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Immigration: An open conversation with Charlene Breytenbach

Sep 20, 2018

By Charlene Breytenbach

If you read this article, you’re probably considering emigration, or you’re wondering how people can just pack their bags and leave their country and people behind.

Ten years ago I decided to pack my suitcases and accompany my parents to New Zealand. It was difficult to leave my brother and his family, my friends and other relatives behind, but I was ready for a new challenge.

The last ten years I have lived in Auckland, New Zealand, and in Forster, Brisbane and Sydney, Australia. I met the man of my dreams, we got married, and we have a beautiful little girl.

It’s very difficult for me to capture all my challenges and highlights on one page, because so many can happen in 10 years. You change so much, and you become so much wiser, but at the same time some things remain the same and will never change.

The challenges of immigration:

  • It is very expensive, especially if you want to do it in rands. Don’t think about what you could buy with all that money in South Africa, because it will make you change your decision. Also, never think about where you would have been if you stayed in SA. No looking back!
  • Opportunities are not as plentiful as it seems from outside. Remember, you have left your entire network, all your contacts and your reputation in another country. You must start again from scratch. You have to get to know a lot of new people and build your reputation from scratch.
  • You talk differently and think differently from most of the people around you. Your foundation differs, and your principles may very possibly differ from those of the majority around you.
  • Church and faith do no form a great part of people’s lives. Suddenly you must make an effort to remember God’s goodness every day, because those around you almost never talk about it. On the contrary, most people commit blasphemy and is disrespectful.
  • You are far from your people! Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, childrens’ birth, and greeting people are not so easy any more … One cannot go back to South Africa for each wedding or funeral, and you miss out a lot. Let’s be frank – several family members have died, and I could not greet any of them. My mom was not with me when my little girl was born. You have to celebrate so many important events without your loved ones.
  • You never stop longing for home. My loved ones are still in SA. My heart and my culture are still South African. We are still cheering for the Boks, (I know, despite all the options around us J), we have a braai every weekend (with wood – not gas), we are still listening to South African artists and we still crave Wimpy, Spur an Ocean Basket!

So why do we do it? Why do we choose to get up every morning and be the foreigner, the one with the funny accent, or the one in the office that does not really fit?

  • We have an incredible standard of living. We can walk to shops or take a bus or train. We can visit parks or camp on the beaches.
  • Our currency is strong, so at least we can go on holiday abroad sometimes.
  • We have access to excellent hospitals, and most medical costs are paid by the state.
  • The country is maintained. Streets are clean, public toilets are mostly clean, the roads are in good condition, parks are clean and well maintained, the beaches are clean and safe.
  • My husband, my daughter and I are safe. My husband often travels for work and I never have to worry about his safety. Many days I work until late in the city centre and then take a train home. Sometimes I walk the ±2km home from the station and I’m safe. My daughter is taken care of very well at her school and she is safe.
  • My child has a future in this country. She has equal opportunities and access to excellent universities.

My advice to any person who is considering immigration:

Come here for a holiday to see if you like what you experience, chat with the locals, and then decide.

If you have already decided to immigrate, do not put a limit on time or price. It takes quite a while to adjust, and it comes at a price, but get to know the locals and become part of the community. Make friends with the Aussies/Kiwis and make an effort to understand their culture.

If you choose to stay in South Africa – thank you! Thank you for keeping our culture and our language alive. For me, the saddest is that my daughter and her family will never know or understand our culture or language. That, unfortunately, is the price we pay.

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