By Eric Ndeh Mboumien Ngang
I come from Cameroon in the West of Africa, and I am part of a typical African family with four siblings and a closely-knit cluster of extended family members. Recollections of my childhood school days are more about whether I would ever have the opportunity to complete primary school and less about secondary and high school; I constantly admired other children from affluent homes, who were sure of having it all.
Today, it is amazing that with hard work and commitment I have been able to overcome that childhood fear. Assisted by a number of scholarships, awards and some meagre family support, I am happy to be the first member of my family to have attained the highest level of education, thus setting a pace for my siblings and the rest of our family.
The most amazing moment for me has been the awesome opportunity to leave my country to study for a Masters in Environmental Management and Sustainability in Australia, for 18 months. I have had the most amazing experience from the time I left home and the period I have spent in Australia – especially the issues of punctuality, the people and the culture, use of slang, and being an international student.
Before Arrival in Aus
In Yaounde Nsimalen International Airport, Cameroon – my point of departure – there was a five-hour delay followed by another hour delay at the Nairobi Airport – the transit point for the flight out of Africa. As soon as we landed in Dubai International Airport (UAE), we were just in time to catch the next flight. We arrived and left Melbourne for Adelaide at the stated and precise time, arrived Adelaide at 10:58am with the flight due to arrive at 11:00. I went through customs checks, picked up my bags and the gentleman from my university was there with my nametag, ready to pick me up. How relieved I felt. I vividly recalled my past experiences travelling in Africa for work-related issues and waiting at airports in Nigeria and Kenya for six and ten hours respectively while the responsible person did not show up.
Sleeping during the first few weeks was challenging given the 9.5-hour time difference between Australia and Cameroon. I often found myself sleepy in the afternoons, during the time I should have been deep in sleep back home. I basically spent most of the nights wriggling in bed, reading, with erratic sleep.
The University found for me temporary accommodation for five nights and I had the responsibility to find a permanent accommodation for the duration of my stay. With some friends I met during our introductory sessions, we were able to find house with shared facilities. It was an interesting and new opportunity for me to live with others and to share the facilities. The landlord was ready to take us (four Africans) in quickly, I guess because we had been issued letters from the University that we were supported with a fortnightly stipend to cover our expenses including the rent for the period of our study.
Finding my way around
I hated reading/interpreting maps as it was part of my geography lessons in secondary school. I realised this was a necessity for me in Australia to get around. To me, Adelaide was well-planned with maps everywhere in the city, with legends to help anyone get around. I realised my friends who were here two days before I arrived had done a lot of work in knowing how to get around, taking the buses and the trams, and paying visits to some attractions offered by the city. I stuck with them a couple of times, went to the malls, ate together, and took the trains and buses. Then I decided to start myself. I got a map and went out to the city, got myself lost a couple of times and used the maps to find my way back to a reference point which I kept. Sometimes I found myself going round the same area as it looked strange to me, but finally I was getting used to Adelaide – especially the spots would often use during my stay.
There were well-set dunnies – I mean, toilets – all around the city, and there are public drinking taps for everyone – not the type built in Cameroon, but something that will make you feel the urge to quench your thirst.
The people and infrastructure
There is room for everyone: the blind, the lame, the deaf and the disabled – including people using wheelchairs. Everything is built taking into consideration everyone’s needs from roads to gardens, lanes houses, parks, sports facilities; I mean everywhere and in everything. The people are nice and good. A few occassional squizzes – I mean, small looks – from people, but everyone seems to mind their business. I realised all I needed was a little confidence, assertiveness, belief in oneself and to be sure as possible about myself and where I come from when I had the opportunity to speak to anyone. After all, I work very hard too and impressed the interview panel to be here.
On a Friday soon after I arrived, I tried some nightclubs with a few colleagues from Africa. A few inquisitive eyes gave us a squizz, but we integrated, we drank with the white folks, danced with them; a few moved away from us but we were in the game. It was a good welcome.
Coming from a very rural set up where shops are not as organised, I faced some challenges shopping as I did not understand how the system worked. One experience I had was wanting to get apples for myself and not taking the time to read what was written on the fruit stands ($3.5/kg), I grab one apple assuming it was worth $3.5 and moving to the counter for payment. It actually took me some time to fully understand how it all operated. However, I am now an experienced user of the system.
Meeting the International Student Officer, it was reassuring to hear how things will run. When I visited the campus, I remembered with fear my first day at the University of Buea in Cameroon where I did my undergraduate studies. A few questions ran through my mind: shall I be standing again with thousands of other students in long queues for days to sign up courses, to get a medical check and end up sick after days of no success? It was very assuring to know that the systems were all computerised and I could sit in my room with internet, sign my courses and fix my timetable, and make appointments to see a doctor for a medical check. Wow! Aussie.
I am left with a few months to finish my studies and return home. I shall be a centre of attention as I return back to my community, and I am looking forward to taking all the experiences I have had in Adelaide to share with my siblings and other community members.
Oh, sorry, I used a few Aussie slang words, something which I have come to admire about Australians – squizz and dunny for a small look and toilet respectively. I came from home with one I learned from Michelle Hein, my Australian friend working with a local NGO in my region in Cameroon: chooks, referring to the chickens she found everywhere in the community.