Rakshnna Pattabiraman is from India and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Professional Writing and Publishing. She loves sipping endless cups of tea and baking in her spare time. When the sun is out, she cycles around the Optus Stadium and catches up on some reading by the river.
Being the first in her family to study abroad, Rakshnna has had her fair share of cultural shocks and barriers to overcome. In this piece, she opens up about her struggle with assimilation and the pro-active approach she had to take to consciously blend in with the rest.
The idea for pursuing this topic first occurred to me while I was in a creative writing class at university. I along with one of the other interviewees in this story collection, were the only ‘outsiders’ in the class. We would always exchange glances at each other when the class discussed something that was out of the context of the unit and as the group erupted in laughter, we’d smirk and nod not fully knowing what they were talking about. This ‘otherness’ was becoming more familiar to us and it soon became a regular topic of discussion when the two of us met in person. This sense of alienation, despite all the research and efforts we’ve put into our assimilation process stood out at many instances and I knew for a fact that I wanted to record it somewhere – hence we’re here!
Like many international students, at the onset of my course in Australia, I was a nervous and anxious mess struggling to establish myself in a strange foreign land. Unlike my interviewees, I had no kin or relatives in Australia before moving here so it was exceptionally difficult to maneuver around on my own and find out what works best for me. I had to reinvent myself frequently to be able to ‘fit in’ among different groups of people yet at the end of the day, I struggled to be acknowledged by them.
Although it was quite challenging to familiarize myself with the new academic environment, I loved adapting to the local culture, exploring the city and experiencing certain things for the first time ever! I was fascinated to find long shelf life milk, different varieties of cheese, beans in a can and the ease of cooking frozen dumplings – none of which I had experienced before! I did most things by myself and never felt homesick or missed my family. It is strange saying that out loud, but I enjoyed the freedom that came with being away from everyone I knew!
Some of the people I made acquaintance with in the initial months of moving here, were able to find a community or a group of friends in a heartbeat; whereas that took months of active socialization on my part. I actively strayed away from people who spoke the same language as me or shared the same cultural background since I did not want to limit myself to just one circle, let alone fall into repetitive ways of being.
When being the outsider to a culture, one must make peace with indifference and apathy. There will be days when you will go unnoticed and left out and that’s okay. All this eventually leads you to discovering something about yourself, which I think is a necessary journey everyone needs to make. These past two years have been life-altering at best. I do not recognize the person I was before and I can’t begin to fully capture what I have gone through during my stay here. To top this experience, Covid-19 put me through a whirlwind of emotions and forced me to wake up to the reality of the world. The interviews in this story collection were documented amidst the chaos of the pandemic and it reflects the unique experiences of each of the participant.
This story collection project was an interesting experience altogether as it provided me an opportunity to delve into the lives of my interviewees, who have played a crucial role in helping me during my course of living in Australia.