Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Australia? In our “Jamaicans to the World” series, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy speaks with Samantha-Kaye Johnston. She is a Jamaican that lives in Australia.
Xavier: What is it like being Jamaican in Australia? I’m Xavier Murphy, founder of Jamaicans.com. Today, on Jamaicans to the world, we’re going to talk to Samantha Kay Johnson, who is living in Western Australia. Hi, Samantha. How are you?
Samantha: Hi Xavier, I’m doing good, Thanks for having me,
Xavier: Good, Good, Good. Great coming on. I know, the time zone…, we are what probably… What is it 14 hours?
Samantha: Fourteen hours. It’s almost nine o’clock here, but that’s alright, I am a night owl, you can ask anybody, I’m always up in the night.
Xavier: And I’m more of a morning owl, it hits 10 o’clock, I’m ready to go to bed.
Samantha: I do my best work at night to the point where sometimes I’m in discussions with my boss to say, look, let’s try to reverse the workday for me and they’ve agreed. So it works well.
Xavier: Wow, that’s great. Which paat a Jamaica yuh fram? (Which part of Jamaica are you from?)
Samantha: So, originally from Sandy Bay, Hanover. I grew up in Hanover, lived there for most of my life. And then when I was about 18 or 19, there about I went to study Psychology for my undergraduate degree at UWI, and that was a beautiful experience. I made a lot of friends and a lot of good experiences. I lived in Kingston during those years on hall, on Rex Nettleford Hall. And immediately following UWI, I worked in a call center; I worked at Digicel and let’s just say it was a very interesting experience. It was a character building experience for me. I would like to say character building, I remember I had a conversation with my friend and I said, it’s so hard, it’s just really hard because in my case, I’m aspiring to do research and applying to different universities. And my friend said to me, just remember that it’s a character building experience; it’s never a bad day.
Xavier: Well, that’s great, that’s a great outlook on things. Question, how did you end up in Australia?
Samantha: That’s a very long story. I’ll try to be short. Following from the story at Digicel; I knew, I wanted to pursue my Ph.D studies and that was really the goal for me. But before doing that, I think I was confused by the Australian system. The reason why I say that was because immediately following UWI a three-year program in psychology, I immediately applied directly to a Ph.D. program here in Australia but little did I know the educational systems are a bit different. So here in Australia, usually when students do a four-year degree, which is an undergraduate degree, they can matriculate straight into a Ph.D. program. Whereas in Jamaica, we do have four year programs but the majority are three year programs. And I did a three year program. So they explained that to me, and they said that, you need to probably do a fourth year or in this case, a Master’s. And so I ended up in England, doing a master’s in education, and then reapply to the university in Australia. Actually, I was meant to go to Netherlands, but the package in Australia was a bit more attractive. And so I chose to study here. I studied at Curtin University. I had an absolutely great time I had great supervisors. I actually had contacted my supervisor back in 2012 when I initially planned to come to Australia. I contacted him couple years later and I explained the situation and he said, yes, I’m very happy to be your supervisor and the rest is history. So I’ve been here for five years. April of this year, makes it five years, five and a half years there about.
Xavier: Wow! You seem to totally enjoy it there and you have gotten married there.
Samantha: Yes to beautiful Matthew Johnston. I always joke with him because, I always said to him that I came to Australia to mine my business and then leave to go back to Europe because I wanted to go to Netherlands… and we eventually went to the center together years after. I met him when we were in church and we had our bible study group and so this is where we met and then introduced to our respective families and yes, the rest is history and we’re married.
Xavier: Well, yuh tek im (you take him) to Jamaica yet.
Samantha: Yes, we actually got married in Jamaica, so he claimed that he lived in Jamaica, but I said that he didn’t live in Jamaica. Just because he was here for about two months before the wedding. So I said, you never lived in Jamaica before, so yes, he was there. And his family came over for the wedding as well. It was interesting, because his grandmother, I think his grandmother is 84. I don’t remember but she wanted to come to the wedding. But we weren’t sure that she was coming and the moment when I was about to walk down the aisle, she turned up, nobody knew she was coming. She traveled to Jamaica, from Sydney, because Matthew is originally from Sydney. She traveled from Sydney and she turned up right on time and nobody knew that she was coming.
