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Mai feeling ‘at home’ in Cabramatta

By Fiona West | June 14, 2023

As a 20-year-old newlywed, Vietnamese-born Mai and her husband moved to Ukraine to start a new life in a new country. The couple established themselves in this “beautiful and peaceful place”, learning the language and customs, welcoming a daughter into their family and enjoying a good life, that included study, work and a healthy social network.

But more than three decades after settling in Ukraine, Mai found herself on the move again, this time through no choice of her own. And far from the excitement of her last migration, she said being forced out of a country by war was devastating.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Mai, her husband and daughter were living in the “epicentre” of the conflict, and were among millions of refugees forced to flee their homes to foreign countries. Mai didn’t know what to expect and was scared for the family’s future in Australia.

But when she arrived in Cabramatta – home to Australia’s largest Vietnamese population – she realised everything would be OK.

“I was so surprised,” Mai said, through bilingual assistance of NSF Pathway Guidance Advisor Huong Dang.

“I was happy to see so many Vietnamese people here. In Ukraine there are a lot of Vietnamese people, but they are spread around the country. Here so many – I felt at home.”

At 22, Mai’s daughter is a similar age to what she was when she moved to Ukraine. And with good English and a medical degree behind her, her future looks bright.

“She was working as a doctor in Ukraine and is now taking the preparation course to be a doctor in Australia,” Huong said.

“Her English is good but, for me and my husband, we didn’t speak any English, which is why we came to Navitas.”

Photo courtesy of Floyd Street, Flickr

The couple enrolled in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP)* at Cabramatta College. Here they not only started to learn English, but also made many friends, which helped with their settlement and also led to work opportunities.

Mai, who worked in a textile factory in Ukraine, was introduced to an agency through her classmates, which hired her as an individual support worker. She said this mostly involved caring for elderly people, showering, feeding, cleaning and taking them out for walks.

Her husband, who was a skilled welder before going on to open two clothing shops in Ukraine, is now working in a food processing plant.

“To be honest, moving to an unknown country is terrifying,” Mai said. “Thankfully we have no regrets choosing Australia as our new home.

“We are treated the same way Australian residents are. We got great support from people coming here. I have a house to live in, I can study for free and I got a job! I am very happy living here.”

“I’m now trying to improve my English as my priority. I am so thankful I can do this while working full time, and paying taxes to somehow make contribution to Commonwealth of Australia.”

Mai attends AMEP classes at Cabramatta on Saturdays and her husband attends an evening class.

Photo of Cabramatta, courtesy of Owen Prior, Flickr

“We are very lucky,” Mai said.

“I have a lot of friends and family members in Ukraine now. I am too worried about them, every day. We keep in contact very often to make sure nothing happens to them.

“I’m very grateful to Australian Government and Navitas Skilled Futures particularly for giving us an opportunity to live life to the fullest.”

*The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) is funded by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs

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