The Value Of Having Friends – From The Perspective Of An Ex-Newcomer
I am of Asian origin and migrated to Australia from Singapore at the age of twenty-five. It seemed like a dream move. I had a secure job with an Australian bank and accommodation arranged before I arrived. I was happy and ready for adventure. This state of affairs was about to change.
This photo was taken a few years ago with the family. We went to the Gweiling Lake, a man-made lake with surrounds made to look like that in some parts of China. I am sitting on a rock with my niece. I have the red and black top. My sister has the pink top. My mum is far right. My sister-in-law far left. Next to my mum is another niece.
Although my job kept me busy, I experienced loneliness for the first time in my life. I did not know how to handle problems as they arose. These ranged from work to inter-personal issues. From the glances they sometimes exchanged and the expressions on their faces, I wasn’t absolutely sure, but I felt I was not always doing things the way the Australians wanted done.
I was eager to rectify the situation, but what was it that I was not doing right? In some cases, I knew the causes, but I felt justified in my actions. As a result, these numerous unresolved situations made me feel ill-at-ease and constantly worried. I wished I knew someone I trusted and respected – a good friend – I could go to for advice.
The first few years were miserable. I dreaded the weekends and public holidays and I also avoided taking annual leave because I would have been too lonely; however, I wasn’t deliriously happy at work either.
I began to regret leaving my comfortable lifestyle and I longed to be back to bask in the luxury of feeling at ease. I thought I would share with you some of these concerns.
What would have made a difference to my life when I moved?
Firstly, I wished my work colleagues had been more helpful. I knew they played basketball on Tuesday nights but I was never invited. I knew they were part of a ‘lotto’ draw each week, but I wasn’t.
On the first day of work, some of the girls took me out to lunch and they seemed friendly enough, but I could not seem to penetrate that barrier that seemed to exist between us. I needed to know what it was with me that made them act the way they did. Perhaps it was them being snooty; perhaps I was being too sensitive. Either way, not knowing was frustrating. I wished I knew someone well enough who could tell me.
Most people in Singapore have a very good work ethic. As my position had been vacant for sometime, a fair amount of work had piled up and I used to put in my own time to whittle it down. One of my colleagues told me I was trying to impress my employers and show the others up as being lazy. I reasoned I felt grateful to the bank for giving me the opportunity to travel and this was a way to show my thanks.
There was also the issue of racial discrimination, which I encountered occasionally and which troubled me deeply, because it was a totally foreign experience. I know it exists throughout the world, but to experience it is unsettling, especially amid the myriad issues that confront one in a new environment. On some occasions it was blatant, like the time a shop assistant did not want to serve me and when a patient I was assigned to requested for another nurse simply after taking a look at me. At other times, it was subtle. With all these incidents, I felt hurt but not angry. However, I longed for someone I could have spoken to and received objective advice.
Two years after I had come to Australia, I had lost my confidence and became very self-conscious, even with fundamental activities. Needless to say, my self-esteem had plummeted. I also began to fall sick very easily. Coughs, colds and the flu were what I used to come down with. I was also later diagnosed with asthma, and I couldn’t shake off a deep and hacking cough for more than three months. The worse was yet to come. I constantly felt tearful and melancholy. I was later diagnosed with having depression.
This photo was taken in Serangoon Road the Indian part of Singapore. The girl with me is my bestie. She was one of my friends from primary school days.
Many years later, I undertook a degree in health sciences and research into an assignment would reveal that relocating to another country is a very stressful event. The migrant might look forward to the event and seemingly even enjoy the experience but leaving behind everything that formed part of us over the years, can sometimes prove to be too stressful.
I realised I had no friends, so I decided to make the time and effort to cultivate some. I stopped putting in so much unpaid overtime and joined a tennis club. I also decided to brush up on my French language skills and joined a French language conversation course. I am still friends with someone I met at this course. I did not know how to swim, so I took swimming lessons.
I couldn’t believe how much easier life became from then on. I didn’t realise just how much we need friends for our sense of stability and purpose in life. It was a pivotal time for me because having friends reinstated the confidence I had all but lost.
Gradually, I became so much happier and my outlook on life and people changed. Matters improved at the office too. I gained a promotion and was relocated to another floor. I made friends with a lovely Aussie girl who remains a friend to this day. Of course, I should have done all of this sooner; but, hopefully, encourage you to take positive steps to develop friendships as soon as possible, as this process can take time.
Perhaps having expectations when we seek out friends later in life contributes to the length of time it can take. All matters aside, it is certainly achievable; however, most of our success depends on our attitude.
