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Australian dream: Not all about money or leaving the system

In 1996, when I was selected to study medicine in Myanmar, people congratulated and advised me to work hard and serve the country well. It gave me a sense of pride and responsibility. I trained well, came back, and did my best. Then in 2006, I went to Sri Lanka for my specialisation. Still, people congratulated me and conveyed the same message. It heightened my sense of responsibility to work harder. I did my best.

However, when I came to Australia for my PhD in 2015, hardly anyone encouraged me to study well and come back to serve the country. Perceptions were completely different. Most encouragements were to work hard and make enough money for a lifetime and as far as possible not to come back. I could only feel envy and suspicion from people. Envy, because I was heading to the land of dreams, and suspicion because I might be seeking greener pastures and not coming back to Bhutan. Instead of encouragement such perceptions put you under pressure and guilt. Pressure, because you are expected to bring back ‘enough money for a lifetime’, and guilt because it appeared to everyone that you are not coming back to serve the country, that the government’s investment would be wasted.

In Bhutan, we talk as if everyone is given a dollar tree the day you arrive in Australia and you could start picking dollars the next day. Hopes and demands from home start pouring in even before you settle down in the new place. Even a facebook status of a Bhutanese in Australia on being ‘busy and tired’ is usually followed by comments indicating to be due to dollar minting jobs rather than academic assignments and exams.  Our society is used to judging the achievements of Australian returnees mostly on the financial benefits rather than academic achievements. In that line, my PhD would be assessed by the car I buy and the number of apartments I own, not by the contributions in research and medical knowledge. Job opportunities come with difficulty and the ability to take up jobs vary. Initially almost everyone struggles, especially private candidates. Every cent comes through the hard work you put in. Having been here for over two years now, I have friends wanting to know the number of apartments I have purchased and whether I have already applied for Australian permanent residency. There is a constant encouragement to stay back to avoid ‘frustrations’ with the system back in Bhutan if not for a better future of my children. Unfortunately or fortunately, I have neither worked hard to make enough money for a lifetime, nor have I any intention to stay as of now. I have more reasons to return home than excuses to stay back. Of course, I fully understand that staying back would make me financially better, but it does not guarantee a happier life. I am aware that back home, at some point, I may be frustrated, broke and even regretful, but I am sure I will be happier where I belong. Being frustrated and broke are nothing new but you carry on. Probably I have not been frustrated enough yet or have got used to it. As for children’s future, things will take its own course as it did for me.

A colleague in my research laboratory constantly encourages me to stay back and take the opportunities with my medical background and a PhD (yet to obtain). He was surprised at my determination to go back and jokingly asked if the King has called me back to be the Prime Minister or Health Minister. He has stopped after I answered; “No, the King has not called me back to be the PM or Health Minister. Any Bhutanese with a bachelor’s degree could become a PM or a Health Minister, but as of today I am the only person in Bhutan qualified to practise as a Clinical Microbiologist. I will be more useful to Bhutan than Australia”.

I don’t mean to be boastful or sound irreplaceable. There are many ‘only’ professionals in our system but no matter who we are, everybody can be replaced albeit at the cost of time and money. Looking at the current trend, our government will take ages to have the required qualified people. After training some do not return or return to wait for the completion of the training obligations to leave again. I genuinely appreciate and encourage those people who, through their own capabilities, find their ways and get better opportunities outside. I have my regard, respects and good wishes for them. Nonetheless, when someone has been built and moulded by their agencies to meet specific requirements but eventually leave, there is a lot to think about. The increasing vacuum between the very senior and very junior levels left by the qualified and experienced mid-level officials leaving the system should be worrying to the government of the day. The RCSC by itself cannot do much.

By these thoughts I do not mean to discourage or demean anyone who has opted to stay back. We have to follow our heart and let destiny decide. I envy their willpower and courage to take new challenges and wish them the best. There are many who are professionally employed and are doing well. Bhutan has just started experiencing what other countries have gone through already – immigration and emigration are part and parcel of a developmental process. We will see more such cases that serve well to the individuals and the country in the long run. People have their own reasons – unemployment, job insecurity, diminishing opportunities, financial stress with increasing cost of living at home and better opportunities, job satisfaction and children’s education outside, although a few may just be getting used to the conveniences of living in a developed country or simply driven by destiny. However, everything comes with sacrifices, sacrifices as simple but meaningful as missing a family picnic at Dochula to separation from ageing parents, growing children and postponing or cancelling other plans in life. In many cases, behind the happy photos on beaches with barbeque and wine on facebook, there may be a mentally stressed, physically tired and homesick individual. Whatever said and done, people should make the best of it because they have fulfilled their Australian dream, the dream that many Bhutanese have for themselves or for their children.

Whatsoever, it is not always about money or leaving the system when one decides to go to Australia. A lot of people have and will always come genuinely for academic enrichment although earning some extra money comes with it. Of course, I wouldn’t be wrong to say that almost everybody must be returning a little richer than they would have been in Bhutan, but everyone may not be making ‘enough money for a lifetime’, because people are all different, different by background, abilities and priorities, wants and desires. Therefore, the general opinion that everything is about money when you come to Australia should be softened down a bit and people should not look upon everyone coming down-under as returning millionaires or potential emigrants. Anyway, how much money is ‘enough money for a lifetime’?

 Contributed by

Dr Tshokey

PhD student, Australia

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