By Ananya Rao
I joined the University of Western Australia in July 2020 as a Bachelor of Arts student, with a double major in Psychology. Today, I write this story as a Bachelor of Science student, majoring in Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, with a second major in Human Resource Management. This is just one of the more tangible changes that I have undergone in the past almost one and half years – something I can clearly define and express.
What about all the things I can’t express so well? The mental, emotional and personal? Well, that is what this story is all about: the not-so-obvious, covert changes I have experienced as a student, as a person and as an individual with dreams of ‘that college life’.
My university journey started with the idea that after just a couple of months at home, I would be flying off to begin campus life at Perth. Yet here I am, in my third semester, still an offshore student, ‘studying online’, and writing fifty emails every day explaining why I need an online alternative for this tutorial, this workshop, and that event. Telling people where I am located, what time it is here and that “I don’t know when I’ll be joining on-campus” is now second nature to me.
The first semester practically whizzed past, while I was still adjusting to university on a laptop. Time flew by and I was suddenly reading the results email at 10 p.m. on the 26th of November. How did the semester go by? Where had I been? What had I learnt? What had I achieved? Did anyone even know me? Did I have an identity? Or did I only exist in documents and Zoom meetings? I had made one friend and experienced the perils of virtual teamwork. That chapter ended there and I was thankful for the upcoming three-month-long vacation to hibernate and lick my wounds while gaining strength to face the even more challenging Semester Two.
Feb to June passes – I have already finished year one of university. Never been to campus, sure, but met all kinds of wonderful people: unit coordinators who are renowned experts in their field, domestic teammates who tell me what WA summer feels like and automated emails alerting me about the new statement of account. My take? The only benefit of studying online-offshore: saving on the living costs!
This time I was a little more aware of all the things I was missing out on and that led to feeling guilty about not putting in enough effort to make the best of my situation. So in that June-July break I decided to go all out and enrol in anything and everything that came my way: hackathons, industry programmes, virtual volunteering; you name it, I registered for it.
Believe it or not, that was the best decision of my life. I discovered worlds of opportunities I didn’t even know existed. I felt seen, heard, recognised and appreciated. I developed skills I did not know I had an innate predilection for. My eyes were opened, my brain was fed and I was so proud of myself that the quest for more ventures was ignited. I was networking through my phone and laptop and it was only further proof to me that putting yourself out there, be it in person or online, can do wonders.
This is not a sob story of how I have struggled over three semesters. No, this is the account of a person who’s been there and done that and would like to tell the authorities that you know what, you can do better. You need to do better. We, the offshore community, deserve better. Because there’s a huge number of people out there like me, with so much potential just waiting to be harnessed. What do we need? Support, understanding, and value for our money. This, and many stories like this, are a call for action: it’s high time! We want what we rightfully deserve and we will fight for it till we get it.