Attitude covers such issues as feelings of self-importance. I knew someone who had a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He came from a third-world country where the only way one could afford a university education was by being rich or having parents (and siblings) who were prepared to combine their earnings to meet expenses.
His family had put him on a pedestal and his problem was he did not know when to alight from that pedestal. It was a culture shock for him when he came to Australia. Many had higher qualifications and none pandered to him. They shunned him for the airs and graces he displayed. He did eventually ‘tone’ down but he was a very lonely man for a long time.
This photo is at a ‘banana leaf’ restaurant in Serangoon Road. It is where customers (including Caucasians) eat with their fingers off the banana leaves. This picture typifies the South Indian manner with food. Yes, both of us ate with our fingers. My husband tried, but the food kept falling off his hand.
It is very important for newcomers not to expect the people of their adopted country to go out of their way to make them feel at home. It doesn’t work that way. If we do, we will be very disappointed.
The unwritten rules dictate that if anyone has to go out of their way, it is the person wishing to make friends. When you first arrive, it is helpful to think of Australia as being their country and the need for newcomers to fit in. After acculturation, you will think in terms of ‘our country’.
If you have any preconceived opinions about Australians, get rid of them. To stereotype Australians would be unfair to them and put us at a disadvantage, as this continent has such a large and rich multicultural mix of people. How can we give ourselves and potential friends a fair chance, when we think we know already know something about them? Take each and every person at face value.
I had heard – yes even from Australians living in Singapore – of their insatiable thirst for beer, horse-racing, the ‘footy’, their disrespect for women, etc. These people do exist, but there also are many well-educated and refined Australians who treat women with respect. In fact, I have been married to an Australian gentleman for more than 20 years.
So, with making and keeping friends in a new country in mind, I can’t stress enough the need to be flexible and to keep an open mind on all matters. We change and what we thought was intolerable three years ago, can now become acceptable. We also do not want to be judgemental or make derogatory comments. Judgemental people see themselves as being superior and nobody would want to befriend someone with a superior attitude!
A big ‘No No’ in any conversation is never to make comparisons with Australia and your own country, particularly if Australia is to be at the losing end. I recall having dinner at a couple’s home. At the time, they were no longer newcomers. They were constantly saying ‘back home, we did…, ‘back home, it was…, ‘back home, we never…;’ I wondered why these people didn’t go back home! I certainly did not want them as friends.
This photo was taken in Chinatown and is one of the many hawker-style stalls found all over Singapore. It is not fast food. The cooks cook noodles, rice, whatever on-the-spot for you. Very cheap as well.
Something else that comes to mind is not to pretend to be someone we are not. If we are doing this constantly, then professional help might be of assistance.
At some point, however, we must decide that as unique individuals, we must accept and like ourselves the way we are. The success of all of our friendships depends upon us accepting ourselves. In any case, no one can keep up pretences forever. When the truth is out, nothing but humiliation, loss of respect and loneliness will result.
We come from different cultures; thus we have different personal habits. What was acceptable in our country of origin may not be acceptable here – not in public anyway.
I do not wish to sound rude but some examples are spitting in public, not washing the hands before meals and certainly after visiting the toilet, eating with your mouth open, picking your nose in public. As disgusting as it might sound, these practices are acceptable in some countries. To become sociable, we must make ourselves attractive by being clean, wholesome and having personal habits that endear, not put off any likely friends.
Politeness and diplomacy go a long way towards charming people. These qualities are about good manners and judgement. It means we know how to say ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘sorry.’ Being diplomatic means knowing when to speak and what to say. I have come to believe that honesty is not always the best policy, especially when meeting people in a group or for the first time. If in doubt, err on the side of caution – do not say anything.
It took me a lesson or two to learn this. I have a naturally enthusiastic and exuberant personality. To make matters worse, I am also fairly confident. It is good advice is to take things slowly. Too much too soon can overwhelm would-be friends and scare them away.
In my experience, a great way to make friends is to join a club or enlist in a course that interests you. What draws people together and sustains the relationship are shared interests. There is no country I know that offers the variety that Australia does. Dancing lessons, playing sport such as tennis, book clubs, foreign or English language classes, cooking classes, studying for a higher qualification (mature-aged students make up a large percentage of students in Australia), chess clubs, activities organised by the local council, walking clubs, ski clubs, bowling clubs, ceramics clubs, art and craft … and the list goes on. There are also singles dating clubs.
The most significant aspect that my new friendships gave me was the ability to view Australia with fresh and unbiased eyes. This gave me the capacity to fully participate in and contribute to the country.
YES WE CAN!
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