University journeys: Interruptions and finding one’s direction

When we imagine a person going to university, we often assume that they know what they want to study, they get the marks they need in Year 12, and they finish their degree on time.

However, in reality the journey is rarely as smooth and straightforward as this!

In this video, people talk about what happened when they didn’t get the Year 12 score they needed for the course they wanted to do, experiences of not knowing what to study or choosing the wrong degree, of dropping out of uni and returning a few years later, and of taking longer than planned to finish their studies. However, they all finished their degrees in the end.

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I didn’t get into medicine first go. I got into a Bachelor of Biomedical Science. A lot of people in that biomedical course, they do it as an undergrad with the hope of getting into postgraduate medicine. And again, I was the only Islander in that class.

And I remember in our second year of biomed, one of the professors said, “Look, I know everyone here is probably gunning to do medicine.” And he asked everyone to put up their hand, “Who wants to do medicine?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’m one of them.” And he said, “Less than 5% of you will get into medicine.” And I was thinking, “Oh my God, I don’t look like someone that should get into medicine. I look different to everyone.” But I remember thinking, “I know I can do this. If my Dad’s friend can do it, I can do it.”

To get into medicine, you have to sit an entrance exam and I sat that exam four times before I got into medicine. And I think another thing that I want people to draw from this, or take away from this is that if you really want something and it’s your dream and your desire, then you can’t … Every day I’d always be thinking, “I want to do medicine. I want to be a doctor.”

And so, I sat it again, didn’t get in, sat it again, didn’t get in, and then the final time I was like, “Okay, I just need to focus, put all my focus onto this exam because this is the fourth time I’m going to sit it now.” And each sitting is like $400, $500 and obviously my parents are forking out the money for this.

So my Mum and Dad, I’m so grateful for them because without them and their support, not only financially, but mentally, emotionally, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. My Mum paid for me to do a course to help me prepare for this exam, which was almost three grand. And my Mum doesn’t work a high paying job. My Mum works as an aged care worker. But I think, honestly, when it came to school, my Mum and Dad would put money…I don’t even know where they found this money sometimes.

So then eventually I got through. So with my fourth attempt, I’d sat the GAMSAT for the fourth time. And for that I was working part-time at a uniform shop. I quit my job, so I was studying three months solid, going to the library every single day. My Mum would drop me off to the library. I’d be there Monday to Friday, weekends off, just studying my heart out for this exam, no social media, no hanging out with friends. Weekdays was just dedicated to doing study. And that paid off, I got to into medicine that following year here in Canberra, which is where I’ve been ever since.


I had enrolled in economics. I ended up failing miserably. I don’t even know why I contemplated economics, I can barely add two numbers. The whole concept around economics but I think at the end of high school, my Mum had convinced me I needed to get a job. I wanted to do an arts degree, she didn’t think that was a good idea. I enrolled in economics and then failed miserably. Then I got in loads of trouble from Mum and Dad. Dad in particular was very upset, so I had to go and get a job.

And that happened…I think that really helped me just…I don’t think it hurts having a job. I think it’s good to be around people. At uni, you’re usually around people sort of who are like minded and usually the same age. I think work life is good because you’re around a whole range of different ages and personalities and I really enjoyed that. I was working with people that were my parents’ age. It actually gave me insight to why my parents were the way they were. And I liked these people.

But I know I wanted to go and do an arts degree. Just because I knew I wanted to do something else. I knew that working in the bank wasn’t for me long-term. And doing the arts degree was really important. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts and Social Science and International Studies and that gave me an opportunity to study overseas for a year. I learned a language, I learned Spanish and I studied in Chile for a year and that was a really, really amazing experience.

To this day, I’m still friends with some of the people I studied over there with and still maintain contact with them. And that was a great way of…I suppose it was definitely, obviously, not learning about my culture, but it was definitely learning about how we engage with other cultures and communities as well. And also being there and living there, and having to speak in Spanish the whole time. All of your classes were in Spanish. And so having a sense of what it’s like to be the other again, but in a different way. It was definitely a very privileged position to be living and studying over there, but it was really exciting.


So I woke up with him and we drove about five hours to get to the uni and we enrolled. And honestly it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I’m a big advocate for parents during the same thing. I cried many nights, especially the night that they all waved goodbye as they drove off in the Hiace and went back to Mildura. I cried myself that night and many nights after that. But the experience I think is priceless, learning to be independent, my parents supported me through uni. I wasn’t allowed to work. Even though he was like, yes, you can do church and schooling together when it came to uni, it was no, you still do church, as long as you’re focusing on that in your own time, he’s like, but you do schooling. And there was no option of working during uni. So my parents supported me throughout uni because I am a Tongan citizen.

I’m not an Australian citizen. I’m just a permanent resident. I did not qualify for HECS. I did get a Commonwealth Supported Place, which means I had received the discounted price for uni but I had to pay the fee upfront before every semester. And my parents paid for that. With my older sister when she started uni, we weren’t permanent residents yet, so my parents had taken a loan out to pay because she was also in the medical field. It was a ridiculous amount of money and we had to pay as an international student at the time, but to my parents, it was worth it because they were like, “It’s education and there’s no better investment than your child’s future.”

So my parents made that decision, and when I was at uni, my parents were supporting me financially the whole time. So it was learning how to budget myself, because my Mum’s normally the person who budgets everything, filling out paperwork and learning to live by myself. I lived on res, at the uni campus, I got to live there thanks to a scholarship that I got from Mildura, where they paid for my accommodation, and my parents paid for my schooling, my books and basically feeding me the whole time.


Did you finish the degree all in one go or did you, how did you find the actual journey at uni?


I didn’t finish it all in one go. My Mum always laughs at this when she finds out, well, when she hears about it. My Mum had a rule that you weren’t allowed to have a boyfriend until you were 21, or when you finished uni, whichever one came first. They said he was an unnecessary distraction, and I didn’t believe them. And then I found out that they were right. It is an unnecessary distraction. I did fail a few units and had to go back and redo the units. And my parents, even though they would have to pay for it not once did they scold me or anything, they were just always encouraging me to, “It doesn’t matter just go back and finish. We just want you to finish as long as you finish.” So they paid for everything and they were always encouraging. I am the child who wasn’t the brightest in the family and I’m not the brightest in the family.

I have lots of siblings who are much brighter than I am, but I am very stubborn and determined. So to my parents, anything that I achieved was amazing to them because they were like, “Oh, we didn’t expect much,” because I never really gave them much to expect from me. I was just like, whatever I go with the flow. So to them, the fact that I was at uni and I was trying, to them they were like, it doesn’t matter if she fails. If she’s willing to go back, we just keep going. We’ll just keep encouraging her and keep paying for it and we’ll just tell her what the most important just to pray about everything. So after being a bit silly, I finally finished, I graduated with my degree.

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