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SAbona Articles: Immigrating to another planet “9 Lessons I’ve Learnt”

 1. You can’t live on 2 continents at the same time

Africa is now a place where I used to live. It is a place that has changed in as much as I have changed as a result of the choices I have made. One of these choices now finds myself and my family in this Great South Land where barbies, and beaches, my daughters singing lessons and my son’s tennis lessons, form the edges of my weekend. And because I live here I choose not to live in South Africa at the same time. Sure I keep in touch with family, but I am here and now, in Melbourne. I live on this continent. This is where I live. Not in Sefrika, as you can’t live on two continents at one time!

2. Integrate, don’t separate

We, like you, came from Africa to start a new life in Oz. One of our reasons for coming was that we wanted to be part of this amazing society where rule of law counts for something and people are appreciated. Seven years on we are now naturalized, settled and feel Australian. This doesn’t mean forgetting our heritage, but rather focussing our efforts on integrating. Has it been easy? Not always. Though what has helped has been us reaching out. How did we do it? Simply, by volunteering. From barbequing sausages at our church, to getting involved with our children’s school; with the sole purpose of making connections helped us kick start our integration. It has had the added benefit of helping us Ozzify our language, like “barracking for our footie team” and not “rooting for them”, which we soon discovered has a totally different meaning over here…

3. Keep your ‘Why?’ on the fridge

Things were unusually tough in the beginning for us, (Did anyone reading this nearly burn down their brand new rental apartment within 6 months of immigrating?) At these times it made us question whether we had done the right thing bringing our family over here. Most immigrants have felt the same way at one time or another. In searching for answers, we found 2 things helpful:

1.  Remembering why we had made the decision to leave Africa in the first place. For us it was the violent robberies, living behind electric fencing and owning dogs that ate bags of Epol weekly and people, if I wanted them to.

2.  Always remembering when things got tough here in Oz, to count our blessings. To remember that our house windows don’t lock and that it was not critical. That our small dog is fun to have around, and, the deep comfort of knowing that our daughter is safe as she travels to and from school on the train.

4. Go back to school

Both my wife and I had very successful careers back in South Africa. I ran my own business, and she was a high flying corporate executive. Coming to Oz was like starting all over again. We had to be prepared to do the kind of work that we last did in the early 90’s. Yes, it was difficult and humbling…But we agreed when my wife got a one month HR contract, that we would see it as going back to school and learning how things are done in Oz. Within a year she was on her way. Now she is back on top of her game! So for us the lesson learnt was to observe how business was conducted, see everything as an opportunity, see how decisions are made and earn our Ozzie stripes.

5. Relax Mate…

In the beginning we found it is exhausting living as ‘Two-Sefrikin-Parents-Giving-it-ago- Show’ in Oz. Dropping off and picking up kids, doing the ironing, the gardening and vacuuming, all on top of a full week at the office. Week after week after week… What aggravated the situation was the Sefrikin trait in us, to strive and achieve and get things done. Perfectly! Every time! Onmiddlelik!

The turning point for us was to change our approach to living in Oz, like cutting ourselves some slack by not having a perfect home, with a mowed lawn all the time. It meant moving from living to work, to working to live. Immigrating for us was a more of a big thing. We had to learn to be a bit gentler on ourselves and to focus on what was really important as the keys for our psychological survival. As for everything else, well, that is discussed around the barbie, while holding a Bitterly Cold One…

6. Breathe. This too will pass

K*k happens. No matter where you live, in Oz or in Afrodisneyland. That is life. Psychologists say that one of the tricks to keeping sane is to keep things in perspective. A bit like getting on a balcony and watching yourself in action. So, remember as you go through the down times, that they will pass. Also resist the urge to look back to Africa in a romanticized way, and justify all with a “Yes but…” The lesson for us as a family was to keep perspective (and sanity) through reframing “challenges” through 2 lenses:

1.  Would the issue, really be that important in 2 years time? And if you really think so, then what is the lesson you are supposed to learn that can help me later on?
2.  Don’t dwell on things, get up and move on. Life is going to continue with or without you, so you might as well go along for the ride.

7. The Great Australian Adventure

What is still critical for us on an ongoing basis is to accept that even with the best intentions we are going to sometimes mess things up living here (see #3 above). On a smaller scale I still upset people with my “quirky” humour, or not understanding how sensitive certain topics of conversation were.

After one particularly difficult day my wife coined the phrase around the dinner table, “This is all part of our Great Aussie Adventure.” That was a turning point for us. We began to view all experiences as part of our adventure and so gave ourselves permission to make mistakes and sometimes get things wrong without beating ourselves up.

Picture the scene, us in a coffee shop, trying to order a coffee …

Me: “two wik flet whites pleez”

Coffee Bloke: “What yer say mate”?

Me: Ah sed, two flet whites pleez…

Coffee Bloke: “Sorry mate, we only do coffees yeh ”…

Enter my wife to save the situation The lesson: Laugh much. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn as you grow.

8. Take care of your money

In Africa we had a sense of who the Good and the Bad guys were. They stood out for us. A deep intuition guided us through most of the pitfalls when it came to financial dealings, from buying helicopters to clothes, from hiring builders or choosing clients. BUT we soon discovered that things are different here. For us the Good and Bad guys all sounded and behaved the same. However it is amazing how quickly one learns when large amounts of hard earned cash are taken from you because you’ve misjudged people. So to minimize this happening two lessons would have helped us:

Find people who have been referred to you and who have a history and reputation of integrity and competence. If these people have a South African connection all the better as there is likely to be empathy for your situation.
If the deal sounds too good to be true, it invariably is. Quo vadis.

And lastly:

9. Have you done your daily check up from the neck up?

Let me get right to the heart of it! Are you your own worst enemy? Are you expecting terrible things to happen to you tomorrow, or are you generally positive? No matter where you live, you take yourself with you. That means your attitudes, your beliefs, your views and the way you react to what you see as threatening and negative. Here is a thought: Maybe, just maybe, your mindset needs a renovation, or at least a paint job. In other words, it may not be where you are living, but more a case of how you live between your ears and in this Dry Brown Land we now call home, that is, for us, a daily challenge. If you are up to the task, I challenge you to do the same and live life to the fullest in Australia.

Read this article in SAbona

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