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177 Nations of Tasmania - Episode 36 - Journeys from Belgium

One of the challenges of a project like 177 Nations of Tasmania is that you can't really take a one-size-fits-all approach to the wide variety of personal accounts of migrants to Tasmania, but this is also one of the things that makes it stimulating for me. Everyone has their own story and own perspectives and it forces you to keep an open mind and think about how you can make it into a narrative that will be coherent and engaging for listeners, and yet stay authentic to the person whose story it is.

Recently, I've done a number of interviews with ladies from Eastern Europe, who have lived through some hard times and have maybe experienced more obvious culture differences that someone from Western Europe might. Migrants from western countries don't perhaps face the same challenges as others in terms of culture shock or language barriers, often the differences and challenges they may face are more subtle and often the most interesting way to approach these stories is to focus on the personal.

This preamble leads me to my recent episode with Carole, from Belgium, which had elements there were both common and others more unique and personal. Belgium is one of those countries about which we don't have such clearly defined ideas of a national character in the way that we might about France, Germany, Spain or even the Netherlands. But apart from its famous beer, chocolate and culture, Belgium's most defining feature is perhaps that its made up of two main communities, the Flemish and French-speaking, and a smaller German-speaking community, who have maintained their own distinct cultures and educational systems. Carole mentioned that growing up in such an environment you become used to finding ways to get on, which echoed some sentiments I'd heard in my Malaysia episode. We can easily forget in a country like Australia that there are many places where people are fluent and multiple languages and have lived side by side with others from the other communities for maybe hundreds of years and there is mentality of just trying to get on.

Of course, I'm simplifying, and I'm not writing this to do an in-depth analysis of multicultural/multilingual societies like Belgium, in which there are problems like anywhere else. I just find it valuable to listen to how people in different parts of the world have experienced quite different ways of living together and doing things.

But back to Carole's story. While the cultural context and understanding her experience of growing up in a cosmopolitan part of Brussels was really interesting, for me, as with many of the 177 Nations of Tasmania interviews I've done, the most interesting parts of often about the personal stories and finding the threads that run through peoples' lives. In Carole's case, and I hope this doesn't sound like I'm psychoanalysing here, I picked up on a theme of an adventurous spirit, someone who has looked to get out of her comfort zone and then just follow wherever the path leads. And I've picked up this characteristic in quite a few of the people I've interviewed and it's made me wonder ...does Tasmania just attract those more adventurous spirits ? The risk-takers ?

As I said before, migrants from advanced western nations like Belgium, don't generally face the same challenges as say someone from Afghanistan, but everyone has been affected in same way by the Covid pandemic, and personal challenges can hit anyone seemingly randomly. In Carole's case, she gave birth just before the Covid lockdown to Leo, who was diagnosed with what is commonly known as Down's Syndrome ( also known as Trisomy 21 ). I thought Carole drew a nice analogy about the experience as expecting to travel in Italy but arriving in Holland - I'll let you listen to the full explanation in the interview ! Carole also describes herself as an advocate for her son and her main worry for him being acceptance, something that I'm sure so many of us would also hope for for our children, regardless of where we come from. Just as I'm hoping that exposing people to personal stories in this podcast will make more people accepting of people of different cultural backgrounds and places in the world, I can but wish Carole the best of luck with her efforts to ensure acceptance and open-mindedness towards her son and other children living with a disability. Certainly we could do with more acceptance, tolerance and open-mindedness in the world these days.

Anyway, these are my thoughts on another episode, please do listen to Carole's episode and share with others !


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