What I learned from 3 years in Australia
This article is a translation of an old article I wrote on my Slovak blog Sám Sebe Pán.
Exactly 4 years ago, I went with my best friend to Australia. I didn’t have a clue back then that my life was going to change massively. Everybody who knows me, would tell you that I’ve changed a lot during my 3 year stay in Australia. I don’t know if everybody finds this change positive, but I’m 100% sure that my decision to go to Australia was the right one and that it affected my life in a good way.
During 3 years of life abroad one learns a lot. Here are the things, that were the most memorable for me during my stay in a country that is down under.
It’s better to once experience something by yourself, than to see or hear it a million times
You can watch all the documentaries and movies in the world about a given place, but even then you can’t compare it with experiencing the place on your own. You can see hundreds of photos and videos, read blog articles and people’s opinions, but the impression you’ll get from actually visiting the place will be different – it will be your own.
People in Australia are very nice and positive
This is the fact that I probably like the most about Australia. I also find myself speaking about it the most often. Mainly when in Slovakia, our favorite thing to do there is to complain about everything. In Slovakia, it is so common to walk the streets and see dozens of sad, slowly-dying people walking God-knows-where. In Slovakia, everybody is used to not being greeted when they walk into the store, and people avoid getting into the elevator with their neighbor. A smile is not an expected thing in Slovakia and people have gotten used to that.
In Australia, I’ve been shocked countless times by how they’ve treated me. It doesn’t matter if you go to a small shop, or a big shopping center, people greet you with a smile and ask you how you are doing every time (even though it’s considered to be a part of a greeting in English, it still brings positive energy and that’s why I’ve always appreciated it). In banks they ask you what your first name is and then they call you by your name. No silly games to show one’s importance through titles.
This is not just a part of the services which are apparently miles ahead from services in Slovakia. All people are like that! Nice, smiling and who have no problem helping others.
The default reaction is to support, not criticize
You all know that. Remember the last time you asked your friend or a family member for their opinion. What was their first reaction? Did they tell you that your idea is awesome and they fully support you, or did they start to give you a list of reasons about why it is bullshit and it can’t work? In Australia, people’s default behavior is to support or encourage others. Highlight the bright side because you can always fix the drawbacks later.
People in Slovakia often can’t imagine how this little change in mindset and default behavior can affect a whole society. People are social beings. We all need support. Every one of us. Why do we constantly just criticise? Why do we see the negatives at first? Why is it that we, Slovaks, see the glass as half empty and not as half full? I hear people complain, “I have ONLY half a bag of chips left”, “I have ONLY one week of vacation left.” How are we, Slovaks, able to turn positive things into negatives?
The systems in Australia simply work. I don’t know what’s the cause of it. Maybe the cause is that people who rule the country really want to help people and stealing and greed aren’t a standard there. Maybe we’ve been strongly affected by socialism, but that doesn’t mean that we should cry and make excuses for the next 100 years. Socialism hasn’t been there for a while now and Slovakia is a free, independent, democratic country.
Becoming self-employed in Australia (in NSW to be accurate because every state in Australia has its own laws) is a matter of filling one ONLINE document! Within a week, you’ll have the necessary paper sent to your home and you can officially start to make money. That’s all. One online completed document! And what’s even better, you don’t have to pay health insurance and social security contributions.The only thing you have to pay is income tax, which is calculated once a year in a tax declaration.
Note: I said that if you’re self-employed in Australia, you don’t have to pay health insurance and social security contributions. But that’s just my personal experience. I was a student during my whole stay in Australia and I had to pay the health insurance as a student. I don’t know whether the terms would have changed if I wasn’t a student.
Anyway, we will surely agree that Australian laws support budding entrepreneurs and that starting a business there is much simpler than in Slovakia which is full of bureaucracy, fees, validations, meaningless papers and mandatory visits in person.
Respect towards other cultures and their traditions
There is only one kind of fear – a fear of the unknown.
You’re not afraid of spiders. You’re afraid because you don’t know what would happen if one bit you. You’re not afraid of death. You’re afraid because you don’t know what will happen after you die.
The fear of the unknown is the reason why so many people are afraid of other races, cultures or ethnic groups. They know nothing about them! They don’t know any people like that or they haven’t ever even met these people.
Gays are normal people (who like different things)
Since childhood I’ve heard some of my family members saying that “being gay isn’t a normal thing” and “it is something that needs to be cured.” Children believe what they hear from their parents. I haven’t known or even met any gays in Slovakia. I’ve seen them only in movies where they’re portrayed in over exaggerated ways.
Sydney is one of the most preferred cities in the world for gays and lesbians to live in. Every year, the city hosts one of the biggest pride parades in the world that attracts thousands of people from all over the world. I’ve had a chance to not only meet some gays, but also to get to know a few of them.
My Australian manager in the restaurant where I worked, was also gay. Some time later I accidentally got into a situation, where one gay guy moved into our house, actually into my room, to be more accurate. This happened because I had shared the room with a Japanese guy that moved out, therefore another guy moved in, and the guy just happened to be gay. He stayed in the house for 2 months and it was one of the weirdest periods of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved women and I’m not going to change this. I’ve never wanted to “try something” with a man. Anyway, during my stay in Sydney I’ve learned a lot about gay people.
