Former Refugee Kane Alkoraghooli Talks Dreams, Flexibility, and Australia’s Complex Cultural Identity
Speak to anyone who has arrived in Australia as a refugee and you’re likely to get an incredible story. What stands out about the story Kane tells us is the sheer volume and diversity of experiences packed into his 27 years. In addition to the long journey with his family from Iraq to Australia, Kane’s professional career has spanned from IT to youth work, and his studies include English literature, architecture, and now a combined law and business degree, which he is undertaking as the recipient of a Crescent Foundation Leadership scholarship. With such broad a broad array of interests, what does he want in a career?
“I’m actually not sure. One of the reasons I’ve chosen a degree in law and business is because I wasn’t sure of the area I wanted to work in, and I thought that business and law as a combination had more applications. You could end up being a lawyer or an economist or working in finance, but you could also take any managerial role, HR roles… You can end up doing anything.”
“I’ve tried my luck, and every time, circumstances forced me out of a job or a degree, so eventually I thought I’d do something that is very flexible and versatile that I can use wherever I go. I had an interview last week and someone asked me, ‘What is your dream?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what my dream is!’ I guess my dream is to be flexible towards whatever life throws at me, because having that experience as a refugee teaches you that you can’t really control those things that happen in your life, all you can do is try to respond in the right way. Maybe my dream is being prepared for everything that happens.”
Kane tells us that he arrived in Australia in 2015, when he was 21 years old, which comes as something of a surprise. Not only is his English faultless, but judging by his accent, you would never guess that he wasn’t born in Australia.
“My parents always wanted to come to Australia. I remember as a child my parents would tell me ‘One day, we’ll be in Australia, don’t worry. We’re going there some day.’ That’s why I spoke English quite well at an early age, because they started teaching me English as soon as I finished first grade. When I started, I didn’t sound like this. I sounded very American because of all those movies and TV.”
Aware from a young age that Australia might one day be his home, Kane supplemented the more common American cultural touchstones with whatever cultural inputs he could find from Australia. This gave him at least some idea of what to expect, but when he finally arrived, he was struck by a disconnect between the version of Australia that is projected overseas and the reality of living here.
“You see this picture that our media or our politicians are trying to convey to the outside world, and maybe they believe that is Australia, but when you walk in Australia, it is different. It’s kind of a cultural shock. Not because Australia is different to who I am, but because Australia is closer to who I am than I thought.”
“You think that everyone in Australia is blonde, sunburned, sunbathing or surfing somewhere. But when you come here, you realise what you’ve learned before is not Australia. Fairfield doesn’t feel that different to the Middle East when you walk through it – Iraqis, Arabs, Syrians, all these people – and then you go to Cabramatta next door and it’s Hanoi, Vietnam. You realise anybody can call Australia home if they work hard and do something good. Not everyone in Australia looks like Steve Irwin.”
Kane has noticed other areas where the ‘official’ and unofficial versions of Australia are in conflict, such as the relationship between white Australia and our First Nations people.
“I remember having this booklet about James Cook’s life that said, ‘When James Cook came to this country, the people were nomads. They had no clothes, no culture, no civilisation.’ Then you come here and start learning about the history, you realise the story we were told was not really accurate.”
Kane just recently had his first meeting with his Crescent Champions Club mentor and says it is too early to discuss the merits of this program. In the past, however, he has been both a mentee and mentor, and he has enjoyed the benefits of both roles.
“In all of them, whether you are a mentee or a mentor, there’s always a huge opportunity to learn and to have exposure to other people’s experiences and you learn a lot from people about how to deal with all sorts of different situations.”
“I worked as a youth worker for a long time, and I always talked to my boss about this one thing that we loved about young people, and why we wanted them to be in every room where decisions are being made. Young people are raw; they don’t sugar-coat things, they’re not diplomatic. They don’t use political language, you know, ‘Your excellency this’ and ‘Your excellency that.’ They go into a room and are so direct and they tell you how things are. I like the rawness and the creativity. It’s unfiltered, unrefined. It’s life as it is.”