By Arvin Yana
I must admit that in deciding to study ‘down under ‘ at the age of 20, thanks to an Australian government scholarship, the focus of my excitement was to see the country. It turned out to be an experience far beyond Australia itself!
The physical setting might be Australia, but you learn about every culture represented in your class, in your dormitory or flat and they can learn about yours. In this process you learn about the world and your understanding about your own identity takes a broader and more mature turn.
I realised that by living in another culture, one can appreciate the distinctiveness of his own. Yes, in Australia, I was made to admire the uniqueness of my own cultural heritage; my language for one thing and some genuine Filipino values. I also learned to confront many ironies in myself and my society.
Some little things I experienced modified my perspective on politics. I came home enlightened that it is possible to associate politics with public service and genuine modesty, instead of power and corruption.
I came home enlightened that the egalitarian society I had observed in Australia is possible as a social condition. I learned during my journalism cadetship that a senator would actually make a return call to an unknown journalist. That it is normal for a company CEO to enter his building and greet his janitors. That a Member of Parliament would queue at a bar after work along with everyone else – I couldn’t imagine a Philippine congressman doing any of this! I came home convinced that to be addressed by our first names is sweeter music than the alienating formality of ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’.
I came home enlightened that the best tool for success is still what one knows and what one does with what he knows, no matter how limited. I came home with much less bias against other ways of life, and disappointed that while some Filipinos keep complaining against racism overseas, we do not find it wrong to be discriminating (often more explicitly than some Westerners) against our own indigenous peoples.
I came home with much self-realisation but also left Australia celebrating common attributes among Filipinos and Australians.
There was a similar brand of hospitality. If Filipinos have ‘bayanihan’ then Australians have ‘mateship’. There was a shared understanding that foreign films, television, music and other cultural products have increasingly threatened the foundation of our respective cultural specificities. There was a shared feeling of resistance against the domination of the so-called colonial powers or stronger states.
Surprisingly, one thing that Australians could learn from the Philippines is to redefine its concept of cultural independence, at least in terms of deciding to elect an Australian head of state. Working on the referendum for a republic during my internship meant the winning ‘No’ vote disappointed me as much as it did many modern Australians. I took the opportunity to touch on this when I was invited to give a valedictory speech on behalf of some 300 foreign graduates.
“Coming from a republic that has fought many colonial battles over centuries, I cannot understand why a nation as great as Australia would still refuse to elect its own citizen as head of state,” I recall saying, before an audience of graduates, parents and academics. The discussion regarding Australia as a republic still continues.
The IT-oriented mass communication curriculum at the University of Newcastle made me a well-rounded communicator and encouraged my creative potential. I came home not just a writer but a web designer, a layout and graphics artist, and a multimedia person.
I enjoyed a global classroom of reciprocal and multicultural learning, available to every incoming foreign student and the Australians that sit with them.
(published on 2010 Edition 2 of the University of Newcastle Alumni Magazine)