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5 December 2013
Melbourne might pride itself on its multicultural credentials but for Reem Faiq it just needs to go one step further and really get to know the people behind the different cultures that make up the city.
Reem migrated to Melbourne nine years ago from Iraq and like many of the young people interviewed in the Migrant Youth in Australia report by Deakin and Monash Universities has had first-hand experience of growing up and developing connections and a sense of belonging in Melbourne.
“When my family and I first came to Melbourne we were so pleased to be in an area like Coburg as it felt recognisable because of all the Middle Eastern shops and eateries; there are signs in Arabic on Sydney Road and having spoken no English at the time, it felt comforting to be able to understand what was around on the first couple of days."
Now nine years on, after finishing high school and graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, Reem admits she could be taking Melbourne’s multicultural credentials for granted.
“Sometimes I think we look the part but we don’t always have the multicultural mentality,” she said.
“Reflecting back on my time at high school, one would think if Melbournians were multicultural enough, perhaps then we would know more about the people that we share this city with.”
After learning English, Reem started her schooling in a high school which was close to the English Language Centre.
“I think the fact that the high school that I attended being geographically near the language centre meant that lots of the students from that language centre would go into that high school, and so therefore both the staff and the students were used to aspects in newly arrived students, such as a different accent, and this made it easier to be new to the English language, perhaps," she said.
“But my sister and I received scholarships to a different school eventually, which we are grateful to have received.
“The school wasn't representative of Melbourne's population and we were, at that time, the only students that spoke the language that we spoke and believed in the religion that we believe in, and people (that is both staff and students) were very unfamiliar with the Arabic culture and the Islamic faith and they had their own (not so studied) views of the two."
“Don't get me wrong everyone at High School has a tough time.
“You are at a critical age and are trying to like yourself and find out what you like about yourself.
“I guess, however, I felt a certain pressure to be a certain way so that the two (both staff and students) didn't gather the wrong impression of what it is like to be from the Middle East, post 2001."
As Reem admitted this was something she chose to do but it would have been helpful if people similarly chose to be more knowledgeable about the different cultures coming to Australia.
Reem believes young people assisted by schools need to take responsibility for knowing who they are sharing their city and school with.
“In a sense it’s to be made a duty that we learn about people that we share where we live with, on the basic grounds that, had we been in their place, then we perhaps would have appreciated the same attitude," she said
“It's possibly about having an open mind to the fact most of us have a limited circle of knowledge (because it isn't humanly possible to know the so called everything, our knowledge base is always limited) and this includes knowledge about other cultures.
“The belief in the above hopefully encourages one to learn more about the very people that we share this city with.
“This is something most of us are hopefully capable of doing and perhaps it's as simple as asking "what’s it like over there?" to, say, an international student at university."
Reem found university a welcome contrast and hopes to go on to do a further degree in Fine Art curatorship.
“University was a great change from school,” she said.
“There were so many more people, that share some similarities with you, starting with specialising in the specific area of study that you chose to focus on, so university meant an almost endless supply of like-minded people."
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Reem Faiq ... we need to learn about people that we share where we live with, on the basic grounds that, had we been in their place, then we perhaps would have appreciated the same attitude