As feedback to my previous blogs, a lot of readers have asked me about my back story. Being a millennial, how did I develop this mindset at an early age? What makes me so determined to get so much out of life? Sometimes its not what you have as a child growing up that will determine your success. For me and many others like me, its what we don't have that will determine our success. My key motivation for sharing this story is to show appreciation and acknowledgement for the hardship that my parents endured to give our family a great life. Now that I am a father, I can truly appreciate how hard it must have been for them. Their strength and resilience is on another level and will put mine to shame.
My parents were married during the Khmer Rouge regime. Originally from countryside Cambodia, they moved to Phnom Penh for work in order to provide a better life for their children. I am the youngest of three children and was born in Phnom Penh. My brother and sister on the other hand, did not have that privilege and were born in the countryside. My father was a mathematics lecturer and my mother was a primary school teacher. The wages are minimal and to get by, my mother would also have to sell food to her students during the school breaks. At this time, my brother and sister have barely started primary school and they would have to wake up early to go to the market to help my mother before going to school. After I was born, my mother couldn't waste any time and had to go back to work. She would take me to work and I would sleep at the front of the class while she taught her students. There was no such thing as childcare. I guess I started school early? It was hard, I didn't know how hard it was at the time because I was too young. Now that I am a father, I couldn't imagine how I would survive. My father, he was determined. He knew he had a responsibility to give his family a better future. In addition to his job, he pursued further studies and was awarded a scholarship to study in Australia. He knew that this scholarship will be a ticket to his family's future. If he is able to set his foot in Australia, he will do whatever it takes to find a way to bring his family there too. So he did.
He managed to get approval from immigration for us to also come to Australia. At the age of 7 I arrived in Melbourne. Before our arrival my father met a family with an enormous heart who offered their home to our family. We had no money, we had nothing to give but they were willing to accept a complete stranger's family into their home. Thats such a crazy generous thing to do and one that I am forever thankful for. During this time, my siblings and I started school and learnt a completely new language while my father stayed at campus in regional Victoria. My mother was trying to do what she can to support the family. Being apart was hard but they knew they had a future ahead if they keep working hard. I didn't understand at the time, I was too young to really understand what all these changes mean.
A few years went by and now my father's studies are coming to an end. During this time, there was a coup in Cambodia. We were afraid to return and applied for a refugee visa. We always dreamed of settling permanently in Australia. There are so many opportunities in this new country. The environment is so clean. Everything is so modern. The people are so nice. You can learn so much at school. We were seeing things we never seen before in our lives. We were granted a temporary visa. This was still much better than returning home.
We had to move so that my parents could find work to support us. We were on our own. We had no relatives here that could sponsor or support us. We got through the hardship with the support of big hearted generous Australians. We were living in shared houses. Most of the time our family of 5 would stay in one bedroom. We couldn't afford to rent on our own. Majority of my parent's hard earned would go to legal fees in order to extend our visa and press on with our case. In the midst of this my brother and sister was in high school. Looking back, I feel terrible that they never had an opportunity to reach their full potential. They never had the proper environment to complete their high school studies. Going to university was almost impossible. After year 12 they both had to enter the work force. They had to help my parents support the family.
In primary school, I was growing up like an ordinary Australian kid. This was like my country, my memories of Cambodia were fading away, replaced by the new language, new country, new friends and new life. I didn't fully understand the hardship my family was going through. In grade 6, I couldn't go on school camp because my family couldn't afford it. The principal had to talk my parents into letting me go, because she knew how the camp would be a great experience for me. No one can blame my parents for their decision. Everytime a legal bill came, they would watch their hard earned wash away. The school understood and supported us financially for the camp. An amazing gesture. It turnt out to be one the best experience in my life. I am again forever thankful.
Five years passed since we arrived in Australia. I started high school. It was a local public high school that most kids in the area transitioned to. I loved my primary school, they understood our circumstances, they supported us. The high school was a different story. In year 7, I was able to enter school paying only a regular fee. In year 8, I was advised that I am considered an international student and they gave us a bill of around $6000. It was crazy, we didn't have this amount of money. To this day, I don't blame them. It was the law and they had to follow it. We asked them for compassion to allow me to continue studying as we were in the middle of a legal case and going through financial hardship.
At this time, we had moved again. It wasn't easy sharing houses. When you have a lot of people under one roof there will defintely be conflicts. This time we rented a house on our own. It was a fair distance to school so I had to ride my bike to school everyday. It was a Monday. I woke up, pack my lunch and rode my bike to school as usual. I got to school and socialised with my friends as normal. I was sitting in science class in period 1 when the principal knocked on the door and specifically asked the teacher for me to get my things and come out to see him. I was shocked. What did I do wrong? He walked with me to my locker then asked me to clear it and pack my bags. He said the school sent a notice rejecting my application for special consideration. He mentioned that it stated that if I was to enter the school again, I will be expelled. I never received or saw this letter before. I was in a state of shock and did not understand what was going on. I was 14 years old at the time. I didn't get to say bye to my friends. I did as I was told. Packed by bags, put on my helmet and rode my bike home. The ride home was the longest ride ever. I was emotionally crushed, in tears and confused. What was all these feelings. I was expelled out of school. Some of you may wonder what the picture of the boy with the bike means. This is the meaning of that picture. It represents the lowest point of my life. An emotionally wrecked boy with his head down struggling to push his bike home. My parents would only find out what had happen when they arrived home from work. I didn't fully understand how they were feeling at the time. Now that I am a parent myself, I can't imagine my children going through this. I never ever want them to experience what I had been through.