It was just a very funny story how she arrived there, because she went to the travel agent and they said to her, are you sure you want to go to Jamaica? Because usually, the travel agents have to advise that, you know, the crime rate…, and she just said, yes, definitely, my grandson is getting married so please book the ticket. She was in America and the plane was delayed and what happened was that they put her in a hotel because it wasn’t her fault. They woke her up about midnight, saying that we have a flight, we can bring you to Jamaica. And when she turned up, she was the only one on the plane. She had a very interesting experience, but she made it and she made it right on time. So it was good having her there and she’s so funny, she’s hilarious. She told us the day after the wedding, she went around Kingston with Winston. So we’re thinking who is Winston. Winston was apparently a taxi driver that she met. Thank heavens that everything went well. They came over to Jamaica.
Xavier: Shi mek fren (She made a friend)
Samantha: Shi mek fren (She made a friend)
Xavier: What would you say you love about Australia? What do you love about it?
Samantha: Many things. The first time I came to Australia, I was living on the university accommodation. And I remember one of my friends…., She’s my friend now, Tegan and she knocked on my door; she’s Australian and she said to me, welcome to the family. And for me, that was just a welcoming experience, a heartwarming experience and I really felt a part of the family. I came around winter…, well it was winter now that I think about it. Around Easter time and she invited me to her family home, and then later on in the year, we had Christmas dinner together, we traveled to Asia together. It’s just the welcoming nature of the Australian culture so they’re very down to earth. If you’re at a bus stop, somebody will just talk to you as if they know you for a very long time so I think it just makes you fit in.
Xavier: Good. What do you like the least?
Samantha: It’s hard for me to answer the least because I usually get settled easily wherever I am. But then funnily, some of my friends when we talk on WhatsApp, they will oftentimes; joke with me and say Australia is very dangerous and maybe this is what they think that I like the least because we have snakes, spiders but I’ve gotten used to those things. I think for me what I like the least is the fact that I cannot find a proper hairdresser and that’s really special to me, because I have locked here as well. So usually, you know you have persons from Africa who can put extensions in but doing the locked hair is a very special technique. But over the years I’ve gotten used to doing it myself. So over the years I’ve picked up a skill, but not to the point where I can open my own hairdresser but just doing it for myself. I think that’s what I really, really like that lease just not having the access to my own hairdresser that I usually have in Jamaica.
Xavier: I hear you and that’s a good point in terms of when you are kind of in a totally different culture. Really good point. On that point, let me ask about food. Do you get some of your Jamaican food there…, because you mentioned there are African and I know in some places there are at least African stores that you can go and stuff… What about food? Do you find any of your Jamaican foods there?
Samantha: Yes, you can and you’re right in saying that you will find a majority of these food items and African shops. I haven’t really come across a Jamaican food shop in particular. Most of the items that we get for example are from the Asian store, so you can get like salt fish or cod fish from the Asian stores. They call it Bacaloa, in their country. But apart from that you can get the tinned ackee. Here we make red peas soup but here they don’t call it red peas they call it kidney beans, you have to go to the store and ask for kidney beans. What else can you get? Pretty much really if you just look around and shop, you can find the items that you need. But what we’ve been doing lately is trying to diversify our cooking. So just trying, non-Jamaican dishes, trying new things and especially during this pandemic, they have recipes all over where you find five ingredients meals, and so, but it’s good or what you do is get somebody from Jamaica to bring the stuff for you.
Xavier: Well, that is always a good thing.
Samantha: It’s problematic though because Australia is really strict on bringing in foods, they practically don’t like that so only some items we can get through.
Xavier: But I’m sure you get your mangoes, not your Jamaican mangoes, but I’m sure you get mangoes, right?
Samantha: You know in Jamaica, mangoes, they were not my favorite fruit but now they are. So everybody in Australia associates me with mango. So if you’re buying me a gift, they buy me food and its mango. We don’t get the real Jamaican mango and the way how they do it here, it’s so odd to me. Because I was just so shocked because you have the mango and you eat the mango in your hand but they cut the mango open and slice it and there’s a particular way to do it while I’m there on the other hand, looking odd eating mango, the Jamaican way.
Xavier: So my next question is this one, and maybe you just kind of gave us a clue to this, the way you eat the mango. You living in this country, where there’s not a lot of Jamaicans and an Australia or somebody may have come up to you and realized you’re Jamaican. So what’s that funny, Jamaican moment when somebody realized that hey that person is Jamaican, it may be a question they asked, it may be something they said, tell me what’s that funny Jamaican moment?
