Australia Day 2019 inspired me to visit the Immigration Museum of Melbourne. It was very interesting to discover personal stories of immigration, the challenges and the joys, most of which are experienced by immigrants even today. Writing this blog brings a shade of sadness because no one should leave their homeland unless they wished so, but so many leave due to impossible situations such as poverty and political chaos. But the flexibility and creativity they must develop in order to remain joyful even under most unstable situations makes them amazing people. That I can say – the challenge that leads to struggle with love is worth every time and effort.
Australian Culture Shock
Discovering the Australian culture may not be as simple as it seems. It’s just like hiking in the tropical rainforest, everything seems so peaceful, but within this silence hide the most dangerous animals in the world! I’m not saying all is bad, but all is full of surprises and not all of them are good.
Living my 5th year in this country I continue to be surprised by so many culturally defined concepts such as ‘friend’ or ‘politeness’ that are greatly distinct from what they mean in my homeland, Lithuania. To call someone a friend back home, means almost to commit to a relationship, usually for life. You take time to build trust but once you have it you can be sure it will not go away… unlike in Australia. Here everyone is ‘friends’ with everyone. While this makes the stranger feel welcome, it is the same stranger that can be greatly disappointed and feel extremely lonely. It is same about the idea of politeness, which may present a person to be very well educated and attentive and yet can be used just a temporary cover for who they really are.
I suppose these traits exist in every culture, but having lived and travelled in over 30 countries, I have never seen them present as strongly as here. And I think I can speak of it because I came here alone, and was submerged from the start to the deep side of the Australian culture experience.
Making the decision to immigrate
The reasons for immigration add up to one shared similarity: to seek a better life. Many go for years talking about it and not finding the courage to take action. In the end, it takes more than courage – it may take everything… but it also makes a person grow in every virtue, but especially in the virtue of letting go.
I heard it said somewhere that if there was no difference between us as people, we cannot know who we are. This was said in the context of male and female differences and the complementarity of the two genders, however this can also be seen as true for immigration: finding out who we are not, makes it easier to find who we really are.
Australia doesn’t make it easy for countries like Lithuania. While Germany and France among many others can have a working visa, Lithuanians can immigrate only through study, work sponsorship or relationship visas. It is the same with double citizenship, while countries like Russia allow to keep both passports, Lithuania does not. This means that the Lithuanians who become Australians have to give up a critical part of their identity and compromise the time they can spend back home. Maybe this explains why there are such few young Lithuanians here – most in the Lithuanian community are immigrants from the time during the war. As it appears then immigration was easier back then.
It is a completely different story if there are family members waiting who arrived earlier and can help make sense of the cultural differences, however even then I know of quite a few unsuccessful acculturation stories, where the efforts to adjust lead to mental illness and even death in one case. Family support can play a crucial part to integration but in efforts to preserve culture can be very hard on children, who may choose to step away from their roots in order to adjust to the new home.
Who are Australians?
One day at my work in the office, someone used the phrase ‘my country’ to describe Australia. I found it quite interesting, since this person is an immigrant and what’s more a TCK (Third Culture Kid) who experienced several cultures as a child. I carried these words in my thoughts for some time, trying to understand what is it like for the immigrants to call Australia their home.
For Australians of second and third generation, the challenge is of another kind – that is for those who have awareness of the importance of knowing themselves. They have to step backward and look into their roots as a stranger, perhaps engaging more with their country of origin by travel or learning the language. And yet it is a challenge, one that can take a lifetime to discover, just like immigration itself.
Australians who are basically the true owners of the land are the Aboriginals, who have inhabited Australia for thousands of years. The European settlers, who arrived in 1788 in a ship with 800 prisoners.
Sometimes it seems to me that the many battles fought between the Aboriginal Australians and the first European settlers, continue today though in less external ways. Europeans brought the concept of poverty into account, they made drugs and alcohol easily available for the Aboriginals.
I have done a placement in the Department of Communities during my Master of Social Work studies and there in the office worked a deeply spiritual aboriginal woman, who said that despite all the ‘benefits’ that encourage her to work in the office as a representative of the Aboriginal culture, she feels ‘trapped’ because it is in their genes to be running in the bush, to be outside and engage in close community life.
During a volunteer experience in Darwin, NT, I had an opportunity to visit some of the local Australian Aboriginal families who live in settlements in the area. I must say it is something very radical, but extremely authentic to this country. There is a deeply spiritual aspect to their life that awakens some anthropological gene in me, that would not settle :). I hope to share more on this topic soon.
The beauty of immigration to Australia
In my current work-life cycle, I have found a home in a Russian community here in Melbourne. Improving my Russian skills and understanding of this culture, makes me grow in so many ways, not to mention the joy of caring and bringing attentive love to the workplace. This is the beautiful part of the ‘cultural mosaic’ of Australia. It’s endless opportunities of discovering the world, and at the same time discovering who we truly are all in one country.
Perhaps we cannot understand the value of our lives until we are challenged by giving. Travel and immigration especially, requires giving up so much. It seems that one of the ongoing struggles for any immigrant is deciding how much is too much; and how little is too little. Because at the end of the day, if we are not attentive to this issue, it can lead to constant conflict and overwhelming struggles.
From personal experiences, having travelled since age 7, I have taken time through journaling and thinking to understand how much is too much for me; and I can say I am glad to have taken the time because it has lead me with the help of God, to a balanced and peaceful life.
* Photos for this blog except for the Dawin one are all taken at the Immigration Museum