21st July 1999, a memorable day, the first time I arrived in Perth, Western Australia, it was a beautiful winter’s day with clear blue skies I had never seen such a clear sky. I was delighted to be in Australia as it my first ever trip to an overseas destination and at the same time excited and nervous to come and study here. It was a chilly Wednesday afternoon and after clearing the immigration and customs I headed off to the city centre and checked-in at the YMCA which had been pre-organised by the University. The traffic towards the city was very light and I hardly spotted any people on the streets, it was a culture shock especially arriving from India the second most populated country to Australia a least populated country in the word. It was an extreme experience as in my home country I was always surrounded by people. I struggled to live and adjust to a very quiet and laid back Aussie lifestyle. Whenever I got a chance I would go and sit near Albany Highway so I could hear the traffic noise.
I settled down in my new apartment and slowly the routine took over. In the first semester all my lectures and tutorials were in the first few days of the start of the working week and my weekend began on Wednesday evening. I used to have a quiet weekend as I didn’t know anyone and hadn’t made many friends as it was only few weeks at the University. I spent my free time on the foreshore of the Swan River and found a bench under a palm tree where I spent most of my time looking at the Perth skyline and the birds flying over the serene Swan river. The bench and the palm tree are still there and I do visit that spot sometimes and sit in contemplation.
It was a big step for me move away from my parents and brother to a new country where I didn’t know a soul. I was bought up in an emotionally supportive and secure home. I was admired by my family for the way I was and they supported in every way including to come and study in Australia. It was a tough choice to leave my parents and brother behind but I wanted to take this journey to be independent and learning to survive on my own, it wasn’t easy but it was achievable. I was a long way from home in a different continent and a culture that I wasn’t used to.
The first few months were exciting and I was a happy chap as it was something I hadn’t experienced before. The happiness and excitement didn’t last very long and I started feeling homesick and missed my family and regretted my decision to come to an unknown place so far from my home. There were days and nights I cried in vain as I couldn’t find a solution to overcome my homesickness. I used to call home once a week as it was very expensive to make international calls during those days and it cost more than $1.50 per minute. I could only budget for less than 5 minutes and had my watch next to me every time I made an international call to make sure I didn’t go over 5 minutes. These 5 minutes were the only thing that gave me comfort for the next few days. I also wrote letters to my mum, they took 11 days to reach India and my mum used to reply on the same day and took 8 days for the letter to arrive in Perth. So on the 19th or 20th day I used to anxiously wait around for 11am, the time the postman delivered letters to the apartment building. The joyous moment of my life during that time was to see a letter in the mailbox and it was from my mum; tears rolled down my face as soon I started reading the letter but also gave me comfort and strength to continue staying in Perth. I found words of courage and encouragement in the letter which helped me until the next letter arrived. The letters back and forth were the only things that kept me going. I kept writing to my mum for the next 2 years until the time the internet arrived in my town and the excitement of checking the letters in the mail box dwindled quietly. In this modern world of technology and instant messaging I do miss writing letters and sending picture post cards.
It took me almost a year to get used to a quite lifestyle in Perth. My student visa allowed to work for no more than 20 hours during the semester and full-time during the summer and winter breaks. Since my parents helped me with the University fees so I decided to get some part-time work to support my day today living. The weekly expenses was around $60-$70 which included rent, utilities, travel and other incidental costs. It took me more than 7-8 months to get a research job at the University and I was able to cover my living expenses in Perth.
When I first arrived in 1999, Perth was a small sleepy laid back city and there were no big shopping centres nor the public transport was very efficient. The last bus on a weekday was around 8.45pm from the University so if you missed the last service you will have to walk to Victoria Park from Curtin University and the walk felt long on a cold rainy day. The public transport service on Sunday and public holidays was poor and the last service was at 5pm. The shops closed everyday at 5pm except for Thursday and it was the only late night shopping and the shops were open until 9pm. The shops were closed on Sunday. It took more than 12 years to get extended trading hours and Sunday shopping in Perth.
I travelled extensively around Perth and took every opportunity to explore the South West region of Australia. I also volunteered in Laverton in the outback and went camping to South-Western Australia along with my university friends.
After overcoming many hurdles and battles in my personal life during the first few years in Perth I successfully graduated in 2001 from Curtin University and completed my degree in Master’s in International Finance.
I have now been living in Perth for more almost 18 years and lot has changed since I arrived in 1999. I witnessed Perth grow in to a small sleepy city into a major city during the mining boom which lasted for more than 5 years. It’s one of the top 10 most livable cities in the world and also the loneliest capital city in the world. The nearest city to Perth is Adelaide which is around 2,700 km from Perth.
…but I still call Koppal my home!