In rural Japan in the 90s, girls were told they didn’t need further education because, in the end, they would just get married. So my parents didn’t support me to go to university, even though I really wanted to go. Instead, I started to dream of coming to Australia on a working holiday visa.
I found work in a sewing machine factory and another part-time job on the weekends, and although it took me 2 years to save the $10 000 I needed, I eventually achieved my goal. My parents were completely against my decision, and we had a lot of arguments, but in the end they agreed because it was only going to be for 12 months.
I was so naïve when I landed in Sydney, and with the little American English I had learned, I couldn’t understand anyone. When people asked, “How ya going?” I just didn’t know how to answer! Luckily for me, I had a wonderful host family in Gosford, especially my host mother, Jean, who became my Australian Mum. She was so vibrant, intelligent and kind, and she used to help me with my English homework every night, even though I couldn’t speak English very well and she couldn’t speak Japanese!
I fell for Australia in a big way. Jean used to call me a bird out of its cage! I felt everyone just did everything so freely here. So, when I returned to Japan, I told my parents I wanted to go back and study for another twelve months, and they reluctantly agreed.
This time, I returned on a student visa and studied hospitality. Then I again had to return to Japan to save money for more study, which took me 18 months of hard work. This time, when I told my parents I wanted to go back to Australia, they just couldn’t take it – they were very traditional people who just wanted me to follow in the footsteps of others. Finally, my father told me that if I returned to Australia, he would disown me. So I returned to Australia and didn’t speak to my parents for close to ten years.
I lived again with Mum, and did a Certificate and Diploma in Hospitality, followed by a Business degree at the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast campus, which I had been told would give me enough points to get permanent residency. However, when I finished, I was told that it wasn’t sufficient, which was a complete shock to me. Luckily, that was in 2000, the year of the Sydney Olympics, and I was very lucky to be sponsored by a hotel in Sydney for 12 months. Next, Mum helped me to enrol in a Translation and Interpreting course for twelve months, which helped me finally get the points I needed for residency. In total, I studied for ten years, paying high international fees the whole time.
After I finally got my permanent residency, I actually had a nervous breakdown. I think the pressure of it all had got to me, and I was still having conflict with my parents. For a while, I found work in a call centre, then for a Japanese company, and then I did some temp work, but I was a bit lost.
At the time, my good friend suggested that I see a counsellor, which was a completely new concept to me. I was brought up in a culture in which we only talk about personal issues within family and friend circles, and never to strangers. I had never even heard of counsellors, but I am very glad that my friend convinced me to see one, because she helped me for a number of years.
Then, one day, I went to a course on refugees at Sydney University, and this red-haired lady came in late and sat next to me. When I offered to share my paperwork with her, we started chatting, and I found out that she had a corporate compliance company, a field I had always been interested in. And when she heard I was looking for work, she offered me a job! Honestly, I felt that an angel landed on my head that day. I worked there for a couple of years, until Susan sadly passed away.
I then moved on to a larger professional services company. I had always wanted to be a career woman, climbing the corporate ladder, but once I found myself in that environment, I realised I wasn’t happy. I was working long hours, there were lots of office politics, I was facing language and cultural barriers, and it just wasn’t fulfilling for me.
When I was made redundant from my corporate job 8 years ago, I went back to university and studied counselling and continued on to study Neuro-Linguistic Programming, hypnotherapy and coaching. Currently I am a transformational coach, which I love. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be sitting on the other side of the chair.
I came here as a young holidaymaker full of hope, wanting to have an adventure, with no idea of all the difficulties I would have to face to stay here, or of all the feelings I would have of not being good enough and not belonging anywhere. I often felt so defeated, but now I’m glad I went through that. And I know there are many others like me, who want a new future, but who face challenges. Sometimes, because of their cultural background, they may not want to seek help. But I hope they do. People should live to their full potential, not in the shadows.
I am very happy now. I live with my partner, and my relationship with my parents is much better, as they have finally accepted that my life is in Australia. But really it was Jean who was my number one cheerleader throughout everything. She supported everything I did. On this day five years ago, she passed away, after being my Australian mother for 24 years of my life.
I wouldn’t be here without her.
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Photographs: Interviewee’s own