Gustavo Recaman Koppel

"Take the time to know yourself, find your passions, and make the most of the opportunities life throws at you".

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Gustavo Recaman Koppel

Country of Origin: Colombia.

State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Croajingolong National Park, Victoria. Upon arrival: Surprised by how cold it was. I didn’t expect it at all!

By Cristy Abela

Gustavo is currently a Waste and Resource Recovery Data Analyst for Sustainability Victoria. He also has experience in energy and thermal performance efficiency. Gustavo is currently undertaking the Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship Program in Melbourne. He is passionate about the environment and promoting triple bottom line sustainability practices. He believes in the power of people coming together to generate better social and environmental outcomes. For this reason he has volunteered for the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, the Great Victorian fish count, Beach Patrol and Clean Up Australia Day.

Tell us your story

  Gustavo and Sam at Banks Peninsula, New Zealand (2015). Photo courtesy of Catherine Coghill

Gustavo and Sam at Banks Peninsula, New Zealand (2015). Photo courtesy of Catherine Coghill

After having worked for a couple of years in a bank in Colombia, I realised that I was more interested in the environment and sustainability than in the work I was doing at the time. I started getting involved and learning about sustainability and decided I wanted a career change and to study further. I then came across the Masters of Environment from the University of Melbourne and enrolled to start in July 2009. To be honest, I didn’t really do a lot of research about Melbourne, so when I arrived in the middle of the winter, the dream of surfing in sunny beaches quickly disappeared.

First things to be done on arrival were to get a phone, find a place to live and open a bank account. I couldn’t rent a place without a bank account and a phone number; I also couldn’t get a phone number without a residential address and a bank account, nor open a bank account without a phone number and a residential address! Everything seemed too complicated at the time but I managed to sort it out in time for classes to start. Luckily I had my good friend Felipe who had arrived at the same time as me in Melbourne and was going through exactly the same problems. At the end of the day we would have a beer and laugh about how lost we felt.  Despite considering myself to have good English, I left my first lecture not understanding much at all. I found it hard in part because it was my first ever lecture in English but also because I didn’t know many of the local Australian examples used in class to explain principles and theory. My understanding grew over time and with that my participation in lectures. In 2010 I met Sam, a fellow Master of Environment student who was also passionate about sustainability and protecting the environment. We have been together since then.

While studying I worked in hospitality. During this time I also volunteered my time to organisations with whom I shared values. There are several organisations and groups needing a hand and many different ways to help that it wasn’t difficult to be accepted as a volunteer. One of these organisations is the Centre for Sustainability Leadership (CSL) which offers leadership programs for individuals, organisations and communities who have the passion and commitment to make a better future. My volunteering experiences allowed me to remain connected with the issues I was interested in, to develop skills, and to meet a likeminded network of people.

A couple of months before graduation I started looking for a job. At the time I held a bridging visa for a temporary residency. It had no working restrictions but it didn’t seem the visa was very appealing to potential employers. My biggest challenge was to build my network and understand how the employment and recruitment process worked. After speaking to different people I was recommended to contact recruitment agencies in Melbourne who recruited in my field of interest. Through the agency I got hired for a 1 month contract role. I was working in energy efficiency, for a rebate program which focused on the replacement of solar hot water and heating systems at Sustainability Victoria (SV). This Victorian Government agency facilitates and promotes environmental sustainability in the use of resources.  My contract continued being renewed and it has now been five years since I had that role. I am currently a data analyst for the Waste and Resource Recovery team. I lead the collection and reporting of the recycling industry data to support the Victorian State-wide Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Plan (SWRRIP). This data helps us understand waste generation and recycling in Victoria. I plan to continue working in this field and develop the skills and experience to be more influential and effective as a sustainability leader through the 2017 Future Makers Fellowship Program.

 

Challenges

  Gustavo enjoying the outdoors at Lake Wanaka, New Zealand (2016). Photo courtesy of Samantha Mikus

Gustavo enjoying the outdoors at Lake Wanaka, New Zealand (2016). Photo courtesy of Samantha Mikus

Family and friends - Of course being far away from family and friends is always hard. I regularly wish I could go more often to Colombia to visit them all. However, I am very lucky to have my partner Sam and her family as my family here. I also have a great group of friends as an extended family.

Visa process - After almost 8 years in Australia I am yet to become citizen. I am awaiting an invitation to the citizenship ceremony any day now. Back at the beginning of my Australian journey, it seemed like a very expensive and almost impossible task. Not having a visa that evidenced that I intended to stay in the country made my job search more difficult than it would have been otherwise.

Contrasts

Cultural traits – I think we Latinos are very resilient and perseverant. When I decided to stay in the country I had a clear plan of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. Having that focus helped me stay motivated and determined to find a way into the workforce in my chosen field. I particularly like Australians punctuality, humour and trust in each other and enjoy the diversity of cultures.

Outdoor activities - I love the outdoors culture of Australia. If they’re not out surfing, they’re hiking or camping or playing sports, but it is always outside! I also love how you can’t get bored because there is something happening at all times. Melbourne has different festivals all year round. We also have the tennis, rugby, AFL, football (aka soccer), beautiful parks and coasts, the bay and much more. I didn’t use to do as many outdoors activities or to attend so many public and cultural events back home as I do here.

  Gustavo at Croajingolong National Park, Victoria (2015). Photo courtesy of Samantha Mikus

Gustavo at Croajingolong National Park, Victoria (2015). Photo courtesy of Samantha Mikus

Piece of advice

Give it a go – My recommendation to someone thinking of moving to Australia is to give it a go. You will not know if you like it until you try it. I would suggest coming with an open mind and to be aware that there will be ups and downs.

Build your network - I think it is very important from the beginning to build your network. Make new friends, work with your community, volunteer your time to something you are passionate about, join a sports team, etc. You will feel better supported as part of a group.

Self-awareness - Take the time to know yourself, find your passions, and make the most of the opportunities life throws at you.

In the next few years...

Gustavo would like to be working more closely with the community reducing the environmental footprint, protecting marine life and keeping our oceans clean from waste. He wants future generations to be able to enjoy outdoors, and to be able to snorkel in clean waters. Sam is currently 5 months pregnant and he visualises his family going camping, hiking, kayaking and snorkelling. He also wants to ensure his kids stay connected to their Latin roots, understanding his culture and Spanish language. If you wish to contact Gustavo email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com