War didn’t kill me, it made me stronger!

International Refugee Day, 20th June

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I am not a victim, I am a victor

“Around our fourth week of living in Australia, I started going to school to learn English. I knew that in the year ahead I would not advance academically in line with the other kids my age, but rather my primary focus would be strictly learning how to write, read, speak, and understand English as well as learning Australian culture. I was okay with that as I saw it as a great opportunity to learn English properly.

On my first day of school, my parents gave me two fifty cent pieces to have in my pocket. A one-way bus fare to school cost fifty cents, so I had enough money to cover my trip to school and back. The Australian fifty cent coin was so big I felt I was richer than I actually was!

The arrangement was that I would walk two kilometres to my cousin’s apartment first thing in the morning, and from there we would walk together to the bus station and catch the bus to school. I would leave our apartment nice and early in the morning on a hot summer’s day and start walking to my cousin’s place. The neighbour next door was watering the lawn with a hose. I found that a bit strange because back in Europe no one watered their lawns except one grandpa who lived in our apartment building in Pakrac. He was a bit odd and had insomnia so he would mow and water the lawn of the apartment’s grounds even though no one ever asked him to do it. Anyway, so this neighbour was watering the lawn and said to me what sounded like, “Ha-wa-ya?” I smiled at him and said, “Me not from Hawaii, me from Yugoslavia!” and walked off. The man looked a bit confused and I on the other hand was so proud of myself that I could answer him in English!

I reached my cousin’s place and we walked to the bus station. He got on first and sat down. I gave the bus driver fifty cents and smiled. I didn’t know what to say and the driver assumed I was going to school so he gave me a ticket. We got to Melville Senior High School and my cousin dropped me off in front of the Intensive Language Centre classroom where I needed to be and introduced me to the teacher. He then went off to his own classroom. The first day was very interesting and we had an interpreter at school which was helpful.

I met other students who were from different countries, some of whom were also refugees. It was fun learning about them, their cultures, and countries. There were quite a few Yugoslavian kids with whom I made friends, as the only thing at that stage we had in common was our language. With other students, I communicated with body language, drawings, and some words I knew. Oh my, did we have some laughs in the classroom! Half of the time we had no idea what any of us were saying! The first day of school was better than I had anticipated and very welcoming.

The second morning as I was leaving our apartment, once again the neighbour was watering the lawn. This time the man probably thought he would try a different approach with me and said, “How you goin’?” and again, me being as proud as punch said, “By bus!”

The third morning, the neighbor pretended to be busy in his rose bushes. Hmm… I wonder why!”

Excerpt from my book: Born to Bloom – From Hardship to Happiness

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