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Staying connected to China while adjusting to life in Australia

Yongyan Xia of Grenfell in NSW recently won Heywire with her story about moving to Australia from China.
Yongyan Xia of Grenfell in NSW recently won Heywire with her story about moving to Australia from China.

ABC: Luke Wong

Student Yongyan Xia lives in regional NSW and recently won the ABC Heywire competition for her story about moving to Australia from China. She shares her experience of trying to adapt to her new home country and learning a new language, without forgetting about her own cultural heritage.

"Ace, mate. Come on!" 

Whenever my little brother plays soccer, that's how he cheers for his teammates. In two years he has gone from not even knowing the 26 letters of the alphabet to having a full Aussie accent. Listening to him now, no-one would realise how hard it can be to learn a foreign language.

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Watch Yongyan Xia talk about her new life in Australia. ABC: Luke Wong

In 2013, I flew to an unknown country for first time to live in a foreign place. Before then, my brother and I stayed in China with my grandparents for about five years, and my parents moved to Grenfell by themselves to start a new restaurant. Grenfell is a nice small town with a very strong Australian cultural background and our restaurant is the only Chinese restaurant in town.

I've lived here for three years. I can still remember the tiring effort of trying to understand the confusing language when I first came. It took me at least two years to be able to communicate with people in very basic English. 

Maybe it was because of my age; I'm a teenager and not as young as my brother. Maybe it is because I wasn't practising the vocabulary enough. Maybe it was because I don't want to lose the only connection between me and where I came from. 

Children find it easier to fit into a brand new environment. However, this change is like a double-edged sword. My brother was able to assimilate into Australian society very easily, but lost our original language at the same time. I always hear him and my older cousin talking fluently in English. 

I ask my cousin: "Can you speak Chinese? We're at home now!" 

"But we are in Australia right now, so we speak English," he says.

"Well we are Chinese people. Of course we speak Chinese."

"But we are Australian citizens now. We are Australian now." 

I was shocked by this conversation and by the cultural barrier within families. It is like a loss of real self, the spirit, the connection to where we came from. 

I hope that one day when we travel to another place and people ask, "Where do you come from?"

We will smile back and reply proudly, "We are from Australia, but we are Chinese".

Heywire is a place for young Australians to share stories, ideas and opinions. Anyone between the ages of 16 and 22 can upload stories to the website, who live outside Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide or Perth. Winning entries get featured on the ABC and winners go to the prestigious Heywire Regional Youth Summit.

You can see Yongyan's original ABC Heywire entry here.