For Vaishali, the transition from her life in Kenya to Perth, Australia, posed a bit of a challenge. The lifestyle, people, and education system were entirely different from what she was used to in Kenya and she found it to be pretty overwhelming. However, after six years of living and working in the Western Australian capital, including a few years studying at Canning College, she now has excellent, learned advice for her fellow international students.
“My first year in Australia was the hardest,” she says. “I had to learn how things are done here, as well as adjusting to a new place at the same time, but it’s helped me become independent. It’s made me the person I am today.”
Now an audiologist undertaking graduate studies, Vaishali shares with Insider Guides how to overcome culture shock, her best tips for making friends quickly, and how the international student community can sometimes be the best support system.
Cultural backgrounds and university pathways
Vaishali, who is of Indian background but was born and raised in Kenya, moved to Australia after completing high school.
“My brother and cousins were already here so for me it was always there in the back of my mind that I would go to Australia for further studies.”
Upon the recommendation of an agent, Vaishali began a WA Universities’ Foundation Program at Canning College in 2013. She knew she wanted to study science, but wasn’t sure which area of the sciences was best for her.
“The good thing about Canning College is they take you to different universities and provide you information on different courses and it really helped me see what options I had,” she explains. “However, even after that I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I went on to do a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology (Preclinical) at Curtin University.”
Choosing a broad degree, with study elements encompassing all of the health sciences, Vaishali was finally able to narrow down her career path.
“I chose audiology because I knew I wanted something in allied health, but also something that allowed me to interact with patients a lot more – I think that’s just part of my personality,” she shares. “With rehabilitation, you don’t just see someone and then off they go, you build a relationship with them and you see them grow and progress and you get to improve their quality of life.”
Settling into Perth and making new friends
Vaishali is very candid about her initial, challenging experiences in Australia.
“To start off it wasn’t that great, it was a big culture shock. The way people were, the education system – everything was really different to how it was back home and coming into a new country without any support from my parents – I moved here by myself.”
Even though Vaishali had the support of a brother and cousins living in Perth, a student’s journey is an individual experience, and it can still be tough, even if you have a support system in place. Fortunately, orientation week at Canning College helped alleviate some of her stresses.
“[All] of the students at Canning College are international – that’s a plus because you can relate to people because it’s their first time in Australia as well. Orientation gave us an opportunity to get to know each other, it really helps you form relationships and make friends.”
In addition, Vaishali found that Canning College helped her adjust to her new life in Australia, and the memories of their help have stuck with them until now.
“Everyone’s so supportive at Canning, from receptionists to teachers. I still remember their names and faces, even six years later.”
In adjusting to the unique Australian education system, Vaishali is grateful that she had an opportunity to ease into university life by building a strong foundation at Canning College.
“If I went straight to university, I would be lost. I wouldn’t know what I was doing, how lectures work, or how online assignments work. Back home, we didn’t have anything online. I didn’t even know what referencing was or how to do a presentation,” she laughs. “If I went to university right away, I don’t think anyone would be there to teach me all this and guide me through it, but at Canning College, they understand that things are different and they give you that support and the help that you need.”
Hearing birds sing for the first time
Since volunteering in an audiology clinic in Kenya, Vaishali knew what she wanted to do, and her job has come with incredibly heart-warming experiences.
“When patients come to me and tell me, ‘Oh my God, I can hear the birds – I’ve never heard that in my life before!’, I think that’s really rewarding and that’s what motivates me to do better every single day.”
In the future, Vaishali wants to be able to offer this kind of care to people across the globe, especially for those that don’t have access to readily available healthcare.
“I think in the long term I’d like to do this in developing countries because developing countries actually have the highest number of people with hearing loss, but it’s not a priority for them because they have bigger issues.”
In 2020, Vaishali’s sister, Jahnavi, started her Canning College journey.
“Just like me, she doesn’t know what she wants to do, but she knows it’s in science. From my experience with how Canning College helped me, without even thinking, the first thing that came to my head was, yep, you’re going to Canning College!”
Much like her sister, Jahnavi is experiencing the normal challenges every international student experiences, but Vaishali understands the importance of her sister making her own way.
“I’m helping her out a little, but it’s different for everyone – you have to figure things out for yourself, but it’s good that she has the support of myself and our family in Perth.”
Advice for international students
Vaishali’s advice for fellow international students is an example of ‘do as I say, not as I did’. She admits that she limited herself in her first year because of her shyness, but as soon as she became more of an extrovert, her life changed for the better.
“Don’t be an introvert!” she laughs. “It can be very overwhelming, but you just have to step out of your comfort zone, start talking to people. That’s the number one key. I didn’t do much of that and I regret it – I was very quiet and reserved. But, as soon as I started working on it, I felt more confident.”
For fellow introverts, Vaishali concludes with this advice:
“Join activities or social clubs, and don’t take things too seriously – studying isn’t everything. Even though that’s the main reason you came here, there’s more to it than studying.”