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What a magical experience.
It was chilly and sunny as my husband and I arrived at Jasmine Greens Park Kiosk, where the coordinator of our event, Mandi, was setting the standing banner of the Words on the Waves Writer’s Festival in position by the entrance to our event room.
The sun was dappling in through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, its rays dispersed between the leaves on the trees outside and crackling in to create magic on the inside.
Colourful umbrellas adorned the upper part of the spacious room, suspended upside-down from the ceiling like a life-sized mosaic of yellows and pinks - all smiling upon the morning.
Festive lights swept along the glass walls behind Parisian-style tables, chairs and stools, with guest chairs forming an intimate arc facing the spot where my launch partner, Anne Perrottet, and I would be presenting our respective author talks.
It was freezing inside.
“Oh my gosh, everyone’s going to be so focused on trying to get warm that they may not notice our talks!” I half-jokingly quipped to my husband, Romu.
“Naaaaa, they’ll be fine,” he reassured me.
Romu and I placed our things on a chair and went around to the kiosk to order a hot cappuccino, strolling back with the foam cups warming our hands and the fragrant steam rising to thaw our noses.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t all that cold! We are in Sydney, after all, not Switzerland. Cold for us is 12 degrees Celsius, and 8 degrees feels freezing. It was about 10 degrees this morning, so while the sun was shining, we were feeling the chill.
My co-launch author, Anne Perrottet, arrived with her husband, looking as bright as the sunshine in a yellow and dark blue outfit. A big welcoming hug soothed the nerves and excitement.
Over the next 45 minutes, faces new and known filtered into our magical launch space.
The room warmed up with the body heat.
The atmosphere tingled with anticipation as everyone cradled their hot drinks, chatting amiably and looking at our book displays.
We had set up for 10 people, enough for our enthusiastic families and a few friends who we knew were coming, but we had no idea if anyone else would walk through the doors. To our delight, we ended up with 25 guests! Rustling up more chairs, we beamed with glee as we expanded our audience seating plan.
I had been very nervous for the week leading up to this day, waking up every night with my stomach and mind tripping over themselves in jittery anticipation. But the lovely morning and amiable atmosphere had settled my excitement, and as my turn to speak arrived, apart from the microphone shaking in my hand, what I felt more than nerves was happiness.
Wrapped in the heart-warming feeling of genuinely engaged faces, I had the most fabulous time connecting with everyone during my presentation.
Our talks were a hit! We were asked some great questions that helped us along beautifully, and then it was time for meeting guests and book-signings!
A beautifully dressed lady shyly approached my book table and said the most touching thing to me.
She thanked me and said,
“It felt like you were telling the story of my life.”
I discovered that she had come to Australia from Uruguay about 20 years ago, and she was very moved to hear that the emotional rollercoaster of her experience was understood and reflected back to her through my words.
This was just one of the meaningful conversations sparked from my two talks last month, at Words on the Waves and at Erina Library.
I continue to learn about the varying emotional reactions women have throughout their experience of making lives in a new country. Although many aspects are shared by nearly everyone, each woman has her own reasons for moving, her own nature affecting her reactions, and her own way of dealing with the surprises that a new culture can throw out.
I always see my role as one of sparking confidence and self-belief, of placing a positive twist on things to uplift and inspire towards becoming the woman you want to be, wherever you are in the world.
So I want to share 4 things I learnt from my conversations with some wonderful immigrants last month, accompanied by 4 messages that I hope will encourage and inspire you.
1. An experience shared can be a moment of profound release and appreciation.
Women often say to me things like, "I was reading the intro in your book, and I felt like you were talking directly to me. After all these years, I finally felt understood." It's said with such profound emotion that I can see just how much they needed to feel understood. It's very touching, for both of us.
Like the blissful release of a pressure that has bubbled deep down for a long time, I see that there is a feeling of being able to breathe fully again.
Hearing these reactions has made me realise that, while we certainly don't want to get stuck in the memories and feelings of past struggles (because that just brings us down in our present moment), celebrating a moment of shared stories can offer a pathway to moving forward with a greater sense of inner freedom.
So now I ask myself, how can I turn this lesson I've learnt into a message that lifts you up, or that gives you a tool or technique to lift yourself up?
Here it is, my take on transforming this observation into something empowering (it's a little long, but it's a goodie) . . .
Message: Understand that the emotions you've felt as you have adjusted to a new culture and created a new life for yourself are reflected in many other women around you who have lived similar experiences.
Know that your story has great value.
And know that you have the power to re-frame any less-than-pleasant experiences, transforming them into firecrackers of celebration . . . celebrating how far you've come and especially how much you've grown.
And that's a fantastic thing to share with others! It's uplifting and inspiring, and allows you to connect with others who have lived similar experiences in truly positive ways.
