Murray Bridge High School teacher Jingjie Li, who arrived in Australia at age 15, now helps others survive the experience

Learning how to fit into a new country is never easy, but recently arrived Murray Bridge High School students at least have someone to ask about it – their teacher.

Jingjie Li lived through the experience of arriving as a teenager who spoke little English 10 years ago.

She had grown up in the "small country town" of Kaifeng, population five million, an agricultural centre where opportunities to earn a good income were few.

Her family moved to Australia when her parents won jobs at Murray Bridge's meat works on 457 visas.

She had never been overseas.

"I was really excited," she said.

"I told all my teachers and my classmates I was actually moving to Australia and they didn't believe me."

Yet she knew nothing about the country to which she was moving, only that it was "a big land with lots of animals" like kangaroos and koalas.

"When you first come, everything is exciting, everything is new, but after that honeymoon period ... it takes a year to settle in properly," she said.

"When I first came here I was in year 8, I come to a new place, I don't know anything, I don't know how to speak the language, I don't even know how to ask for help.

"After a few months, in my experience, all the culture shocks and you are down on the bottom, and you have to try hard to step up, make new friends and make a connection with the community.

"It's a tough process but we have to overcome that.

"Every migrant experiences the culture shock."

Yet she considers herself lucky she had the volunteers at a church-run homework club to help her learn English, and her teachers to support her.

Of course, part of her still longs for her birthplace.

"Now in Murray Bridge (there are) three Asian grocers, but I still want some homemade food from my grandparents," she said.

"I have no skill of how they roll the pastry and cook us a noodle soup.

"I really want to learn from my grandma but I never have time to go back, stay there and learn my family heritage."

More often she looks forward: to the rest of a lifetime she expects to spend in Australia, as an Australian.

After finishing high school, she chose to study teaching and pass on the support she once received to children from Cambodia, the Phillippines and Singapore.

"Teaching is a very rewarding job where I can also help new migrants who have the same background as me," she said.

"They know that I understand them and, over the whole school, we care for them."

Welcomed becomes the welcomer: Jingjie Li helps newly arrived students from overseas at Murray Bridge High School. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Welcomed becomes the welcomer: Jingjie Li helps newly arrived students from overseas at Murray Bridge High School. Photo: Peri Strathearn.


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