Adjusting to a different culture, getting to grips with a new language, learning the value of diversity and making new friends are all top priorities for young refugees, according to three sisters.
Ahead of Harmony Day on March 21, Iraqi-born Nikita, Aneeta and Natalee discuss their experience of inclusivity and belonging in their new home.
Nikita, Aneeta and Natalle came to Australia with their parents seven months ago from Jordan, after they were forced to flee their home in Iraq due to ongoing conflict.
Speaking during a recent youth orientation activity, 16-year-old Nikita said she has begun to feel truly Australian.
“When I first came to the airport and was trying to help my dad find the bag the air company had lost, it was so difficult because I only knew half the English I know now,” she said. “Here, being able to talk to you, for the first time I feel truly Australian.”
The Amazing Race-style orientation adventure took young refugees to landmarks across Sydney’s CBD to give them an opportunity to learn about their new home and life in Australia.
Despite interesting experiences that come with moving to a new country, Nikita’s younger sisters Natalle, 15, and Aneeta, 13, said it hasn’t all been easy.
Aneeta, who wants to be an engineer when she grows up, said almost everything in Australia was different from home, even the shape of the houses, but that “different isn’t scary.”
Nikita said it took her a while to adjust to the greater freedom of expression in Australia.
“When I first moved to Australia I felt a bit strange about what people would often wear, like the really short clothing, but now I am used to it. It’s good because here everyone can have their own life, no-one can say ‘you do this, you do that’; it’s your life and you can do what you want,” she said.
Exposure to human diversity is a fantastic learning experience, and a particularly valued one for Nikita, who said one of her greatest joys in life is learning. Since moving to Australia, Nikita and her family have had to learn a new language and adapt to many new cultural norms. “I want to learn everything, I want to try everything, I want to try it all ― just to learn and experience. You just don’t know how things in life will be if you don’t try!”
Since the family arrived in Australia, SSI has supported them to build connections in their new community and gain independence, with a focus on English language skills, education and job readiness.
According to Natalle, her SSI case manager has been a big help in teaching her about the country.
“I knew about like the animals and a little about life, but Joseph really taught me about Australia! When we got to the airport he had a meeting with us and explained what Australia was like, how we would live here and what we were going to do about money. It made us feel a lot less worried,” said Natalle.
The three sisters have high hopes for the future and are looking forward to growing up and being an active part of the multicultural country that is Australia.
The successful integration of migrants and refugees plays a key role in the social, cultural and economic success of Australia, as their diversity in skills, thought and experience adds richness to our country. On Harmony Day, Australians come together in celebration of our countries cultural diversity, our history of multiculturalism and the success that is born out of diverse communities working together as one.