Study Melbourne partnered with Melbourne Writers Festival 2017 to host a storytelling competition for international students. ‘Finding Found’ by Jie Min Madeline Moey from Malaysia was shortlisted in the University category.
“Would you like some coffee?”
“Hot chocolate please.”
Coffee was never my choice of drink. Melbourne, where coffee culture was its pride, was completely new to me. Every morning I saw Melbourne denizens holding paper cups, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeating in the air. I often wondered when I would discover someone like me, someone who would opt for hot chocolate.
It was winter when I first came. I felt relieved to have escaped from the tropical, sunny, and humid weather back home. Everything felt so new here, from the fine Victorian architecture to the talented buskers on the streets. I settled down on the GPO building’s stairs, mesmerizing in the music of the street performers. The passers-by on the street seemed to be engaged with their personal activities. At that instant, I suddenly felt alone. When I would ever be connected and be a part of this community?
To inculcate global thinking and to improve my understanding Melbourne’s culture, I started involving myself in various activities such as joining a community club and a road trip to the Great Ocean Road. However, venturing into an unknown land required a lot of courage. At times, I was unsure of my practices in my new surroundings, constantly anxious about how the public would think of me as a foreigner. Originating from a city where greetings are uncommon, mundane “How are you?” greetings in shops placed me in an uncomfortable position. Despite the awkward moments, I tried hard at playing the role of a Melbourne local, but the cultural differences continued to thrust me back into reality. But it all changed when I attended the Australian Citizenship Ceremony.
I came across an online notice by the Study Melbourne group recruiting students to perform in a choir for the ceremony. Without hesitation, I signed up for the choir not knowing how the ceremony would break my chains of exclusion. The day of citizenship ceremony day arrived. At the Melbourne Town Hall, people flocked at the entrance, affirmation letters clutched in their hands. I see bouquets of flowers, smiles on faces of people, and fathers holding their daughters’ hands.
As the stage curtain rose, I was stunned by the hundreds of people in the hall. They held up Australian flags with eagerness in their eyes. Many had been waiting for this day, to officially become a part of Australia, to be in a place where they felt like they belonged. As we sang, “We are one, but we are many. And from all the lands on earth we come”, I was deeply moved by the song’s simple language. It was full of substance and strength. The lyrics rang out that Australia was a nation that welcomed everyone from every part of the world. For a fleeting moment, I teared up. Not because of my nervousness from being on stage, but for the powerful aura of unity that was emitted in the hall.
As an international student, I felt privileged to be involved in the Australian Citizenship ceremony. I not only experienced the ceremony’s events, but was transcended beyond comprehension.
After the event, I began to embrace myself for who I was. I smiled as I glanced at my paper cup brimmed with hot chocolate and to others’ that were full of coffee. Regardless of where our roots are, we were one. The feeling of acceptance by the environment and the community was blissful. I started to break free.
On one rare sunny Sunday, I found myself in a quaint, little café.
“What would you like to order?”
“Hot chocolate, please.”
The barista grinned and said, “Extra marshmallows for you.”
And I found home in Melbourne.