“Australia is bigger than extremisms and I just hope that we all remember that.”
An audio snippet from this interview with Colombiano:
So, Colombiano, perhaps you could start by describing for me a normal, typical day for you?
I will divide it into a typical weekday and a typical weekend day. They are very different but very typical. On a weekday, I would wake at between 5 and 530 AM and get ready to go to work. My wife would be sleeping and the kids would be sleeping. I have my breakfast and get ready for the office. I have a hot coffee – always a hot coffee in the morning – and put Colombian radio. I like to listen to Colombian radio in the mornings. That’s the afternoon radio for Colombia – because of the time difference 5 AM or 6 AM here when I start listening would be 3 or 4 PM in Colombia. So it’s basically the afternoon radio that I listen to in my mornings, which is nice because it gives me a link to Colombia and news and sports and life. So I listen to the Colombian radio through the Internet and take the tram or walk to the train station. If it’s winter I would take the tram and in any other season I would walk to the train station and then take the train to the city where I work. I am a technical trainer. That’s what I do for work. Basically, I train people that use the software that the company that I work for sells. So I train customers – adults training – which is very interesting. 60% of the time would be here in Melbourne and the other 30 to 40% of the time would be travelling. So to interstate training I would travel either Sunday night or the eve of the training, if it is a weekday, and I’m generally there three days and then I would be coming back on the evening of the last day. Either way it would be similar mornings at the office, all day doing the training. In the afternoon, I come back home if I’m in Melbourne and have some time with my kids, watch some TV eat dinner, share some time with my wife, go to sleep, and that’s a weekday.
On weekends, we go to church almost every Sunday. We try to go to church in the morning. Church should finish at midday and then the afternoon would be just family time. Then on Saturday we are trying to at least once a month do some kind of day trip or day out or big activity, just not to be at home every day. For example, the shopping centre, the Museum, the beach, if it’s nice. At night I sit down with my family and we watch AFL. In the first year that we arrived, one day he was at school and came back home and said, “Dad, let’s play football”. I said, “Okay, okay! Let’s play football”, and I took out the round ball. He said, “No, no, no! Football with the oval ball. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to play with you but I need to work out how play with this”. In moving here I did realised football was important in Australia and we were aware that sports is a good way of engaging with people, so we did our homework and we learnt the rules of rugby and everything. Then we moved to Melbourne and we realised that we had done the wrong homework. So I had to start again, but it’s okay. I enjoy watching AFL.
I hear that you barrack for the Hawks. How was this decision made?
When we first arrived here we were living in one of Glen Eira’s suburbs and we were living in Hawthorn Road. So, as most AFL teams are named after suburbs we looked for the team of that suburb, but there is no team with that name, so then we thought, “Hawthorn Road … let’s barrack for Hawthorn”, and they won that championship and they won the following 2 championships. We didn’t follow them because they won that first year – it was good luck – but I guess that helped us engage with the sport. It was because we were living on Hawthorn Road that we started barracking for Hawthorn.
What was life like in Colombia?
We had a good life. The reason for moving was not because we were not in a good position. We had a good life. We were not having difficulties. I was working for a good company and great place to work in ‘the Great Place to Work’ list. I had a good position and my wife was also working in a good job, but we did not have that much of a good lifestyle. So, what was a typical day in Colombia? Kids start school when they’re very, very young. Here it’s mandatory from five years old and in Colombian it’s mandatory from four years old but it’s unofficial a mandatory from one or something like that. In Colombia, it’s hard for families and it’s not common the way it is here for one parent to be home with the kids and the other to work and then both to go back to work. In Colombia my son was going to kinder at 6:30 in the morning. At that time my wife was already on her way to the office and I would leave him at the school bus and go to the office. So we started with very early mornings. He would stay at school until 3:30PM and then the school bus would drop him at my in-laws’ house at 4:30PM and I would pick him up at my in-laws’ place about 6 PM and my wife would drive home at 7:30 PM from in the office. So, we would basically wake up, send him to school, go to work, then get back home, have some dinner and help him do some homework – because they have long homework from when they’re very small – and then go to bed. On the weekends we spent time with family and friends.
