There was no doubt I was overwhelmed during my first semester of study. I had to process and absorb so much information about an education system I was entirely unfamiliar with, and I was back in the classroom for the first time in 10 years after having received my Fashion Design degree. Additionally, in my coursework, I had units such as Accounting, Statistics and Australian Business Law - intimidating topics (in my opinion), especially as working with numbers is not one of my strengths, and I was completely unfamiliar.
Even though I do not consider myself to be an extrovert, I made myself noticeable to lecturers since the first day of my new degree. Firstly, by expressing my excitement about coming back to classes and my expectations from the degree. Secondly, by communicating the underlying fear of this entirely new universe called the Australian education system, in which I wanted to excel!
I know it’s not easy right now - to adapt to an education system struck by a global event not experienced in over one hundred years. In a way, we are all in a big trial-and-error experiment. We, as international students, have probably felt and experienced the burden of this crisis in a very different way than a domestic student or the average Australian has. Our study and professional career plans abruptly had to be put on hold, and many of us found ourselves experiencing a myriad of struggles; being stood down from our jobs, still needing to pay for rent, food and other living expenses and, of course, looking after our health - all of this in isolation.
Studying and meeting our academic goals were our main priorities, but this changed almost overnight and surviving became the main priority. Facing these kinds of decisions daily definitely take a toll on one’s mental health. To this end, I acknowledge StudyPerth’s advocacy for international students during this time. Since day one of this crisis, they made sure we could have access to mental health support. And, after a few weeks of hard work and joint efforts, the StudyPerth Crisis Relief program became a reality. They also reassured the wider community that without us, the international education industry in Western Australia could not have become what it is today and the WA economy would look very different.
Coming from Colombia, a Latin American country that had struggled most of its entire modern history, I am ‘trained’ to face a crisis, to adapt, to make sacrifices for a greater good, to be resourceful and creative and, mostly, to express solidarity. I am aware other students are experiencing more challenges at this time than my husband and I are. We did not think twice about helping out with some food donations to the student support network (Red de Apoyo para Estudiantes) organised by a group of Colombians. Thanks to my role as a StudyPerth International Student Ambassador, I have previously met some of their group leaders in prior events. I was more than happy to help because I knew everyone would benefit from these donations no matter their nationality. These selfless acts made me feel so proud of being Colombian! I let them know I could be available for whatever they need, so I have also been contributing to the design of some of their social media flyers, both in English and Spanish. It is a small contribution, but I enjoy it.
As you can see, there is still hope and light at the end of the tunnel. It may take longer to get out of it but rest assured there are people out there making a difference and willing to lend a hand to international students no matter what.
Now, more than ever, it is our time to demonstrate the universal values that bring us together as this one big family of international students, contributing to a greater good in Australian society.
Written by International Student Ambassador, Natalia Murcia