Nepali students in Australia are vulnerable and are undergoing harshest of physical work, financial crisis, academic pressure and mental stress
I’ve spent more than half my life living away from Nepal. Although my experience of family dynamics in Nepal was very limited at the time when I left Nepal, I’ve learnt so much of the volatility of the culture-drenched family dynamics of Nepali people living abroad mostly through my line of work and through friends and relatives.
In seven years that I have facilitated and taught university students in Sydney, I have only recently had the opportunity to mentor Nepali students. As an integral part of the curriculum, all students undertaking Bachelors of Nursing or Fast-track Masters in Nursing degrees in Australia have to partake in compulsory training placements in different hospitals/clinical settings in order to pass their skill competencies and complete their degree. During these hospital training (clinical placements), as part of my role in the university, I spend time with students, facilitate their learning process, get to ascertain their strengths and shortcomings, encourage, teach and reinforce critical thinking and assess their skills to confirm whether they can pass and move forward to next level or not.
It was during these trainings that I recently got an opportunity to train Nepali nurses. The stories of their life and struggle in Australia made me realize how hard it is for so many migrants particularly of Asian background to not just thrive in new country, but also to continue bearing the outcome of their traditional influences which puts them under immense mental, financial and emotional stress in a new context.
In some instances, I only got to find out about their drudgery. Some of them collapsed at training, some discontinued, and some failed or struggled to continue. During these interactions, I learnt so much about their tribulations which not just broke my heart, but also made me realize how limited access to proper help these people have in a foreign land.
Stories of woes
“My parents don’t want me to return home, they say neighbors’ kids have sent more money from the Gulf countries than I have. I’m struggling even to pay university fees and rent here. I’m wondering about my next pay check and surviving pay check to pay check. I might go insane at this rate”, said one.
“I’m the main income earner. I’m also the one who is studying so residency is dependent on my performance at exams, assessments, training and assignments. Yet my spouse’s and in-laws expect me to cook, clean, work more and don’t care about my university study load”, said another.
“I went home for summer break after two years being extremely homesick. Only questions I got asked was how much gifts and money I had brought with me. I didn’t feel like my parents loved me for who I was. They loved me because I was their free ATM. I felt mentally sick. So much pressure,” reiterated yet another.
“I had a baby recently and I couldn’t afford to bring anyone from home to help with baby. My spouse had to go to work to support us financially. I suffered post-natal depression. My in-laws say I’m a drama queen. They don’t know how we are surviving here.”
These are just some snapshots of the larger picture of how grim the situation really is. These people are vulnerable and trying to fit into both worlds undergoing harshest of physical work, financial crisis, academic pressure and mental stress. It’s straining the mental stability of young and middle-aged Nepalis.
What I found even more precarious was things that I experienced more than a decade ago and lack of support and information that set me back all those years ago still looms large in Nepali community despite the Diaspora expanding and support networks mushrooming.
During these unpaid clinical placements, each student has to work eight hours shift per day, replicating shifts of a Registered Nurse and achieve various competency skills by passing their assessments according to their level of year in the course.
You can imagine the financial crunch an international student faces when s/he has to give up their paid employment for certain number of weeks at a stretch whilst attending these placements, if they can afford to take leave. However, vast majority of these migrant students do work either before or after their placements which means they do double shifts each day for weeks or months without a break—up to two months of non-stop double shift work just to survive in Australia.
Some say it’s for their fees, some say it’s for their parents back home, some say it’s to save for future homes, some say it’s for their kids’ private school fees. Regardless of what their reasons are, it’s inhumane to have to go through these ordeals on a daily basis on top of housework, spousal responsibilities and duties, especially for female students.
More often, things get so dire that I’ve had to refer some students to counseling or to mental health first aid training because they were so vulnerable that their future in the land of opportunities was just restricted to being a source of residency and permanent slavery.
I’ve had students falling sick at placements or in the lecture halls because of extreme exhaustion yet unable to afford absence from their curriculum. Depression is a subsequent outcome that keeps resurfacing without being addressed. These students are doing it tough, putting their mental health at risk in the long run.
What we have to remember in all these cases is that depression and mental health is alarmingly rising among Nepali people living abroad. They are not easily opening up about these crippling issues which affect their daily lives. So many suicide cases among Nepali community have been recently reported. This is only a fractional representation of what is happening behind the façade they are forced to put up with. I only got to learn of these grave issues either because I was directly involved in responding to occupational health and safety hazards of my students or through confessions of close relatives and friends. I am sure that these would go unreported, unnoticed and untold on any ordinary day.
We need community driven initiatives to provide information, support and help in order to address the problem and to stop blaming these people for not seeking help. We need parents to think thousand times before sending their children abroad for brighter future. Ask: are you being those blind parents whose children are holding the fort all by themselves? Are you being those insensitive parents whose kids are slogging hard just to barely survive and to send you money every month?
We need to urge people to be open about their internal battles. Most importantly, we need to provide non-judgmental views, space and time for them to feel easy to open up about their inner demons. We need to stop pushing our future generations unknowingly toward dark labyrinth of eternal pressure and depression. It’s time we allow these Nepalis living abroad to stop doing it tough and make it possible for them to seek help unashamedly and unapologetically.
The author teaches Nursing in Australian Catholic University, Sydney