The new migrant’s mental preparation

Sorry that I’ve been incommunicado the past few days. My original plan of blogging every day in Adelaide flew out the window because of my schedule and because I was tired out from walking everywhere (which is awesome).

I’ve been meeting a whole interesting bunch of people in Adelaide the last few days and listening to their stories. If there’s one thing I can say from what I gleaned from those encounters is that your attitude as a migrant is so very important. You need to be positive, and you need to have a paradigm shift in your thinking to survive in Australia as a new migrant.

There is much information out there about what you need to do to get yourself a visa to Australia or what you can do when you arrive. But there’s not as much in regards to the mental preparation that you need to have before coming over here.

Mental preparation, I believe, is just as important (or even more so) than the physical preparation. From what I can glean from the numerous migrants I’ve spoken to, having the right mindset is really vital. You need to:

Let go of previous privileges and comforts
You may have had a big house, a maid and a personal driver in your Malaysian life. In Australia, unless you’re one of the very lucky few (and loaded), you’d have to start from scratch again. That means taking the public bus. Or cooking all your meals. Or doing without that HDTV or chauffeur. Longing for the comforts of your previous life will only bog you down with unnecessary regrets. Find creative ways to carve a comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle for yourself on a shoestring budget. It could be fun. Living a simpler life is an opportunity to discover who you are without your possessions.

Realise that you may not work in the same profession or industry, at least for a while, and accept that fact.
Are you in love with your job as I am? I am still struggling to say goodbye to my profession, and am slowly accepting the fact that I will never probably be that in Australia again. However, fortunately, there are ways for me to indulge in it even without a job here – and for that, I am fortunate. (I am a writer.) Being exposed to a new occupation – no matter how “low” – is a chance to build toughness and also an opportunity to get new skills.

Not tie your sense of worth to what you do for a living
People “back home” were always fascinated with what I did, and could never resist saying my name in tandem with my job title. I grew uncomfortable with that, because I didn’t like how much I enjoyed the kick I’d get out of it! I later realised just how much I have tied my identity with my job. Am I less of a person if I did not have a fancy title tagged to the end of my name? Well, of course not! And this is something we have to let sink in.

Be prepared for months and months of joblessness
Here’s a cold, hard fact: No matter how qualified you were, no matter how much experience you had back in the “Tanah Air”, all this matters squat in the Lucky Country. They want you to have “Australian work experience”, and if you don’t have that – it’s going to be tough. And in South Australia, due to the parochial nature of the job hiring practices, it is going to be especially difficult. Many had to take courses to requalify (and a lot of times, even that doesn’t work!). Many chose to volunteer or work odd jobs. Don’t be embarrassed to do that – it’s an honest living and in Australia, nobody cares what you do as long as it’s not illegal. Get your foot in the door and be prepared to work very, very hard at securing that first job.

Accept that this is the way things are in Australia, and getting angry about it is a waste of energy
Well, you can complain until the sky turns red, but things will never change in Australia unless you are God. It’s the culture here – some companies are just very reluctant to give foreigners a chance so you will have a tough time of it. What you can control, however, is your reaction to these circumstances. While some negativity is inevitable and you do need to express your anger and frustration once in a while, don’t dwell and wallow in it as it’ll sap the strength out of you. That strength you’ll you need to fight this tough battle and to endure your trials. Have a positive attitude – happiness is a state of mind, not of being.

Stop comparing Australia with Malaysia and vice versa
I mean, why wish that an apple was an orange? Yes, Australian people have different values and way of doing things – you can choose to be bitter and angry about it. You can even choose to have a superior attitude (“Man, did we do things so much better back home!”) so that you can feel better. But really, is this how you want to exist in the country you’ve fought hard to get a chance to live in? Again, one has to let go of wishing things could be just like Malaysia because they’re not gonna be like Malaysia. We can either choose to dwell on the good or the bad side of Australia. If you choose to dwell on the bad, then you’ll be miserable. It’s really just your choice.

Stop reminding people how awful Malaysia is
And while you may have “escaped” and am now “safe” in Australia, must you sneer at the country that gave you opportunities and educated you? Now, I know where this is heading. You’re saying that the gomen did not lift a finger to help you. Some of that is true, but who you are today is because of the opportunities and policies of the Malaysian government. And you know what, looking at who I am today and the kind of life I had – I don’t think I turned out too badly.

I need to blog about this more because I can go on and on about it. But frankly, Malaysia isn’t as terrible as you think it is. Sure, it’s not heading where we’d like it to, but must you put down the people who have made the choice to stay there? Their life isn’t as hopeless and terrible as you think. Also, having this mindset means that you’re a “failure” if you return to what you consider an inferior country. And that’s not true.

Treat this as an experience and an adventure, no matter how the journey will turn out
We have been taught that the only worthwhile experience to have is one that ends in success. But yet, many successful people went through numerous failures and in each experience they learned something new. In my life, that’s true as well. I’ve gone through quite a few heartbreaking and nerve-wrecking failures in my personal and professional life and almost all of them I’ve count as a blessing. Why? Because they’ve made me stronger and have changed me for the better.

Like I told Tony, a new Singaporean migrant – no matter how badly this turns out, this experience will enrich you in many ways. You’ll never return home empty.

