When Manuella from Vanuatu first saw the white sandy shoreline and turquoise waters of the Kimberley coast in Western Australia’s far north, it reminded her of the similar yet distant landscapes she had left behind.
“It’s such a beautiful place, but very far away from the world that I knew,” she said.
Manuella is one of several Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme workers who have come to the resort town of Broome to fill workforce shortages in the region's thriving hospitality industry.
Like anyone moving overseas, she has had to adapt to a new environment, especially when it comes to communication, cultural differences and the local way of life.
It’s a challenge North Regional TAFE aims to address in a course focused on building communication and social skills, helping new arrivals develop the confidence they need to forge local relationships and thrive in their host community.
Course coordinator Jane Appleton said the training helped workers understand the different ways language was used in social and work environments, so people like Manuella could settle in and make friends as quickly as possible.
“Roleplay scenarios allowed the participants to observe and replicate different contexts in which language is used at work and in daily social life,” Jane said.
“We taught them how to use computers and smartphones as tools to help manage their professional and social lives.”
The course also introduced participants to local traditions and showed them how to connect with people and services in the community.
“Adjusting to life away from home requires strategies to maintain good wellbeing, and information on how to access support from local agencies,” she said.
Adapting to a different rhythm of life
When Yvette from Vanuatu first started working at the Mangrove Hotel in Broome, she had to adjust to a different rhythm of daily life.
“There’s a stronger emphasis on punctuality and efficiency at the workplace,” she said.
“Even for socialising outside of work, you need to manage your schedule with other people, which sometimes feels like a job.”
Since completing the course, Yvette said she is more attuned to local expectations.
“I discovered you don’t necessarily need to work harder, but rather adjust your approach to time management.”
Kesaia from Fiji said communication had been the most challenging aspect of her transition to life in Australia.
“We need to communicate well to work effectively, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand the accents of my colleagues and hotel guests.
“As a non-native English speaker, sometimes I find it hard to tell what kind of mood a person is in, which can lead to miscommunication,” she said.
Others like Weiss from Fiji have encountered differences in cultural understandings that have played out in both work and social situations.
“Without a basic understanding of cultural expectations and taboo subjects, it's hard to make connections with others,” Weiss said.
“The course has opened many doors for me. I now feel more independent and connected with others.”
Contributing to Broome’s unique diversity
In September 2023, the PALM scheme workers had the chance to showcase their cultures at the ‘Carnival of Nations’, which is part of the annual Shinju Matsuri festival (or Festival of the Pearl). The festival celebrates Broome’s unique history of cultural diversity, of which the PALM scheme workers are now an important part.
For Manuella, walking on the stage to perform traditional dances with members of the local Fijian and Ni-Vanuatu communities made her feel like she was finally part of the community.
“I’m proud to be an islander in Broome, and I’m happy that we made a good impression.”
Under the PALM scheme, all eligible employers can apply for funding to help workers gain additional skills and training that will benefit them both in Australia and after they return to their home countries.