Balancing a Cultural Divide

“When I’m in Australia, I miss my family in Turkey, but when I go over there I miss my friends and my lifestyle here.” – Melda

Tantalising aromas waft from her newly-expanded kitchen. She leads me into the dining room, immediately offering me a Turkish hot drink (Salep), presented in a dainty glass cup. Her Turkish hospitality is far from lost. Smiling faces gaze neatly from the walls beside proudly hung certificates. The room has an open, welcoming feel and the sunlight seeps warmly through the blinds. A foreign song drifts from her laptop, which lies half hidden under university work. Her eyes light up and she rushes to the computer, talking me through Turkish artists and showcasing samples of some of her favourite songs.

Melda, like many from a multicultural background, has had to balance her Turkish heritage and Australian culture. Despite being born in Australia, she has embraced her Turkish background. While she attended a Christian high school during the week, she also went to a Turkish Saturday school. Melda holds strongly to her language and culture, with Turkish being her first language.

A suburb away from Melda lives Arash, a 19 year old Iranian, who migrated to Australia when he was 15. After 5 years in the application process, his family moved to Australia for a better a education and more opportunities for future employment. Arash enrolled in the same Catholic HHigh School as Melda in year 9, with very little knowledge of English. Less than three years later he excelled in his HSC, and his Visual Arts major work was featured in the Art Xpress exhibition. He is now studying Arts at The University of Sydney. Arash has recently become a dual citizen. This has allowed him the opportunity of a HELP debt, therefore making university affordable.

Arash’s home is adorned with family photos, and memories of his life in Iran. At the mention of his home in Tehran, he jumps to his feet, disappearing upstairs and returning to show me his house on Google Maps. He explains that his older brother, now 27 still lives in his home in Tehran. It’s been three years since his immediate family has lived together. Arash’s mother moved to Australia two years before the rest of his family, in order to organise a house. As a doctor, Arash’s dad has to complete two exams to practise in Sydney and has had to work in rural Victoria for the past three years. Despite the distance, Arash and his father have a close relationship, and visits every 2 months are much anticipated.

Unable to sleep on the 18 hour flight, Arash landed in Australia fatigued and excited. He can remember gazing out of the taxi window, confused by the empty streets. Australia is vastly different to the hustle and bustle of Iran. In Tehran, The streets are busy around the clock and thick with traffic. To Arash, suburban Sydney “looked like the countryside…the streets were so peaceful.”

Melda misses the busy nightlife of Turkey. “Here, most things close at 5. In Turkey, if you want to go shopping at seven or eight, everything will be open. If you go to a park there will be children playing while their parents have tea and coffee. Here, we just don’t have that culture.”

Both Arash and Melda feel they have stronger ties with their original cultures. “When I’m in Turkey I’m the Aussie, but here I’m the Turk”, explains Melda. “I consider myself more Turkish; I’m more wrapped up in the culture”. Similarly, Arash considers himself a Persian with Australian citizenship rather than Iranian-Australian. When questioned about it, he responds “I lived in Iran for 15 years, was born there, grew up there, my family is Persian, all my relatives are there. It’s more a matter of people than place, for me.”

Arash and Melda make trips every few years to visit family. Melda longs for Turkey, but views it more of a family holiday destination, while Australia is home. “Over there, I miss my friends and my lifestyle here. You can’t holiday forever” she explains. She craves Turkish hospitality, where village people invite you into their home to serve you a meal, sharing whatever they have with you. “I feel an unexplainable longing for Istanbul. I am in love with that city – the richness of culture, the busy-ness, the hustle bustle. It’s just amazing.”

Arash and Melda are just two examples of how multiculturalism works in Australia. On the outside, their houses appear as typical suburban homes, but the inside radiates a vibrant multicultural blend. Arash explains, “once I am home, we speak Persian, eat Persian food, it’s more or less the same [as in Iran]”. He speaks highly of Australia, as “a welcoming place with open-minded people who aren’t worried about the cultural differences.”

Although easier for some, these youth report very few cultural clashes and pride themselves on their cultural balance. Arash explains “The differences are subtle and once you get over the language barrier, the differences arise more in terms of material things like food, clothing, cars, music and movies. But the people are as good and welcoming as they are where I came from.”

As he closes his laptop, he pauses for a moment, pondering old memories. Suddenly, he snaps back to the present. As I leave, he smiles broadly, and in his faded accent says; “No worries, have a good one”.

Stepping from his home, I am surrounded by identical townhouses. I wonder how many of them contain such a rich blend of cultures, how many hold people with colourful and interesting experiences. I wonder how much of this goes uncelebrated and unshared.

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Arash and Melda at their year 12 formal

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