My parents stayed strong. They supported me. For the rest of the year I would be studying at home. Juggling between full time work, my dad committed himself to home schooling me. We had no choice. We didn't have the finance to pay full fee and it was half way through the year. I struggled, I cried and it was hard. I was confused, I gave up, I didn't know what I was doing. During this time, my parents joined a local church and wanted to enrol me in the independent christian college. They worked harder to gather the money to put me in school. I had to sit an exam to be able to join the following year. I failed. They wanted to keep me down for another year. Make me repeat year 8. This was another blow for my parents. How much it would cost for an extra year of schooling and how hard my dad worked to home school me. I was letting them down and I knew it. My dad begged the school to allow me to start year 9. 'Give him another chance, I will prove it to you' those were my father's words to the school. I knew my situation and I knew I can't let my parents down. This was the turning point in my life.
During the summer break, my dad bought me the year 9 textbooks. By the end of summer break, we finished the entire year 9 mathematics. We were ready for school. It was an intense summer, we would study everyday and I had to learn many things that I have should have learnt the previous years. He would set me a daily list of what I need to get done. I had to get these done by the time he comes back home from work. Year 9 started and by the end of the year, I was awarded top of the class trophy. As I reflect, I am amazed at how my father got through this time. He had to work full time, teach me and manage the legal case.
Three years passed by. In Year 10 and Year 11, I also received the top of the class award. I finally made my parents proud. All their hardwork has not been wasted. Year 12 started. This was a big year. I needed to do well. In the mean time, our family situation took another twist. Our case had been rejected so many times and we had to find many possible ways to extend it. However it was coming to an end. We had ran out of options, time and money. We were given 28 days to leave the country. Our lawyer managed to extend this and appealed the case up to the High Court of Australia. This was the final straw. If it gets rejected, we will be going back home.
We came to Australia and we saw how compassionate Australians were. We still had faith in the country. As a last resort, my father suggested that I should present my story. So we got working again. In between VCE studies, my father and I prepared a case. This was my case. This was my story. One day with a folder of notes in my bag, I took the bus. My destination: Victoria Legal Aid. I still remember sitting at the park on a sunny afternoon reading my notes before my appointment. My plan was to be up front and honest. I will tell them my story and what I have been through. I will promise to use all of my abilities to make a positive contribution to Australia if we were granted permanent residency. My family needs this badly and I will guarantee to Australia that if it was granted we will not disappoint anyone. I was nervous, at the age of 17 I didn't know what I was doing. I was pushing all barriers. I walked in, shooked the representative's hand and he turnt out to be a fellow Cambodian. I have never met him before but he was very impressed at my courage and bravery. He promised to do whatever he can to help our case. So he did. Moving forward, my case will be funded by Victoria Legal Aid. They can't guarantee a successful outcome but at least we can take another breath to go another day.
In the mean time, I continued to build my case. I got the support from teachers, pastors, friends and even a mayor. They all wrote a personal support letter for me. My friends organised a petition for me and it was signed by over 300 students. This is it, what I will achieve will determine my family's future. I knew I had to keep going with my studies. If I was to have a strong case I must show that I can do well. I personally wrote a letter to the Minister for Immigration seeking her compassion. I told her I wanted to be a pharmacist, I wanted to help people and contribute to society. It was a tough year. At some points, I honestly felt like I didn't want to go home after school. I had to study but I hated seeing my parents so depressed. There was a lot of negative energy in the house. We were all scared. I had to push through. If my father can study hard enough to bring his family to Australia then I can also study hard enough to keep our family in Australia. In the midst of all the chaos, I met my wife. It turnt out we came to Australia at a similar time and shared the same values and beliefs. She kept me going and helped me through each day.
I completed VCE with an ENTER score of 95.4. The highest in the year level at the school. I sent this straight to the lawyer. We are still in limbo and had no decision yet. A few months later, I was offered a place at Monash University to study pharmacy. I sent this to the lawyer again. Still waiting. A new year started, I couldn't study because I didn't know if I will stay in Australia or go back to Cambodia. It would cost me $26,000 per year to study because I was an international student. So I put the offer on hold and started work. This was the best I could do at the time while we waited. In the mean time my parents were preparing a plan B incase we would have to go back. They still won't give up. Even if we do go back, it had been a wonderful 10 years in Australia. We made many friends, saw the compassion in people's heart and learnt many things. We were all greatful and will never forget what we had been through.
In mid 2006, our family received a letter and in it was an approval for permanent residency. We have made it. It felt unreal. I can't describe in words how amazing it was. We have won the lotto. The journey over the last 10 years is unforgettable. Anything in life from here on will be a bonus. Our strength and resilience are unbreakable. Nothing from here can break us or if it can, we will have the strength and ability to get through anything.
It is now 2018 and I have continued to appreciate Australia. I completed the Bachelor of Pharmacy with Honours and now work as one of the pharmacy manager. I have continued to study and build my skills and abilities. My motivation still stems from the promise to contribute to Australia. I think I now have a few things to share that can make a positive impact on the lives of Australians.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this post. Emotionally, it has been a struggle to put it together as it brings back so many memories. I hope that everyone can understand the privilege of being an Australian and use this to stay positive in life, because there are many people out there that want to live in this country but can't. If you think you are struggling, look around you, you may actually be ahead of other people. Appreciate what you have and where you are. Stay positive no matter what.
Special thanks to all the compassionate hearts that have helped my family. I am forever thankful.
'I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength'
Happy Birthday Mum!
A millennial who grew up in Australia and is not afraid of hard work and dedication to overcome any challenge.