Elzbieta learnt that her Polish accent did not define her but she did have three crucial lessons to learn.
I am in my late fifties and Chief Technician at the University of Western Australia and the Chair of Technet W.A.
In 1983 I immigrated to Australia from Poland. I was 33 years old and I had come to join my husband who had already been here 2 years. I had with me our 4 year old daughter. English was not my first language and initially I found life in Australia difficult. However, I tried hard to learn the language and fit into my new country.
In 1985 we went on our first family holiday, down to Nornalup and Denmark in the south-west of Western Australia. Whilst there, we met a European gentleman. English was not his first language either, but during WW2 he had worked as an interpreter and translator from his native language to English and vice versa, so obviously his English language skills were much better than mine at the time!
Anyway, upon hearing my accent, he asked the inevitable, innocent question that I get asked very often: “Where are you from?"
This question used to cause me much annoyance and distress. I wanted very much to fit in and felt that I never could, because no matter how good my English, I was never going to lose my accent, so I was always going to be viewed as an outsider. This really affected my self-confidence.
However, after being asked this question by this gentleman I reached a turning point. I made a conscious decision to stop taking things personally. I realised that people were just trying to make conversation with me and trying to get to know me, and were not trying to isolate me.
I realised that my accent does not define me; instead, my language is a means to what I have to say, to what I believe, to my values. Now the question no longer annoys me – I just tell people that I’m from Perth, Western Australia!
I was not born a confident person. My upbringing did not do a lot to help my self-confidence either. I was born into a very loving family but there was a strong focus on good behavior, good manners, appropriate conduct, well chosen words and not allowing strong emotions to be shown to the outside world.
I’m a strong introvert and I often avoided giving people straight answers or opinions as I was concerned for their feelings and how they would perceive me.
I’ve learned my second lesson from one of my daughters: it is better to give straight answers, articulate your feelings, let others know if there is something wrong and if you disagree with their opinion, etc. By avoiding giving difficult answers I was being nice to others but I was not comfortable with myself.
It is important to me that others know my values, and I have learnt to express them and accept that they are not necessarily another person’s values, but that this is OK!
Many people see me as a confident person. This used to surprise me because deep inside me I don’t always feel confident. I often have doubts and I regularly question myself. However, I have learnt that this is OK and that everyone else feels the same inside, so now I don’t avoid the difficult questions or situations anymore!
What is very important to me are my loved ones and my family. I value their trust and support and the security they give me. I also value their frequent criticism of “Nothing is ever good enough for you!” – this is my "red light" signal that I need to consider a compromise! This brings me to my third lesson: to be confident to compromise.
Being confident has meant I'm now able to pursue tasks that I never dreamt about before and I get a lot of personal satisfaction from this. When I look back at a lot of the decisions I made and risks I took, a lot of them were like a jump into water without checking the depth first. In retrospect not all the jumps were successful but at least I tried them!
I have no regrets.
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