Imagine for a second just how tough it must be to establish a new life on the other side of the world in a country with a completely foreign language and a climate that is opposite to what you have lived with for your whole life. Now imagine doing it on your own.
Thirty-year-old Lera Zavyalova experienced this exact scenario four years ago when she immigrated to Australia from Russia.
Now a budding photographer Lera credits her TAFE Queensland ‘family’ for arming her with both the language and photography skills that have formed the foundation of her happy new life here in Brisbane.
Lera admits that with very little English and only one relative here in Australia it was a very difficult and lonely time for her in the beginning.
"For me the first thing was the heat—it was so oppressive as I had lived in a permanent winter for my whole life," she said.
"Not being able to speak English was also very hard. Australians speak with so much slang that it was impossible for me to understand what anyone was saying," recalled Lera laughing.
Born and raised in Siberia, Lera started athletics training as a child to help manage the symptoms of her Tourette’s Syndrome.
A naturally talented athlete Lera rose to become one of the best triple jumpers in Russia, and dreamt of competing at the Olympic Games.
When an opportunity arose to train under Gary Bourne at the Queensland Academy of Sport, and with the 2016 Rio Olympics looming, Lera couldn’t say no.
But it wasn’t an easy transition into the Aussie way of life.
"I didn’t know anyone in Brisbane and it was scary, but I always felt that I was doing the right thing—I had a big dream to go to the Olympic Games,” said Lera.
"For the first few months I stayed with Tatiana Grigorieva and her family and even though she didn’t know me before, she let a stranger come into her life and family because she was in a similar situation many years ago," she continued.
"At first I felt too much of everything: new language, new lifestyle, new culture, new people, and I couldn’t understand the questions that people would ask me."
"But slowly it started to get better."
Training helped, as it always has helped Lera throughout her life, but enrolling in the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program and completing a Certificate III in Spoken and Written English course at TAFE Queensland’s South Bank campus opened many new doors.
With a greater grasp of her new language Lera was able to communicate more meaningfully with those around her and a few friendships started to form.
Her confidence grew and by the time Lera experienced her second career ending knee injury, she was already on the path to a new career.
Whilst studying English at TAFE Queensland Lera came across the photography department and with a degree in journalism already under her belt and an interest in photography, it wasn’t long before she had enrolled in a Diploma of Photography and Photo Imaging (CUA50915).
In late 2018 Lera then went on to complete an Advanced Diploma of Visual Arts (CUA60715) and for her final assessment she put together a stunning photo-journalism project featuring images of other migrants and their stories.
“I discovered, through my own experience and that of getting to know other migrants, that whilst everyone has had different experiences or hardships, all everyone really wants is to be happy, to love and to be loved,” Lera said.
“I believe the most important thing is to respect and support each other and through this we can build stronger and happier communities."
“I dedicated my project to the people of Australia, who have helped me to open up again and trust people again.”
Four years on from moving to Australia and Lera has built a happy life for herself in Brisbane with lots of friends, a new language under her belt and an exciting new career as a photographer starting to unfold.
“Sometimes I think that the reason why I was drawn to a career in sport was not to become a great athlete, but because it moved me here to Australia."
“And now I live in a place where I can trust people, where I can be open and where I can realise my dreams.”
The Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Education and Training.