The last fortnight has seen quite a significant change for me with a move from Adelaide to Sydney. This move has brought with it small challenges as I adapt to a new environment.
And it’s been simple things that when you have lived somewhere for a long time, you tend to take for granted. Things like locating the local supermarkets, gym, post office, and other necessities. Then you have to get there! Sydney (4.4 million people) is much bigger and busier than Adelaide (1.3 million people) and its roads go here, there and everywhere. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I actually had to strike up the courage to drive myself a couple of kilometres to get to the local Woolworths, and even then I refused to drive across the main road so parked the car in the suburb and then walked the rest of the way.
But my personal situation epitomises the stereotype of an employed, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking Gen Y-er born and bred in Australia. So it has been simple for me to ask a stranger for help, to take out my iPhone and “google” it, to text or call a friend who happens to be a local.
However, on reflection, the experiences that have had me mildly nervous pale in comparison to the experiences of those members of our community who have arrived from overseas (as asylum seekers – potentially with traumatic backgrounds – or simply as migrants) and do not have English as their first language. It must be an overwhelming experience to arrive in a new country, where a language other than your own is spoken, and have to negotiate what we see as such simple tasks. Understanding where to go to purchase food, to seek medical attention, to pay bills – such tasks have a cultural load to them and for someone who is not yet accustomed to that culture, it would be a huge challenge and it is little wonder that people sometimes choose to remain in isolated groups where there is a shared language and culture.
Fortunately, there are some wonderful organisations and support systems within communities to help people settle into their new lives, help them enrol their children in schools, meet new people, and to navigate cultural expectations and norms. I know of schools whose New Arrivals Program also offers out of hours English classes for parents, community groups that provide “buddies” to guide migrants to essential locations, basic cooking classes and meet-and-greet nights for newly arrived people and members of the wider community to engage with each other. Yet the extent to which these systems succeed also relies on the understanding, compassion and support of the broader Australian community. Our society is a rich tapestry of many languages and cultures, and if there is one thing we can learn from the country’s incredible reaction to the recent horror in Martin Place, it is that we cannot afford to be ignorant of one another. If as a society, we openly engage with, embrace and support the many cultural and linguistic groups that are constantly moving to our shores, then it will make people’s transition, future lifestyle and engagement with the wider community far more positive.