As a side thought, security is not as bad in Colombia as it is presented in the news, at least not in the cities. People ask me that question a lot: “Is it safe to go to Colombia?” My answer is always, “Yes, if you stay in safe places”. In other words, you are safe if you go and you stay in a nice area of the city and you don’t go wandering around to not so nice neighbourhoods and you don’t go away from the road too much. If you go to the places where you haven’t been invited, it’s not safe. As Colombians we know which places to go so we will not go there. So it is perfectly safe in comparison with what is shown in TV shows. You wouldn’t see people on the streets with guns. That doesn’t happen unless you go to those particular neighbourhoods. You don’t see people getting hijacked. Nothing like that. In that sense it is safe, however it is not as safe as it is here. I wouldn’t go on public transport with my laptop working on my laptop. It would get stolen faster than taking it out. Here when in a café, if I leave my bag to go to the bathroom usually nothing will happen, whereas it would be taken as soon as you turn around in Colombia. So there, you had to be very much more aware of your surroundings, much more aware of where your things and where your kids were. Again, having grown up there, that’s how it was. It wasn’t scary; that’s how it was.
What was it that brought you to Australia?
When I was in school I had the blessing of being very good at Maths and I went to participate in quite a few Maths Olympics. I had the opportunity to travel to different places: to the US, Canada, Taiwan, Argentina and Chile. I had the opportunity not only travel to those places but to share with people from all over the world who were taking part in the Maths Olympics. It was a great eye-opener because in Colombia you mainly see Colombians whereas here in Australia you see people from all over the world. You can be on public transport here and I’ll be speaking Spanish and the people sitting at my side will be speaking English and someone else would be speaking German – 10 different languages in just one bus or tram. In Colombia, it’s very rare to see foreigners and if you see foreigners they are usually coming for work and they are usually from the US or Europe. It’s very rare to see someone from Asia and very rare that you see someone from Africa. So having those trips for me was an eye-opener. I knew there were people from other places but being able to share with them was very good and I think since then I’ve had in my mind that I wanted to leave Colombia just to be able to live somewhere else and again, to learn from other people.
My wife also had her reasons why she wanted to leave Colombia and when we started dating she told me, “I’m not sure that I want to start dating with you, but not because I don’t like you”. Her plans had been that when she finished Uni she would be going to France because she has some family living there. So she said, “I’m not sure if it’s worth it to start a relationship because I’m planning to leave in less than two years”. My answer was, “I’ll come with you. I’m planning to leave Colombia as well. It’s fine by me”. We were thinking of Europe, France or England. They were our original destinations and this is before 2008. We actually went to a couple of presentations of migration agents, basically advertising different countries. We were almost ready to start the process for Canada but then it came to 2008 and the global financial crisis and suddenly people were coming back to Colombia from all of these countries because the economy was not good. I was working for a German company and so I was saving to start the process but because of the crisis, one day they told me, “You’re too expensive for us. You are a very good worker but the crisis is hard and we need to hire someone cheaper, so thank you”.
So we stopped the process. Yes, we could have dreams of the future but we needed to live in the present. Someone I knew, knew someone that had an agency to support people to come to study in New Zealand and he knew that we had the plans to leave Colombia. He said, “Would you like to meet with her?” and we said, “Yes, okay”. It was interesting to hear about the option of studying in New Zealand but we didn’t want to come as students. We already had our son – he was a baby then – and as I mentioned, we were not in a bad situation. We had work. Our decision was that if we left Colombia it would be as residents knowing we were going to stay, not as students with the obligation to return. So we said, “Thank you very much but no thank you”. That information session, however, made us look at this side of the world. So we said, “Okay New Zealand, no, it’s not for us because of our current situation but what about Australia?”, and we started researching. It seemed a better option for us. So we started the process and we prayed for it to either fail really quickly or advance really quickly. It was a really quick process. When we came here we truly believed that coming to Australia as a permanent resident was really easy. It was in fact an answer to prayer. The first payment was made to the migration agent in December and by April of the following year I had my ACS certificate of my studies and my degree in order to apply for skilled migration by June, and in October we received the permanent residency. So it was 10 months from the first contact to actually having a residency, and it was less than eight months later that we arrived in Australia. So it was 18 months from commencing the process to arriving.
