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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Australia or New Zealand (01/15/09)

TITLE: Dreams and Realities (based on a true story)
By Suzanne R


A master’s degree from a world-class university is what I needed. Names such as ‘Harvard’, ‘Oxford’ and ‘Cambridge’ appealed to me, but reality must be faced. The cost of living is reasonable in Australia, and what’s more, students are permitted to work part-time.

Once I finished my study in Australia, gained some work experience and got a good grade on the IELTS exam, I could get permanent residency in Australia. Once I had permanent residency, I’d find a Chinese husband there – another immigrant - and raise a family in a country which gave children the chance to grow up without the incredible pressure that I’d endured, a country where the hopes of the generations above didn’t rest on young people like me.

I arrived in Melbourne one hot February afternoon. The sky was bluer than a postcard. A young woman held a sign with my name - Luo Xiaoli. In Australia, I’d be known as Sally Luo.

The campus was beautiful. The accommodation was spacious. The food was flavourless, textureless and colourless.

Money was always an issue. Oh, there was plenty in the bank, as per the requirements for my visa, but most of it belonged to various friends and relative. It took me a long time to complete required readings and assignments because English is my second language. Yet we Chinese know how to ‘eat bitterness’ and the honour of my family was at stake.

Two months after arriving in Australia, I finally found waitressing work. I was surprised at how mean-spirited local people were. They’d order a dish or two each, and never shared. Each paid only for what he or she ate.

The days passed in a blur of fatigue. Yet whenever I was not busy, pangs of homesickness cut deeply. The streets and parks were so empty. People kept to themselves. Even the bathrooms were lonely. I remembered longingly the days when my friends and I would scrub one another’s backs in the communal university showers.

One brisk Sunday morning found me aimlessly wandering the streets near our campus. A stone church caught my attention. People were going in – Australians, Chinese, Africans – and then me.

Peace like a soothing balm settled on my heart, although the words were all but impossible to follow, even for somebody with an IELTS score of 6.5. Later somebody pressed a postcard into my hand, giving details of a weekly gathering for overseas students.

That’s where life changed. Every week, I’d go there for a meal that was cheap, and sometimes even tasty, followed by a Bible study. The words and morals of the Bible had informed many great western classics, so I had been taught, but now it came to life. At times there were other fun activities, especially during the long summer holiday. Sometimes the group went travelling together. I’d always swap my shifts at work and go too. We saw the Great Ocean Road, hiked through Australian bush, photographed koalas, swam in the surf – it was so different to the city.

That was a year ago. I’m finished my master’s degree now, which was when reality hit.

Life in Australia for an immigrant is hard, but that wouldn’t bother me if it meant blessing for my family. What I can’t do, though, is raise a Chinese family there.

Sally Luo is but a pseudonym, yet will suit me nicely when working with overseas clients.

Two months ago, I stepped back onto Chinese soil. First I went home to our small town, where my mother cooked for days, and people dropped by to admire photographs and receive gifts of lanolin and emu oil, for which Australia is famous, even if they don’t realize it there. My mother proudly wears the opal I gave her.

My third uncle arranged a place in a three bedroom apartment in Beijing for me. It has two bathrooms, which is good, because thirty young women live there. It is fun, living in such a vibrant community. The sky is not as blue here, but blue sky is over-rated anyhow.

After sending out over 100 resumes and attending a number of interviews, I have accepted an excellent job offer. After Spring Festival, I’ll be known as having ‘three goods’ - a good job, salary and education. That should make me very marriageable. If my husband has no siblings, like myself, we can even have two children according to our country’s recent change of laws.

Australia is a good country.

But China is home.

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This article has been read 687 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/24/09
I found this story to be very interesting, as well as informational. Well done.
Beth LaBuff 01/24/09
Fascinating story. I hadn't heard about the new law "two children" if both parents have no siblings. (Very interesting.) I smiled at your "three goods" statement. You are an amazing person.
Gregory Kane01/25/09
This made for a fascinating read, particularly in that you bring out the sense of loneliness experienced by a visitor to Australia. (Many of the other entries this week are overwhelmingly positive.) I did however feel a little swamped by the huge volume of facts and observations. I suspect that the story could do with a little house-keeping - prune away some of the content and expand some of the major key events. But well done
Karlene Jacobsen01/26/09
It is tough to go anywhere where you know no one and must adapt to a new culture. You described the struggle well.
Joanne Sher 01/27/09
I loved knowing from the beginning this was based on truth. Wonderfully written, and completely engaging.