PS: Just because I wrote all this, doesn’t mean I’m a master and 100% mentally ready for the move! I’m just a student like everyone else 🙂


14 thoughts on “The new migrant’s mental preparation

  1. These are such rich insights. Many women living and working in a culture not their own would be enriched and helped to adjust by practicing these truths. Thanks for writing.

  2. Susan,

    when we were in Msia, we tend to get poison by too many negative comments about Msia, but in actual fact quite a lot of those complaints does apply to Aust as well …

    after 3 yrs in Aust, I still regard Penang as my home and also don’t deny the possibility of moving back 🙂

    but one thing for sure, it’s the experience that we gained and life goes on … now that I’m away from home, it only makes my relationship with families and friends much stronger because i miss them.

    Good luck !


  3. Hi! Thank you indeed for the notes left here. I think it encapsulates key points I have heard or read about. They are real facts which one must come to face.

    Thank you.

    Eu Jin

  4. Your post is full of insights, valuable reading for anyone contemplating emigrating from Malaysia.

    In the context of migrants arriving in Australia, we Malaysians have a unique story. Ours is not one of escaping persecution or poverty. As you pointed out, many Malaysians do in fact suffer a net loss of quality of life in moving to Australia (maids, chauffeurs, HDTV, etc.), and this suggests there is something out here in Australia worth pursuing, worth giving up the cushy life of servants, the KL Hokkien mee of Lorong Bandar, the McAllister Road char koay teaw, the comfortable company of family and childhood friends, for. It must be something intangible, yet real and worthwhile. What that is will probably be unique to each person. For me, it has something to do with obtaining a sense of personal freedom to realise my full potential as a human being rather than as a wage/money-making machine, and for my children to grow up in an open and equitable environment that does not place limits on the realisation of their full potentials.

    On the balance of probabilities, I wager I can better attain these goals by migrating to Australia rather than staying put in Malaysia. I also believe that the social morals and cultural values of Australia are more in tune with my personal ones, like the rule of law, having a fair go, being true to yourself, etc. I believe this will be the tipping factor as to whether one stays on or returns.

    One’s mental preparation for emigration is not complete without discovering for oneself the ‘lay of the land’ to which one is moving, its past, present and future, the values, beliefs and aspirations of the majority of the people living there, and what contribution one can put in to make it a better place for all living there. For me, a carrot works better than a stick. Contemplating the positives of what I’m moving towards, rather than what I’m moving away from or giving up, better motivates me.

  5. Hi Susan,

    Reading through your blog is almost like reading a blog i wrote myself (although i don’t blog). I just gotten my 475 visa last month and thinking when should i be making the move to Adelaide. I have no relative or friends in Adelaide so i hope you can be my first. Do mail me at so i can know what to prepare for the move or where to move to when i am there. Hope to get a reply from you soon.

    Thank you.


    • Oh well, if you choose to be bitter about it it’s your choice. I can understand why you feel this way as I struggled with it for years too. But in the end, having bitterness will only make us suffer. Also, after having travelled quite a bit this decade I could see the good things our country has given us. True, the racism and corruption is still there and I get angry too. But I no longer dwell, but choose to vote their asses out. The least I could do.

  6. I’ve been in adelaide since sept 2011, went back in dec 2011 to settle my early retirement matters n back again in Adelaide late Feb 2012.
    All you hv written to what i have experienced. im still hunting high n low for a job and none so far. Its quite daunting and most times wonder if i should just accept those ‘padan muka’ looks from family n friends n return to Msia. but im going to give it a go n move forward… thanks for sharing your experience

    • Even if you go back, try not to think of it so negatively. Think of it as you have given it a good go. Some folks don’t even bother to make the move, but you took the hard road and decided to give it a try. That’s awesome in itself. Anyway, I do hope you have a better experience in Adelaide once you return. I have met many who have found jobs after a few months, so try not to give up 🙂 We’ll support each other, k?

  7. i like it if i know what’s coming, what i find hard is not knowing what’s coming and not being able to prepare for it .. .like finding a job while still in tanahair and whether i can provide enough for my family, how things will turn out, whether the little ones will be ok or how they will turn out…

    • Tell me about it. I totally understand what you mean about uncertainty. But you have to ask yourself was certainty that much better?

  8. I’m the midst or applying for my pr and really have this unsettling mind about what is going to be when we arrive. Really feel a bit stress thinking that i’m going to give it up all here having a five figure salary comfortable job with maid but what the heck just woke 1 day and say if i dont do it now then i will regret someday. Partly for my family and partly for me. Looking at my foreign workers able to make a living in our country already spur my mind mind that the worst could happen would i end up as hard labourer in oz. The worse could happen would be that i be back to malaysia and start all over again.

    • Oh wow, five figure salary! Tai lou, you are in a better position that I was or am! I had enough only to last me five months in Oz… but kidding aside, ask yourself, is that really so bad, going back to Malaysia?Is that so bad, being a hard labourer? Because there’s always a silver lining for everything. See, I was all ready to be an aged care worker, and I can easily focus on the shit I have to wipe from people’s backsides or some crass thing like that. But in the end, I focused on the nobility of the job and realised that yes the job is hard, but I can chose to focus on the positives. I’m not asking you to be a Pollyanna, but not to be so hard on yourself. My friend likes to tell me this: “If you go back to Malaysia, will you die?” Your ego probably will, but you’re not going six feet under. Meanwhile, you’d have memories of that time when you decided to live out of the box. Now, ain’t that something?

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