Samantha: I have many of them, I think I am going to just share a few of them. It’s funny to me, but it’s sort of cliché because it has to do with Bob Marley. But then the story took a lot of turns. So one day I was walking and a group of tourists from, I think they’re either from Japan or China. I don’t remember what country, but I remember there was a language barrier. They apparently were talking amongst themselves and apparently they associated of course Bob Marley with me, especially because I had the locked hair so I was there, watching them because I knew it was coming, I’m used to it but I didn’t know what spin it would take this time. And they walked up to me and showed me their phone and said, yes you are related. And I was trying to explain to them that no, I’m not related to Bob Marley. I don’t even know him. And they were very adamant and they asked if they can touch my hair and asked if they can take pictures with me. So they started and I just gave in, I just… why not let them just enjoy the experience. So they started taking pictures, and then other people started. It was like a group of tourist so they started lining up to take pictures and I was there standing for a good time. I know my picture is probably out there somewhere on the internet, that was very, very funny to me.
Xavier: You’re like a star!!
Samantha: for that one day!!
Xavier: What was the biggest adjustment you had to make, moving to Australia? What do you think is your one biggest adjustment you had to make?
Samantha: I think, maybe for me was the language, even now. When I say the language, I mean, the Australian ascent, the official language is English, but there’s a very thick accent, especially when you get to the, what they call the Outback, or as we would say, in Jamaica, maybe the rural areas. And sometimes, even now, even though I’m living here and I’m married to an Australian. Well, Matthew has a very…, his Australian accent is refined to me, because he’s from Sydney. But when you get into the Outback, it’s very hard to understand. Some people they do speak like that on a regular basis. You have to ask them to keep on repeating. And it’s not only the accent, but even the words I’m still trying to figure out the words that they use. So for example, Australian shorten everything, so for example, they would say, ‘afternoon’ would be ‘arvo’ in Australian, and they would call ‘chicken’, ‘chook’, they would call ‘barbecue’, which is popular here, ‘barbie’, they call the ‘toilet’ ‘dunny’ they say ‘she’ll be apple’, which means ‘you’ll be alright’, they have ‘defo’ with a ‘F’ which means ‘definitely’ not to be confused with ‘devo’ which means ‘devastated’ and they say things like ‘yous’, which means a plural for ‘you’, even though that’s not grammatically correct and when you’re on the road driving, they’ll say, just do a ‘ue’ which means a U- turn.
Xavier: That one sounds like something we would say in Jamaica; do a ‘ue’.
Samantha: It’s not only the accent but the accent mix with the common lingo here.
Xavier: Okay. Well, I think it sounds like they have another language they speak based on what you’re saying. It’s like a totally other language and its fun. I know, there are indigenous people there in Australia, what’s that like? I know, you’ve probably encountered them, hear stories, anything interesting to tell us about the indigenous people in Australia?
Samantha: Well, in terms of the indigenous, I’ve only really encountered them on the bus. Unfortunately, there is still not a large indigenous population within the university setting. And even though they’re offered scholarships, in my opinion, there is still a lot more work to be done in terms of integrating them into the university setting. I did have an indigenous student in my class though, and this is how I got to know a lot about the culture. He’s actually a lecturer at Curtin University. I teach at Curtin, and he wanted to study psychology, and so he would invite me to what they call a Yarning Session, which is…, Just imagine a focus group; you’re sitting in a circle, but it is a bit more informal. They call it Yarning. He invited me and it was through there, you learnt about their different languages also different approaches to wellbeing, and different ways of speaking. So rather than saying things like, “Oh! I’m going left or turn left”, they would say, maybe “north, north”, “west or north”, “north east”. So they’re very good in that regard. I’m still learning a lot about their culture because in my line of work, what we do is to develop an online learning platform specifically for students. And so in keeping with the idea that we want to ensure that the experience is as individualized and as personalized as possible. We want to incorporate a greater consideration for how children from indigenous background learn.
Xavier: Okay. So I have a two part question; favorite food from Australia and favorite place? Some somewhere, where you’d say, if I came to Australia, you say, Xavier you got to check this place out.
Samantha: I don’t think you are going to like my answer for that one. Maybe I’ll just start with that one. I would just say the favorite, maybe it’s just my favorite place, is just going to the bush, and it sounds odd, but going to the bush and doing things like camping, and moving to Australia, I think you get a better appreciation of nature. But usually when I tell my mother these things, she said, ‘you going to the bush, that don’t sound good’. But it is a good experience. They have a lot of hiking trails, and I think just the scenery, the beautiful scenery in Australia but this is more up north. So anywhere really up north, they have the Pinnacles. They have places like Gerald Todd, so anywhere up north, that’s where I would take you to and that’s where I would recommend, but definitely the number one would be, just being in nature.
