It is a warm summer day in Australia, during a pandemic, and an odd silence wraps up the city of Melbourne due to a new sudden and unexpected lockdown, the third. Once again, I find myself immersed in my thoughts and, while trying to keep a balanced and rational perspective, I feel grateful to still have my job, unlike many others who are unemployed and struggling.
I look at the calendar and realize that I have been in Australia for 13 years. It was the 2nd of February 2008, a warm day like today, when I landed in Melbourne with my suitcase full of dreams, hopes, fears, and excitement, ready to take up a whole new challenge.
Since my childhood, I had felt different. I was sensitive and even shy, but deep down I battled to contain the fire in my belly, perhaps because I didn’t truly want to contain it. My passion and strong willpower always underpinned my choices and led me to who I am.
In 2007, after years of trying to find my dimension and several attempts to compromise and accept the life others considered “stable,” I could not ignore my inner voice any longer and embraced the opportunity to take on a new journey. I wanted to discover and connect with who I really was; I wanted to live life as a whole, with enthusiasm, heart, and mind.
Since my first trip to Australia in the late 1990s, as a university student, I had felt a strong connection with this land. It was so deep and intense that, once I returned to my birth country, Italy, I started to suffer within in the attempt to silence the call of Down Under.
I graduated in Foreign Languages and Literature, undertook a marketing course, ended a relationship, lived in London and began a new relationship, found a job that taught me a lot, and later, one I loved in a challenging environment. I moved near Milan, made new friends, learned many skills, traveled, lived in Sardinia, built a new life and journeyed through it – but Australia was always in my heart. I knew it was the place I was meant to be.
Amidst many emotional and physical ordeals and hardships, several years after my first trip, I made a plan, decided to start afresh, closed my eyes, and took a leap of faith. I had the opportunity to become a secondary school educator and teach languages – Italian, French, and English — but I needed to undertake a Graduate Diploma. The cost was over US$10,000 for one year and I had to pay for my living as well. I do not come from a rich family, but I believe that when things are meant to be, they just happen.
In 2007, I was planning my future journey when my phone rang. It was a cousin I hadn’t heard from in a very long time. My cousins and I had inherited part of our grandmother’s house in the south of Italy, but for many years they had refused to sell it and we hadn’t been in touch. I still remember that day, that call: “We have decided to sell the house and we have a buyer.” The amount I received covered my course fees and my trip.
At that point, my student visa was on its way and I needed to start thinking of how to make a living once I was in Australia. My mother had a cousin in Melbourne, who, along with his family, offered to let me stay with them. I am still very grateful for their help, but I still needed a job.
Years earlier, I had worked in the European branch of an IT company from Taiwan whose CEO, Jack, was a clever, capable, and kind entrepreneur whom I highly respected and admired. We had developed a good relationship that had outlasted my collaboration with the business. My departure was getting closer and Jack was in Italy for a visit to his European branch.
I contacted him and he agreed to meet me. I explained that I had decided to embark on a new journey and move to Australia where I had enrolled in a postgraduate course to become a teacher. Despite my main plan, I was open to other opportunities and loved the idea of new challenges. I proposed to him that I could be their Business Developer in Oceania and open the market for their new tablet in Australia and New Zealand. I had no contacts in that field there, but I was determined to succeed and knew I could make it. He believed in me and employed me.
During my first year in Melbourne, I worked really hard — studying for my teaching diploma and looking for possible distributors to launch the niche state-of-the-art tablet. Moving from one place to another by public transport, making phone calls, networking, attending meetings, and being trained by the headquarters in Taiwan through Skype most nights — as I also needed to extensively know the hardware — I was finally giving myself the chance I had dreamed of and building my own life. I was finally riding the wave, taking my own risks. I felt free.
For almost one year, I managed to keep my two lives separated, wearing jeans and a T-shirt in the classroom and business outfits during my work meetings. I still remember the pure excitement, fulfillment, and confidence I felt while discussing with the managers of Telstra (the main telecommunication provider in Australia) and staring at the stunning view from their offices in the Rialto Tower in the heart of Melbourne.
I eventually found a distributor in Sydney. The company sent their engineers to be trained in Taiwan and placed their first order. The end of 2008 was approaching. I was finishing my course and looking at my options: I could find a job as a teacher or continue with the business by establishing an office in Melbourne under my direction.
Fate guided my choice: the American dollar crashed and unfortunately, the IT company was heavily affected. The distributors became hesitant and I needed to make a quick decision as Christmas was approaching and my student visa was going to expire soon. I reflected on the situation. Had I signed the sponsorship papers with the business, my future would have been tied to it, with a real chance of being forced to return to Italy. I started to look for a teaching job.
A few days before Christmas, I was at the airport, going back for the holidays and reading the local newspaper. On the job advertisements page, a newly founded school was offering an ongoing position to a qualified Italian teacher. As soon as I arrived at my mother’s in Italy, I applied with my Immigration Lawyer’s assistance. I had two interviews over the phone with the Principal and was given the position, which later became a sponsorship.
The following step was buying a car, as the college was not reachable by public transport. Two months earlier, in October, I had started practicing Falun Dafa, an ancient Chinese cultivation way of mind, body, and soul based on Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance, and through it, I had made some new friends. One of them, whom I am deeply grateful to, helped me to purchase a used station wagon online, which I picked up on my return in Melbourne. I still recall my first time driving on the left hand-side, the absolutely strange and funny perception of the car, but also the feelings of freedom, hope, and accomplishment in my heart.
Two days later, I started teaching in a brand new Catholic school, where other than teaching, I was able to contribute in numerous ways. We were only 16 staff and we all worked together to build the college and the community. I later became the Language Coordinator. It was the beginning of many new adventures, my spiritual evolution, and my journey toward becoming an Australian citizen.
On this path, I have met amazing people, made beautiful friends, had great experiences, organized trips and exchanges between Italy and Australia, assisted young people in their development and watched them grow, fell many times and stood up stronger, but most of all, I learned — every day. The most important achievement is that I have improved as a human being and I know it will be an ongoing process, until my last day on this Earth.