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Destina - Indonesia - University of Canberra

Destina became an international student at the University of Canberra to peruse a PhD. Despite the hurdle of COVID-19, and physical restrictions put in place, Destina bonded with her university community. This is her #InThisTogether story.

#InThisTogether with Destina Winarti from the University of Canberra

Once in a lifetime I'm originally from East Java in Indonesia and came here to Australia on a very competitive scholarship in 2016 - the Australia Awards - to study my PhD at the University of Canberra.

I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself at the time so it's crazy to me that I even applied for it. Thousands of students apply and only a small number are accepted each year. I was really excited, I couldn't believe it when I was told I was accepted!

Before I came to Australia, I was working as a math's teacher in Indonesia and was interested in learning more about how we could help students further develop their math's skills. This became the focus of my PhD and a personal passion project.

A world of opportunities Ever since arriving at the University of Canberra, I have felt so grateful.

For many international student applicants applying for the Australia Awards scholarship, the chance to study abroad is something most just can't afford unless you are coming from a wealthy family. Studying abroad also allows us to study in English which can be very challenging as a non-native speaker, especially in academic writing. But there are so many benefits of learning English and the University of Canberra was very supportive and provided tools and services to help us through our studies.

The opportunities given by the Australia Awards scholarship are huge. It has given me the chance to do different kinds of workshops, learn new skills and even provided me the opportunity to meet important people from the Australian Government here in Canberra. Sometimes, when there is a program at Parliament House, we're also invited along to attend with people from University of Canberra.

Close-knit community The University of Canberra is very supportive because it's a small uni.

This was beneficial for me as a PhD student because I get more personalised attention. Any time I needed their help or assistance, people in the university actually recognised me and were happy to help. They always said, "oh Destina, you're in the faculty of education, your supervisor is so-and-so".

As a result, the bond felt very personal. Something that you probably wouldn't get or experience in a large university. It's like a family and that felt so good.

Personalisation matters in education The personalised attention has been particularly good during the recent challenging times of COVID-19. Due to the campus closure, we cannot access our office anymore and have limited access to printing, textbooks, and the on-campus internet. This has hindered me as I'm writing my thesis report.

Having access to 24/7 online study and writing support has really helped me get the assistance I needed for my thesis. It has helped me to keep my work consistent and boosted my confidence as well.

Because I'm not a native English speaker, those little grammatical things can be my biggest hurdle when it comes to academic writing. Knowing that the university offers help with this anytime is a real comfort.

Thankfully, both of my supervisors were always available during this uncertain time. We have regular meetings which is really helping me to keep up.

I live in Canberra alone and my family is back home in Indonesia. The cases of COVID-19 there are a lot worse than in Australia, so I often think about that and what I will do back home after I finish my thesis. When you have so many things going on in your head, sometimes it becomes such a jumble that you can't create anything. The support from my supervisors have really helped me with that.

What's next?

Our university has something in place called the COVID-19 scheme. This allows students to apply for leave or extensions on assignments and also seek financial, physical and mental health support. At the moment I'm working hard to finish up my thesis report so that I can complete it in Australia before I go back to Indonesia.

Hopefully, I'll take what I've studied and learnt here and see how it can be implemented back in my math's classroom at my old job in Indonesia.

Tips for other international students

Never feel ashamed or shy to ask for help! As international students, we need to shout out if we need support.

At my university I found people to be really helpful and supportive. There are also a range of academic support services available anytime so just ask.

Be positive in these unprecedented times! It's easy to feel stressed about what's happening and, as someone living alone, it's easy to feel down about that. You've got to have a positive frame of mind and be realistic with your goals. Focus on your study and remember why you're here.

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