Valeria Cavallo sought emotional comfort in the pages of psychiatric and psychology journals after settling in South Australia from Argentina.
In the first year, while improving her English, Valeria started to recover her independence and professional identity after leaving Buenos Aires and a successful career in psychoanalysis and clinical psychology.
“In my first few months here, I went into the Women’s and Children’s Hospital one day and asked if they had any journals on children’s psychology that I could read,’’ she said.
“I became very good at drawing pictures during that time because I didn’t have English for some of the words to express what I needed.
“I couldn’t understand all the words in the newspapers which I found very frustrating but I could understand the jargon in the professional journals! That gave me confidence.
“I’d go from psychology journals to kindy books. My husband’s friend had a four-year-old child and I would read with her. After a couple of years in Australia, I started to read in English some of the books I used to read in Spanish.’’
It took some years for Valeria to regain her true sense of self.
Even with a cross-cultural background (her mother, Ecil, is Argentinian and her father, Giovanni, was Italian) Valeria says she was not prepared for the sense of grief and loss associated with migration.
Making new friends at 29 and rebuilding her career – in a different language – was difficult.
“On the surface people are people and houses are houses all over the world, but other things are different.
“It’s confronting but it’s quite humbling too.’’
Valeria grew up in the heart of the Argentinian capital (her mother still lives in the same house, very close to Parliament House) surrounded by the arts and eclectic cultural European influences.
“When I go back to Argentina now, it’s as if I never left. I know the neighbourhood and the people. I go and do the shopping and remember the bus routes and street names.
“And then it’s like a switch in your head and I’m at the airport and back in Adelaide, which also feels like home. So it’s home here and home there. It didn’t feel like that for quite a while but now I’m in that privileged position.
“I never considered choosing one or the other; it’s about adding up and not subtracting, and making life richer with the diversity.’’
A psychologist and counsellor with Centacare’s ACCESS program, Valeria draws on her empathy and deep understanding of cultural differences to support others experiencing challenges in their life.
“It definitely allows you to see things with a very open mind. This experience of migration has also allowed me to understand better what to be human is all about, and allowed me to apply some of this `newly acquired knowledge’ to my professional practice, too.’’