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Student Voices: My study abroad journey

Hashwina Vimalarajan was determined to pursue her academic aspirations abroad and embarked on a study journey that led her all the way to Australia.

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Studying abroad offers you a unique opportunity to develop personally, professionally and intellectually. You’ll have experiences that will both enrich and challenge you, which all adds to the development of new skills and abilities. Sometimes the prospect of leaving home and finding your feet in a totally new environment can make you second guess yourself, so it can be useful you to get the insights and perspectives of someone who has experienced it. We got in touch with Hashwina Vimalarajan to get the lowdown on her time studying and working in Australia. We kicked off our chat by asking her how she got started on her study abroad journey.

How did you study abroad journey begin?

I grew up in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and went to primary and secondary school there. I studied in an education system structured on the school system and model used in India, with grade 10 and 11 being quite crucial in deciding what subjects you’d take for your final examinations. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to study at school or which subjects to take, but I settled on pursuing science subjects such as biology, chemistry, maths and physics. I thought that this would give me a good foundation and allow me to explore different options when I finished school.

Did you receive any guidance when choosing your subjects and possible future study path?

Unfortunately, my school did not have a guidance counsellor, so I discussed the matter with my parents and decided to be as proactive as possible. We went to a lot of education fairs, collected pamphlets, and researched online. My parents, especially my mother, took quite a leading role in the process as I was still young and we were on the same page in terms of my ambition to study abroad.

When did you start planning your undergraduate studies?

I’d say about 18 months before I finished school. I really wanted to start as early as possible and this would 100 per cent be my advice to any prospective international students. I knew that I’d need time to wait for my exam results, lodge my application and get more familiar with all of the processes. I didn’t want to feel rushed or under pressure.

You used an IDP counsellor, didn’t you?

Yes, I did. My mother and I had come across IDP at one of the education fairs we had attended and were impressed by the overall package they offered. I had felt we could trust IDP with the process of assisting us, especially with all of the experience they have in the field.

 

We had felt we needed some help and guidance on the complexities of studying abroad, things like visasapplication processes and choices. IDP have an office in Abu Dhabi and I found the process really easy and professional.  I’d taken my IELTS test at the IDP office as well and it was a very smooth process.

 

 

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What stood out for you about your experience with IDP?

I think it was the fact that I felt like I was part of a family. My counsellor, Dhanya, was incredibly helpful, knowledgeable and accommodating. It made me feel a lot less anxious and overwhelmed. It was definitely a positive and memorable experience.

You chose to study in Australia in the end? Tell us more about that decision.

In terms of narrowing down where I wanted to study I used three key criteria. These were the quality of the education, the safety and security of the destination and what the graduate outcomes and work prospects were like.

 

It came down to choosing between Malaysia and Australia. I did apply to an institution in Abu Dhabi, as a back-up and “just in case”. However, after evaluating both options, Australia was my first choice. I applied to quite a few institutions including Monash, University of New South WalesUniversity of Sydney and the University of Adelaide.  In the end I chose Deakin University, which is located just outside Melbourne.

What course and degree did you pursue?

I had initially started studying a degree in Environmental Engineering, but then changed direction slightly and settled on a Bachelor of Environmental Science specialising in management and sustainability. When I started out studying I wasn’t that sure about what I was interested in or passionate about, but I think that over time I began to find my niche.

 

The way that my degree was structured also helped a lot. I was able to take elective courses from different faculties and schools, including business, law and arts subjects. It meant that my curriculum was really well rounded and incorporated project work. I studied topics such as global sustainability, consumerism, indigenous practices and environmental law.

 

Importantly I was able to experience the world of work through internships and compulsory placements. This helped me a lot, especially to gain knowledge and connect theory and practice.

What was campus life and Melbourne like?

I really enjoyed it and got to have the full on-campus experience. One of things that did strike me when I arrived was how cosmopolitan, multicultural and diverse the city of Melbourne was. There’s a great student culture in the city and that I liked a lot. There were also the Melbourne Student Ambassadors who assist students with settling in, adjusting to the city and showing people around.

 

I was admittedly a bit shocked by the suburban lifestyle of Melbourne, which I had never experienced before. I grew up in a city and so it took some getting used to. It was a fun experience discovering it though.

How did you find the adjustment of living so far from home?

I’ll admit it can be tough and I did get a bit homesick, but the university did do its best to make me feel welcome. When I look back now, I was very young, only 18, and didn’t really know much about the world. It was both a shock and a pleasant surprise for me. All that I’d known about Australia was what I’d read about and seen in the media.

 

I’d say it took me about a year to find my feet, both personally and academically. I needed to get used to a new style of teaching and learning, as well as discover how to balance everything. It was the first time I’d lived independently and when I arrived I didn’t know anyone. I really valued having that online connection with my family and being able to see them on video chat, even with the five-hour time difference. Luckily, I ended up making some really good friends as well.

 

 

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What was the student support like at the university?

It was pretty good actually. There are quite a few programmes that you can get involved in so you feel part of the community. There were workshops and courses on offer where you learn skills, get oriented and meet new people. What I was impressed with was the courses that focused on issues such as safety, consent and privacy.

 

The university did make sure that there were plenty of opportunities to get involved. I had always felt in school that there weren’t really that many options to grow and develop new skills, so was really happy to have the chance to do so.

Did you join any clubs and societies?

I did. In fact, I was part of quite a few. I joined Oxfam in my first year as the committee events coordinator and later became the vice president of the chapter. I volunteered at a student-run non-profit kitchen/ restaurant as well and got involved with a number of other local organisations.

Did you do any internships?

I did that as well. I interned at the Earth Watch Institute, with a focus on climate change projects. I also worked with the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) which is the professional association for environmental specialists.

Where did you find the time?

I’m a firm believer that you have seize every chance and opportunity that comes your way. It wasn’t always easy, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I treated everything as an experience. Having not worked a student job in Abu Dhabi, because you can only start working at 18, it was something I had wanted to try out when I got to Australia, and I did work in hospitality and some admin.

 

 

Studying abroad in Australia

What advice would you give prospective international students?

More than anything I’d encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and experience something completely different. Gain as much life experience as you can, and learn about who you are as a person. You’ll discover what your priorities are and how to find a good balance in life. It’s the perfect way to make the transition to the real world after you have finished school. You have to grow up very quickly, but it’s worth it.  Don’t stress too much about it, I was really anxious at the start and things seemed murky, but I found my way in the end.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working in the environmental field and also do quite a bit of work with youth organizations on issues such as social justice, diversity and racism. I hope to be able to settle in Australia permanently as I really enjoy it here. Australia does feel like my second home now if I’m honest. I think that having the post-study work visa has really been beneficial in being able to allow to become familiar with working in the country.

 

I’ve been thinking about possibly pursuing a master’s degree, but that will likely be in a couple of years’ time as I want to get some work experience first.

 

 

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