So, you were already permanent residents by the time you came. You had that security you wanted.
Yes. Yes, I still believe that if it hadn’t been that way, we wouldn’t have left Colombia, because we were fine. We had a good jobs. I had actually been promoted a few months before I got the residency and three months before we moved my wife got a really, really great job offer, but we were pleased to be going to Australia, which is one of the best places to live and to grow, so there was no job offer good enough to make us stay, because we were coming as residents.
So how has life change for you, coming here?
We moved from Colombia four and a half years ago, actually four years and three months ago. Life has changed a lot. On one side, there is something very Australian in that expression “no worries”. I think and I was actually saying to someone last week that I believe Australians really live up to “no worries” in the sense that they worry about what needs to be worried about but they don’t worry about what doesn’t need to be. So it’s a very relaxed culture in many senses, at least in my experience. You can live good enough with a basic salary. You need to work because that’s life and if you don’t work …. well. But even if you can’t find a good job, even if you just have to work as a casual and just a few hours a week, that could be good enough to survive and enough to provide a good enough life, a place to live, food and okay school for the kids and health. So one way is that Australia is a good place to live and we don’t need to worry about the basics. If for any reason I lose my job, yes, it will be hard but I have the security that the basics will be covered, so that we won’t be homeless or without food. Yes, there might be some things we would need to stretch a lot but … it took me about a year to find the skilled work in that I do, so for the year we lived on just casual jobs. We were fine. So that’s very good to have that certainty that things will be okay, at least.
It also changed my thinking on government support for people. Growing up in Colombia I was very right wing, thinking “You must work; if you work you will be able to get what you need and you can buy and get what you work for and if you don’t have things it’s because you haven’t worked for them enough and why should the government help people that don’t want to work? Why should the government help people that are not working? Yes, perhaps for a few weeks but then they need to find a job”. That’s how I thought and it was very shocking for me because it took me a year to find a real job here. We had to live with government support for a few months because we had a son. If we had not had a son we would not have had access to child-support. It was lucky for us that we had a son. We did have a lot of support from the government then, which made me think, “It’s not that I’m not looking for a job; it’s not that I don’t want to work; it’s just that I haven’t been able to do it”. So that really makes some sense. I still believe it has to be well supervised because I know and I think there are people that abuse the system and that’s what needs to be looked for so that that doesn’t happened but it made me think that it really makes sense to have that support for some people. For us for example, having that support made us worry less about day-to-day living and gave more time to look work for the right job, which in the long term was better for everyone. So it made me change a lot of my political thinking, in that sense.
It made me change the value that I give to study. In Colombia, there is no formal class system as you may find another cultures but there is an unofficial class system. There is a high, medium and low class. They are linked to the ideas that if you work hard enough are you able to get there – but maybe not that much now. If you want to have a good job you need to have a university degree plus some additional studies at least. That’s the basic. If you don’t have a university degree plus extra studies you won’t have a good job, you won’t have a good life. Here I’m thinking of how in Colombia, looking at position descriptions, they were very clear: this degree, this extra study. A strong focus on study. Experience doesn’t count so much. So if someone doesn’t have the chance to study but rises in the industry and for some reason you haven’t studied, in Colombia you won’t be able to get to that management level, into that higher senior level. Here I think it is the other way around. At least, on position descriptions you see the study but there is a phrase that I always see, ‘or equivalent experience’, and that means someone that doesn’t have the opportunity to study but had experience that teaches that skill has same opportunity to apply for that job. If that’s how it is here that totally changes the value of studying. It’s not that study doesn’t count but, again, speaking to another Colombian friend, he mentioned that if he had grown up in Australia, perhaps he might not have studied engineering. He might have gone into construction or something little more physical because here he would have the opportunity of a good life. In Colombia if you do that you don’t have the opportunity for a good life, a good salary. From this perspective, if my son tells me, “I don’t want to go to uni. I want to go for this technical course or for sport”, I think it’s easier for me here in Australia to support that than it would have been back in Colombia. So I think this has changed that as well.
You have thought a lot about this.
