Saturday, 23 April 2016

The tale of two communities of the Nepali diaspora in New Zealand

[Published in the Namaste newsletter of the Nepal New Zealand Friendship Society Canterbury Inc, Christchurch, April 2016]

When I moved to New Zealand ten years ago, the initial days were very much similar and to that of everyone else’s who move to a new country from Nepal in search of a better life.

After seeing no sign of improvements in the then conflicting and sad state of affairs, I left Nepal in September 2010 when the atrocities from both, state and rebel, in the name of People’s War were at one of its peaks.

On arrival at Auckland, it was a humble beginning. I found myself doing those odd minimum pay jobs in call centre, marketing and fast food chains. It continued for almost one year since I arrived in New Zealand. Without going into graphic details, I can testify that during those times I went through hell of being undermined, undervalued and degraded. Those were one of such times which I wish I could forget.

Annoyed that my existing Master’s degree from Europe was not given a toss by the prospective Kiwi employers, I refused to give up my quest to find a footing into a respectable (from my own standard) professional industry. After about a year of arrival to New Zealand, I decided to enrol in another Master's degree at the University of Auckland. The gruelling two and half years of University study was no fun at all. Student life was tough. As a student one’s status is that of a bottom feeder in the economic ecosystem. That is tough stuff but it is what it is. That is how the student life is.

Things started to get better towards the end of my student life in Auckland when I found a part time role in my area of expertise while I was still at the University. A successive role at the local government followed where I continue to  practice policy planning. The role allows me to satisfy my intellectual quest. It also makes it possible to survive and raise a family in this expensive place. I have no regrets; no complains. I could not ask for more.

The salient features of the dream chasers
Recently, since a few years, a significant number of students have started to come to New Zealand from Nepal in the quest of getting settled in New Zealand. Student status is only a means for the majority of those students to obtain a PR.

With this influx of new members of the community, Nepali diaspora population in New Zealand is going through a rapid change that in the scale of the number of existing previous total Nepali population until about 3 years ago is unprecedented. It seems, official statistics is ever so illusive. A good guess is that Nepali population has at least doubled to 5,000 members within the last two to three years period.

The thinking and behaviour of the newly arrived students are astoundingly contrasting in terms of their ability and expectations. Most new-comer students are either in their late teens or early twenties pursuing studies in polytechnics and short-term courses, frankly speaking in faculties that doesn’t sound like having much scope of employment. Those coming for a University degree are rare in number.  Most have no work experience. Nepali work experience is bluntly disregarded by Kiwi employers any way. Majority of the students have arrived here soon after their +2 or a Bachelors degree.

Nepali education institutions and society teaches our young ones almost none of the life skills that are so vital for survival at situation of crisis. Ours is more a culture of dependency and attachment. Dependency on parents until one reaches old age is the usual norm. For example, most of our teenagers would continue to look towards their parents even for small amounts of pocket money and almost none would have basic skills such as cooking food.

Attachment in the name of family bond and culture, unfortunately, most of the times hinders one’s otherwise opportunity of independence and quest for freedom to lead life by oneself. The challenge to face what it means to be like taking self-responsibility is never offered. The opportunity for learnings in life that could have been installed and developed by leading a young life by oneself is seldom presented.

These are highly judgemental statements and they are my personal thoughts grossly generalised without any even distant resemblance to a true case.

They may not have even basic skills and tools to survive but our students come with big dreams. For our students, these big dreams without any leg to stand on soon turn into unrealistic expectations buried under huge financial burden and psychological trauma involved with paying exorbitant school fees, high living cost and survival in a foreign land. For majority, coming to a foreign country has been possible only via a loan at very high interest rate obtained either through putting collateral of one’s parents’ savings or only by risking losing one’s generational inheritance. There is a huge financial gamble there and a strong element of potential conflict.

The unfortunate case of  passive aggressiveness
It seems a few (let’s be absolutely clear here, not many but only a few) of our students seem to turn towards people like me who have lived here for a while as a target for release of this stress. I am not sure if this is deliberate or naivety but the expression of passive aggressiveness is hard to ignore.

