Jodie, a Chinese-Malaysian, first experienced Australia on a family holiday to Perth, at Chinese New Year, when she was only 14. Her mother wanted all her children to experience life overseas, and especially had a ‘fantasy’ image of Australia. After high school, Jodie got a scholarship to study media in Sydney, but her mother wanted her to study something more ‘professional’, like her brother and sister, who had studied engineering and medicine. With her family’s encouragement, Jodie went to study architecture at a local university which was a more affordable option than attending a major university in Malaysia or studying in Australia. However, Jodie's mum eventually realised how unhappy Jodie was and with her family's support she soon obtained a scholarship to study media at Monash University’s Malaysian campus (Sunway). This was appealing to her family because her brother had also attended Monash.
After two years Jodie applied to do an exchange program at the Australian campus in Gippsland, Victoria for one semester and then Melbourne for one semester. She loved living on campus in the countryside in Gippsland and made many close friends. She finished her degree and her exchange year in November 2009 and returned to Malaysia to try and pursue a media career.
Back in KL in early 2010, Jodie still had a few months left on her student visa when she came across a sale for cheap flights to Melbourne. She decided to go back briefly for a visit to catch up with her friends there. There was one friend from university, Andrew, who she particularly wanted to see. When they caught up in Melbourne for a night of karaoke, he confessed he was interested in Jodie romantically, but she had to return to Malaysia one week later. For a few months Jodie did some acting work and interviewed for broadcasting jobs in Malaysia. She and Andrew developed a relationship over long-distance, and he visited Malaysia to meet her family. Eventually Jodie decided to come back to Melbourne for her Master’s degree. There were two reasons for this decision – wanting to finally pursue her dream of studying media, and also, to pursue her relationship with Andrew. This time her mother was supportive. If Jodie was determined to work in media, her mother thought it would be safer to pursue this career in Australia, feeling that Malaysia was sometimes a risky environment for journalists.
Jodie finished one semester of her Master’s program but wasn’t really enjoying it. She couldn’t stay on a student visa if she dropped out, so she moved on to a tourist visa just to have time to decide what she wanted to do. She and Andrew were happy but they weren’t sure what they were going to do about Jodie’s visa. They eventually decided to apply for a partner visa. Jodie moved onto a bridging visa while the partner visa was being processed, but because she had been on a tourist visa when she applied, she did not have any work rights. Not being able to work was hard for Jodie. She could only occupy herself helping out at Andrew’s mother’s small business. She felt like her own career dreams were on hold. She felt lost and homesick for Malaysia. She started actively volunteering with Melbourne community organisations, and even founded her own community media enterprise that connected young Malaysians in Australia. Jodie also ran successful high-level community festivals and events in Melbourne and was active in transnational politics for democratic change in Malaysia. Because this wasn’t paid work, it was allowed within her visa conditions, and importantly gave Jodie a sense of purpose and connection to Malaysia while she was waiting for her visa. Andrew and Jodie were living with Andrew’s family to save money. Andrew’s family were Chinese-Australians, who had migrated from the People’s Republic of China when Andrew was only three. Despite a shared Chinese heritage, Jodie felt a sense of ‘culture shock’ living with Andrew’s family, making her rethink her own identity as more ‘Malaysian’ than ‘Chinese’. Things got much better when they got engaged and moved into their own place.
Jodie took time off from her community work to plan her wedding. She and Andrew had four wedding receptions to accommodate the friends and family in different places – one in China, one in Malaysia and two in Melbourne to include all of Andrew’s parents’ friends. After she got married Jodie moved away from her community work, which had become quite stressful and not sustainable financially. She got a job managing the same wedding venue where she had held her own wedding. Jodie was expecting her first child in her final interview for this project, and was still working at the wedding venue. It was a possibility that she and Andrew might move back to Malaysia – she can see pros and cons of raising a child in either environment. Jodie’s biggest challenges were not around adapting to Australian culture, but figuring out her relationship alongside her career aspirations, balancing personal fulfilment as well as managing the stress of her high-level community work. Jodie thinks her life plans and attitudes have changed drastically since first coming to Australia, and she hasn’t ended up, in terms of her career, where she expected. But falling in love at a karaoke night was a huge turning point in her life, and being with Andrew was worth all the challenges.