stronger. As everywhere else in the world, it is important to know people who can throw in a good word for you to the prospective employer and thus increase your chances of getting a job. Even though Australia too is currently facing some kind of economic crisis, I believe our chances of finding work here are better than in Slovenia.

How do you find living in Brisbane?

Life in Brisbane is in many respects very similar to life in Ljubljana. It's just that Brisbane is bigger. People are friendly, always ready to answer any kind of question and help you. In comparison with other Australian cities, Brisbane is relatively small and quiet, very appropriate for someone who wants to study and have some fun. It has 2 million inhabitants who came from all over the world. Despite its religious and cultural diversity the city is very safe. Brisbane is always alive, something is always happening here, from smaller cultural events to high profile concerts. I must say I was very surprised to see that big concerts start at 4pm or 5pm and end at 11pm or midnight when in Slovenia they would only begin.

How are you supporting yourself during your studies?

Life in Australia is more expensive than at home and that does not include the university fees. Nevertheless, casual work is paid well enough and as a student you can survive. On a student visa, we are not allowed to work for more than 20 hours per week. Without some help from our families it would definitely be much harder, especially in the time of exams when we spend all our time studying and can't work.

What is the main advantage of living so far away from home and what is the main disadvantage?

The main advantage of living so far from home is networking, getting to know new people, building the social capital, if I use this modern term. Becoming familiar with new social and cultural traditions is also an advantage.
The main disadvantage is being so far away from home, from your family and friends - and you have to deal with this challenge every day. When my girlfriend and I arrived in Brisbane, we didn't know anybody and we literally started from zero. For both of us this was a serious shock as we had a lively social life in Slovenia.  

Do you know any fellow Slovenians in Brisbane? How and where did you find them?

We got to know three couples from Slovenia who arrived in Australia in about the same period, that is, in the last two years, with the view of building a better life here. Unfortunately we live at different places, about an hour drive from each other: in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. We talk over the phone which is the most convenient  and meet about once a month. We have a BBQ, speak Slovenian and have fun; we also exchange information and experiences, especially in relation to job opportunities and visas.

Are you aware that there are two Slovenian clubs in Brisbane and its surroundings, one in Brisbane and one on Gold Coast? Have you been to any of them?

I am aware of both clubs, my girlfriend and I also had the opportunity to meet two members of the Slovenian club in Brisbane, Mirko and Anica Cuderman. I am afraid we haven't found time yet to visit the club and usually we are not aware of events organised by the club. I believe the club is not taking advantage of new technological opportunities to advertise and connect people. As a result, it is losing its appeal, character and opportunity to grow.

What are your plans for the future?

It is hard to predict future in today's fast-changing environment: my wish and vision is to stay in Australia. 

The questions to consider before moving to Australia

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.

Picnic in Nelligen, NSW, on Saturday, 1 February 2014

Let me just remind you that everyone is


to attend a family picnic in Nelligen on the NSW South Coast, on Saturday, 1 February. It will start at 11am.
Bring your own food, drinks and a chair. 

There are BBQ facilities, lots of shade and public toilets in the park.

I look forward to our meeting!

Pastry chef Klemen Popit and his wife Malči Turšič of DeToni Patisserie and Bakery on their love of making sweets

You arrived in Australia only recently and already you are running a very successful business. First of all, why did you decide to leave Slovenia?

Simply it was a challenge for us. We already had a successful business in Slovenia and after 12 years we needed a new challenge. In Hotel Mantova in Vrhnika my job was managing the front of the house and the kitchen staff, creating and developing menus for the cafe and the restaurant. When we started with our home-made gelato and Italian-style desserts we realised this was one of the best decisions we made. Only then I realised that this was my passion for life so I made a decision to further develop my skills in pastry at the famous Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute which is one of the best worldwide. My options were Paris, London or Sydney, and finally I chose the last as I don't speak French and don't like the London's weather.

How did you go about setting up a business in Sydney? Did you get any help? How did you find out about how to start a business in Australia?

At first we didn't get or seek any help as we didn't know many people here. Setting a business in Australia I believe is much easier that in Slovenia. We found all information needed on internet sites like the Australian Taxation Office and other similar government sites. Our start was very basic from our unit kitchen in Allambie Heights, just me and my wife. After ten months working at home we decided to rent a commercial kitchen and expand our business. Today we have a team of 13 pastry chefs, kitchen hands, delivery drivers, etc.

