WHEN Lily Feng came to study in Melbourne, she thought she was moving to a multicultural city where people would forgive her limited English.
“Last year I was 30. I had a big dream. I hoped I could go overseas to study or visit for a while and experience different cultures and lifestyles,” she said.
“I thought, Melbourne is a multicultural city and even though I don’t know any English, I can come here and just be humble and learn and I will get some respect from others.”
Lily left Taiwan in October 2008 and enrolled to study Community Welfare at Swinburne University.
One year later, she said people in multicultural Melbourne weren’t as tolerant as she first thought.
“When I enrolled in Swinburne my life totally changed. I found out that they aren’t always nice to you if can’t speak English.”
Lily was among those who participated in the female international students’ survey conducted by the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC).
Like many of the women who spoke to VIRWC, Lily said her inability to communicate often made her feel angry and depressed.
“I cry a lot and I feel very frustrated. I know some things that maybe others don’t know, but they get a chance because they can speak English and I think it is very unfair,” she said.
“Language is like the door. I try to open my door but I cannot open. They cannot see how big my room is. How much knowledge I have.”
In Taiwan, Lily worked and lived independently. If she had a problem, she felt she could complain to others and they would understand.
But in Melbourne she said language barriers stopped her from sharing her problems.
“I feel lonely often. When I look back on the whole year, I found out that I’ve never had the kind of pressure or feelings I have now,” she said.
“Sometimes I want to say something but I cannot say something. I want to stand up and say it but even if I do nobody understands. It’s really hard.”
Now a volunteer at the VIRWC centre in Lonsdale St, Melbourne, Lily said she was getting some much needed support.
“I came here and I found out that people around me have similar issues and we can share them with each other,” she said.
“We are all international students. We talk and I think, ‘Oh, it’s not just me who has those feelings’, and I feel better.”