Wellbeing in culture

A group of students sitting together on the lawn.

I’ve always found culture to be a fascinating thing.

I love learning history; I love going to museums and art galleries and learning about the different cultures practiced at home and around the world. It was always thrilling to spot similarities within our cultures and understand the differences. I wanted to study history and anthropology at one point, but alas, here I am in law school which isn’t so far off to be honest. I'm learning a whole lot of legal history and culture!

Growing up in a multicultural society, I was encouraged to be friends with people regardless of their backgrounds, so those friendships have introduced me to a colourful array of cultures within Malaysia, some of which I’ve been accustomed to and a whole lot more that I’m yet to discover. But now that I’m here in Australia, I’m seeking to learn the various cultures practiced within this huge island, especially its vibrant Indigenous culture.

So when I saw that the ISS was conducting an Indigenous International Cross-Cultural Programme, I knew I had to sign up. I spent my Thursday afternoon experiencing a smoking ceremony and learning of its significance, did a little bit of traditional dancing and dove into the basics of Indigenous art. Who knew sitting in a circle at the Barr Smith Lawns and weaving a basket (at least in my case, attempted too) followed by a painting session all while chatting with those around you could be so therapeutic?

And in that moment of relaxation, a lightbulb popped into my head as I noticed a similarity between my culture and the Indigenous culture – the act of coming together, converging, gathering. For example, it’s common practice back home for the community to be involved in one’s wedding preparation. You can find neighbours working together to help with the cooking, decorating and heavy lifting which makes these tough and time-consuming tasks a little more enjoyable. 

Even within a family, gathering is such a common thing which doesn’t only occur on big occasions like Eid celebrations or birthdays but small, everyday ones too. My family and I would often spend our evenings on the veranda while we chatted over some snacks and tea. Back in high school, my friends and I would study together – although we probably did more talking than studying. It doesn’t really matter because it fills me up with joy whenever we sit down and talk. I learnt that they have a word for this in the Indigenous culture. I believe it’s called yarning. Goes to show just how important connecting and feeling like you belong is to one’s wellbeing, especially in a world where isolation is becoming more and more inevitable. Sometimes, you just want to interact in a non-confronting way too, you know, not like those networking events. Gosh, they give me the shudders!

Safe to say I truly enjoyed the program. Not only did it expose me to Indigenous culture, but it was also the perfect setting to meet new people and learn about their cultures too. 

Tagged in What messes with your head, international student, indigenous culture, Culture, mid-semester break