"In Australia, we learn that our essence is not based on what we do, but who we are"
Country of Origin: Colombia.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Any of the beaches. Upon arrival: Surprised by the politeness and courtesy to strangers, the sense of safety, and the wide streets. Photo by Samuel Narvaez, journalist & photographer, volunteer with ROH
By Cristy Abela
Angelica Correa is the founder and coordinator of Refuge of Hope [ROH], an Australian foundation that assists on the well-being of newly-arrived Latin Americans in Melbourne. The organisation has had a huge impact on this community, and now hundreds of beneficiaries call ROH ‘a home away from home’. Her organisation has attracted funding from the State Government, the City of Melbourne, and around twenty philanthropic trusts. Angelica is increasingly recognised as a spokesperson for the Latin American community. She has initiated a collaborative working group of Latin American organisations in Melbourne.
Tell us Your Story
I have always found joy in the selfless service of others. This is a feeling I have held in my heart since I was a child. My parents taught me the importance of self-reliance, responsibility, and the joy in service and sacrifice. They moved their home from the city to the countryside to become missionaries and help disadvantaged rural communities. This had a strong influence on me. Since high school, I have been involved in social work. I spent time in rural areas trying to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable people. After eight years of working in the social work field I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Luckily at the same time I met Andrew Kay, an Australian man with whom I had a deep connection. Andy(my now husband) suggested me to take a break and come to Melbourne to follow my dream of becoming fluent in English. So in January 2011, I arrived to Melbourne taking a step into the unknown, away from all that was familiar to me.
During my first year in Australia, while studying English, I took jobs in hospitality and as a cleaner. Like all new immigrants, I went through a range of emotions. Sometimes I felt excitement and pride in my achievements, and was hopeful that I would fulfil my dreams. But at other times, I was overcome with feelings of loneliness, anxiety and despair. In addition, I found some of my experiences at this time quite shocking. In particular, I was distressed to see the amount of food wastage at events I worked at. This was particularly upsetting because I knew that within my community, there were fellow students living under the poverty line, who did not have enough food. With the support of Andy, I was able to help some of these students. This experience pushed me to get my social work qualifications recognised in Australia. I wanted to use my skills in social work for the service of the Latin American community. Those simple acts of love and service undertaken while studying English eventually led to the establishment of ROH in 2012. Early in the history of this organisation, it attracted the support of the Scanlon Foundation who assists with mentoring and guidance. ROH has grown significantly in the last four years and is supported by over 200 volunteers. In turn, it has provided support for over a thousand Latin Americans who like me, dreamed big and took the risk of coming to this country in search for better opportunities. Within ROH, I provide leadership to a small team of key support staff and volunteers. I am also a media spokesperson, community advocate, and I am involved with event management. As a social worker, I love the grassroots aspect of the work, and directly supporting people with a range of needs. As a new migrant myself, l understand first-hand the struggles of settlement in a new place, so I feel a great sense of honour and privilege to serve the Latin American community in Melbourne.
Expressing myself - I think my biggest challenge was being able to express myself as natural as I do it in my first language. I miss all the special ways we communicate non-verbally in Colombia and expressing humour the Colombian way! I think I have succeeded at speaking English fluently, but I believe I will never get to express myself as I do it in Spanish.
Missing home - I miss all my friends from Colombia, the tight-knit community, my social network, sharing special moments with my family and hanging out with old friends. I also miss the Colombian food, fruits, and the street vendors. Although I still miss them, I have come to terms with being away from Colombia.
Professional job- I did casual jobs while I began to understand how Australian society works and how I could use my skills here. This time made me miss the social work I had done in Colombia. I feel so grateful to have found a way to use the skills I developed in Colombia – and which I continue to develop.
Communication style - I feel there are big differences in emotional expression and habits of communication between Australians and Latinos. We are very tactile, and express a lot with the intonation of our voice. This is distinctive of our conversations.
Work style - Australians are very task-focussed, punctual, and efficient. They make decisions quickly, and they are very firm in their choices. In contrast, we tend to put a very high priority on relationships, we are more affectionate and we can be more flexible. While both groups get the job done, these differences in style take some time getting used to!
Privacy- Australians have strong ideas about privacy and they price individuality and self-sufficiency. We tend to put much more emphasis on connection. Sharing with family and friends has a high priority for us – we share time, information, routines and daily tasks. We have very different ideas as to what information we keep to ourselves.
Piece of Advice
Trust - Feed your faith every day, be firm and do not collapse in times of difficulty. Through faith we can keep a sensitive heart, keep our dreams alive, and maintain the motivations that brought us here – out of our comfort zone and working towards a better life.
Evaluate motivations - Re-evaluate the main purpose of your decision for being here. The vast majority of people seek new opportunities to study English at a professional level, but over time this goal fades into the background and new goals emerge.
Accept - Agree to take the cultural differences and changes that present themselves in this new country. Accept all the dissimilarities with your country of origin (e.g. climate, food, a high cost of living). Take on new challenges; for example, accept those casual jobs which will challenge your professional identity.
Be positive - Make every effort to maintain a positive attitude. Make the most of every situation and avoid falling into discouragement or despair. Understand that there is no success without sacrifice. In Australia, we learn that our essence is not based on what we do, but on who we are.
In the next few years...
Angelica will continue working with the Latin American community in Melbourne. She hopes ROH continues to grow by expanding their assistance programs. Perhaps, even opening in other cities around Australia. At the same time she looks forward to increasing her knowledge and experience in the non-profit sector and to get even more satisfaction and contentment in her personal life. If you wish to contact Angelica email us at firstname.lastname@example.org