You can’t write people off just because they are gay. Just like you can find dumb Europeans, dumb Americans, or dumb Asians, you can also find dumb gays. Those who don’t respect people’s privacy and who force their opinion on others are the ones who give the whole culture/country/ethnic group a bad name. But most homosexuals are nice people with positive attitudes towards life. They’re friendly, funny and they know how to have some fun.
My view on gay people has changed dramatically during my 3 years in Sydney. I respect them and have no problem with them, as long as they (individuals) don’t invade my privacy or they aren’t annoying or pushy. My attitude towards them is the same as towards everyone else.
Asian cultures are seemingly different from our Western cultures
Sydney is a favorite tourist, work, or student destination for many people from Asian countries. On the street, at schools and at shops you’ll meet many people from China, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, and Malaysia.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to see so many Asian people in Sydney and I know lots of people from Europe who were really surprised by that, too. Some were open minded about it and started to learn about Asian cultures. Others couldn’t deal with the high number of Asian people and Asian customs drove them crazy.
I was in the first group of people. New things seemed interesting to me. During those three years I learned a lot about Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese culture. Of course, I’ve learned more about some than others.
I think that interests and learning about other cultures opens our eyes. We will find out that not everything has to be done in the way that we’re used to doing them. We will find out that problems can be solved differently. Or that it is possible to live a completely different lifestyle and still be happy. I believe that our cultures can learn much from one another. Take the good things from other cultures, transform them and use them in your own culture.
Asian cuisine is different/healthy/delicious
Asian food is awesome and anybody who has any prejudice towards it, isn’t living life to the fullest. People who have prejudices of any kind, don’t live life to the fullest and they aren’t as happy as they could be.
I’m not saying that everybody will and should like every Asian food. Just the same, many don’t even like every single dish from their own national cuisines- some people don’t like boiled spinach, others don’t enjoy scrambled eggs with mushrooms or grilled chicken liver. And this is exactly what it is about. How do you find out, what you like, if you don’t try it?
Maybe you won’t like sushi and you’ll never put it in your mouth again, but maybe you’ll fall in love with it and dinner in a sushi bar will become one of your favorite activities on a Friday night.
I’ve never eaten fish in Slovakia. I didn’t like the large amount of small bones in the fish and the fact that fresh-water fish tastes like dirt. I thought that I wouldn’t like raw fish either because I didn’t like it even when it was grilled. Oh, how wrong I was! Sushi, or sashimi is a delicacy to me which I’ve regularly enjoyed in Japanese restaurants across Sydney.
Living together with other cultures will open your eyes
Do you know that Koreans eat bread just like a sweet dessert? Where we eat bread with cheese, or salami for breakfast, they enjoy rice with vegetables (or seaweed, soy sauce and sesame oil) or noodle soup. Isn’t it quite hard to imagine not eating bread?
Do you know that if a girl in China doesn’t get married by the age of 30, she is considered to be old and no man will want to marry her?
Do you know that in Japan, it is normal for girls to give guys gifts on Valentine’s Day? And that usually, those gifts are handmade chocolates? And furthermore a month later, Japanese people celebrate “White Day,” when guys return the favor by giving gifts?
Do you know that in Korean and Chinese the greeting “Hello” literally means “Have you eaten yet?”
Do you know that it is extremely impolite to touch a Thai person on the top of their head? This is believed to be so because you are interrupting the space between the person and their god.
Do you know that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world? Actually, in Indonesia, Muslims along with many Buddhists and Christians live peacefully together!
These and many other interesting facts you likely wouldn’t come to know in any other way besides actually living with these people and within their cultures. I’m immensely grateful for culturally-sensitive information like that, because it helps me to expand my mind and respect the opinions and decisions of others.
I can distinguish among many nationalities just by their typical appearance and language
I can distinguish where a person comes from, just by identifying his/her spoken language or appearance. You can try it too, but if you don’t have any close friends from a given country, you can’t do it. But as soon as you befriend someone from the specified country, you’ll start to notice complete strangers who have similar traits or looks.
At the time of this writing, I can distinguish when the following Asian languages are spoken Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Filipino (Tagalog), Indian (Hindi or Punjabi) and when the following European languages are spoken French, Italian, Spanish, German, Polish, Czech, Russian, Hungarian and Brazilian Portuguese. Often I can also recognize when people from those countries speak English and when English is not their mother tongue. I can also identify British, Irish, Australian, or American English.
When it comes to appearances, I can distinguish individuals from many of these countries by their typical physical traits and by the way they are dressed, or even by their hairstyle.
I am not trying to brag here. The point I’m trying to make is that the reason WHY I can identify where a person comes from even without having to talk to them, is that I know someone from each of those countries. In Sydney I’ve made friends, or at least met people from more than 50 countries. Yes, I really did write such information down (because I’m a nerd and I love statistics. :))
Australian food is a mixture of other cultures’ foods
The basis of Australian cuisine is without a doubt in great part related to English cuisine. But as increasingly more people from different European countries and from all over the world started to move to Australia, the Australian cuisine started to evolve. Today it consists of English, Italian, French, American and Asian cuisines.