Xavier: I know Australia and New Zealand, a lot of films are…, they come over there and because of the scenes they film there. you’re not…, saying the bush, you may not be too far off.
Samantha: Maybe I am using the bush, maybe I need to be a little bit more posh, but this is what Australians, would say; they are going to take you to the bush.
Xavier: What about your favorite food?
Samantha: If I’m honest, Australia is not known for its cuisine really and this is just to my knowledge. But, many people would probably think maybe I would eat kangaroo. I have, my mother- in- law did cook it once for me, but I don’t like the texture of the kangaroo. It’s a bit too chewy. For me it’s just odd to be eating a kangaroo. I said I would try just to say…. I don’t like to say, I don’t like something without doing it and I have done it and I don’t enjoy it but perhaps you would. So if you do come to Australia, I would suggest you try it. But I do like the diversity of the Australian culture. We have different types of cuisine and what I particularly like, is the curry and the barbecue.
Xavier: So my final question, actually, I got one more. What do you miss the most about Jamaica?
Samantha: I miss my family but I’ve been away from Jamaica for quite some time. So I’ve gotten used to that and plus, we’re in the age of technology. So I’m used to talking to them through technology. For me, I think what I miss the most is just having access to authentically Jamaican food and I don’t mean the food, you can cook at home, but you just want to go out sometime and you just buy the food. And I miss things that you can’t get here like guinep. In Jamaica, guinep is just my favorite and you cannot get guinep here. And the last time I had guinep was probably in 2013. That’s the last time I had guineps, because I’ve never been to Jamaica during the guinep season since then. I have been to Jamaica January. This year was my opportunity to have guinep, because I was coming to Jamaica in July, but that didn’t work out. Honestly we have been working on another way to try to get it here but again, I told you that Australia is very strict on incoming food so maybe I’ll just have to wait until next year.
Xavier: My final question is; what advice would you give a Jamaican or anyone that is moving to Australia?
Samantha: Well, on the funnier side of things, when they come here, maybe this is just my perception maybe it’s just me, but I thought, when I came here that I would just basically see kangaroos jumping around; that’s not the case. People do ask me that and they actually have a fear because they’re thinking how am I going to operate with walking on the road and seeing the kangaroos. That doesn’t happen here in the city at least. But when you go into the bush, or in the more rural areas, you can see the kangaroos. I must tell you maybe Australians will be upset with me, but I must tell people coming to Australia. They always do this to international people; they tell international people that they should walk around and look up in the trees because they are dropped bears here, meaning a bear is going to drop on you. There is no such thing. That’s just a myth or a joke for international students. On a more serious note, though, it depends on the reason why you’re coming to Australia. So for example I came for educational purposes. Because the cost of living in Australia is really high, I would suggest, if you’re coming to study, try to obtain a scholarship. Australia has many scholarships for international students. In particular, there is an Australian Postgraduate award, or the Endeavor Award that’s awarded to specifically international students, but the local universities, they do have scholarship packages for students. So I would recommend taking advantage of that. And just researching the best university.
I went to Curtin. So I’m only able to speak with confidence about the experience there. I’ve heard that the other universities are equally good but I wouldn’t be speaking from a place of knowledge; do your own research, but I can vouch for Curtin University. If you’re coming for work purposes, that’s also important as well but I would suggest an easy transition here is to look at the list that Australia currently … they have a list with the top, maybe 100, and maybe top 50; they call it a skilled migration list. So if you’re wanting to migrate here, you look at that list, and you determine whether or not one of your occupation fits within that list because you’re more likely to receive a visa, but even if you don’t want to move here, and you just want to come for working opportunities, it would still be useful to look at the list because at least you would know, the skilled occupations that Australia is currently seeking.
Xavier: Well, Samantha Kay, thank you for staying up with us. And I wish you all the success in the world. You and I will see each other online like we typically do, and I hope you get your guinep. I hope whatever event you’re going to Jamaica, do guinep season so that you can get your guineps.
Samantha: I’m sure Jamaicans are watching now; I’m making this public service announcement that we can get into a deal of how I am going to get the guineps. Feel free to reach out to me.
Xavier: Thanks again for joining us and you have a great day and blessings to your family.
Samantha: Thank you so much Xavier, same to you.
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