"It is not the title that shows who you are but your actions and merits".
Country of Origin: El Salvador.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Uluru and WA. Upon arrival: Surprised by how friendly people were
By Trini Abascal
Glenda Mejia is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne. In 2014, as the Spanish Language Studies Coordinator and Spanish language lecturer, Glenda received the RMIT Award for Teaching Excellence – College of Design and Social Context, Higher Education. She received this award for her passion and dedication to teaching Spanish and for empowering students to learn through fun and innovative methods. She has several publications in the area of Latin American Cinemas, Pedagogy and Migration. During her career she has been the recipient of several research grants. As a teacher, she acts as a cultural ambassador for all Latin American countries.
Tell us Your Story
I came to Australia as a refugee under a humanitarian program offered to Salvadorian citizens following the civil war that lasted 12 years. We left everything and everyone behind, but when your life is at stake nothing else matters. In July 1992, my family (parents, two sisters and a brother) arrived in a small city, two hours away from Brisbane, called Toowoomba. I recall hearing the name of the city for the first time and learning it was an Aboriginal word that means “swamp”. A support group from the Anglican Church received us with open arms and helped us settle in, even though we were not Anglicans. We never experienced racism and from day one my experience in Australia has been a positive one. I am not saying it has been easy but we have tried our best to have a positive attitude as we are grateful for the opportunity provided to us. Also, I am the type of person that embraces change without comparing or wishing upon what was left behind.
When I arrived, I already spoke English, which helped me get accepted into university the following year. After three years of studying Applied Science (Psychology), I moved to Brisbane where I worked as a volunteer community aid worker at Lifeline. Eventually, I got my first job with the organisation doing the same role. My main role was to help Spanish-speakers and Croatians arriving in Brisbane to settle in. I also provided emotional support to Anglo-Australians from low social economic status, Aborigines and domestic violence victims. This program was running through a grant from the Department of Immigration. When the grant finished so did my job. I decided then to go back to Toowoomba and study a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. After completing it I moved back to Brisbane to study my Masters degree at the University of Queensland in 1999 at the Department of Romance Languages. During my Masters I researched the area of language and identity among Spanish-speakers. At the same time, I started working as a Spanish teacher/tutor, which I’m still doing to this day. After my Masters I decided to do my PhD in cultural studies, with a focus on feminism and Cuban cinema. Since 2007 I have been working and coordinating the Spanish Program at RMIT and promoting the Spanish language and culture. I have been able to take the first Spanish study tours from RMIT University to Latin American countries; one to Colombia in 2012 and another one to Mexico in 2015. Both were possible with grants that I received for each student that were provided by the Department of Education in Victoria. I feel very lucky to be able to teach my language here in Australia and share our Latin American cultures as well. As a teacher I don’t see myself as a Salvadoran, I see myself as global Latin American citizen with the duty to teach all the richness of every Latin American country.
To be direct - My biggest challenge has been to learn to be direct and say things the way I see them. In Latin America it is hard to give honest feedback as people tend to talk about something without mentioning it directly so as to avoid getting to the core of the subject. Being direct can be perceived as rude or ill-mannered. Whereas Australians will tell me "come on, stop beating around the bush and tell me". Now I know it is better to be clear in order to avoid misunderstandings.
Take pride in yourself - I have a big issue with talking about how good I am at something as I find it arrogant and pretentious. However, in Australia you need to do it as it is very competitive. When you are after a job or a promotion you have to say that you are the best of the best in order to get the job or be promoted.
Different behaviours - In my first years in Australia I found some behaviours hard to accept. For instance, in Brisbane during my uni years I was shocked to see students walking without shoes. However, I learned that if you take the chance to know them then you realise that they are intelligent and beautiful people. I have always said some Australians are like rough diamonds. I have learned to be less judgmental toward others and choose the best from both cultures. This has made my life richer.
Social class - Something that I found very different in Australia, and that I like, is that classes mix to a certain point. I am not denying that classes do not exist in Australia, just that they are not as marked as in Latin America.
Diversity - Another thing that I like is the diversity of cultures and people in Australia. However, I don’t like to generalise and say Australians are this and Latinos are that. I have met very open and warm Australians and very cold and closed Latinos, so every culture has a bit of everything - good and bad.
Use of titles - I also like that you don’t use titles to introduce yourself or at events (e.g. lawyer, architect). In Australia it is not the title that shows who you are but your actions and merits.
Piece of Advice
Embrace your new life - Be open-minded, embrace the experiences and have a positive attitude even if it gets hard and lonely at times. It is a beautiful country with good quality of life and great opportunities if you go for them. If you are here, you are here, don’t compare and don’t look at what you don’t have any more but what is in front of you and go for it!
Enrich your experience - Keep a balance between both cultures. Accepting and adapting certain values of Australia does not stop you being Latino or vice-versa. On the contrary, it enriches your experience and you can see things from a different perspective and perhaps be less judgmental. Do not generalise, give it a chance to get to know the Australian culture, it is not better or worse, it is just different.
Learn the language - If you don’t know the English language it will be hard because unfortunately Australia is still a monolingual country. If you don’t speak English fluently, it will be hard to find a job, make friends and integrate in this society.
In the next few years...
Glenda wants to continue living day-by-day. She sees herself enjoying life, travelling, teaching the Spanish language and culture to a new generation of Australians/Latin Americans, including her son. If you wish to contact Glenda email us at firstname.lastname@example.org