You settled on the Sydney North Shore. There are not many Australians who would be brave enough to start a business in such an affluent area. What made you confident enough to do so?

When we moved to Sydney we didn't really know much about different areas and micro locations but we love the sea, beaches and the life style here. After exploring different options on where to settle down a family friend convinced us to move to Northern Beaches and I am happy that we did. The only downside is the cost of living as it is one of  the most expensive suburbs in Sydney. But we wouldn't change it for anything.

Sweets are perishable, yet you are selling them overseas. How do you solve this problem? Do you export them to Slovenia? Any other countries? 

In Australia we are selling nationwide which means we are present in all bigger cities around Australia. To Europe we are currently exporting only to Slovenia as a trial. At the same time we are exploring the possibilities of doing business in Asia as it is a fast growing and promising market.

What is the secret of your success?

Ha ha ha, I don't know really. If you are good at what you do, hardworking and really passionate about what you do then you are on a good way to succeed. Creating products that people already know but in an improved, better and nicer way will definitely help too. Our philosophy is to only use the best ingredients available on the market which was a problem at the beginning as customers like to compare your product price with prices for similar products on the market but quality differs a lot.

Did you find it difficult to adjust to living in Australia?

I have a friend who said you really need two years to adjust and I would agree. Now, after almost four years, we settled quite well I think. After all, with this weather, beautiful beaches and the natural environment, it's not hard to settle here at all.

Are you involved with the Slovenian community in Sydney? 

Unfortunately not as much as we would like. We are working long hours Monday-Friday, sometimes on weekends too. We are enjoying weekends surfing or relaxing on the beach or at home. Recently we met a couple of Slovenians and we have been in touch since. Actually there is a Slovenian BBQ this Saturday and we are looking forward to attend and meet some new fellow Slovenians.

What would be your advice to a Slovenian company or individual that wishes to start a business in Australia?

Firstly you need a business idea and good realistic goals. It all starts from there. A bit of money helps as well, as in the beginning no bank will give you a loan if you don't have any business history. And again, lots of passion.

What are your plans for the future?

Our plan is to continue to grow our business as I really love what I do. In February we are moving our production to new, bigger premises as the current kitchen is becoming too small. We would like to move into retail business as well and start with a new line of French-style patisseries in Australia. But as the Aussies like to say: We go with the flow! 

You can visit DeToni Patisserie and Bakery online or at 332 Sydney Road, Balgowlah NSW 2093. 

Is Slovenia a corrupt country? - Response

In response to the articles on corruption in Slovenia the Slovenian received a letter from Jože Ramuta from Geelong in which he expressed a view shared by many Slovenian migrants in Australia. For this reason the body of the letter is published here as a separate post (translated from Slovenian into English).

Thank you for your informative emails which I always read and to which I try not to respond  with my honest opinion as some people might find it offensive. I am one of those migrants from the 60s when it didn't look very likely that the economic and political situation in Slovenia would ever improve. What hurts my heart most is the fact that after 50 years of living abroad, the economic situation in Slovenia has not improved but rather worsened. My 42-year-old son visited Slovenia in 2004 and on return to Australia said that Slovenia could only become a democracy  when those who were in their nappies or weren't even born yet come to power. That was his summary of politics in Slovenia. He is an optimist...

My heart aches when I see this paradise in Europe being destroyed by selfish people who write their own laws. I know they will never forget Janša his activities during the independence process. But Jankovič can still work as the mayor of the beautiful city of Ljubljana. How can somebody in Slovenia where retired people and workers in low paid jobs receive the lowest possible income become a euro millionaire? Here in emigration, nobody can pull wool over our eyes. We can see Slovenia the way it is. When Slovenia seceded from the federation some people commented that it would become the second Switzerland. It could, but not with corrupt politicians and owners of companies that were bought by dishonest means. Slovenia could still become the second Switzerland if corrupt politicians and businesses could be moved south where they belong and replaced by the Swiss.

After 49 years of living in Australia and 50 years since I left Slovenia I am upset as I watch the deterioration of our beautiful Slovenia that I visited nine times and plan to do so again. Now when Slovenia needs as many educated people as possible, there are no jobs available to match their qualifications. They find employment in Europe and elsewhere where they will get married to foreigners and thus our beautiful Slovenian language will slowly disappear. I have one question: Who is responsible for all this?

Is there still time to fix these errors?

Statements made on this blog are the personal opinions of the commentators and do not necessarily reflect those of the blog owner.