Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Adjusting To A New Country

Jim Goodin, the chairperson of the Mental Health Foundation Australia, while on a recent visit to Kochi, talks about the qualities as well as the problems faced by new Indian emigrants

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Jim Goodin. Photo by Albin Mathew. Dr. Alfeen Varghese (extreme right) with her family

Roshni Vijayasarathi was feeling good. It was January 26 which is celebrated as Australia Day. She was on her way from Melbourne with three friends for a short break at the Grampians National Park, 260 kms away. Roshni, 25, was doing her Master’s in Business Administration at the La Trobe University in Melbourne.

In the car, the group was cracking wisecracks and jokes. The mood was sunny and happy, as Roshni looked out and admired the scenic beauty.

However, suddenly, on the empty road, there appeared a kangaroo. The driver swerved. Unfortunately, the rear end of the car hit a tree with full force. Everybody survived except for Roshni, who was sitting at the back.

It was a huge blow for Roshni’s family in Hyderabad, who had faced great difficulty to meet her tuition expenses,” says Jim Goodin, the chairperson of the Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA), while on a recent visit to Kochi. “It was at this moment Vasan Srinivasan, the leader of the Indian community, stepped in.”

Vasan, who is also the Vice Chairman of MHFA and a commissioner of the 'Australian Multicultural Council' organised the expenses from the Indian community to take the body back to India. Also, a friend of the girl was helped to get an air ticket on the same flight. “Later, we gave counselling to the survivors,” says Jim.

The MHFA does a lot of counselling for Indian emigrants. “Many Indians suffer from SAD: Stress, Anxiety and Depression,” says Jim. “People are stressed because they need to have their workplace qualifications recognised. They have to adjust to the language, culture and food. The food in Australia is very bland as compared to Indian food.”

And there is also a cultural adjustment. “We have a western culture,” says Jim. “Australians, compared to Indians, are not a spiritual people. We are practical and robust and enjoy life to the brim. The Indian people mostly don’t drink or smoke and are vegetarian.”

Australians also have difficulty with the sing-song Indian accent. “And when they shake their heads, Australians are puzzled,” says Jim. “They think they are saying no when they are actually saying yes.”

The Indians use a lot of hand movements when they talk. “Australians don't use their hands very much,” he says. “We are not a flamboyant people. We tend to speak with our mouths closed. We don't pronounce our words very well. We have a nasal accent and a drawl. This is very hard for the Indian people to adjust to. The Indian speaker speaks very clearly.”

So, adjustment is not easy at all. “But since there is a stigma about mental health issues among Asians and Indians, in particular, they do not want to consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist,” says Jim. “There is a feeling that it should be dealt with within the family. But since 45 percent of the population will suffer from some mental health problem or the other during their lifetime, it is important to remove the stigma.”

With that end in the mind, the MHFA has set up 50 Multicultural Ambassadors from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan and Thailand.

 The Ambassadors try to tell people that there is nothing wrong with seeking mental health solutions,” says Jim.

When asked about the type of mental treatment that is provided, Jim says, “For people who are not at the sharp end of the spear, that means, they are not suffering from schizophrenia and other serious illnesses, it is usually talk therapy with a psychologist. For people that have a higher rate of depression, usually medicines are prescribed but then that is the role of the psychiatrist.”

The Ambassadors also talk about the benefits of multiculturalism. “We encourage communities to be cohesive, connected, caring and concerned,” says Jim. “We don't want violent communities. We want a tolerant and gentle society, where all the people can live and work together peacefully. This is important because we have people of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Hindu faiths, apart from 30 other religious beliefs.”

But despite the niggling problems, Indians in Australia are thriving. Along with the Chinese, they are one of the most affluent communities in the country. “Many of them are MBAs, Information Technology experts, engineers and doctors and are highly skilled and motivated,” says Jim. “We are fortunate in Australia that we have the most talented people who are coming from India. Australians now have the belief that if you want a job to be done well, we should get a well-educated Indian to do it.”

And there are more and more Indians in Australia, at 5 lakh and growing annually at 10 percent. “But we are happy about that,” says Jim. “Without multiculturalism, Australia will not be able to retain its global competitiveness. We need all the talents that we can get.”

Integration needs intent

By Dr. Alfeen Varghese

My husband Ajit and I, along with our children Adrian and Audrey, who are originally from Bangalore, migrated from Scotland to Australia in 2008 in search of a better work life balance. We were quickly welcomed into the local school community and embraced by the local church family. We sought the services of a relocation agent who helped us find a comfortable rental property, got our children involved in a number of extracurricular activities which included swimming, karate, tennis, football, basketball, music lessons and dance.

Having such a wide range of extra-curricular activities, we soon got exposed to a wide variety of families from different sections of society. We had no problems integrating into the Australian society as we were able to learn from the locals as much as we were appreciated for our contributions. 

We are currently co-owners of our medical practice in Victoria and have 12 doctors on board. We are also sponsors for a local soccer club, cricket team and cancer organisation raising funds for our community. We offer scholarships to a local dance school to promising students. 

We have come to realise that integration happens with intent. Embracing the new culture without rejecting our own values and culture has helped us to adjust to our life in Australia.
(Dr. Alfeen Varghese is a general practitioner as well as a motivational speaker) 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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