It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That could best describe a new migrant’s first few months in Adelaide (or anywhere else, for that matter).

It’s the best of times because you’ve finally made the leap. After months of wondering “What if?” or “Should I?” you’re finally in the land of your dreams. You’re taking in the four-season weather, the efficient public transport, the amazing public libraries, the lovely big Aussie homes, the beautiful birds chirping in the trees and even the gorgeous parks surrounding the city …. everything is new and wonderful and full of opportunities.

And then it’s the worst of times when you find out that reality does not match your rose-tinted vision of Australia.

I consider myself a well-travelled person. Over the course of 12 years I’ve been to more than a dozen cities around the world because of work: Dublin, Hokkaido, Edinburgh, New York, Tokyo, Osaka, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Taipei, San Diego … I thought I didn’t have a rose-tinted view of Australia. But still, I’m surprised at the disappointment I felt when certain things didn’t meet my expectations.

My friend Yin (who rescued me from Boss Lady) said that every migrant would go through a terrible experience of some sorts that will shake them. And every migrant I’ve spoken to seems to have proven her point right.

Yesterday, I had dinner with N and his lovely wife and baby, and he described to me how his first few months in Adelaide was filled with fear, sadness and confusion.

One day, after going to the city to personally pass his resume to yet another recruiting agency, he sat down on a bench at Victoria Square to have lunch. It was a cheap takeaway, and as he was eating his lunch, it suddenly rained heavily. (That’s Australia for you, there’s no warning when it rains.) He hastily packed away his lunch, but overcome, he actually stood there, looking at the weeping skies and wondered out loud, “What in the world am I doing here?”

N is doing fine now, by the way – he has a stable job and has applied for his PR.

I, too, had this epiphany. Only a few days after landing in Adelaide, while I was in my cushy studio apartment at Boss Lady’s abode. I had begun to suspect that my arrangements with Boss Lady is not going to be great, and I wondered what I was getting into. As a migrant who came to Australia alone without her family, the vulnerability I felt at that moment was overwhelming. And I wondered why I left my cushy life in Malaysia, where I had my own apartment, could eat out at Alexis any time I wanted (though, seriously, the food is so overpriced), could ring up or meet my friends for dim sum and had a very supportive church.

I had this “worst of times” once more when my many attempts to connect with the local church was fruitless leaving me wondering if they really do mean it when they say that they’re there to help me, and then another when I received a crazy/rude text from a guy whom I contacted because he had a room to rent. (FYI, “Have you had sex before?” isn’t an appropriate question to ask any lady, especially when you don’t even know her!)

I thought my life was already falling into some measure of order when I found a sweet little room in Kensington last week. I loved the place to bits, and I liked the lady who lived there and I thought we hit off wonderfully. And then she called me yesterday to tell me that the whole arrangement is off because she doesn’t know if we’ll be a good fit. (Actually she said, “I think I’m a bit of a racist. I prefer to live with Australians.”) I was supposed to move there in three days!

At this point, I would say that almost all my encounters with the local, Aussie-born bipedal population has been negative. In fact, I’m seriously wondering if half the population of Adelaide is on something.

But, anyway. The point of this long, rambling post is that as a new migrant, you will have moments like these where you’ll wonder why you gave it all up to be here. Resist the temptation that you are somehow being singled out by the universe for some unfair experience. You’re not that unique or special. Seriously.

Sure, you’ve heard of stories of how some migrants get a cushy job the moment they land, but they too had their share of horror stories.

The crucial point is how you react to moments like these. If you’re gonna dwell on how unfair Australia is treating you, you’re going to have a tough time. If you laugh it off and chalk it up to yet another colourful moment in you life, you’ll have a better time at it.

As a writer, moments like these are food for my writers’ soul. As Neil Gaiman said in his wonderful inspirational address to the graduating students of an American college: “When things get tough this is what you should do: Make good art. Husband runs off with the politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and eaten by a boa constrictor? Make good art.”

You know, I’ve only been here for 20 days. My, that’s a short time, really. But I’ve gone through so much already. But despite all my ‘drama’ moments, I don’t regret the move at all. Because between all these negative experiences are wonderfully positive ones – witnessing my first hail storm, having dinner with two lovely families who just made me feel welcomed, browsing through the public library, walking down North Terrace, just amazed that I’m living in this state.

Anyway, just translate that negative experience into something positive. And for God’s sakes, when a new migrant calls you to ask you questions about life in Oz, please don’t pour out all your sob stories at once and scare the bejesus out of that poor soul. I frankly dislike that immensely. I know some people are trying to “help” by giving the person a reality check, but you know, you’re not helping.

We all know that life here is tough, but for the person about to make the leap, they need encouragement, not a horror story. Because despite the “worst of times” there are also “Best of times”. So balance out your tale of woe with tales of good things, okay?

Photo by jfreak.


8 thoughts on “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

  1. I enjoyed reading your post… going through similar dillema now that i too have my 475. My first entry will be this oct 🙂 somedays i am so sure, other days, im not… hopefully it works out well for you there!

  2. Moved to Sydney from KL 11 years ago…give it time…a job helps…and then you will remember why you left Malaysia in the first place. Things will get better and b4 you know it, you will be an Aussie yourself 😉 ( Minus the perceived negatives)…you are starting from ground zero in a new country….will take a couple of years before you reach back to the same level that you were in Malaysia both personally & professionally….most important thing is to look at the positives & move forward one step at a time….My life today is so much better than it was when I left KL & whenever i go back and look at my friends & relatives, I know that I made the best decision & am sure in due time, you will feel the same too!Good Luck & God Speed!

    • Hi, its so disheartening to read your post. my family just received our pr status for adelaide. we are malaysians. we applied so that our kids could have a better education. i must admit, we have fears and anxieties, especially for our children. not to mention, the cost of living. JD’s comments provides a glimmer of hope.

      Much appreciate advice or words of wisdom on whether we should go?

  3. I’m so sorry you have to deal with Adelaide racism. It’s always the bigots who are the most vocal. For what it’s worth, as a fifth generation Australian I try to offer a big welcome when I can. I know this is a couple years old but I just wanted to apologise for your negative experiences.

    • Hi there, thank you for your reply. That’s kind of you. It has been two years since I posted this and I have had better experiences. But you know racism is everywhere even in my country.

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