Australians love beer and barbeques
Australians spend their weekends typically on the beach, whether they grill (barbeque) and drink beer, or they surf (on waves), do water sports and play ball games.
There are built-in gas barbeques on most of the city beaches that you can use to grill beef, pork, or even kangaroo meat and favorite sausages. But the unbelievable thing is that these barbecues are free of charge! For anybody and for as long they desire to stay.
Go to the beach, grill some quality meat, drink a fine beer or another drink and have some fun in the waves – this is what Australians call a good day.
Environment and nature has to be protected
Australia has very strict laws about protecting the environment, plants and animals. Australian people generally protect their beautiful country (except for the Australian teenagers, who usually drink on weekends and litter the city center).
What really troubled me, was seeing foreign students or tourists, who didn’t respect Australia as a country. They would travel halfway across the Earth to Australia and then they would litter and leave cigarette butts on the beaches. Everytime I’d see it, it would make me sick. Let everybody make a mess in their own countries, but when they are abroad (and mainly as tourists who go to see the beauty of nature) they should respect the environment of others and of wild animals.
Going out into nature is cool. Leaving more plastic and glass than you brought with you, definitely isn’t cool.
Municipal policemen really serve people
I had never seen such cool municipal policemen before. When you do something against the law, they will notify you about it (often with a smile on their face), then wish you a good day and go their own way. When you are nice, they are nice. But when you start to be cocky and arrogant, they act accordingly.
Police chases like those from the movies
One evening I went home from work and I saw a man running my way. A second later I saw two policemen chasing the guy. At the moment the guy was already ahead of me and the policemen continued to chase him. Suddenly I heard police sirens and then also saw the police cars. Probably around 6 police cars came from all directions and were chasing the guy.
I don’t have a clue what he did, if he murdered someone or just stole something. Anyway, even after witnessing this incident I felt very safe in Sydney.
Speaking English fluently is invaluable
If I had to choose just one reason, why Australia was worth it, it would be for the English language. This one thing has radically changed my life for the better.
Instead of Slovakian and Czech I suddenly heard the whole world and understood what it was saying. Thanks to the Internet and English, I managed to find answers for even the most complicated or most specific questions. I saved an enormous amount of money. I was set free from the information that Slovak mass media pushes on to the Slovak people. Now I can choose the best and the most valuable information sources from all around the globe. I can travel across the world and understand what people say and be understood. Not everybody in the world speaks English, but believe me, nobody speaks Slovak (maybe except the Croatians who get a lot of tourists from Slovakia in the summers).
Want a job? You’ll need to be perseverant
When Slovak people want to find a job, they usually go on the Internet and seek a job on the online job boards. Another way of searching for a job might be job ads in the local newspapers. But these are all passive ways of seeking a job.
Do you know that more than 60% of all jobs never get to the newspapers or on the Internet?
They get taken by applicants who searched for a job in the past, or through friends and acquaintances. Don’t tell me that it isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. It is more like a game that needs to be played by its rules otherwise you can go home.
The best way of seeking a job in Sydney (and other big cities) is called self-promotion. You print 30 copies of your CV, take it with you, and personally visit companies where you would like to work. Agency G8M8, which helped me travel to Australia, has always recommended job-seeking in this way. They know this, because they have many years of experience of foreign students studying in Australian schools, and also with those students landing jobs or travelling.
The reason companies like this way of job seeking is that: it’s too easy to send a CV online. Many people don’t even bother to write a different email to each of the companies and the only thing they change is the title. But when somebody walks into a room with a CV in hand and a smile on their face, it shows courage and dedication. The owner of a company, or a team member can evaluate a job applicant right on the spot and eventually arrange a meeting with the boss or a human resources manager.
Yes, visiting companies in person isn’t easy and it takes long. However, it’s worth it. I had 3 different jobs in Australia and I found all of them because I personally visited these companies. Many companies don’t actively search for someone new, but when they see that you would probably be a good fit for their company, they’ll give you a chance.
Everything in life has its price
To leave for Australia, I had to get a loan. I wasn’t excited about that, but I had known that I had no other option. Nowadays I’m strictly against getting loans and I fundamentally don’t get them if it isn’t truly necessary. I’m still paying off the loan that allowed me to get to Australia and I don’t regret it. It allowed me something that money itself never could buy.
My decision to leave for Australia was the best decision I’ve ever made. Student life in Sydney isn’t easy, but it’s worth the great life experience that a life and stay down under truly is about. After 3 years of living there, I came back as a completely different person, with a better outlook on life, an open mind and unlimited options on how to conquer the world.
– Lubo Jurik, 1. October 2013
Now it’s your turn. What decision has most changed your life for the better? Why?
Do you want to see Australia with your own eyes?
Check the prices of flight tickets (choose Sydney Airport, where the flights from Europe usually are the cheapest, but you can also try Melbourne, Gold Coast, Perth or Brisbane.
Ticket already bought? Awesome. Now find accommodation.