When I was about 16 years old, I wandered through a careers fair in a non-descript gymnasium in Newcastle. I was the kind of high school student who loved everything. English, French, Geography, Music, Science… what kind of career involved all of those? And better yet, what kind of career did I want to have, where did I want to work, what did it all mean? So like any 16 year old at a careers fair, I took my share of booklets, free pens and magnets and thought I’d deal with all of those big questions at a later date, after all, I already had my one-way ticket to London booked.
When I got home, I looked through some of the booklets with my parents, flicking through the similar glossy pages and scanning course guides trying to find the one with my name written all over it. That’s when I picked up the University of Wollongong’s booklet. I was immediately drawn to this thing known as a double degree (I’d always been one to try and over achieve). It was perfect. International Studies with Communications and Media. I hadn’t seen another university offer the same kind of degree and something about their prospectus seemed edgy and authentic (nice job marketing)- plus it was basically ON THE BEACH! After only ever visiting Wollongong once, I put it as my first preference in UAC, sat the HSC and headed off to London, more of less forgetting about school and uni all together.
When I arrived back in Australia, and the reality of trying to figure out my life hit me, I was overwhelmed by where I actually wanted to go. I had offers from multiple university’s and it was really my choice. Then I got a call from the infamous Stephen Brown who was then the Head of Students for the Faculty. He rang me to congratulate me on my ATAR and offered me a Dean’s Scholar program. I was pretty delighted that a professor had called up little old Adelaide and thought about what my life in Wollongong, as a Dean’s Scholar might look like.
After a year in London, I was pretty over cities. They’re crowded, expensive and noisy, so Sydney was off the cards. I considered Newcastle but that meant I’d only be a 45 minute drive from home (not far away enough). A lot of my friends went to the party destination of Armidale but thought I couldn’t handle the cold. And Melbourne seemed a bit too far away, plus the dreaded 4 seasons in one day thing. So back to the idea of Wollongong I went. I was overjoyed when I found out that one of my best friends from high school would be studying there too and with that my decision was made – Wollongong I was coming for you!
In my first year in Wollongong, I lived in International House. Having just come back from travelling around Europe, I was pretty excited to be living with people from all over the world and all over Australia. We had dorm parties, discovered Wednesday night schnitty night at North Gong hotel and learnt that having dinner at 5:30pm was completely acceptable (you wanted to get the best food you could). I’m still friends with people I met at iHouse and I’m incredibly lucky I got to call it home for my first year of 2014.
My first job
I landed my first job on campus as a Student Rep, which hardly felt like a job at all. I got to visit local high schools and talk to students about their study options. As someone who loves talking and is passionate about education and pursuing your dreams, I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do this. I attended career fairs (I got to hand out those course books and magnets) and work at big events like Open Day and Discovery Days. It was my first taste of the inner workings of UOW and university. I loved it because I was sharing my experiences, my observations and connecting with my teachers and peers. It set me up in a way I couldn’t have imagined at the time.
Uni friends are a different kind of friend
Moving to a new place and starting university can be pretty overwhelming, but I was determined to make as many friends as I could. Before we event started, I sat a French placement test (which I actually failed) and met my now best friend Erica. While buying my French textbook I met my friend Anna. And in my first French class I met my mate Pete. OK maybe it was French that set me up with some amazing friends but I knew it was more than that. Connecting with people over a common interest in French, careers or travel at university was like nothing I had experienced before. We had all committed and chosen to spend our time (and money) here. In my lectures, tutorials and in the corridors of building 19 I met so many incredible people that I would continue to cross paths with and forge friendships with. These moments certainly set me up for years of expanding my network and knowing I always had someone to go to the UniBar with. They say the people you meet at uni will be friends forever and I couldn’t believe it more.
Kooloobong Village and LHA Central
In my second year of uni I moved to Kooloobong Village (also known as KB). I lived in Unit 10 with people I’m lucky to still call friends. I turned 21 that year and was diving deep into uni, expanding my friend group, and apparently bought a selfie stick (remember those things?!) It’s also the year I really started to invest in my blog, not just as a personal reflection but as a professional tool to connect with people around the world. I’m lucky I’ve had people support me throughout my journey to push me to keep creating and keep writing.
In 2015 I started working at LHA Central, a job I absolutely loved! I became great friends with Mark and Lauren and I learnt the art of admin, customer service and relationship management. I loved that I worked in an office, had an email signature and my own personal phone extension. I worked there for 4 years and was lucky to balance work with my studies throughout that time.
The ‘Carrie Bradshaw moment’
If you’ve set foot onto the UOW campus, I apologise, you’ve likely seen my face on promotional posters. While yes you’ll find me on the website, course guides, flyers, posters and videos… nothing can top the moment my face was blown up on a bus!
Exchange and travel
If it wasn’t already apparent, travel is something I absolutely love. So when the opportunity to study AND travel arose I jumped at it. 2016 was a big year for that. I completed a short course at the University of La Rochelle through AIM Overseas studying French language, history and gastronomy (hello beautiful wine!). You can read about my time in France here. Living with a French host family, and speaking French non-stop, my French improved drastically (you’d hope wouldn’t you). I befriended a group of students from America (which I later visited in D.C) and was just so happy to live out my dream of eating baguettes all day long. This experience later inspired me to change my French minor to a major with the support from the best French teacher you’ll meet, Anu.
