Karina Ojeda Rodriguez

"Make sure you look after yourself and keep good mental health. You will need a strong spirit to navigate the immigration challenge".

Karina-Ojeda-for-LSA.jpg

Karina Ojeda Rodriguez

Country of Origin: Colombia.

State of Residency: Victoria. Favourite place in Australia: Sapphire Coast in New South Wales. Upor arrival: Surprised by the cultural diversity and beautiful natural surroundings. Photo by Juan David Giraldo

By Trini Abascal

Karina is the co-founder of social enterprise Mosaik Experiences and Notfor Profit organisation Casa Cultura. She is also a board director for the Colombian Children’s Foundation - an Australian NGO that supports projects which reduce the participation of children in Colombian armed conflicts. Recipient of important scholarships including the New and Emerging Communities Women’s Leadership Program at Leadership Victoria, Melbourne Accelerator Program at the School for Social Entrepreneurs and the UQ Latin American Professional Internship Scholarship. Her time in Australia has seen her establish her career as a social entrepreneur and as a community leader.

Tell us your story

I had been working as an Electrical Engineer in Colombia for five years when I decided I really wanted to work for an international social development organisation. To be a suitable candidate I needed to improve my English and get a higher qualification, so in 2010 I moved to Brisbane to do my studies. I worked part-time as a waitress and cleaner. This experience helped me to better understand the local culture, build friendships and to rapidly improve my vocabulary. Looking back at those tough years as an international student, it felt as if I did a master in personal development as I worked physically and mentally very hard. My new life in Australia taught me a deep meaning of perseverance, discipline, commitment, determination, humility, compassion, faith, hope, and love. It was worth it as I realised what I was made of.

  Karina and Catalina with the Mosaik Experiences team. Photo by Julie Hartskeerl.

Karina and Catalina with the Mosaik Experiences team. Photo by Julie Hartskeerl.

In 2012, I returned to Colombia to get married to my high school sweetheart Juan David. We then moved back to Australia to continue our journey together as doors were opening professionally for both of us. I undertook a Masters degree in project management with a focus on social entrepreneurship by the University of Queensland, and Juan David got a professional opportunity as IT Operations and Infrastructure Team Leader.

Upon graduation in 2013, I secured a scholarship to do an internship in Melbourne with Engineers Without Borders. In 2014, I volunteered in this organisation, and then became part of the staff team working as a coordinator of its social venture program and as executive assistant in 2015. I was lucky enough to work for Lizzie Brown, an exceptional leader who later became my mentor and close friend.

Around 2014, I met Eyal Chipkiewicz and Catalina Gonzalez with whom I was able to materialise my social entrepreneurship dreams. They are both passionate Latin American professionals interested in community development and in promoting our culture. I have been blessed to work alongside them since.

Catalina and I started a social enterprise, Mosaik Experiences which aims to inspire a sense of community and belonging by immersing people in the rich Latin Culture. We offer authentic and participative experiences that include the most exotic ingredients of the Latin culture: music, dance, arts & craft, food and language. Our experiences are perfect to spice up private functions, corporate and community celebrations.

Eyal and I established Casa Cultura, a Not-for-profit organisation that promotes a model of an inclusive society, drawing on the example of Latin-American cultural values as they pertain to a collaborative and connected community that embraces diversity.

‘The School of the Word' is a social and spiritual community project I started in Melbourne in 2014. It is an initiative from the Verbum Dei Community where we aim to help the Latin community with spiritual guidance. I have been lucky to have the support of Capellania Hispana and Refuge of Hope in an initiative that feeds the soul.

  Karina in carnaval outfit. Photo by Juan David Giraldo

Karina in carnaval outfit. Photo by Juan David Giraldo

My journey as a social entrepreneur has been professionally rewarding but financially challenging. As such, I have had to find part-time paid jobs. Last year, I worked at Leadership Victoria as recruitment and operation coordinator supporting different leadership programs such as 'New and Emerging Communities', 'African Leadership' and 'Williamson Community Leadership Program'. Additionally, I work as Spanish teacher at different community houses in the Moreland area.

Social entrepreneurship, cultural and community development, leadership and education are my passions. I believe they are a vehicle that brings positive social changes to get a better world. I will continue working hard to obtain outcomes to impact our world positively from a spiritual, cultural and economic perspective.

Challenges

Dual identity - It is a privilege to be an Australian citizen as well as a Colombian citizen as this gives me a dual identity. I have chosen to adopt and keep aspects of both cultures. Not only I am able to maintain my roots and cultural heritage, but I am also privileged to share it in a new cultural environment.

Outside of my comfort zone -  Working in casual jobs, self- acceptance of an accent in a second language, and starting a new life from zero have all been lessons of resilience and adaptation. I was able to overcome this by keeping a strong soul and taking decisions guided by clear mind and heart.

  Casa Cultura – Encuentro 2 A three-fold musical collaboration. Photo by Gabriela Gonzalez 2015

Casa Cultura – Encuentro 2 A three-fold musical collaboration. Photo by Gabriela Gonzalez 2015

Contrasts

Family - I come from a close-knit family that supports each other regularly and with constant communication and union. In Australia, people tend to be very independent and un-tied to family activities.

Detachment -  I have observed Australians have a high capacity to be detached from material things. They are very open minded and leave jobs to make sure they don't miss out on travelling and experiencing the world. In Latin America, we are very attached to our country and think twice before travelling abroad for long periods.

Flexible workplaces - Australians highly value their work-life balance. Workplaces have annual leave, sicks days, paid parental leave and maternity leave (your job is kept for you while you take one year off work). Our Latin culture is all about hard work but with little allowances for a healthy balance.

Piece of advice

  Karina and Juan David at her Australian Citizen ceremony in December 2016

Karina and Juan David at her Australian Citizen ceremony in December 2016

Faith, hope & love - As Mother Teresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Undoubtedly, love is the source of a happy life, try to do everything in your life with a lot of faith, hope and love.

Keep a balance - Living in a different country is a big challenge: culture shock, new relationships, the absence of family, and other little things that will challenge your beliefs. Make sure you look after yourself and keep good mental health. You will need a strong spirit to navigate the immigration challenge.

Self Acceptance - Being mindful about your own life is a key aspect of achieving a successful personal journey. Acknowledge who you are right now, let go of the past and immerse yourself in the present moment that will shape your future.

In the next few years... 

Karina plans to continue planting seeds of social change. She wants to continue working in the community and cultural development of social projects, exploring opportunities to consolidate ties amongst Australia and Latin American. She hopes to strengthen further and consolidate Mosaik and Casa Cultura. Karina and Juan David will be very busy in the next months as the couple is expecting their first baby girl.