“I want some real information please!” Beyond the PR puff pieces about Australia

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Many migrants – Malaysians and from other countries alike – are shocked by what Adelaide is really like.  No, I’m not talking about its beauty which is considerable. I’m talking about the Adelaide economy, the attitudes of employers and work culture, how the locals are really like, what are the nuts and bolts of getting a home and finding a support network….

When I embarked on this journey way back in 2009 I found many PR puff pieces on the Internet and from migration agents about sandy beaches, life in the sun, and the “booming” economy. Being a naturally sceptical person I searched for more “real” information about what life is really like Down Under.

The Whirlpool forums was a great place to start if you’re looking for more “real” information, but a caveat: Just because some people are having a hard time in Australia, doesn’t mean that you will. There are some folks that slide into life in Australia like a hand in a silk glove, but knowing what it’s really like on the ground will help you come up with strategies that will enable you to succeed as a migrant. I know it helped me.

Still, there’s no beating real-life experience.

For one, despite researching things very thoroughly, I was still surprised caught off guard by how reality didn’t match my expectations, and how tough the migration journey was!

The denialists

I created this blog because I wanted to tell people what life was really like as a migrant. What I found fascinating, however, was that there was a strong culture of “don’t say anything bad about Australia” among Malaysian migrants and Australians.

I still remember being hushed in a restaurant by a Malaysian migrant who cast a nervous look at the Australians at the next table when I spoke about SA’s economic issues and the parochial attitudes of its employers. Another migrant would literally tell me to shut up when I bring up sensitive topics.

When I wrote my post about sham contracting, I faced strong opposition from some Malaysian migrants who accused me of discouraging new or potential migrants. I sometimes wonder if this attitude was the reason why many people find it difficult to find solid information about the realities of life as a migrant in South Australia?

Tough love in print

Fortunately, there are people who are willing to speak up despite the opposition and disapproval. I recently came across the writings of one Malcolm King whose insightful, no-holds-barred opinion pieces I thought were really spot on. I wasn’t surprised when King came under fire from State Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis after he wrote a blistering op ed piece about SA’s unmentionable problems. It’s easier to deny that there’s a problem than to do something about it, eh?

He called Adelaide Amish in the piece Adelaide: decline and fall. And I’m sure many migrants would feel the sting of Hold skilled migration until SA economy improves. He said something not many people would say in polite company let alone in the public sphere:

Why would a state government spin SA’s charms to people in England, India and China, when locals can’t get a job here? The answer is – money.

In a broad-based and diverse modern economy, migrants pump cash into the state for rental accommodation, schools, food and utilities. They may take six months to a year to get a job and, when they do, they become ‘cash generators’. Migrants are a boon when the economy is going well for a raft of social and economic reasons.

Ouchie.

Do read Malcolm King’s columns. You may hate what he has to say, but I think his opinion is valid and he does point out uncomfortable facts. For one, I share his concern about SA’s lack of economic diversity. For example, SA’s top industries are Healthcare and Social Assistance, Retail and Manufacturing. What it desperately needs is to build a knowledge-based economy or to create a dynamic entrepreneurial community.

Oh, Susan, why are you being such a downer? You may wonder. I’m just saying that you need to know exactly what you’re in for if you move to South Australia. (And I say SA, as I haven’t a clue about other states.)  It could make for a happier and smoother experience. (Hopefully.)

Others would say: why are you being so negative? Life is so much better here! No need to stress and work under bad bosses in jobs that demand 15-hour workdays. Hate to say this but you get them here too. Also, is a better lifestyle worth sacrificing a career that you’ve spent decades building? Some cannot fathom the idea and would be depressed by that. Some can and are more than wiling to do it. And some think that they can but end up realising that the couldn’t!

So nothing is more important than clarity when it comes to moving countries. You got to be sure what motivates you to make such a life-changing decision. And if you’re clear about what it is, remind yourself every single day.

To achieve clarity, you need information. Real information. Not just stories about the beaches and barbies in the backyard.