Knowledge is power – overcoming social isolation

Tanya Kaplan came to Australia as a 17 year old. She first landed in Darwin from Cyprus and was making her way to South Australia where her fiancé lived.

“I remember getting off the plane in Darwin. It was 45 degrees and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I hope Adelaide isn’t this hot’ because I didn’t pack any summer clothes!” says Tanya.

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She admits it was a bit of a culture shock seeing local girls walking around in mini-skirts.

“A short skirt in Cyprus was 4 inches above my knee and even then my Mother would tell me it was too short.”

But while the culture shock wore off, nothing could have prepared Tanya for the social isolation that would plague her early years in Australia.

“My biggest problem was being away from family and friends, and not being able to express myself in English properly. I felt very, very lonely,” Tanya explains.

“I used to sit in front of my window most of the day so I could see the postman coming, and rush out there to check the letterbox for letters from Cyprus.”

It took great courage to finally immerse herself in her new surrounds.

“I started studying English courses by distance and completed a few tourism and English braille courses along the way too.  Slowly but surely I learned the language.”

After her marriage ended, however, Tanya found herself starting from scratch all over again.

“I was emotionally, psychologically and financially ruined, I lost everything. I found myself working three part-time jobs and studying full-time university while looking after two teenage children,” says Tanya.

“Being a single mother in a new country certainly wasn’t easy, but I persisted.

“I completed a Social Work degree, a Masters in Public Policy and Management and was later asked to lecture at Flinders University in Adelaide,” Tanya says.

“It makes me happy to think that even with all the hardship I faced, I was able to come out of it stronger and smarter. One of the best things I learned was that knowledge is power.”

These days Tanya works as a Multicultural Service Officer (MSO), helping others to face the same problems she overcame.

“I love my job! It’s so rewarding to know I can help others who feel socially isolated.

“Women come to me who can’t speak a word of English and it’s great knowing I can help them. I can give them the information and tools that I didn’t have.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time working in multicultural communities too, so it’s great that I can bring my influence as a leader in the Adelaide Turkish community to the work that I do.”

Tanya has used her past experiences and learnings to help women from all walks of life become more empowered.

“The best part about this job is getting positive feedback from people,” says Tanya.

“Hearing that I’ve inspired someone to study, and now they’re school teachers, or have completed a university degree…that makes it all worthwhile.”

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