Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Disappointed by the Australian dream

I wished so much for Australia to be the land of opportunity for me, but it has turned out to be nothing like I imagined, writes Michelle Carpenter.

Michelle Carpenter in Perth

Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 01:00


Michelle Carpenter

Before I left Ireland, I used to read with envy the many articles published in Generation Emigration, some of them even written by friends of mine living new and exciting lives abroad. And don’t get me started on the Facebook photos – the constant barrage of happy faces in sunglasses, posing in bikinis on distant beaches were enough to make anyone in Dublin depressed.

When I eventually plucked up the courage to make my own plans to leave, I knew that, sure enough, I would become one of those people. The people I loved to hate. I too would be making my friends sick with jealously with my updates about the holidays in Dubai and Thailand before arrival in Australia, hugging koalas, going to parties on beaches every weekend, and, of course, trying to decide which of the hundreds of great job offers to accept (ahem….).

How naive I was. I don’t know if it was the image of Australia painted by the those who have gone before me, or the fact that I had wished so much for it to be a certain way, but this country turned out to be nothing like I had imagined.

Destined for Perth, my friend and I spent some time in both Sydney and Melbourne when we first arrived in Australia. Stuck firmly in holiday mode, it was not until we arrived on the West Coast and began our search for jobs and accommodation that reality hit us: There is a housing crisis in Perth. The Working Holiday Visa is not very popular among employers, and most of them are really specific when it comes to experience (or lack of it).

My friend was recently turned away from a retail position due to the type of visa we are on. This certainly knocked our confidence; especially seeing as only a few months previously, we had attended an Australian employment workshop in Dublin which had promised us an infinite number of jobs in the service industry.

I chose to come to Australia to find work related to the Masters I have just completed. It pains me to say it, but I left a permanent job at home to do so as I felt I could not get the experience I needed in Ireland. With a Masters in race, ethnicity and conflict, and an undergraduate degree in languages, I thought the eclectic racial profile of Australia would make it an ideal destination to get my foot on the career ladder. And I was not being fussy about however small that step might be; I am happy to just gain access to the right organisation and do whatever tasks are necessary to gain experience.

While we have been very lucky to find a lovely house within our price range, both myself and my friend (who has just completed a Masters in counselling and therapeutic communications) have not been fortunate enough to find the jobs we had envisioned ourselves doing here. And ironically, there is plenty of work in our fields. We often joke that we should work in recruitment due to the countless amounts of applications we have done.

Perhaps our expectations we too high, but I feel let down. I am disappointed that my experience of Australia is not like the experiences I see of the many Irish people I know living here: the excitement of finding the job you couldn’t get at home and settling into the famous laid-back Aussie lifestyle we all know so well.

While I know Ireland has let me down when it comes to opportunities, Australia (or my pre-conceived idea of Australia) has done the same. And I’m sure this is the experience of many young people here, although few seem to be talking about it. I wonder if the smiley people we see on Facebook are really panicking underneath their sunglasses? That’s certainly how I have felt a lot of the time here.

So here I am in Perth looking for jobs in two countries: Australia and home. I want to give this country a fair chance; to be able to say that yes, it was hard at the beginning but I got something in the end, but that’s not looking likely right now. I also want to return home and hug my family, friends, boyfriend, dogs, house, job, local shop, all the things I left behind and say: “I thought it would be different. I’m sorry.”

The saying goes: “If it’s good, it’s wonderful, if it’s bad, it’s experience.” It would be unfair, and, indeed, untrue, for me to say that my experiences so far have been bad. In fact, they have been the opposite. I have been reunited along the way with many people I have not seen since they left Ireland. I have seen some amazing places and tried a lot of new things (scuba diving courses and kangaroo steaks included).

I am very lucky to have even been in the position to come here in the first place. I have been truly independent in a foreign land and discovered that I can cope with difficult situations without having (all of) my friends and family close by. I also know that if I had never taken the leap of faith and come here, I would be sitting at home in rainy Dublin wondering what things would be like on the other side of the world. However, one important lesson that I can take from this adventure is that the grass is not always greener. Don’t get me wrong, Australia has much to offer the many people who have chosen to come here, but unfortunately for me, I may not be one of those people.

Perhaps Australia is not for everyone. And maybe she does not want to be for everyone. But she is an experience, and our experiences shape who we are. I would advise anyone thinking of taking the leap of faith to go for it. You will never know until you get here and each person’s experience will be different from the next. It will be difficult at the beginning but here’s hoping you land on your feet and yours is a happy face behind the sunglasses.