Melbourne, The Boundary Pusher

Surrounded and inspired by many successful people who studied overseas, I longed to go abroad since grade six. I put my efforts into studying day and night to firstly compete in Cambodia’s national competition for outstanding students in grade nine and 12, and secondly to hopefully be awarded a scholarship to study abroad. I started to have extra classes outside school hours and at one point during my high school years, I studied a couple of subjects much earlier than I was supposed to. For instance, when I was in grade 10, I was already studying mathematics for 12th graders. Despite many challenges, everything seemed to go well and the ambition to study overseas also did not fade away after those years. As hoped, I have competed in Cambodia’s national competitions for outstanding physics students in grade nine, and outstanding maths students in grade 12, managing to be in the top three in the municipal round for both competitions. Meanwhile, I had the chance join a few local and international competitions as well. All of these competitions unquestionably motivated me to take on the challenge to apply to be an international scholarship recipient.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful in grabbing those chances to study abroad while financially supported, although I was awarded scholarships to study in a few well-known local universities. While I was studying at a particular local university, overseas education still lingered in my mind. It wasn’t just because of the overseas education system’s effectiveness, because of the great journey awaiting me if I did study abroad. As you might expect since you are reading this piece, I decided to follow my heart, discontinued the course funded by the current scholarship and came to Victoria.

After stepping into the most liveable city in the world, Melbourne, I knew I’d made the right decision and didn’t regret a single bit. Actually, there was one thing to regret – I wish I made this decision earlier. I’ve made some friendly friends from significantly diverse backgrounds and my university, Deakin, had even arranged a short trip on the orientation day. I felt so welcome and I couldn’t wait to start the first day at university and make more amazing companions. The warm welcome was also provided at home, which is where the heart is after all. I lived in a homestay where I was exposed to a range of Australian cultures, but mainly the Australian Football League because my homestay father is a huge fan of the Richmond Tigers team! My family back in Cambodia and here in Melbourne were all very supportive. Receiving love from four parents is undoubtedly better than just from two (two times more love). As one Chinese saying goes, ‘smiling frequently will eventually lead to one’s luckiness’. That seems to be true in my situation. At school, while I had the opportunity to have fun conversations with many unfamiliar faces, I also managed to achieve the Highest Achiever Award, in which the school recognised a student who obtained the highest scores in that particular course. I enjoyed my achievements and my life overall so far in Melbourne.

As time went by, while I was certain enough that I would never look back, I did. At some stages, I somehow didn’t enjoy my life as much as I had in the first few chapters. That Chinese saying applies again; that is, I also didn’t do well at university. The reasons were blurry. I thought I must be homesick because I did miss my family and my friends a lot. My dogs too, of course. I gradually felt lost in life. I was unsure of what I wanted to do and to achieve in life. Suddenly, there were many things I did apparently wasn’t satisfactory to others. Although I enjoyed the independence, my inner weaknesses were somehow triggered.

I was scared of being judged and this in turn restricted me from many activities. If I were to perform any activities that I’d never done before, my heart would beat very quickly. Even simple things like ordering a Subway sandwich for the first time really scared me. I would observe the Subway store to see the process or search Google for instructions. In addition to that, I didn’t want the long queue behind me to wait for too long. Or at school, I wouldn’t answer a question if I wasn’t 100% sure.

I was so concerned about a variety of situations to the extent that I questioned the decision to come to Melbourne. I spent months reflecting and felt hopeless. The thought of going to my university’s counsellor then crossed my mind. I strongly resisted at first because seeing a counsellor doesn’t normally gain a favourable reaction, especially from where I come from. Feeling conscious of my situation and I also couldn’t afford to see the downward trend in my studying, I stepped out of my comfort zone to see a counsellor.

The counsellor suggested a number of approaches, which I have followed and my anxiety reduced gradually. I also started volunteering, which was something I enjoyed doing back in Cambodia, and it allowed me to meet many kind-hearted people who told me that life wasn’t always a clear cut.

Wherever I am, turning off the negative noises and being resilient are the key to happiness and to one’s success. I learnt that the process itself to deal with my social anxiety is the solution as there’s no one-step approach, so I really appreciate that I was exposed to such counselling services and Melburnians’ positivity. If I didn’t come to Melbourne, I wouldn’t know that such adventure in a different society could be both rocky and rewarding simultaneously although it’s much more rewarding because it gives me the opportunity to expand my boundaries further. Therefore, I could now confirm that coming to Melbourne is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


LIne Sethnita Vana's story was a finalist in the Higher Education Category: By international students studying at a university.