Karina Lehman  

"Every story is different, so be patient and believe in yourself" 

karina-lehman.jpg

Karina Lehman

Country of Origin: Chile.

State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Melbourne. Upon arrival: Surprised by the cultural diversity which makes this country so rich in music and food.

Photo by Ívarr Inn Víðfaðmi

By Trini Abascal

Karina is an experienced analyst within the Investment Management industry. She is also a singer and songwriter for Terrasur Band. The band songs are played in different community radio stations in Australia, through The Australian Music Radio Airplay Project. In addition, she works with different organisations and projects. For example, she is  a board member of CASA CULTURA; she is part of Canto Alma; and the executive producer of a project called Timber Music Box. Although, this city has allowed her to find herself, it hasn’t always been easy.

Tell us your story

I've always been a traveller. When I was 17 years old, I went to Perth for 6 months as an exchange student. I chose Australia because I wanted to learn English and I didn’t want to go to USA. I lived with a lovely Australian family and although I enjoyed the experience, at times, it was difficult to be far away from home. However, this trip increased my desire to get to know the world. So after University I went to Barcelona, Spain to study for a year. It was one of the best years of my life! In 2007 I returned to Chile after finding a job in a Spanish Investment platform, Allfunds Bank. I was enjoying a very successful career in the investment industry; however, I wasn’t totally happy. I felt like a prisoner of my routine (you know when you have the feeling of something missing in your life but not sure what it is). So I started looking for options to travel again, I needed fresh air. At that time, Australia seemed like the best option for me and my boyfriend.

portada.jpg

Cover page of Terrasur’s first EP. Photo by Katherine Gailer

We came with a working-holiday visa. We lived in Perth as I knew the city and my Australian family was kind enough to host me again. Later, after visiting Melbourne, I knew that it was the city I wanted to live in. We moved here and after two weeks I found a job in an important English Fund Manager, Aviva Investors. I felt so lucky! Things went well and they offered me a sponsor visa. I was really living the dream: A great job, in the best city! Like it was meant to be. On the other hand, my partner was having trouble finding a job and adapting to the new life, I could see that he wasn’t happy. We were living my dream but not his. The relationship was getting affected by the circumstances and we decided he needed to go back to Chile to pursue his career. I promised him I was going to go back after a few months. However, we broke up 3 months later, I felt I needed to be loyal to my dreams. It was a really difficult and painful decision. I felt very lonely and I used to cry a lot. I almost went back home many times as I wasn't sure about my decision. The break up made me realise that I needed to find myself again, and I did it, through music.

I always wanted to take guitar and singing lessons, so back in 2012 I started taking classes with Oscar Poncell (guitar teacher and player, San Lazaro- Kunataki) and Ximena Abarca (Chilean singer – Huanchaco). After a year, I started a band, Terrasur, along with Nicolas Corvera (Chilean musician and sociologist) and Vanessa Estrada (music teacher and current singer of the band). Initially, the band played covers on the street (busking), but soon we were invited to restaurants, music venues, and festivals around Melbourne.

Shortly after, we were composing originals songs. Nico had to go back to Chile and three others member joined the band. Last month we released our first EP (with 4 original songs and 1 cover of Victor Jara). Currently, our music is being played in community radios around Australia. I’ve also been involved in other musical projects as "Canto Alma", a group of talented women singers and musicians who have come together to pay homage to the cultural heritage of Latin America.

Also, while all these good things were happening in my life, after a hard year, in December 2013, I met Francisco (a Mexican RMIT Academic). We felt in love and we had just got married in Mexico. My journey here has been at times difficult and challenging but rewarding in the end. It takes time to build a home in a foreign country, to make real friends, to start a new life. Australia has given me the opportunity to develop my artistic skills, has made me a better person, and has allowed me to meet a bunch of good friends and the love of my life… what else I can ask for?

  Karina playing the guitar. Photo by Ívarr Inn Víðfaðmi

Karina playing the guitar. Photo by Ívarr Inn Víðfaðmi

Challenges

Family support - Living abroad can be fun, especially in a city as Melbourne. You are always meeting new people and going to many parties and cultural events. However, when you have real problems, when you are going through hard times, it is when you miss your family the most. You have to be strong to go through the problems without them.

Professional performance - At the beginning, working in a professional environment in a foreign language was very hard. Even if I had 8 years’ experience in investments, I had to learn new terminologies and words, and even how to write emails and talk to clients in a professional way. As an immigrant you need to prove that you are capable. It takes time to feel confident.

Contrasts

Group vs. individual orientation - As Latinos, we tend to be highly group oriented, we need to have close friends, those ones that we trust and become your family. People in Australia are very friendly and happy, and I love how respectful Australians are with your private life. However, they love their own space as they are very individualists and everyone is expected to look after him/herself (people tend to feel lonely). It takes time to adapt and make friends. 

Safety - As a woman, I really appreciate the safety in this country. Walking at night with friends or riding your bike at night by yourself is not dangerous. Also, I don’t have to deal with any kind of harassment on the streets anymore because I’m wearing a skirt or a tie dress. It is very sad and shocking the high level of psychological and physical violence against women in Latin American countries. Unfortunately, when you live there you sort of get used to it.

Piece of advice

  Karina and Francisco. Photo by Gabriela Isabel Gonzalez

Karina and Francisco. Photo by Gabriela Isabel Gonzalez

Open your mind - Australia is a multicultural country, open your mind, accept, respect, learn and embrace diversity. Also be open to different jobs opportunities, here every job is well paid and dignified, so leave your judgements at home.

Persevere - Persevere trying to achieve your goals and dreams; and dream big. Every story is different, so be patient and believe in yourself. I remember arriving in Australia believing I wouldn’t be able to get a job in my area. But I did it because I never gave up, I knocked a lot of doors and finally got a job and a sponsor. Australia always gives opportunities to those who work hard.

Find yourself - Take the opportunity to find your roots. Contradictorily, living in Australia made me find my identity, my roots, and my culture values. I couldn’t have appreciated my culture if I had stayed in Chile. Being proud of my roots has made me be an ambassador of my country. That is the reason why I’m sharing the music from my land in Australia.  

IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS...

Karina is planning to continue sharing South American culture through her music; hopefully one day go on a tour with the band. She is also planning to continue working on a new video production project called Timber Music Box, were she is the Executive Producer. In the near future, she would like to travel and live in other countries as she loves experimenting and learning about new cultures and history. If you wish to contact Karina email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com