I remember when I first arrived in Australia. On my way to the YWAM Townsville campus from the airport, people started chatting around me. Very soon words like ‘maccas’, ‘arvo’, ‘how are ya going’ and ‘no worries, mate’, were thrown into the conversation. I was honestly so afraid that I was never going to understand a thing that these people were saying. I’m glad to say that now, a year later, I am pretty familiar with Australian slang/culture and try to throw an occasional ‘G’day mate’ out there myself.
Below are a few of my revelations as a European living in a multicultural community.
Learning to tone down my directness
I had never considered myself a very straightforward or direct person until I arrived in Australia. It was there that I discovered how Dutch I actually am. Dutch people are known for being direct and honest, which is sometimes confused with rudeness. I’ve had to learn to tone down my directness, while also seeing this aspect of my culture as a gift as well.
Learning to appreciate small talk with strangers
It still catches me off guard sometimes when I go to pay for my groceries and the cashier asks, “How are you?” It came across to me as fake at first, I didn’t want to talk about how I was doing if the other person was already expecting the answer ‘good, thank you’. Now I know that it is just a way of starting a conversation, a way of being polite and most of the time I now enjoy this way of speaking to others.
Learning to value relationships
If I thought that the Australian culture was already different than my own, I was in for quite a surprise when I first went to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for my Discipleship Training School outreach. PNG is a nation in the Pacific just north of Australia. Spending time in PNG has taught me what it is to be truly flexible, to go with whatever comes up, changing plans last minute, and these two very important words: island time. Spending time in PNG made me value relationships over tasks and people over numbers. I fell in love with the way people live in a community in their villages and I realised that they have life figured out a lot better in so many ways than I have.
Learning to expand my world
All these cultural differences are in no way negative or bad, it’s just simply different. To understand different cultures and set aside my own preferences and customs has made my own little world so much broader. In no way is it always easy to live on the other side of the world, in a country that isn’t my own, a language that I speak but can’t always express how I feel, but it is so worth it. I know that God has called me out of the rainy Netherlands and into the sun of Australia and PNG for this season. I wouldn’t trade the things that I’ve learned, the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met for anything in the world.
Perhaps you’re European as well, maybe you’re nervous about the culture, speaking English, and being so far away from friends and family. There are times when its not easy – but the joy and reward far outweigh the challenges. If Australia is calling your name, I encourage you to take the plunge, fellow European. We have something special and unique to impart to the nations around us, and the nations have something special to impart to us!
Ready for Australian adventure? Do our life-changing Discipleship Training School
Anna Van Winden
Anna joined our staff team in January 2017 and is very passionate about working on the ship/ helping with health care in Papua New Guinea. She loves seeing people from all over the world come together to volunteer on the ship. Anna enjoys baking, good coffee and early mornings!