• Writer Jody Phan (far right) with her brother and cousins in 1996. (Jody Phan)Source: Jody Phan
From playing in floodwater to becoming class captain in Australia, Jody Phan reflects on how differently life could have turned out had she continued growing up in Vietnam.
Jody Phan

24 Mar 2016 - 1:32 PM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2016 - 1:32 PM

There’s no doubt my life would have been dramatically different had my parents not decided to move 7,000km with their teenage son and 8-year-old daughter. Looking at my childhood photos, I’m reminded of the world I would have grown up in versus the one I currently know.

Here’s a photo of me with my brother and cousins, taken just seven months before I hopped on a plane to Australia.

We all look pretty chuffed to be playing in the murky floodwater. That’s the thing about growing up in a tiny Vietnamese town; there’s no such authorities as the SES to warn you not to play in floodwater for fear of contaminants. My biggest concern at the time was when was it going to be my turn on the tyre floatie.

Little did I know that in less than two years, I would go from speaking no English to somehow being elected class captain at a Sydney school.

It was a shock to the system, in a good way.

To this day, my relatives in Vietnam are still blown away by the fact that I speak to my boyfriend, friends and colleagues in English. “I don’t know what she’s saying, but she sounds fluent,” one cousin said to another while observing my conversation with my boyfriend during a recent trip back to the motherland.

Not only has growing up in Australia made me bilingual, I’ve also built friendships and relationships with cultures other than my own.

I still remember looking around my third grade classroom 19 years ago and seeing kids with blonde hair and green eyes for the first time. It was a shock to the system, in a good way. Just a few days before, the only non-Vietnamese person I’d ever seen was that American actor who starred as the token White guy in all the Chinese TV dramas.

My friendship circle was fast becoming a multicultural one.

Being an extrovert and attending school in Western Sydney, my friendship circle was fast becoming a multicultural one. There was the Vietnamese boy who’d been assigned as my translator during my first term at school, the Tongan girl who taught me how to correctly pronounce the “th” in “thank you,” and the Greek girl who spoke so fast that our conversations turned into a learning exercise.

I didn't know it at the time, but moving to Australia and living in a multicultural hub like Bankstown was the best introduction to Australia's diversity I could ask for. My mum's sister had been living and working there since she arrived to Australia as a refugee in the 1970s, so it was naturally the suburb of choice for us. It felt familiar, being surrounded by Vietnamese restaurants and grocery stores, while still being exposed to all the other different cultures.

While multiculturalism was a foreign concept in Vietnam, Australia's population consists of people from 150 different countries. It was a bizarre and wonderful feeling to walk around my neighbourhood and see not only my own people, but also those of Lebanese, Greek, Italian, and Chinese descent.

Had I stayed in my home town Cao Lanh, not only would all my friends be Vietnamese, I’d also very likely be married to a Vietnamese guy from the same town and living with his parents right now. Tradition expects Vietnamese females to move into their husband’s family home after marriage.

My daily duties as a good wife and daughter-in-law would be a far cry from my current life as a working journalist lucky enough to occasionally holiday in countries I would have never known about.

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