I'm heading into Sydney's CBD for the monthly get-together of the Newcomers Network. I'm not a newcomer to Sydney, but I've been a newcomer elsewhere and can remember those first few forays into local life and the keen desire to meet new people.
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Waiting for the ferry, I watch the sun setting behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge and am reminded of why so many people are drawn to Sydney and Australia's other beautiful cities. The promise of a new life in a different place is an exciting prospect. However, it's not always smooth sailing. Once the honeymoon period is over, the excitement can be dampened by the overwhelming realities of getting established in a foreign land. Newcomers often underestimate the time it will take to adjust and settle into their new home and this is where Newcomers Network comes in.
Arriving at the bar where drinks are being held, I'm greeted by Jo Fisher, the Sydney representative for Newcomers Network. Jo gives us some background on Newcomers Network, Sue Ellson, its founder and director, and how this free service offering information, events and advocacy for newcomers to Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth came about. Jo shares some of her own experiences of relocating to Germany and Asia and how she overcame some of the difficulties of settling into local life and the inevitable homesickness that sets in at some point.
Geraldine, a first-timer to Newcomers Network, joins the conversation and talks animatedly about her experiences of moving from Malaysia to the UK, then Singapore, Hong Kong and, more recently, Australia – each time having to make new friends and a new life for herself and family.
There is a common thread to the conversation and that is, networking is a key element to successful transition when relocating. Being able to share stories with people who have experienced the same thing, trading tips and how to's and getting that often elusive local knowledge – all these helping a newcomer to gain a sense of belonging with more ease and confidence.
Perth Newcomers Network picnic lunch
Through Newcomers Network, people who have recently relocated or repatriated are given strategies to help with the transition:
finding friends: through work, schools, mothers' groups, etc.;
collecting local information: newcomers' packs from local councils, public transport information, sports centres, etc.;
getting involved in activities: e.g. sports, courses, clubs;
expecting it to be a challenge – it can take up to 3 years to feel like a local;
developing new routines: going out to new places, restaurants, museums;
being curious: asking questions and seeking help when you need it.
Tips for networking, job hunting and the subtleties of Australian life are all things that Newcomers Network can help with.
Newcomers Network has been hosting free monthly "Welcome" events every month since the beginning of 2005 and has also hosted and coordinated over 90 professional functions and forums for newcomers and networkers. A popular event is the annual Christmas Day picnic lunch designed for newcomers, international students, tourists and anyone who is a Christmas orphan and away from family or friends on Christmas Day.
Christmas picnic lunch for Brisbane Newcomers Network
The first stop for anyone arriving in Australia should be the Newcomers Network website which is bursting with information and publications for newcomers, including details of upcoming events. The website receives 50,000 visitors every month and has over 5,000 email newsletter subscribers.
So, if you're a newcomer to Australia or you know someone who is, look up Newcomers Network in your city and link up with others in a similar position and some who have "been there, done that" and are happy to offer advice on how to settle into and savor Australian life.