Ten months ago, I left my hometown China and arrived in Sydney, Australia. Alone with my three suitcases and a backpack, I was full of confidence about the new adventures ahead of me. Being paid “too much attention” as the only child in China, I was quite excited to be on my own. It was the freedom I always wanted, I thought, “of course I can handle it all”.
However, things started to go downhill right after I arrived at the place I found online. The room was different than what was on the pictures, in a distant suburb far from the train station, construction was loud right in front of the window, and I just realised the landlord lives with “the boyfriend” as well. I started to have second thoughts about this, since the $360 week rent was already beyond my budget. So, when I was asked to sign the contract for one year, five minutes I got there, I said I needed a few days to consider. The landlord said that was not how it works, and I had to move out immediately.
So, there I was, with my three suitcases and a backpack alone again, on my very first day in Sydney. Having lost my bond and no place to live, loneliness and helplessness hit me. I found a temporary place and started my house haunting. It was July, the weather was cold. For a week, I didn’t even have a quilt, I called my friends back home and cried to them, but when I called my parents, I told them everything was alright.
Mike*, a Chinese real estate agent told me it is very easy to be scammed taking a house online without house seeing. However, this is how most Chinese students do before they first arrive in Sydney. They find rental advertisements online and pay in advance, but often arrive and find the situation different from their expectations.
Lucy, another Chinese girl told me her renting experience was way worse. She found the house on WeChat before she came to Sydney, the “fraud” asked for four weeks’ bond and two weeks’ rent. After she arrived, she couldn’t reach the “fraud’s” phone number, and her WeChat account was blocked by him. She went to the address and there was no house he claimed!
“They have only talked on WeChat”, says Mike, “It is dangerous to believe in the pictures and a stranger’s words easily.”
“If you really what to secure a room before you come, find it from a creditable agent, or try school dormitory for the first semester. If you really like the place you find through social media, ask someone you know to do the house seeing for you. Don’t trust the pictures and their words only. They will usually tell you the house would be gone if you don’t pay bond immediately, that’s why people make decisions in rush.”
Sydney is not a cheap city to live in, three months later, I felt the need to find a part time job. By then, most Chinese friends I know work in Chinese restaurants or Chinese drink shops, paying around $10-11 p/h. So, I was quite happy to be paid $13 p/h working in a Chinese cosmetics store. I know the minimum wage in Australia is $17 p/h, but $10-13 p/h paid in cash is very common.
Brian*, a Chinese student who work in a Taiwanese restaurant says, “I have been in Sydney for four years, I have tried all kinds of part time jobs. I am paid $16 p/h now. I used to have job that pays $23 p/h, but you don’t get a lot of hours. When I first come here, I worked at places that pay $10 or even $8 an hour.”
“Usually people who take these underpaid jobs are foreigners who are not confident of their English, or don’t look where to look for jobs. For them, even $10 p/h is considered good wage compared to what they earn back home. So, a lot of employers take advantages of their workers for this.”
It is easy for Chinese students to fall into their comfort zone and only associate with their people as there are so many Chinese in Australia. Tina, a friend of mine says, “Most of my friends in school are Chinese, my co-workers are Chinese, I live in Ultimo so I usually eat at Chinatown. In some aspects, life here is not that different from China.”
Recently, Australia came up with the new immigration rules, abolished 457 visa. For Doris, a Chinese friend of mine studying hospitality in Sydney, the news is really rush on her.
“For many international students in my class, we hope to stay and find employer sponsor after we graduate. Now it is only one year left for me to graduate, and employer sponsorship just became impossible. This definitely changes my plan for future.”
Doris Liu, the immigration agent says, “Getting a PR is more difficult than before. Benefits like sponsoring parents or partners now have more strings attached. This affects a lot of people’s choice whether they want to stay here. Some of my clients need to think of different ways to stay such as investments or pursue higher education. For some, maybe now it is a better idea to return China and pursuit a career back home.
Australia is one of the countries that is considered most friendly to immigrates. You can see a great diverse of culture here. People from different countries and backgrounds make you learn more about how to respect other people’s backgrounds and stand for your own culture.
Chinese community is a big part of Australian culture. There are many different reasons why we come here, for the fresh air and heavenly clouds, for a better education, for a better paid job, for an opportunity or just a life experience.
Here I am, just another Chinese girl in Sydney. I’ve learned that studying abroad is no fantasy. But I have grown so much here.