Balancing Dreams and Realities: An Attempt of a Bhutanese To Live the Australian Dream
Australia has long held an equally special allure for Bhutanese with a tantalizing prospect of the ‘Australian Dream’ encompassing a better life. But what happens when you take that leap of faith, leaving behind the familiar and venturing into the unknown?
In a world filled with dreams and a constant pursuit of something better, it’s often lighting caught in a bottle when one realizes the journey itself is just as important as the destination. This sentiment holds true for many Bhutanese individuals who have set their sights on the ‘Australian Dream’. The allure of Australia, with its promises of a better life has beckoned countless Bhutanese in recent years.
COVID-19 and the closure of Australian borders to international students might have briefly halted the flow of Bhutanese migrating to Australia. However, the moment the border reopened in early 2022, it was like the floodgate opened with a record number of Bhutanese flocking to Australia.
I was not immune to this movement. I had cherished a dream of completing my master’s degree outside Bhutan for years. However, as the world grappled with the challenges of the pandemic, I began to feel the weight of time slipping away. Having lost two years in a pendulum of transition to the new normal, the urgency to pursue this dream became palpable. By 2022, when the world was embracing opening its doors once again to the outside, it felt urgent. And I acted.
I landed in Australia in peak of winter that year – leaving behind a job that not only paid well (for the Bhutanese market) but I loved, a loving and supportive circle of family and friends and the security and safety these provided. All in exchange for the tantalizing prospect of the ‘Australian Dream’ with higher salaries, and incredible opportunities.
As days add up to weeks, the age-old adage that the grass is greener on the other side is challenged and you constantly find yourself comparing your life to a before and a now. The promise of a better life and incredible opportunities come with the harsh reality of fierce competition, unfamiliarity, and the need to adapt to a new environment. It’s not uncommon for professionals to find themselves struggling to secure employment in their field here. You become one number on this list. In humbling experience, you take up what comes your way to offset the expenses of starting over from scratch after having invested all your savings to just reach Australia.
The thoughts of ‘I am back to square 1 with my professional journey’, ‘I am not even earning more than I have been’, ‘I am not a single step closer to my dream life’ remain a constant humming in your head. It does not help when the topic of conversation with migrants abroad often revolve around work: the work you are doing, how you should do long shifts and weekend shifts, wage per hour comparison and the likes. It throws you off the little balance and you find yourself with the fear of missing out.
When you realize that most are living by the unspoken oath that one moves to Australia to earn and are working 7 days a week, it instills in you a fear that maybe you are not doing enough if you haven’t conformed to this mindset. First you have your own thoughts that are at war between being practical (do even the menial jobs to sustain) and sense of dignity (you are worth more than this) to battle. And now you have the additional burden to do justice to the mantra of fellow Bhutanese abroad – work and earn so much as to secure a land and a building in Bhutan. Who cares if you haven’t even spent a single penny on yourself to visit another state after years in Australia?
Flinders Street, Melbourne Australia
This is when the susceptibility of spiraling becomes much higher for those who overthink and are not naturally resilient, I have realized. The sad reality is that no matter how close people are to you they cannot be there for you. With priorities of one’s own, it’s easy to go many days without meaningful human connections (you see your friends once every few months). Sitting down for a soulful chat is a rare stroke of good fortune. If one can self-soothe then you come out stronger or else, you go down a rabbit hole of hopelessness. May be that’s what those who decided to return to Bhutan must have felt. Crushed with the combined weight of challenged values and hurdles of making ends meet but alone in navigating that.
In my own experience, I found it imperative to constantly remind ourselves that we are not meant to be impeccable leading a perfect life. One might be cleaning, driving an uber, working in the warehouse or as personal care assistants that not necessarily match the skills developed after working for years in varied positions across industries back home. Instead of focusing on what and where we are working, we can concentrate on developing skills that make us adaptable and flexible. So that it takes care of the expenses and leaves one the mental space to continue to enhance our knowledge and skills, build a strong professional network and most importantly time to identify our true interests and passions, and explore how we can incorporate them into our work and capitalize on it because the biggest part of the Australian charm is that our dreams are never too big. Everything has a possibility.
Perhaps, the most valuable lesson is to focus on one’s own journey and not compare it to others. It does not matter how much your fellow Bhutanese is earning per hour, how many shifts they are doing in a week and what they have bought in Bhutan with the money remitted from Australia. Our happiness and contentment might not align with the actions and achievements of our peers. They might be working as much as they can because they see themselves being in Australia for a certain number of years while you see yourself being here for longer and can see the return spread out.
Everyone’s on their own journey and just because the actions you take along the way aren’t the same as the rest doesn’t mean you are wrong or not doing enough. It’s just that their end and yours are not the same. You focus on living in the end that matters to you and live each moment doing things and being the version of you who already has that.
Growing up in Bhutan we have heard for as long as we can remember that ‘life is uncertain. We don’t know if we’d see the sun after going to bed. And that we cannot really carry to the grave what we have accumulated’. May be life in Bhutan must have been built around this philosophy. With no pay per hour and working after 5PM or weekends being so less, life in Bhutan has a natural work life balance looking back in retrospect. It is easier to make plans with friends and family and have a life beyond office walls that fuelled a sense of contentment. Funny it seemed then that people snuck out for tea breaks to catch up with friends briefly. Where weekends are without a doubt about climbing which mountain. Unlike in Australia where even if you have made plans, people would ditch that plan should they get offered a last-minute weekend or late-night shift (both of which pay double). That part of being in Bhutan is immensely missed. A life with a beautiful blend of moments and money.
With family and friends in Bhutan
And while trying to live the Australian dream, this serves a good reminder. At least to me. To live life at our own pace, on our own terms and conditions, doing our best each day and creating value in our current situation, and attempt to achieve success and fulfilment right where we are, without constantly seeking greener pastures and chasing dreams under different circumstances.
Because, at the end of the day, we all have one life, and we get only one shot at it be it in Bhutan or in Australia. So, it should not be made a tiring process. It should be a fun ride wherever you are.