Living overseas is hard. Away from family and friends that I grew up with, I had my fair share of struggle trying to assimilate into the Australian culture making new friends and calling this new foreign country ‘home’.
Frankly, to me, becoming ‘an Aussie’ you need to be white, beach loving, outdoorsy, extroverted and helpful (even towards strangers). Quite different to my Chinese culture really. In fact, you could say it’s almost the complete opposite. We Chinese in general value materialism, convenience (one stop shop for everything – hence we prefer to do things indoor), introverts (those who don’t say a lot of words, yet when they speak, they speak a lot of wisdom) and… we’re quite unhelpful towards strangers when asked for help.
This is me braving myself eating escargot in Paris, France.
If this is how the media portrays that these are the criteria in order to become a ‘real’ Aussie, whatever that means, then I’m screwed. As first of all, I’m clearly Asian and I don’t look white at all from any angle (as evidenced from my photo above). When I moved here to Australia during my teenage years, I struggled to find my identity. Like how much of my culture should I still preserve, for example taking off your shoes when you are in the house or the fact that I really like karaoke and bubble tea. Or on a more serious note, sometimes I just don’t feel comfortable being all open and friendly towards people that I just met, not that I hate you of course. Maybe a little bit.
As years go by, I came to realize that if I want to stay in Australia I need to play by the rules. I used to dislike the beach as Chinese people prefer to stay indoors and avoid the sun for fear of being perceived as coming from a lower socio-economic class. But now I absolutely love the beach, any day I get when the sun’s out, I head down to the beach. I used to also be quite shy around people that I just met, but now I found myself to be more at ease and make friends more easily. People say they either love me thinking I’m cool or they hate me for whatever reason. Their loss really. I also try to be as helpful as I can, whereas in the past I would avoid talking to strangers on the street at all cost for fear they were going to steal my purse or something.
However at the same time, I would never be an Aussie Aussie as that’s just not who I am and it’s not the way that I was being brought up. It would be different for you if you were born here or moved here when you were really young. So I guess the golden question is “how much should I preserve my own culture and how much should I try and assimilate into my new culture?” I wish there is just one standard answer to this, but this really depends on how comfortable and how well you are in adjusting yourself in a new environment.
For me, it took at least a couple of years to be comfortable in speaking English without thinking too much about it. Don’t get me wrong I still do make a lot of mistakes and pronounce words in English that no one can understand. But that’s okay. It’s all part of learning. Don’t beat yourself too much about it if you feel people can’t understand you or they snob you off. Remember it’s their loss. You do what you can every day and set your mind in getting better, which depends more on your own initiative or will than results. People disappoint you.
Whereas making friends with the locals, this also takes time. Obviously it goes two ways, some people just have absolutely no interest in learning about your culture and that’s fine. It’s part of life. You meet people that you do and don’t get along with (regardless of cultural context). Focus on those who also have an interest in your culture so they will also be more patient if you were struggling to explain yourself (which happens to me too many times! Thank God for those lovely friends).
So what about you? Do you find that you can relate to my stories? What’s your experience in moving and living in Australia or in a country that’s foreign to yours?