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Macarena Erbs

Macarena is SisterWorks’ very own Social Enterprise and Production Engineer. She knows SisterWorks like the back of her hand. In her years spent working in the social enterprise, she has become a cornerstone to the team and is a treasured mentor to our Sisters.

Macarena is Chilean born and has been in Australia since 2016. She describes the year in-between starting at SisterWorks and arriving in Australia to be both difficult and challenging. During this time, she felt that she lost her identity. “It was very hard. I kind of panicked, and even though my background is strong – I studied at the best university in Chile.  [But] when you arrive here it is like all your background is like deleted … you are just your name.”

Back in Chile, Macarena studied a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering and a Master of Business Engineering. She also worked in Chile managing innovation and research projects in the university sector, before deciding to continue her studies in Australia and study an MBA in project management as an international student.

One of Macarena’s biggest challenges in Australia was developing confidence in her English skills. “I feel English was really, really hard at that time. I felt I couldn’t hear. I don’t know anything about English. I still remember getting on the red bus to get to the city [and] thinking, what language are they speaking?” While Macarena did learn English in Chile, she found it different here in Australia: “Here you need to make a conversation, you need to make an assessment, you need to buy things, you needed to understand random questions.”

Faced with these challenges, Macarena sought comfort in her studies, surrounding herself with other international students where, as she says: “It doesn’t matter if your accent is good or your grammar is good. You are far from your family so you need a little cuddling and love and I was not having that from the English language.”

However, while this was making her feel more secure, she also understood that this was not helping her develop her English skills and so she started to watch reality TV and listen to the radio to help her pick up some of the quirks in the language and get used to different accents. “One day I was driving [and listening to the radio] and I laughed … and I was like ‘oh my God, I understood, I understood the joke’.”

During this time, Macarena felt like she was at a crossroads in her life and didn’t know whether she would renew her visa and stay in Australia. She remembers asking herself: “What am I doing here [in Australia]?” Seeing her struggling with this question, one of Macarena’s friends who was volunteering at SisterWorks, invited her to a SisterWorks party. 

At the party, Macarena was invited to join a cooking event where she was asked to make a dish. She decided to make her Grandma’s chilli paste which everybody loved. She then joined SisterWorks’ cooking program, making jars of sauces and jams for the SisterWorks’ shop. This was a new program at SisterWorks and, as Macarena says: “We had lots and lots of jars, and we didn’t know where we were going to be selling the product or the costing”. So her engineering brain kicked in, and she thought: “I can do the forecast, I can do the costing. I did the spreadsheet analysis of the cost and I presented this to SisterWorks and they were like, ‘this is amazing!'”. They were so impressed that she was offered a job to continue this work as Production Engineer of the Cooking Program.

Macarena says this job really built up her confidence. “I forgot about my broken English, I forgot about not fitting in this country. And I was like, I fit here and I want to fit here full time, every day and support more people like me.” Over the years, Macarena has moved through different roles in SisterWorks to reach where she is now and describes her career as “very broad. It’s not just about building things, it more about managing things, and [having] a very good understanding of finance marketing.” 

Macarena says she has learned a lot from her experience in Australia. Her biggest piece of advice for women newly arrived in Australia is to “open yourself to meet women from other countries that might have the same stories but in a completely different context. Because the similarities we all have as migrants are huge, and when you share that with others, your story becomes less damaging because you know other women are sharing the same challenges are you.”

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