Well, I think so. It’s different. I’ve had the question, “Is it worth it? Do you regret it?” I had the question, “Why should I do it?” I always try to be careful in what I answer in terms of whether this fits someone, but personally I don’t regret it. Also I know that for some people this might not be what they want but I have thought a lot about it. It’s just that it’s changed me. It’s made me think differently and I do notice that.
If someone who didn’t know you saw you in the street, is there something they would be surprised to know about you?
There are a couple of answers there. I have had people see me and think I was from India or the Middle East or something like that. I guess certain people from those regions look like certain Latin Americans. I’ve had a couple of people confidently ask me, “What part of India are you from?” and I’ve said, “I’m from South America, a totally different context”, and they have said, “Oh, really?” So that is one.
Assuming that someone knew I was from Colombia or South America, I don’t look that fit. I’ve put on a lot of weight for a long time and I’m trying to improve my health and it’s been two years now that I’ve been participating in triathlons. It’s an interesting routine. I guess I didn’t include it in the typical day because lately I’ve had an injury, but I used to train from 5 to 530 AM and I hoping to go back and do some training. So that would be another thing that might surprise people because I know I don’t look that fit. I look around when I’m racing and lots of the guys that are racing look fitter and stronger.
The other element is that I like writing about my life. I do have a blog telling the story of our migration, the details, the good experiences and the bad experiences. I tried to look for something like that when I was coming to Australia and I only found the good experiences and good references and good comments, and there’s a saying in Spanish like, ‘It’s too good to be true’.
What is it in Spanish?
“De eso tan bueno no dan tanto”
I wanted to find out the good and bad before we came. It was funny. When we started to tell people that we knew that we were coming to Australia, suddenly someone knew someone that either had come to study or was here and had come. When I asked why did you come back he said, “It’s too tidy and too organised for me”. I said, “I don’t believe it”. It is like when someone goes for a job interview and they are asked for a fault and they say they are too organised, that is not a real answer. In reality, we had some not so good experiences. I was told that within three months I would find a job in my skill set and it took me over a year. We had to do cleaning, which wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be, actually good. We had to do kitchen hand jobs and lot of pots. At times it was good and some days were really bad. And there are some other things that happened that were hard because the process was not as clear as it could have been. So I just thought even before coming I’d like to start writing and I started working on that. It’s been good because people ask questions. I try in every possible way to make it clear that I’m not a migration agent and I don’t know and I cannot give advice in terms of migration. I’m just sharing my story and inviting other people that have come to Australia to share their story. Maybe someone asks something like how much things cost and I can answer, “If you go to the store now eggs cost …”. I do answer those types of questions but certainly if someone asks, “I had this experience, I’ve studied this, what should I do?”, I say, “Look at the website, contact a migration agent”. I think this is something that someone who saw me who did not know me would be surprised to know.
Are there primarily Colombians reading it or a wider range of Spanish-speaking readers?
Latin Americans. I can see, more or less, where readers are from. There are some people reading from the US and I sometimes see people from Spain, but not that much. Mainly Colombia and then Latin America. And I also see a lot of people reading from Australia, so my guess is that they are people who have migrated here.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with the reader?
I think Australia is a very good country. I think living here gives me and my kids a lot of opportunities, especially for them, for my kids. I think they have the world as an opportunity, growing up here in Australia, because it is the society that values people. Actually, I have seen lately a couple of TV shows and some concerns about racism. I haven’t felt it personally at all. I can acknowledge that it might be and that there is but I can’t say that I have lived it. I haven’t and hopefully it keeps that way. I guess lately the world is starting to turn a little scary toward extremisms. The nice things that I’ve found here in Australia so far is that it doesn’t go to extremes. It tends to stay in the middle and be very open and hopefully it keeps that way. I think that’s it’s a job for all of us to do it, to love our neighbours as ourselves, whether religious or non-religious, to open our arms to people coming. So Australia is bigger than extremisms and I just hope that we all remember that.
Read more from Colombiano at his blog (in Spanish), De Colombia Hacia Australia (From Colombia to Australia). Please find the Spanish language version of this interview at that blog, with our thanks to Colombiano for the translation.
This interview is part of the This Is Us Australia project. If you are interested in taking part, please read our Project Description and use our Contact page or email us at thisisusaustralia at gmail.com.