“So here I see a lot of loneliness which fosters a lot of other issues, especially mental issues. As a psychologist, I can see it clearly.”
An audio clip from this interview with Hugo:
So, what’s a typical day like for you?
Going to work. I come into the office every morning, take care of all the administration work, and see clients. Then later on, I go to the gym, and exercise a bit. Finally, I chill out at night and just watch a movie or read a book. Sometimes I write my little stories that I’m working on. Yes. So that’s more or less what I do in a day.
Okay. Now have you always lived in Melbourne?
I used to work as a school psychologist/guidance officer for seven years in the countryside. Swan Hill, Kerang, Wodonga, those places.
I’ll come back and ask you more about that. Before you lived in Australia where did you live?
In Lima, Peru.
Now this is the big question. What was life like there?
On a family level, great, and I have a lot of friends. So what was I doing there? I used to work as a policeman and once I finished my studies as a psychologist I thought it would be a good idea to get out of the country and look for other horizons … to study, to work, to go to a new place, a new country. Initially I wanted to go to Italy so I actually started studying Italian. I had a brother that was in Italy at that time so I was very keen to go to that country. I never thought of coming to Australia in the first place until one Australian friend told my brother about it. I thought “Hey, Australia why not?” And that is how the whole thing started.
Okay. So that was going to be my question, what brought you here?
The willingness to be out, to look for different options, opportunities. To study too: that was one on my list, to study somewhere else. Yes, it wasn’t Italy; it was Australia. So here I am.
So you’ve been here a while. How long have you been here?
Well, getting close to 25 years.
Okay so what has life been like for you here? And, I suppose, I’d be interested to hear what your country life experience is like as well as your city life experience. What has your life been like here?
These days, great. But it took a while to really settle in emotionally. There was always … for a few years this feeling of missing home… it was very deep. Even though I ended up doing things, studying, working, all that, still there was something there to miss about my family and my country. But I would say in the last fifteen years perhaps, or twelve years, that has vanished and I feel very comfortable here and, of course, I feel great when I go to visit my family in Peru… but it’s not like before. Before, every time I went to Peru and I came back feeling a bit nostalgic. But that really ended, finished, went away somehow. It’s a great feeling; it’s a great feeling to be comfortable in two places, two countries. I feel good. I do believe it helps – when you enjoyed what you are doing, the work that you do, and that you settle in and when you able to create circle of friends. Now I’ve got family members living in Australia as well. I think that helped me a lot to settle in.
Was it early in your time in Australia that you lived in the country? How long ago was that? That time you were in Swan Hill and Kerang?
I started working in 1996 as a psychologist, so I was working in those years, around that time.
And that is when you were in the country placements?
How was it for you to not only be coming here and adjusting to Australian life but also adjusting to life in the country setting?
It was a big shock. Yes. In what ways? To start with, I came from Lima, the capital of Peru… In Lima you have a city life, you know, it’s very active city, fast paced, and a lot of noise and places to go and do things. So going to a countryside – especially I remember when I went to Wodonga – the feeling was like going to a church, a big church, because it was a big town, but I could hardly see any people on the streets. I was like, “Wow, so quiet, hardly any people walking on the streets.” It wasn’t that simple to live in that town because you don’t know anyone so when you try to talk to people, there weren’t any people around to talk to. It was too quiet for me, really. I could not wait for Fridays afternoon to jump in my car and come to Melbourne again to see my friends. Work was the only reason that kept me there. The same happened with Kerang but I became more skilful in making friends and it helped me a lot, but still it was a very little town, very quiet. Unless you are a person who has a family there, it’s not easy to break into new groups. Plus, again, my weekends were usually in Melbourne where I used to socialise more. I used to have my friends here (Melbourne), but I used to work there. I had some colleagues that became friends so it was a bit different in that sense…living and working at the place.
You’ve begun to answer my next question which is what are the differences between here and back in Peru for you? How are those two experiences different?
