"My journey has been one of uncertainty, creativity and art".
Country of Origin: Guatemala.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Melbourne. Upon arrival: Surprised by how immigrants were able to speak English after a few of weeks’ tuition. Also, surprised by Australians being very trusting persons of whatever one may say.
By Cristy Abela
Angel Calderon is a higher education specialist who has contributed to shape Australia’s higher education in student equity, international education and institutional planning and research. His work has been presented at the major higher education forums internationally. He is part of a group of Latin American professionals who have sought to promote closer relations between Australia and Latin America since the 1980s.
Tell us Your Story
In the 1980s, I wanted to be as far away as possible from the civil war that inflicted Central America. My older brother Marco Vinicio, at the time age 22, had been taken away at gunpoint when walking to the bus stop in July 1982 and was never seen again. As I had also received threats, 6 months later I decided to leave Guatemala and move to Mexico for a few months until my tourist visa expired. I then moved to Honduras and Panama, but life was also unsettling and insecure; war and revolution were all around me. While in Honduras, I learned I could apply as a political refugee for resettlement through the International Organisation for Migration. Canada and Australia were accepting applications. I knew nothing about Australia, except it was further away from Central American troubles. It was a long and tedious wait. It took more than a year for Australia to grant me a humanitarian visa but I finally landed in Melbourne on a cold and wet September morning in 1985.
When I arrived in Australia I was neither able to speak nor understand English. I lived for the first three months in the Midway Migrant Hostel in Maribyrnong. The biggest initial challenge was to learn the language. I did my first of many English language courses at the hostel. The next big challenge was to resume my university studies. I had to prove that I was equipped to gain entry into university, and able to stay on top of the study requirements. In 1988, I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences at Swinburne University, and in 1993 I completed a master’s degree in applied social research at Monash University.
In 1989, I started to work as a planning research assistant at Footscray Institute of Technology (now Victoria University). From there I went to work to Monash University, and then on to RMIT University, where I have been for the past twelve years. I have contributed to shape Australia’s higher education in various areas such as student equity, science education, international education, and institutional planning and research, among others. I have presented my work in the major higher education forums internationally. I have been a consultant to a number of different industry projects on a variety of fields, including survey design, global megatrends, university rankings, foresight and scenario planning. I have been a co-editor and co-author of various papers and books. Also, I have derived so much joy from being a father of three gorgeous children (Isabela, Sebastian and Felix) who have been a source of inspiration. They are a reminder of the need to stay focused and to enjoy what life brings every day.
Forging a future - The fear of homelessness and uncertainty about the future was replaced by the challenge of learning the language and getting acquainted with the new surroundings. I suffered guilt that I was away from the struggle and my family back in Guatemala. Some of that emptiness was filled with volunteer work and focusing on my studies. With the passing of each day there was a widening gap between my past and my future.
Rediscovering the joy for life - I went through difficult moments, particularly when I felt vulnerable and alone. However, I have always encountered acts of kindness that saved me. Families have adopted me and strangers have gone out of their way to help me find work. Also, I shared house with Australian-born persons, this provided me with an opportunity to be immersed in the Australian way of life and make friends who have become part of my family.
Security - Growing up in a country like Guatemala, where we were surrounded by conflict, has allowed me to appreciate the things that make life peaceful, visibly transparent and great in Australia.
Certainty - During my time in Latin America, my life was full of uncertainties. Australia has given me plenty of certainties; for example that I am alive and emotionally and intellectually connected with many wonderful people.
Piece of Advice
Express yourself - I have opted to express some of my emotions and memories in paintings. To be honest, I never thought that I would be able to paint.I have found it a good vehicle to communicate with a wider audience, particularly in Australia.
Be yourself - Be an open book and be genuine to your values, but embrace change. Be prepared for a life journey that is going to depend on your doings. Be passionate, have faith in your abilities and believe in whatever you do. I have learnt that having a good set of generic skills, being flexible and adaptable helps anyone to get by.
Balance your life - I like to keep things in perspective and aim for balance. Painting and running marathons are now essential parts of my life. Running marathons has been a great opportunity to reflect and ponder about the beauty of life in Australia.
Friendships - Create strong links with people you feel you are connected to. For example, I am part of a group of Latin Americans who have met every Monday night since the late 1980s. We call ourselves 'El Sindicato'. We have shared our experiences, successes and life changing stories. These friendships have shaped my world views and the ways in which I contribute to shaping Australia.
In the next few years...
Angel will continue to work in the education field. He is working on various publishing projects. He will continue working on bringing closer the richness of both Australian and Latin American societies. He hopes to soon take his three children for the first time to Guatemala. If you wish to contact Angel email us at firstname.lastname@example.org