My husband and I were making a way to our seats in a dimly lit theatre hall where primary school children were about to perform a drama. The big auditorium was full of excited people murmuring, laughing, talking and finding their seats. There were two people, a young man and a middle-aged lady, sitting next to us and talking in a very musical tongue. My husband could not resist his intense curiosity so he asked, “Excuse me, if you don’t mind, can you tell me what language you two are using? I find it really beautiful.” The lady laughed sweetly and replied, “Oh, yeah! It is the Mauritian Creole language. Do you like it?”
In the conversation that followed, we found out that she was the grandmother of our son’s friend, Calvin, and the young man beside her was his father. She said that she left her country, Mauritius, for Australia 26 years ago, searching for a better life. The amazing reality that she revealed to us was that even though she had been living in Australia for 26 years now, she missed Mauritius terribly, and when it rained in Australia she always smelled Mauritian soil and wished she could have been there physically.
In general, it is true that all immigrants of the first generation (who migrate as adults with their children) may feel the same way as Calvin’s grandmother; their hearts may always be in their native land with their families and friends that they left behind, and basically, they might not be happy living in a foreign country. Who knows, they may also regret leaving their country for the rest of their lives. The ‘the smell of soil’ after the rains might always make them feel nostalgic and think of their homeland, instead of their host land. Such immigrants, who I met and talked to, told me that the main or only reason for their migration to Australia was to provide better education for their children, which would obviously lead to a better future for them in return.
But what about the children? Can they really live up to their parents’ high expectations of academic success? Not necessarily. These children are sandwiched between their home culture and Australian culture. They get confused when they are placed in a completely different academic atmosphere. For example, I observed that children, especially from Asian countries, go to Australia with their experience of ‘highly textbook-based learning’, long hours of homework and strict teachers. An Indian mother told me that when her son was in India, he used to study many subjects, have different textbooks and also have regular homework. Similarly, a Filipino father added that teachers are very strict in the Philippines. In contrast, things were very different in Australia. Here, I found out that exploratory learning is emphasised, where students are expected to do their own research; textbooks are not the sole source of knowledge. And what is more surprising is that there is not a single ‘textbook’ in primary schools (from prep to Year 6), but the teaching-learning process is as, if not more, engaging as it would have been with textbooks. School teachers told me that in place of textbook-based homework, project-based homework is assigned. Projects require students to collect information from different resources, such as books, online sources, newspapers and magazines to complete their assignments. Regarding teachers, Australian teachers are not strict at all. They support student learning at the maximum possible level, but they are not coercive. Any form of corporal punishment is prohibited in schools.
In such an inclusive environment, immigrant students may misperceive the Australian schooling system and see it as easy and relaxed as J. Li’s 2010 research conducted on twelve Chinese immigrant children between the ages of 13 and 19 living in Canada, “My home and my school: Examining immigrant adolescent narratives from the critical socio-cultural perspective,” shows. Because of this, they may gradually stop working hard or even listening to their parents. All they want to do is have fun, and do no work. As a result, they may fail to achieve as much as their parents had aspired for them before leaving their home country. There is a good chance that these children may be lost in the jungle of unlimited material exposure and an unfamiliar education system. Their identity neither resembles the people of their home country nor to the people of the host country. They may turn into Willie Chandran, the protagonist in V.S. Naipaul’s novel ‘Half a Life,’ who was taken to London, by his Indian parents, and Willie felt that he neither belonged to Britain nor to India. A Mongolian mother shared her fear with me. She was worried that her daughter would not be able to compete with her friends if they went back to their country. She said, “She may speak English fluently, but when it comes to academics what will she do? I’m scared for her!”
Therefore, before making a life-changing decision to migrate to a foreign country, it is wise to think twice; because the grass is not always greener on the other side as most of the people expect. All the sacrifices that first generation immigrants have to make for the sake of their children’s future may not be worth it in the end. One person’s success abroad can be another person’s disaster.
(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post on Sunday, August 30, 2015)
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