How Australia changed me: Tiara Shafiq

How Australia changed me: Tiara Shafiq

How Australia changed me: Tiara Shafiq

Updated 23 May 2014, 15:38 AEST

Moving away from home is a big step for anyone, but moving to another country is an adventure into the unknown.  Tiara's journey of self discovery has taken her places she'd never imagined.

We first met Tiara in 2010, when she'd come to Australia from Malaysia to study.  Now she's graduating with a Masters of Fine Arts in San Francisco.  

So how did her time in Australia influence the direction of her life and how has it changed her?  Tiara tells us about some of the rewards, and the challenges, of coming to Australia. 

"I went to Australia in 2006.  I had applied for my dream job in the US but didn't get it, and my parents were pressuring me to get a degree, so the compromise was that I got to pick the subject and location.  I used to go to Australia with my family a lot as a kid and really liked it.  

"I lived in Brisbane because Queensland University of Technology offered a spot.  It also had much calmer weather than the other cities and seemed to be a little more laid-back, which I appreciated.

"I don't know that I had any specific achievements in mind when I went to Australia; I kept myself open to possibility and jumped on any opportunity that looked interesting. 

"I did end up achieving a lot.  I worked on an education and youth empowerment blog during my degree, which led me to connections and opportunities with other young change-makers across Australia.

"Unexpected, but even more amazing, was the ability to fulfil a long-held dream I never thought would happen: to be involved in the performing arts on a fairly serious level. I had done the odd college competition, but I didn't grow up with any access to ballet lessons or drama class or whatever. 

"After my Bachelors degree I explored burlesque and circus, performing pieces across Australia and even internationally, and I achieved some notoriety for my writing on burlesque and intersectional politics. 

"Something else I didn't think I could achieve anywhere, but managed to do so in Australia, was to be more involved in activism.  It took me a while to be willing to even attend a march or speak at a protest, because I kept worrying that either Malaysia or Australia would deport me.

"After the first few marches went by and I didn't get in trouble, I became even more involved, helping organise events aimed at combating rape culture and supporting survivors of sexual violence.

2012 Brisbane rally, protesting de-funding of the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities (Credit: ABC Licensed)
2012 Brisbane rally, protesting de-funding of the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities (Credit: ABC Licensed)

2012 Brisbane rally, protesting de-funding of the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities (Credit: ABC Licensed)

"I also was able to explore my own sexuality more, in ways that I absolutely wasn't able to in Malaysia. I knew I was queer long before I came to Australia, but couldn't find any sort of community or support until I showed up in Brisbane - and even then it took me a while, because I was still worried about my safety.  Being involved in performance really helped with this too - I gained a whole new appreciation for my body and physicality, in ways I'd never really considered in Malaysia.

"A lot of my politics shifted when I was in Australia, mostly from being able to talk to more diverse communities of people and really getting to know their perspectives and experiences before passing judgement. For instance, it was in Australia that I gained greater understanding of sex worker rights, something I had previously dismissed.

"The interesting thing was that in Malaysia I was always pretty outspoken and opinionated and loud, but many places found that off-putting and weird. In Australia it seemed like I had more space to do so.  I also gained greater skills in owning my truth and didn't bow down to pressure.

"I learnt a lot about relationships - I was with my boyfriend Mark the entire time I was in Brisbane, and we really taught each other about what it means to be in a good, loving, open, honest, functional relationship. It was my first ever relationship and I'm so thankful it was with him, he's a great guy! 

"Eventually as I figured out my sexuality I realised I wasn't into men, which threw our relationship in a loop, and we ended things when I was in the US. Even so, we are still super close best friends, and he's really shown me a model for how good relationships work.

Tiara, with boyfriend Mark (Credit: ABC Licensed)
Tiara, with boyfriend Mark (Credit: ABC Licensed)

Tiara, with boyfriend Mark (Credit: ABC Licensed)

"I see myself totally different now.  I had a LOT of growing up to do in Australia, and in some ways I still have to grow up more. But it was in Australia that I really started to get a sense of who I am and where I fit in the world, and knew what is important to me and what I could let go.

"I have learnt a lot about myself. That no matter what field I get involved in, I always have social justice in mind. That I can set audacious goals and somehow achieve them. That even when things fall apart I can still prevail, and that I always make the best of any situation. 

"Now I'm in Oakland, California.  It's a week before my graduation ceremony for my Masters in Fine Arts, having spent the last two years creating a storm of performance art and writing and community art in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Bridging visas mean I have to return to Australia, so I will be going back by the end of July.  I'm not sure what I'll do when I return - I'm busy looking for a job! 

"Advice for someone thinking of going to Australia?   It's a good place to spend some time in, though every city and state is very VERY different. You won't be bored, that's for sure. Living there though can be tough - there are still some major issues with institutional and societal racism, and visas are really tricky and painful.

"I know that there are people who would thrive there, so I'd suggest taking a look and seeing if it's the country for you!"