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A journey from cleaner to supervisor in the land of kangaroos

When Oum Keoratha was first hired as a cleaner at a grocery store in Australia, her lacking linguistic skills and work experience led her to spend a lot of time cleaning tears from her face.

After three years of hard work and determination to sticking it out in her new country of residence, the 28-year-old now works as a supervisor, speaks four languages and plans on using the skills she learned to start her own business in Cambodia.

“Coming to Australia taught me many life lessons,” Keoratha said. “I’ve started my life there from scratch, was able to earn my own money and excelled at my job.”

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Keoratha came to Australia in 2010 to study abroad. Soon after arriving in the country, she ran into financial difficulties, and sought employment as she continued her studies.

When she applied for a job at a grocery store, the manager asked her how many languages she spoke, Keoratha said. Aside from Khmer, she only spoke basic English, but her boss hired her on a trial basis.

Beginning work at the store, the menial tasks Keoratha’s boss assigned frustrated her.

“Because I couldn’t speak English very well, I was allowed to do only jobs such as cleaning, stocking and pushing goods,” Keoratha said. “When I was in Cambodia I didn’t have to do anything, but now that I had to work, and I was shouted at for making mistakes.”

Working long hours and feeling lonely on a daily basis, Keoratha considered giving up and returning to Cambodia, she said. But recollections of how she felt about friends who returned home when life abroad got tough made her change her mind.

“I remembered moments where I thought a few of my friends who had gave up studying abroad and returned home did not try hard enough,” Keoratha said.

Since then, Keoratha committed herself to building up her physical and mental strength, proving her capabilities to the store manager. Little by little, her boss gave her increasingly challenging tasks, even tapping her to supervise several different departments there.

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Keoratha’s willingness to work in multiple capacities led her to learn fast and gain skills in all the store’s sections, she said.

“After working for some time, I feel that I know and understand all jobs here, so they delegate all stock management to me,” Keoratha said.

Once only fluent in Khmer and barely proficient in English, Keoratha now speaks fluent English as well as Chinese and Vietnamese, she said. The market’s manager and customers take notice of her performance, she said.

“I have received admiration and love from many of my customers, 80 per cent of whom know me,” Keoratha said.

Today, Keoratha remains in Australia studying hospitality and hotel management. Her weeks consist of two days at school, four at work and only one day off. The hectic schedule leaves her with very little free time, she said.

“I work 12 hours per day,” Keoratha said. “I spend my one day off doing schoolwork and housework, leaving me no time for personal errands or relaxation.”

However, Keoratha’s busy lifestyle has provided her with invaluable social and professional experience, she said.

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“I have faced difficulty learning new languages, eating Western food as well as adapting to cold weather, loneliness and a heavy workload,” Keoratha said. “But now, those problems are no longer problems.”

After her four-year Australian work visa expires, Keoratha plans on returning to Cambodia armed with the skills and knowledge she learned abroad, and start a business that will help people in her community, she said.

Now with personal experience overcoming the challenges posed by leaving the country of her own country, Keoratha encourages Cambodians struggling with new lives abroad to hang in there.

“To those who decide to go abroad for work or study: be strong, and don’t be easily discouraged,” Keoratha said. “Never give up the opportunities available in a new country.”

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