"Keep in mind your motivations; they will give you the strength to get through the hard times".
Country of Origin: Mexico.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: The ferry trip from Luna Park to Circular Quay at Sydney Harbour and Freycinet National Park in Tasmania. Upon arrival: Surprised by quality of Australian restaurants. I loved finding boutique bakeries in remote locations with the most delicious pies!
By Cristy Abela
Roberto Barajas is a dreamer with a foot on the ground. His qualifications, professional experience and network positioned him to land a management role within the first two months after arrival. Currently, he is the Australian National Planning and Operations Manager for Driscoll’s (the largest supplier of berries worldwide). Roberto proves that with motivation, planning and hard work any challenge can be overcome.
Tell us Your Story
I grew up happily in Guadalajara, Mexico. My parents always provided enough for me and my sister. However, we rarely had the opportunity to travel. When I was 12, an uncle invited me to Florida. This trip made me realise there was a whole world out there to be discovered. During university I studied a semester abroad in North Carolina where I unleashed the passion for living new experiences and meeting new people. I started to travel on tight budgets, even eating once a day to save money. Many times I dreamed about studying a Master degree overseas but it never happened as I had to earn a living. In 2005, I started working as an industrial engineer. My then manager and friend Ernesto migrated to Australia and invited me to visit him. At the time, I was into a 6-month relationship with my still partner Omar and when I told him about the trip he laughed at me. Financially, it was a challenge, but with the magic of planning we visited Australia! Before the end of the trip two things happened: Ernesto mentioned the migration virus had been planted on us; and Omar unexpectedly said “I don’t know how, but it feels we are going to come back”.
That old dream about studying a Master degree suddenly came back to me as a way to go back to Australia. I attended every possible session about studying in Australia. Omar was also excited about this idea so it became our first life project together. Our qualifications and experience made us candidates for Permanent Residency via the Skilled Migrant Visa, so I postponed the idea of studying a Master. It took us three years to put all the documentation together, including evidence of living as a couple for at least one year. I was the Grower Operations Manager for Central Mexico at Driscoll’s so when I resigned my bosses mentioned they would recommend me to Driscoll’s Australia. Two weeks before moving to Australia I had a job interview with the Australian Managing Director that happened to be in Mexico on a business trip. The prospect of arriving with a job was fantastic. However, the job was based in Melbourne and not in Sydney where we had envisioned living. Seven weeks after we landed in Sydney, I received a job proposal to be the Operations Manager at Driscoll’s. After careful consideration I gave it a go and moved to Melbourne for my first Australian job.
As my position is part of the management team I was expected to make decisions and make things happen in conjunction with other managers. There was a minor problem: I could not understand their accent and I was unable to express myself using the local slang. I dreaded when the phone rang. I also experienced cultural shock regarding the different leadership and management styles. I certainly felt the pressure and I now understand why companies prefer to hire people with an “Australian experience”. It was challenging trying to adapt as fast as possible to the Australian way while proving myself. After almost three years working in Melbourne I can say I have fully adapted to the new business environment. I am considered as a key leader within the organisation and will continue working with them in their expansion plans. My partner is also professionally fulfilled and together we are living the dream we envisioned.
Australian Experience – Not knowing the code of conduct, modals, slang, accent, leadership style, and even the names of regions in the country, set a very challenging professional environment for me. It took time, concentration and discipline to absorb and learn all the new things.
Leadership style at work – I found the Australian work-place extremely direct. It is standard to disagree and to challenge your colleagues without making it personal. It took me a while to feel comfortable being direct but I can appreciate the benefits of constructive and argumentative discussions.
Winter with no friends – It sounds a bit silly but arriving to a cold, wet and windy Melbourne was not ideal. Bad weather plus loneliness resulted in homesickness and sadness. We forced ourselves to go out and meet people. Once you have friends it all becomes easier, and if they are locals it’s even better. You learn from their stories.
Hope vs Belief – In Latin America we tend to accept the way life is as a given, and we hope it changes in the future. I like the Australian way of facing or dealing with problems. They truly believe in themselves and their capabilities to solve it, regardless of how hard it may seem.
Labour cost – In Latin America, it is easy and affordable to have help. In Australia, having such help is unaffordable. For example: at a petrol station you have to fill up your own car, and you have to clean your own house. Also, some businesses just open during peak hours. Australia has one of the highest minimum wages in the world and at least 10 times higher than most countries in Latin America.
Adventuresome – Australia is a remote country but a developed one. I truly believe its remoteness, among other things, has helped Australians develop an adventurous character. Australians are keen to travel and learn about other cultures. In Latin America, the economic circumstances make it more difficult for people to travel. Therefore, I feel we lack that sense of adventure.
Piece of Advice
Know your motivations – It is tough and challenging leaving everything behind, even when you know that it is what you dreamed of. Keep in mind your motivations; they will give you the strength to get through the hard times. I thought about quitting my job several times during the first months, but finding reassurance in my motivations got me through those initial hard times.
Plan ahead – Take the time to plan your move. Life in Australia is expensive. Prepare a budget, web pages like www.numbeo.com can help you compare the cost of living against your home city. It’s critical that the financial factor works on your favour. This will make your adaptation process less challenging. Understand what you require to get a good job that can help you earn enough as soon as possible.
Believe in yourself – I feel Latin Americans tend to feel less capable than people from “first world countries”. Although I had a big job with big responsibilities, I initially felt inferior to my Australian or English colleagues because of the language barrier, cultural differences, etc. You know what? Sometimes, Latin Americans have far more skills, more experience and capabilities than others from “big” countries. Believe in yourself and do what you know best.
In the next few years...
Roberto will continue to work for Driscoll´s Australia as the National Planning & Operations Manager designing and executing an ambitious expansion plan in Australia and starting operations in New Zealand. He is taking Mandarin lessons and wants to learn more about Asia. He has the dream of starting his own business within the next 10 years. And, who knows, perhaps he will consider moving to a different country and starting again. If you wish to contact Roberto email us at email@example.com