In many ways I would say. Cultural wise, it’s different. I’ll give you a recent example. I went to Peru just last month. I was going to my dentist. While I was waiting for my dentist, I could see through the window what people were doing outside. While I was watching I saw young kids, teens, getting into groups and sharing an ice cream and chasing each other in a playful way. They’re in groups. Adults were finishing work and getting in small groups and they’re talking and some of them were holding a bottle of beer while they were talking. Not so much about drinking and intoxicating themselves in my view, it was more about talking and discussing their days. In the shops you see women going in, meeting and talking to the owner of the shop. I saw more connection happening, spontaneously on the streets. What could I say? Somehow connected. In an actual way, they were not pretending or forcing the situation. I observed that happening. Those people seem to be more open to talk to you, more open to engage, they seem to be more interested in how things are going with you or telling you about themselves. When you come here, and you walk on the streets, even in Melbourne which is a city, sometimes you don’t see many people walking on the streets. Unless you go to a very populated area. You go to parks and you see sometimes that is empty. By seven o’clock you don’t see people. People are quieter here; they follow the rules very well. By ten o’clock at night, people tend to make less noise. I must say that usually they are very respectful of the rules. The drivers here usually tend to follow the rules and be safe, while if you go to Lima you will see cars crossing at each other and making a lot of noise with their claxons. In Lima the buses are trying to pick up more people to carry etcetera. It’s a little bit more chaotic, more noisy, but in some way this has its advantages too. There’s no a sense of loneliness… I don’t feel isolated in Lima whereas here there is a tendency … you could fall into some level of loneliness and feel a little bit isolated if you are not careful. You could literally end up not seeing anyone for a whole weekend. If you don’t make an effort to go out or engage with people or bring people to your home, you could just end up not talking to anyone, just using the computer or watching the TV … easily you could fall into that.
You don’t think that would happen in Lima?
No, I think that it could happen anywhere but in Lima it seems much easier to engage. Friends tend to visit you and sometimes they don’t bother to let you know or make a time with you. They say I will see you on the weekend and they just rock up. They just call you on the spot to make a plan on the spot. So they are not very well organised in that sense, but it seems to be more connecting somehow. The financial situation it’s a bit different between Lima and Melbourne. In Lima people seem to be going to work and whatever they make is not enough. Some of them are trying to work overtime or have a second job and sometimes they are complaining about it. I do believe the people here seem to have a higher income. They’ve got money to cover their basic things. Of course, there are people who will struggle regardless if they have bad money habits, but in general terms they are better paid over here and have access to more facilities.
A different sort of question. If someone who didn’t know you, saw you in the street, what might they be surprised to know about you?
Well, in a funny way, when I work I try to… I tend to be more formal. I’m not trying. I just become more formal. Working with clients and people. However, when I’m not at work, I tend to go to my other side of being more spontaneous. I’m more interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) with my friends. It’s a very fashionable for some groups of males to watch those competitions. I was with Stuart, the other psychologist who works here, who likes that and we ended up going to the pub and watching the fight and enjoying it a lot.
I go to the gym, and like to be casually dressed and sometimes, some clients who have seen me in that way get a bit surprised, like, “Is that you?” It’s like being two people if you want to put it that way. So that’s why I tend to be, if I can, on my weekends or hours out of work, in a place where people don’t know me very much, where I feel very comfortable to be myself.
That’s I think one thing that could be a surprise for some people. But apart from that, I don’t think people could perceive me in a different way, it’s more the appearance but nothing else I would say.
Is there anything else that you’d like readers of this blog to know about you?
This is something to do with my personal interests and study; it’s work related but also related to me as a citizen, as someone who lives in this country. I’m very interested in finding out a way, a practical effective way, to help people to connect more. Even though I come from a poor country, Peru – in many ways it is a developing country and they have many things they have to improve, especially in the economic side – one thing I see very clearly is even though it’s a poorer country, the way the people connect is very rich. Naturally rich. So I see less people depressed or lonely. Loneliness is a big thing because it tends to foster other issues or problems; it could be a trigger for depression or other mental disorders which equals to say that the brain produces a level of unhappiness in people. So I see that here, more often, even though people live in good places and they have a car and they’re not starving … So here I see a lot of loneliness which fosters a lot of other issues, especially mental issues. As a psychologist, I can see it clearly.
So one goal, dream, project perhaps in the future is to find a way that could provide people a way to pick up that level of connectedness, in a way that could improve the quality of life in an emotional sense. Not so much in a financial way but more the level of happiness… I talk to a lot of clients; a lot of them report loneliness: even though they have good jobs and they have activities to do, they usually tend to do it on their own, by themselves. That’s one thing, and I think that if it were possible, in some way, to improve that. Then this place could be one of the greatest places on earth because it would be more complete in many ways.
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