I have all the respect to their courage and readiness to do hard work but attitude of some of the students are hardly acceptable by any standard. The sense of entitlement is astoundingly bizarre. For example, the expectation (almost coercion to a certain degree)  that community organisations and residents (who have well settled here) must look after them. “nagari huncha?; naheri huncha?” We need to be very clear here that it is a personal decision that everyone makes when one leaves home country. The reality is that almost all the students who arrive in New Zealand for further studies are all adults of 18+ years, the age that is considered fit to live by oneself according to the international norms.

My observation tells me that it is the lack of self-responsibility that is the root cause of such passive aggressiveness. We make decision for ourselves and we take responsibility for the outcome - better as well as worse. Turning into someone who has nothing to do with our decision is literally, for me, madness.

Where to from here?
Having said all these, one thing is clear as sunshine. The dynamics of Nepali population in New Zealand has changed and is evolving faster. The scale and shift in dynamics is unpredictable. There is a huge gap between the newly arrived members and those previously arrived and settled well. Continuation of this divide cannot be healthy.

Something has to be done to address this new and unusual situation.

I have personally been involved in a few albeit very small initiatives over a year or so to address the above-mentioned gap. I have no shame to admit that, unfortunately, most of those initiatives I have been engaged were limited to talking more with very limited substance or real relief to the needy new-comers.

In whatever time I manage to find after my own full time job, family affairs and other community work, I do think of the newly arrived students. I am actually very worried about them and the trouble they are having to go through. Up to the extent that I find it annoying and I have spent sleepless nights thinking of what could be done to provide some respite.

Those who know me might recall that in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, despite repeated request to be involved in generating fund for organisations based in Nepal, I refrained from doing so. I rather decided to focus on providing respite to the affected students based in New Zealand with a focus on those based in Auckland. I could not do everything for everybody but I am aware that I did something under the given circumstances.

Purely based on my personal observation I consider the points below as some initiatives that may be helpful to bridge the gap between the new and the old as well as to provide some respite to the newly arrived members of our community.

  1. A mechanism of conversation between the new and the old is imperative. We need to start to talk to each other. Dialogue is the only available means to find a solution to a dispute or misunderstanding between two sides. The old members of the community have to be accommodative of the newer ones. The newer ones would have to be less aggressive in their approach and start conversation in a more constructive tone. Aggressiveness breeds resistance; ignorance widens division. At the end of the day united, we as a Nepali community stand here in New Zealand. Divided, we fall at our own peril.

  1. The existing community organisations in the various geographical locations were established for a purpose that was fit when they came into effect about 10 or so years ago. Their purpose mainly revolved around keeping Nepali culture alive in foreign land and a means to gather to celebrate cultural festivals and to organise social events. Time has moved on. We are in a new demographic dynamics now as described above. The time has arrived for the leaders to rethink the purpose of their community organisations. For me, the new developments are indicating that the organisations have to now gradually  transform themselves to accommodate and address issues faced by our new members of the community. Or else we will face complex problems down the line of either having multiple organisations with competitive (and maybe conflicting too)  interests. Worst case, young people having energy and creativity will drive newer organisations with passion and vigour. While the old ones might risk disappearing into oblivion. Adaptation and survival of the fittest are proven old lessons from the nature. It applies to organisational behaviour too.

  1. We have to stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Rather, we as a Nepali diaspora, need to acknowledge that there are issues at both ends (with the new as well as the old) related to the newly arrived students. Once we acknowledge, it will be easier for us to start seeking solutions rather than getting bogged down with replaying the problems again and again in our head.

All of us who have arrived in New Zealand from Nepal have taken a big risk and gambled with our lives. Not all of us are going to be equally lucky. That is the reality of life. However, my own experience of a decade  and observation tells me that if you stick to the right side of life and keep working hard, the system here will rewards you with a satisfactory outcome. Try to be oversmart and take the path of short-cut, you risk being deported back to where you came from.

Progress in a migrant’s life is a function of many complex factors and events. That is true anywhere for anyone. Let us have no doubt that we have to build our own lives. No one is going to do it for us. It does not work that way. Someone may be your guide or mentor but he or she cannot and should not do your work for you. It is your own responsibility to construct your life, one piece at a time. Slowly and gradually, if you persevere and remain positive, you will get there.

Think of this. The first week you arrived in New Zealand and now. How is the difference? Things are improving, aren’t they? They will. They have to. As long as you want so. Now, if you don’t want it, that is a completely different matter.   

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