When Wanyika Mshila migrated Australia, her goal then was to secure an education that she believed would open doors of success. She completed a degree in Marketing and started working in finance. While the job paid bills, and afforded her decent life, it was not where her heart was, for she has always had a passion for the creatives.
I talked Ms. Wanyika, and this is what she had to say about her journey from Kenya to Australia.
- What do you remember most about your childhood?
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, a child who grew up constantly up to mischief. I was one of those kids who had too much energy paired with a curious mind. As I’ve grown older I’ve learnt this is quite a common trait in creatives.
- What inspired you at an early age?
My parents. Their belief in me and their encouragement to pursue my creativity cannot be sacrificed at any altar.
- Talk About Your Migration to Australia.
I migrated to Australia in August 2001. There were so many firsts, more so in terms of culture. However, it may surprise you to hear that it was easy to assimilate into the local culture. What I could not wrap my head around, in the beginning, was the fact that a Kangaroo is a delicacy for Australians! I mean this is an animal that adorns their coat of arms!
One of the things that made an immediate impact to my being was how well systems run. There’s a process for everything and it pretty much runs like clockwork. The other thing that stood out, was that we have such a social-communal culture back home; there are always people around you know. You grow up with your cousins in your family home and think nothing of it. You also don’t have to be so formal about visiting people, you can just drop in unannounced, but not so much so out here.
- Was it Easy to Adapt?
It was a quick adjustment because Australia is an English-speaking Commonwealth Country. I didn’t have to learn a new language, or I did not have to prove the nativity of my language like it happens in other countries. There was also a big Kenyan community at the University of Wollongong that I attended, a few of whom I knew from back home. This created a cultural identity that made the transition easy.
My biggest adjustment was getting used to the questions people had about Africa and Africans in general. Being in situations where 99% of the time you were the only African or even the first African most people have hitherto interacted with, as you can imagine was not the best at times.
- What career did you want to pursue when you landed in Australia?
I wasn’t sure to be honest. All I was sure about was regardless of what I pursued, I’d always keep my creativity alive. I started out studying programming which I gave up after a year and switched to a double Major in Marketing and Industrial Relations.
After graduating, I applied for a marketing job and at the interview the owner of the company said given the results of the personality tests I had done, I was likely to get bored very quickly in this role because it wasn’t challenging enough (that was very spot on!). He then asked if I’d consider working in Mortgage Broking to which I responded why not!
While on this new path, I was still pursuing my creativity. I was in a dance group that performed around Sydney. I also taught dance classes. Then over the years I started importing accessories and Maasai sandals and selling in local markets, because I knew I wouldn’t be a corporate slave forever. I however had this goal that when the time came to leave the field of finance, it would happen after working for Macquarie Bank.
- Did you achieve that goal?
I’m happy to say I did! I worked for Macquarie Bank for 3 years, then left to pursue a different path in fashion. It was almost 10 years in finance.
- What do you currently do?
I work as an assistant buyer in a fast fashion company. I have my own fashion label Wa-Nyika. I’m also a freelance stylist and creative director.
- What would you say has been your experience with racism in Australia?
I know it exists and I do feel its impact in some areas. On a personal level, I don’t really have any experiences that I can speak of.
- What do you think about the election of Lucy Gichuhi as Senator?
I think it’s been fantastic not just for a woman, but an immigrant woman of colour. I was privileged to be in an event where she was a key note speaker and what she had to say really resonated with me. She is big on creating our own opportunities. She also talked about how Kenyans come out here and find it hard to get jobs because they don’t have work experience, so they either give up or do jobs they are overly qualified for. Her advice was, any spare time you have, pick an industry that you are interested in and volunteer. And while you’re at it learn as much as you can and doors will begin to open.
I strongly advocate for that because it’s something I have lived and breathed and I am where I am today because of that simple principle.
- What has been the single most important lesson for you in Australia
That being an African is a competitive advantage. Australia doesn’t have the same African history as the US and UK and what that means is we can create our own stories and curve our identity. My personal philosophy while navigating this society is, I will surprise you and shatter whatever misconceptions you hold about what an African can bring to the table. And my vision statement is “to use the universal language of creativity to transcend limitations of thought, inspire and create change”
- What informs your style?
I’m very eclectic. I believe how I dress is an expression of who I am. I love trends but I’m not a slave to them. I prefer style to fashion
- What would you tell Kenyans yearning to migrate to Australia?
Do as much research as you can on what is bringing you here. Make an informed decision, and yes listen to people but also seek professional advice. Each migration and its attendant experience is different from another.