So remember, sharing your story with others who have experienced similar situations can be very liberating. BUT . . . be sure to also share the ways in which you've grown through it all, because that's where all the power lies.
2. Scripts are really valuable.
I like to come up with powerful things women can say when faced with situations that tend to occur over and over again, such as constant questions about their accents and heritage.
I've also heard about situations where conversational questions can feel too personal. For example, in Australia it's very natural and comfortable to ask and be asked about your children, but I recently had some Russian women explain that in their culture, asking whether or not you have children is extremely personal, to the point of feeling intrusive.
What's it like in your culture? Is asking about children just being friendly or is it uncomfortably personal?
Neither of these cultural reactions is right or wrong, they're simple different, and most people would be unaware that this difference exists.
So what should you do when in an uncomfortable conversation? Should you answer but feel really unhappy doing so? Or should you refuse to answer and come across as cold and defensive?
This is where having a sentence or two prepared in advance can be great for your confidence, allowing you to answer in a way that feels good to you, while guiding the conversation towards other subjects with style.
So I like to design these "scripts" to inspire ideas, and I'm delighted to say that women find them super helpful and actually want to use them.
YAAAAYYYYYYY!! (I'm definitely going to include more of these in my next book!)
Message: Prepare and practice a few great sentences that you can insert into a conversation with confidence and style. Here are a few ideas in my blogpost, https://thechicimmigrant.com/blog-what-to-do-when-you-re-constantly-asked-about-your-background
3. It really is "all about the food".
During a really interesting chat that arose during my author talk at Erina Library, my guests shared stories and anecdotes that had us all laughing and feeling for each other.
At one point I raised a common response that we hear about living in a multicultural society, noting that people love the introduction of all the fabulous new food. I followed the observation by remarking that while the variety of food is wonderful, it's about so much more than food.
At which point, a beautiful Argentinian guest became very emotional, responding, "But it is all about food!"
You see, for her, the preparation and sharing of food from her birth country became the bridge that linked her to all her fabulous feelings of home. It brought connection, flavour, memories, confidence and style to her experience as an immigrant.
It was grounding for her - it was everything - and she felt complete it as she cooked and sold her Argentinian meals at local markets each month.
I had learnt something totally unexpected . . . that it really can be all about the food.
Message: If you feel like a piece of you is missing in your adopted culture, sometimes all you need to do is to make your own bridge - something that links your heritage and your present, like sharing your food or your language - in order to live into the fullness of you.
4. Loving your accent is relevant in more ways than I anticipated.
This point actually came from my Mum!
My Mum, sister and I were having coffee after my library talk. Mum had joined me at my talk, and surprised me when she shared with my sister and I that she really resonated with my encouragement to love your accent.
Aussie born and bred, with English as her one language, she said that she sometimes feels self conscious when around other Aussies who speak in a more eloquent fashion. She said that it made her notice that she spoke with more of an Aussie accent than they did, and she subsequently felt less "intelligent" or less "worldly" or less "travelled".
Oh, Mum . . .
"Love your accent," my sister and I called out in chorus!
I had never considered it this way. I've always encouraged loving your accent as you learn and speak in a new language, but it hadn't occurred to me that the regional or socio-economic accents we grow up with may cause us to feel uncomfortable.
Our accents are a reflection of where we grew up, and as such, represent one of the biggest influences in how we show up in our lives.
Our accents may also reflect places we've travelled to and lived in. Some accents are a real hybrid, a mix of the various countries the speaker has experienced, leaving people guessing what their nationality is. What fun! A little mystery can be enchanting, right?!
But what do you do if your accent within your own country is causing you to feel uncomfortable?
If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable about the accent you have in your own language, you really have two options . . .
1. You can actually choose to change your accent if you want to, if you feel that your regional accent doesn't fit who you are inside. Just practice speaking in a way that feels more like you, and love that!
2. Make a conscious decision to love the accent that you have naturally!
It turns out that this message to love your accent is relevant to everyone!
Message: It's vital for your happiness and sense of self to feel comfortable with who you are. Right now. At this very point in time.
The only way to do that is to simply decide. It's a choice; a life-enhancing choice. To take all the aspects of what makes you you, and choose to embrace them all, including your accent, declaring to yourself with joy . . . Yesss, it's me, it's all me!
Mid-presentation, soooooo fun!
Flying high with Anne after the event!
My lovely husband, Romu, manning the signing table
And so, my friends, I hope you have enjoyed reading about my magical experience and about the lessons learnt. And particularly, I hope that my messages to you have been useful and uplifting.
I can't wait to do more book talks and connect with many more women, to hear their stories, and to continue learning and transforming emotions into powerful sparks of celebration and evolution.
Until next time,