After my time in France, I headed to Montreal for 6 months to complete a semester abroad at Concordia University. I thought I’d be able to apply my newly acquired confidence with French but Quebecois French is something else entirely! It was here that I met incredible friends, studied Canadian history, politics and geography and survived -28degrees. I was lucky to study abroad with some fellow UOW students and had friends come to visit as well. Even on the other side of the world, people manage to connect and be present in your life.
Finishing uni, research assistant and more travel
After nearly 8 months overseas, it was time to come back to Australia and get back into finishing my degree and working at LHA Central. I was asked by one of my Politics teachers, Nori, to be his Research Assistant for his work on the 457 visa in Australia. This was a time I felt that my research, writing and curiosity skills could actually take me in an interesting direction (more on that later).
It was 2017 and I was due to complete my degree early at the end of the year. Because I was eligible for another Overseas Help Loan from the Government, I thought why not study abroad one more time. I found a short course in Mexico City that was all about human rights, immigrants,Mexican culture and history. I had taken an interest in immigration through my classes and thought this would be an incredible way to learn about this issue in a country that was facing a border crisis in the US, with Trump only recently being elected.
You can read about my experience here but it was certainly one of the most profound experiences of my life. It inspired me to trust and follow my curiosity to understand how the world works. I later contributed towards the UOW student magazine about immigration and it also gave me the confidence to undertake my Honours year.
Honours and Digital Marketing
2018 was a wild year. I was enrolled in my Honours course with Nori as my supervisor. As no surprise to anyone, chose to do my thesis on the topic of the ‘everyday experience of “illegality” in the US’ and examined the historical development of US immigration policy. It was by far one of the most challenging things I have ever done.
In the same year, I was approached by the LHA Marketing team to help out with managing their social media channels and website project. I worked with the dream team several times a week and fell in love with all things digital, marketing and communications. It’s here that I found what I loved to do. Create engaging content and bring people joy.
Professional Adelaide coming through
After finishing my studies I really wasn’t sure where I was going or what I wanted to do. I landed a casual position with the Advancement Division supporting their social media, websites and events. I was lucky to work with them on a casual basis until mid 2020. Through this I met incredible people and was able to pitch stories, conduct interviews, contribute and support with editing of the Outlook magazine… the list is endless and I loved every second. A highlight was certainly the 2019 Alumni Awards where I took to social media to provide live updates throughout the night which was so much fun!
I was over the moon when I landed a permanent roll in the LHA International Unit supporting international student recruitment, mobility and fostering a sense of community for our international student community. I have learned so much in this role under the incredible leadership of Kate and Lily and wouldn’t be where I am without the support of incredible colleagues like Rosheen, Ian and Simone. In 2019 I travelled to India to represent UOW which was such a pinch me moment I’m still in disbelief it happened.
So we know that COVID drastically changes our lives in every aspect. Though I felt incredibly priviledged and lucky to have had my job, apartment and family close by, my heart broke for those international students who have been separated from their families with no end in sight. Particularly as COVID cases around the world continue to worsen, we are truly living through a traumatic global event, the effects of which may not be felt for some time to come.
Unfortunately for myself and my colleagues at UOW, Australian universities got quite comfortable with getting their revenue from international students. With borders firmly closed, it put enormous finanical pressure on univerisities across the country. This meant money saving initiatives had to be introduced which ultimately resulted in jobs being cut.
I waded out a very rocky 2020. Working from home for 12 months, a restructure, huge proposed job cuts and navigating uncertainty in the international student space. At the beginning of 2020 I had planned to move and work overseas in Mongolia (of all places, yes… but that’s a story for another time). So with the promise of a new year, in 2021 I was committed to finding a new job that would spark joy, push me out of my comfort zone and take me in a new direction.
In February I found out that I had landed a communications role at a Women’s Health organisation in Canberra – not quite Mongolia but it does get cold – and I knew my time was up.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
Leaving certainly was bittersweet. UOW was the place I grew up, personally, professionally, academically. It was the place I came to understand the world around me, meet people that have shaped me, overcome challenges and adversity and figure out what I want to do with my life.
People might say ‘it’s just a job,’ but my time at UOW was far more than that. It was pivotal in figuring out who I am. While universities across Australia continue to face many cultural and financial challenges, and it’s certainly not over yet, I choose to look back on my time at UOW with pride, joy and accomplishment.
The friendships I’ve made will last a lifetime (I got a tattoo with my boss – that friendship is indestructalbe!), the skills I’ve gained will propel me forward and most importantly I’ve learnt what kind of leader I want to be and how one person really can make a difference in a big organisation. Be authentically you and you will inspire people to do the same.
Only time will tell what the future holds, but one thing is for sure, I’ll be back. Whether it’s as a student (again), as a staff member, an academic or the Vice Chancellor, UOW will always have a special place in my heart, and one that I’m incredibly grateful for.