How I fell in love with ‘Straya!
It was nearly 13 years ago that I left for Australia and given that I had a pretty good command of English, I didn’t think it was going to be difficult to survive. Boy was I wrong! My limited knowledge of the country from the information I was able to gather from the internet failed me. The culture shock hit me as soon as I took a step out of Melbourne airport. Hit me hard! I had left India in June, the middle of summer, and arrived in Australia, where June was the middle of winter. The weather was freezing cold and, in the land of the down under, the seasons were totally opposite to the rest of the world. They have a summer Christmas and had winter when the rest of the world celebrates spring break. Who could have guessed that?
So, picture an Indian girl, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, lost in an airport while trying to comprehend as to how the weather can freeze you in June. I was looking like a fish out of water at this point. Lucky for me, I had a friend who I had met in an education fair a few months earlier, in India, and she had also moved to Melbourne few days before I arrived. She was waiting to pick me up at the airport, with a jacket! I could have kissed her! From then, I got into the car thinking I would be coasting through my life in Melbourne, little did I know this was the beginning of a thrill ride.
“You are so brave" was a common response I received when people heard I moved to Melbourne alone, without family or friends to look after me.
With the excitement involved in the move, it did not feel like I was being brave. In time though, I realised that speaking good English wasn’t the only requirement for the life down under. I enrolled into my university and the first thing that surprised me the most was how people in Australia were so informal, especially when compared to India. I had to really make an effort to address my tutors and lecturers by their first names. I had always addressed all my tutors as Sir/Madam in India as I thought that was the only respectful way to address them, it had become a habit and changing that was proving to be quite difficult. The best part was that you didn’t have to take permission from your tutors if you want to go to the loo; you just get up and leave (believe me, it’s a big thing in Indian schools). How cool is that? I also realised that just because it appeared a lot more casual, it doesn’t mean that there is no respect between teachers and students. I started to see tutors as real people and not just some authoritarian figures. My tutors were surprised that I could speak English so well as they thought Indians only spoke Hindi. I had to educate them on the fact there was more than 20 major languages spoken in India and most of us communicated using English as the medium of communication.
The next thing that amazed me was the love Aussies had for their coffees. Please type “coffee capital” into Google search and you will see that Melbourne is right there at the top. I understand that It might be a long way to travel for a cup of coffee, but I promise Melbourne’s coffee is worth the travel and the best way to fight your jet lags too. Just walk around Melbourne and you are sure to smell freshly roasted coffee everywhere. The coffee culture truly hit me on a fine Thursday afternoon when I was sitting in the university library and almost everyone around me had a cup of coffee in their hands. As someone who does not drink coffee, I eventually gave in and now coffee has become a part of me.
Another fact that I did not know was that Melbourne also is the sporting capital of the world. Aussies are so passionate about sports and their national game is Footy (its only played in Australia and that’s why you have never heard of it). Apart from that Melbourne prides itself on its calendar of world class sporting events from tennis, cricket, F1 grand prix, surfing, cycling to any sports under the sun. I did not follow sports till I arrived in Melbourne. But eventually I realised to make friends and strike a conversation with them, I needed to follow some sporting event as their conversations revolved almost exclusively around sports. And Yes, now I follow Tennis, cricket and footy (Go Hawks!).
The biggest problem I faced when I moved there was finding food past 8pm. All restaurants and shops close by 8pm, What gives! Anyway, I realised that when you are hungry while you stayed up doing your assignment, you cooked your own meal or you stocked up on frozen food from the supermarket. I always chose to do the latter. It took me very long to get used to not being able to eat fresh cooked food, especially when I had someone to cook delicious meals all the time for me back in India.
Remember I kept telling my command of English didn’t really help me much? It was because of how Aussies love shortening most of their words and It’s funny and quite interesting too. As an international student I found it very hard to understand them and it was a bit challenging at times. For example; Arvo (Afternoon), Barbie (Barbeque), Maccas (McDonalds), ceebs (can’t be bothered), Far out (can’t believe it) or fair dinkum (I’m not kidding).
Although moving to Australia and adapting to the Australian way was daunting initially, making new friends made it all worthwhile. I eventually started to love my university and my course. Aussies never judged you if you made mistakes and they are always there to help. I realised that the more mistakes you made, more you learnt from them. Once you have lived in Melbourne, you will not want to live anywhere else in the world. Oh! At this point I have to mention that Melbourne was also ranked the most liveable city for the last few years in a row. With all this, the country truly makes you fall in love with it. Guess that’s just ‘Straya Mate. (‘Straya is Australia, yes we shorten that too).