Latin Stories Australia - Carola Borda
By Cristina Abela
Carola looks after the business partnerships at AMES Australia. She loves connecting with people and building long lasting relationships. Since moving to Australia, she has been a point of contact for Latin Americans coming to Australia to study or live here. During COVID-19 last year, and through her work, she was able to provide assistance to many international students who were struggling financially and also required migration advice.
TELL US YOUR STORY
I came to Melbourne with my husband in July 2003. We both wanted to live overseas for a few years and studying was our only option. Australia offered the possibility to work, so even though we did not know anyone here, we decided to come. I applied for a Master’s in Law at both Melbourne and Sydney universities, and Melbourne Uni was the first one to offer me a place, so we didn’t think much about it and landed here. Eight months after we arrived, I got my first office job at Melbourne University which I did part-time while I was studying. I was the only non-Australian in the office and that was very hard, as I had to present in front of others, which I did not feel confident at all. It was, however, a great job because it gave me my first local experience and I also gained valuable project management skills. The job was also very flexible and allowed me to travel home as often as I wanted. I really missed my family and friends, and life in general as I knew it. I come from a very close family and had been working as a lawyer in my family’s law firm. I kind of had my whole life figured out. I had always dreamt of having a family around my parents and siblings and one day managing the law firm. Most of the subjects I took were about management and marketing, which I thought would be very useful when I got back home. Life, however, had other plans for us.
My husband did an MBA after I finished my studies, so we could extend our visas. He also started working with an Australian friend and later they founded their own medical business. It was a long-term project, so I decided to quit my job and start my family. We had three children in six years and were lucky enough to have my parents in every birth helping us and keeping me company. Being a mum has been my most important role and the one that I feel the most determined to excel at. It is a constant learning process, very demanding, and at many times exhausting, and yet the most rewarding and where I find the most gratitude, joy, and pride.
I was fully dedicated to my children for many years, especially when they were younger; however, I worked part-time on and off in different roles and industries. The common thread in all those roles was the connection to people - listening to their needs and providing solutions to help them or with their projects. I am a people person and thrive when I connect at a deep level; I love to chat and help others. My current role at AMES Australia has given me the opportunity to connect much more with the Latin American community, especially after the challenges of COVID-19 and I am grateful for that. I am not sure what the future will bring, but I am looking forward to living the moment and embracing all the opportunities that come my way.
Lack of connections - We did not have a network and it was hard to meet new people and make friends at the beginning. The format of my master was not what I had expected. There were intensive subjects taught in a week, from 9 to 5 which mainly catered for Australians who could take a week off work to do the course work, but that meant less opportunities for me to connect with them on a weekly basis; so there was a lot of time alone in the library working on my assignments. I met many international students, however, and we would hang out on weekends, but most of them went back home after graduating. This made me miss my family and friends even more, and there was no WhatsApp or facetime! Internet was so slow with dial-up! We used to buy these very expensive phone cards that you had to enter a million numbers and the credit did not last long. I have so much admiration for migrants who left their home countries and loved ones knowing they would never see them again and would have to wait months to get a letter with news.
Raising a family - Family means everything to me, and I would have loved to have my immediate and extended family around me when I had my kids. Not only for the physical support and extra pairs of hands to help out, but most importantly to raise them with their grandparents and cousins around, so that they can fully understand and live our culture, language and cultural values.
Identity - I never thought I would stay in Australia so long; my initial plan was to study and go back. But after so many years living away from home, not being a practising lawyer anymore and becoming a mum, I lost track of who I was and could not find any ‘labels’ to describe my new life. But now that I am at peace with being here, and that I have more time for myself as my children are a bit older, I have realised that I was there all along, just needed to dig deep and find time to reflect on my life and what I want. Yes, I am a mum, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a lawyer, but we are not just our jobs, roles, or types of people according to the country of residence, we are much more than that!
CONTRASTS AND SIMMILARITIES
Depth of friendships - I find Australians are very social and friendly. They are genuinely interested in our culture and history. They are very generous with their time and resources. But if you dig deep, they are not used to getting too personal. Friendships revolve more around everyday life and work issues instead of meaningful personal experiences. Latin Americans on the other hand, connect at a much deeper level and are more comfortable in showing their emotions. I can talk to my friends back home about almost anything even if I have not seen them for a very long time.
Honesty and Trust - This is one of the best things in Australia, if you leave something in the park, it will most likely still be in the same spot or there will be a handwritten sign with a number to call. If you lose your bag in public transport, you will most certainly recover it (even the cash you had in it!). Australians can open their house, and trust, to total strangers. Words matter. Australians mean what they say: if they offer to help you, they will follow through; they are not just being polite. Vice versa, they also trust what you say, so if you say you will call them, they will be expecting your phone call. In Argentina, it’s very common to say ‘I’ll call you’ or ‘I’ll be in touch’ knowing that you will not make any more contact. This applies particularly to professional relationships.
Tolerance and inclusion - Australians are very welcoming and coexist with people from very diverse backgrounds, religions, and races. They may have their own personal beliefs or preferences, but they accept everyone and live peacefully with each other. Recently, in a local catholic school there was a child who did not identify with their gender and from one week to the next attended school with a different name and uniform, fully supported by the school and the community. There was an information session conducted by a specialist psychologist to address any questions from students and parents. I don’t think this would happen in a catholic school back home.
PIECE OF ADVICE
Make a plan - If your goal is to move here permanently, make a plan and do your research before you come and be prepared to start again. The great thing about Australia is that you can reinvent yourself and change your career, but you need to be realistic about timing and the expectations you may bring from life back home. Many things are done very differently here and you need to adapt.
Network as much as you can - It is so important to get to know people and make yourself known. Back home, we always have a good network of family, friends, and colleagues to support us and help us when we need it most. When you arrive in a new country without knowing anyone it can be a bit lonely and overwhelming, but the more people you meet the better you set yourself up to understand the Australian culture, the process to apply for jobs or how to start your own business. Australians are always keen to help.
Seek support - Australia has incredible resources available, even for international students. You just need to ask for help. Talk to someone, you are not alone!! The Latin American community has grown so much in the last 7-10 years with many organisations providing different types of support, reach out to them or your local council.
IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS…
Carola has been a sort of bridge between her two countries ever since she moved here. She would love to do this in a more formal setting, and she is exploring ways to achieve this. In the meantime, she will continue to work raising awareness of AMES Australia, the organisation she works for, building strategic partnerships and creating more work opportunities for migrants from the Latin American community in particular. She is focusing on her career progression while continuing to be a very present mum. She is also looking forward to borders opening so that they can travel again and spend a very long time with their families in Argentina.