From Straying to ‘Straya

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WORDS Jefferson Manangquil 

Throughout a long strenuous Tuesday at uni, running Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) sessions and attending classes that killed my brain cells, perhaps the only thing that kept me going was the thought of cooking that rump steak that I had marinated overnight. I was dead hungry, and it was fair to reward myself with this excessively juicy piece of meat.

So I was cooking up a storm. The kitchen magically transformed into a theatre of a kind: the acoustics of the pan sizzling, the sharp colours of capsicum and zucchini as they were sautéed, the dancing smoke that caused zero visibility and the fragrance of rosemary and thyme enchanting the entire apartment.

The vivid scenery of the kitchen transported me to my old culinary college days – those days when I once chanced a career in hospitality and straying off track in life. Back then I was a teenager who youthfully marveled at possibilities and life in general. It was my first month living in Sydney, away from the comforts of home.

Fast forward to the present, so much has evolved. Friends and family always tell us: “Don’t change, and stay as who you are now.” While they mean well, change is inevitable and we can never defy it. It occurs in our lives because it is a component of human existence. Change is generally good.

In my story, much of my development can be attributed to living independently in Australia. Having lived here for almost six years, I have come to know myself in a way I never imagined possible before: my fortes, aspirations, desires. I also discovered more about my weaknesses and insecurities in life that made me hate and doubt myself sporadically and needlessly.

Moving here from the Philippines has also meant getting used to the game of meritocracy. I am starting a career from scratch and success is solely contingent on my own hard work. It contrasts to what advantages I could have (with my parents’ connections and already established businesses) back home where pre-existing power largely dictates success.

Without a doubt, Australia has molded my appreciation of multiculturalism. I am amazed by the progressive actions this country has made towards diversity and the results of these actions are reflected in the workplace, schools, food – virtually everywhere.

However, I should not neglect Macquarie University’s impact on the person I am now. It rescued me when I was straying in my career as a chef, during those days when what I wanted to do in life was so obscure. I couldn’t even last for a week in a kitchen job. Now I am proud to say that I have found my niche and happiness in what I do best.

I might not be able to give justice to explaining this, but Macquarie University has provided me with limitless opportunities to further enhance skills that are essential in realising my dreams. I have, through sheer enthusiasm and curiosity, unveiled my potential as a student and more importantly, as a leader.

For all these reasons, for Australia and for all the things and people in between, I can not stress my gratitude enough. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like had I chosen a different path. But then again, my story is only one of the countless others that are living testaments to your sunny embrace. So, on behalf of the international community, I thank you for bringing that change to our lives. Really, good on ya!