Sophie-Claire Violette

Mauritius

Sophie-Claire Violette's portrait
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“I have never wanted to change the person that I am or the woman that I am. I have come a long way to embrace my individuality, to embrace my womanhood and to embrace my cultural heritage as well.”

Sophie-Claire is twenty-nine years old. Never in those twenty-nine years did she think she would end up living in New Zealand; let alone in a small rural town. She tells us that she has always loved cities. She describes them as places that never sleep; that ooze creative energy, fashion and culture and where the beautiful, the different and the outright strange come to express themselves freely and connect with one another. Yet, here she is. She has lived in New Zealand for the last four years and in Ashburton for the last year…  She explains that she didn’t fall in love with the idea of New Zealand. She fell in love with the idea of living with the man she chose to be with, in the country that he grew up in and where he wanted to achieve his dream while she worked on her own.

When she landed in Christchurch just a week after the February earthquake had hit, she felt a mixture of excitement and slight disappointment. She was looking forward to seeing her boyfriend who had left Mauritius a few days before her, but at the same time, the thought of moving into this broken city was unsettling.

The 2011 earthquakes became decisive factors in the experiences of many migrants who arrived in Christchurch shortly before or after they occurred. For those who arrived before, the shock of being away from home and being caught up in the earthquakes and their aftermath would have been tremendous! For those who arrived after, it is the state of the city and the repercussions of the damage that the earthquakes had caused that would have been a significant challenge in settling in. Sophie-Claire remembers that the University of Canterbury had been considerably affected and that most of the courses she had enrolled in were no longer offered. The infrastructure was in shambles; reflecting the state of the city itself… Many articles have been written about the challenges that migrants faced after the Christchurch earthquakes to settle into the city. While things would have been difficult for anyone living in Christchurch at the time, it is needless to say that many migrants would have been particularly vulnerable. Luckily, Sophie had a good network around her and she began her first semester learning under a marquee set up in the carpark because the lecture theatre was cordoned off.

While the earthquake brought its fair share of difficulties, it also infused Christchurch city with new energy as more and more migrants arrived. Some came to help in the rebuild and others just to join into the community that was now rebuilding the city. Many migrants found unique ways to bring their own experiences into the reemerging city and exciting ideas came together from these diverse people working together with the local community. At the University of Canterbury, Sophie-Claire soaked it all up. Fast track to 2016 and Sophie has now graduated. She moved to Ashburton in 2014 and now works with her partner at Skydiving Kiwis, the company that his brother and himself built together.

The move from urban to rural Canterbury took some adjusting too and Sophie tells us that she definitely felt a bit of a culture shock moving to Ashburton. “I love meeting people, making friends…And I didn’t have any of that here…”. As a migrant, Sophie, like us all; is proud to contribute her culture and the diversity it brings to the local community she is now a part of.  Nevertheless, she says that she wishes that people were more open to the different perspectives that migrants bring to the towns they choose to build their homes in. She tells us that she struggled with the first impressions that she thought people had of her partner and herself when they moved to Ashburton. Yet, she didn’t want to change who she was to make settling in easier. She explains that she has come a long way to embrace her individuality and also her cultural identity. Being from the creole minority in Mauritius; there were many aspects of her cultural identity that she had to discover and learn to embrace by herself, and it took her a while to cultivate a sense of pride for her cultural heritage. She explains that all these elements have made her the woman that she is now and that even though she was often sad that she felt lonely, she would have never compromised her individuality and her identity just to fit in and create connections.

It is these reasons that brought her to embark on Crossing the Bridge last year. She says that life is so easy in Ashburton, it is easy to forget that there is a whole world around us but that in the next few years, more and more of the world will come into the town. It sounds both exciting and daunting to her, but she believes that we can all learn from one another and from our differences. She hopes that this project will encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and start talking to each other, so that strangers can become familiar and eventually friends.