First week, First Impressions

June 10th, 2014

Paris-Dubaï/Dubaï-Perth in 17 hours covering a distance of 14,277 kilometres and with only a 45 minutes’ break between flights. The panic of these last few days has disappeared and given way to emptiness. After saying goodbye to my family, who accompanied me to the airport, my mind has begun to leave behind all the fear and all the anxiety and is focusing on every step and every stage that has brought me closer to Australia.

On the first flight, I watch some films. On the second flight, I sit next to a man who starts to talk to me in English and asks me where I come from. I tell him that I come from France and he starts talking to me in French. He explains that he comes from Scotland (that was a sign I had no clue about at that time) and we begin to start a conversation in which he asks me why I travel. He then suggests that I take his contact details so I can send him my CV. He works for the Danish Refugee Council and tells me that his wife is a doctor and knows a lot of people. Maybe the beginning of something, who knows?

Once I land at the airport, I’m completely lost, looking for the only bus that will drive me to my hostel. After several requests for assistance, I finally find my stop. I don’t really understand the system of the timetables here so I come closer to the only person who is sitting on the bench in front of me and ask him the time of the bus arrival (in English). He answers me with a smile and… in French. I breathe and tell myself that everything is going to be fine. In fact, he is also here with a Working Holiday Visa and he is just leaving Perth to reach Northern Australia because he has found a job over there. He tells me that one of his friends is alone in Australia and she does not speak a word of English. She is looking for a roommate. She knows a French family living in Perth who hosts her for sometimes and helped her to find a job. He offers to give me her phone number so we can get in touch and help each other. I accept.

It’s a Thursday afternoon.  The sky is cloudy and it is not more than 23°c, but the heat is stifling. I hand my passport to the receptionist with a trembling hand (obviously I am stressed or frightened, or both) to confirm the booking I made a week ago in this hostel. He shows me the map of the site, gives me my bed linen and lets me explore the place by myself. At first, the hostel seems huge to me. There are dormitories with eighteen beds, other small dormitories with six beds and some double or single rooms, as well as communal showers and toilets. Outside, there’s a large covered area with tables and chairs and another building housing the kitchen/dining room, which is also a games room and TV lounge. The first contact I have is with a British girl who arrived a few hours before me and shares my dormitory of eighteen beds. These are all bunk beds and the fact of finding myself on the top bed reminds me of my childhood. The second contact is made with French people. I learn quickly, thanks to them, the habits of the hostel including the fact that each nationality remains in its place: English people with English people, German people with German people etc… I feel disappointed because I wanted to spend my time speaking in English but fortunately, the British girl I just met offers to go for a walk in the city the next day. There is no better way to be forced to speak in English and test my level.

The next day, I am with my new British friend and the first 15 minutes in English seems difficult to me and I wonder how we are going to work this out all afternoon if my level remains so bad. Then, over time, I am speaking more easily and feeling more confident. This is good, I am reassured and I ‘m starting to feel a little more comfortable in this new country. In the evening I discover the joys but also the inconvenience of living in a hostel. Against all odds, English, German and French discuss together over some drinks. I join them and spend a great evening until I decide to go to bed. It is at this very moment that we can talk about inconvenience. Of course, in a dormitory with eighteen beds you can expect to be slightly disturbed. Here the word “slightly” is too soft. Some examples: the light being turned on at two in the morning, the door slamming at 3.00 am, shouting at 4.00 am… Despite this and the fact that I thought I’d never survive my first day at the hostel, there is something like magic that is created because you find here a new family, a new cocoon that you create, and I can understand why some of these people have been here for seven months. You arrive in a foreign country where you are a stranger to others and the others are strangers to you. The only rescue that you can see offshore is this tide of international, friendly human beings. We all meet in the same boat and we have more or less the same projects, and we are full of stories to tell that only we can relate to. So, when one or more of them leave, tears flow inexorably and I have experienced it myself after only three days here. Emotions are heightened!

Sunday, I was told by my friends that all the stores in Perth were open (in France, everything is closed on Sundays) so I could go and buy my SIM card to get an Australian phone number. Once that was done, I called my mum and I called Julie, the friend of the young French guy I met at the airport. On the phone she seemed very nice, she told me that she had found a shared house and that she would talk about me to the landlord because there is one bedroom left. I decided to meet with her the next morning.

The appointment is made for 10.30am. At the agreed time, I decide to walk from the hostel to the city centre to meet with her. As I walk, I realize that there are many homeless people who, I would say, are 90% Aboriginals. I found it sadly ironic as these people were the first inhabitants of this country before it was colonized by the English at the end of the 18th century. Julie finally arrives and she appears to me friendlier than on the phone. We talk about the family in which she is hosted, but also about her project. She is a 26-year-old nurse and in Australia only to learn English because it is the last challenge she has to undertake in order to realize her dream: be part of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). She has found a job, three hours per day, three times a week, with an old lady whom she keeps company. The shared house she has found on the internet is very interesting. It is a Chinese man who bought a house and rents three rooms. The landlord’s parents also live in the house in a space specially designed for them. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, the internet and a garage are included in the rent. What reassures me is that we have a room key; I like to know that my stuff is safe. The hostel costs 220 dollars per week and the shared house is 160 dollars per week. It is 20 kilometres from the centre of Perth and there are buses and trains nearby. I contact the owner and I have to pay 50 dollars to book the bedroom. I move in next Monday after signing the rent contract and paying the 480 dollars deposit. Luckily, today is also the day I opened a bank account. People from my hostel are surprised that I have found such a good opportunity so quickly (within 5 days). I hope this beautiful dream will not turn into a nightmare.

Regarding Perth, it’s a classic city. There are fast food places, shops, buildings, a river called “Swan River” with palm trees alongside and an ocean which is 30 minutes from downtown that I had the joy of seeing today. There is also Kings Park that I haven’t had the time to visit yet and which, I have been told, is worth seeing, especially in the sunset. And what about cars that drive on the left side of the road? I think it could become the main cause of death of any French people who would attempt to cross the street looking the wrong way. I think I escaped death at least a dozen times in five days! There is also the Australian accent that is more understandable than expected. It’s almost the end of my first week and the assessment is quite positive. I have met a lot of new people from different nationalities, each person with their own life experience, their own project and their own reason to be in Australia. The sad part is that I’ll never know the outcome of their adventure because, at some point, everyone moves forward on their own path, with their successes and disappointments, but I will not be at their side anymore to witness their evolution. I walk only a few meters with them on this path of life, just like they do with me. I have felt welcomed both by the Australian people as well as the others from the hostel who are always in a good mood and full of dreams and energy. Today, I allowed myself to think about France and the life I had there and I have realized that I miss nothing and that I don’t want to go back to France. I do not know what to expect from Australia but for now I feel a sensation of freedom that I did not have in France.

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