When my husband and I arrived in Australia as skilled migrants, I was fairly confident that the transition to our new life would not be too difficult.
After all, we were fluent in English, so it should not be too hard to do the research and find the resources we needed to settle our family in and find work.
I was wrong.
Firstly, even though we came from an English-speaking background, understanding what was said by local Aussies required a specially tuned ear. There’s English English, and then there’s Aussie English. The accents, the slang, the tendency to shorten people’s first names, all these were things we had yet to acquire.
Secondly, even though I had a law degree from a reputable university in Singapore and had worked as a lawyer for 11 years, it did not guarantee me a smooth entry into the workforce in Australia.
In fact, there were a few obstacles I faced when trying to find paid work. One, I lacked local work experience. Two, I would have to study and take exams again if I was serious about being a lawyer in Australia, because my qualifications had been gained overseas. Three, I had taken a career break to be a stay-home mum, so my skills were out of date.
It seemed to me that everything I had worked hard to achieve up till my arrival in Australia was now of zero value.
I was overqualified, and also underqualified. This was a huge blow to my ego and identity, and I had to ask myself: where to now? You would think that the most obvious thing to do would be: ask for help.
But here’s the thing. We don’t always have the words to identify what it is that we need, or know where to start, who to ask for help, and what to say when we get there.
In many of our cultures, there is also a stigma around asking for help. If asking for help was not normalised in our upbringing and conditioning, or if needing help equated to being weak, then opening our mouths to say “Can you help me?” can make us feel vulnerable and a little ashamed. In our heads, we hear our elders “tsk-tsk” at us for complaining about our lives, when what we really want to say is:
I’m financially stressed.
I’m having an identity crisis.
I’m not sure I made the right decision to move here.
I’m feeling isolated as a mother with young children.
I’m having to do everything myself without the support network I had back home.
There are two things we can do to break the silence and stigma around asking for help.
The first step is to be honest about your situation without judging yourself harshly. Needing help does not make you a weak person or a failure. It just means that this is an area of life you are having difficulty with right now. With time and effort and the right resources, it will get easier. Next, tell someone you trust: “I’m having a hard time and I need help.”
I have found that most people are kind and good and willing to help another in need. Asking for help is an act of courage, faith, and humility. Courage to step out of our comfort zone. Faith that better things are ahead, even when we cannot see them yet.
Humility to acknowledge that life moves in mysterious cycles: sometimes we are the helping hand, and sometimes we are the one with the outstretched hand.
Soon it will be our turn to pay it forward and help another professional migrant woman, and what a joy it will be to share our newly-gained wisdom!
As Brene Brown wrote, “Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly, or unknowingly, attach judgement to giving help.”
All transitions have their challenges and joys, so allow yours to shape you, strengthen you, and help you grow more fully into your truest self.
If you resonate with what I’ve shared and want more personalised support to thrive as a professional migrant woman, do connect with me on LinkedIn for a virtual coffee chat.
By Serena Low, Quiet Warrior Coach
Host of The Quiet Warrior Podcast
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