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Student Story: Music, Medicine and Making a Life in Melbourne

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This article is sponsored by La Trobe College

For many, jumping from the arts to medicine and science might seem impossible, but for Vietnamese student Phoebe Nguyen, it just took hard work and perseverance.

“From learning music and language, into medical terms, learning about the body and how to clean a wound… everything was different!” she says. “It was challenging and rewarding.”

We spoke to Phoebe about being a nursing student in her new home of Melbourne, her tips for creating the perfect balance between study and a social life, and how it felt to be awarded the La Trobe University Excellence Scholarship.

A new start

Coming from a background in languages and the arts (namely, completing a Bachelor of English Studies and a Diploma of Music majoring in piano), Phoebe took time after graduating university to work out what she really wanted to pursue in life. 

“After my bachelor, I spent two years working in multiple part-time roles in the education sector, trying different career options before committing,” she says. “Working closely with children and adults with different backgrounds has made me realise that my passion lies in looking after people’s health and wellbeing, especially young children. The desire to help and care for people stimulated me to pursue a nursing career.”

So, Phoebe made the bold decision to step out of her comfort zone and move from her home of Ho Chi Minh City to Melbourne, Australia.

“Coming to Australia took extensive and careful consideration,” she says. “The main idea was to expose myself to a whole new environment, a new education system, and to be more independent and mature.”

Life at La Trobe College Australia and La Trobe University

After deciding to commence her studies mid-year, La Trobe College Australia ended up being the perfect choice for Phoebe. She began with a Diploma of Health Sciences.

“La Trobe College Australia was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she says. “I have a different background, so starting off with a diploma helped me so much because I had to study in a new country, with a new culture, new language, with a different type of workload.”

Phoebe graduated after eight months, but not without recognition for her academic excellence: she was awarded the La Trobe University Excellence Scholarship, a scholarship for high-achieving international students that granted Phoebe a 25 per cent reduction on course fees, which she used to start a Bachelor of Nursing at La Trobe University. 

“Winning the scholarship was one of the biggest encouragements for my hard work,” says Phoebe. “Having this financial and mental support reminded me to maintain my hard work, my consistency in academic results, but not forgetting to maintain my work/life balance.”

With the diploma pathway, Phoebe was able to complete her bachelor in just two years. During that time, she was fully able to adjust to Australian learning.

“University here is so different – it requires a lot of individual learning and self-study,” she says. “It was challenging at the start but luckily the La Trobe lecturers and cohort were very supportive and helpful.”

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To help with the work/life balance, Phoebe turns to her singing.

“I’ve been singing since I was four. I sing when I’m sad, on my way to uni, sometimes to my patients when I’m on placement!” she says. “I’m currently a freelance singer and keyboardist doing gigs in Vietnam and Australia, and am building a YouTube channel for my singing as a side hobby to relax after working hours and studying.”

Phoebe has taken this passion to various competitions, including the La Trobe Vietnamese Students Association Music Battle in 2018, where she came second.

“I was over the moon for a couple of days, but now when I look back, it wasn’t about the prize but about the new friends that I made, the new relationships and connections – not only to the Vietnamese student community but to the international one,” she says.

Phoebe says that La Trobe University and La Trobe College Australiawholeheartedly encouraged her singing. The educational institutions have sponsored every event she has participated in and host cultural events on campus, which Phoebe says helps foster the international community.

“Having a Vietnamese culture day in the Agora in the middle of the campus strengthens the connection between Vietnamese students and creates new connections with other students from all other countries,” she says.

Advice for fellow international students

To students who have been awarded scholarships, or are hoping to receive one, Phoebe firmly vouches for good, old-fashioned diligence.

“It is very important to work hard, because your hard work will pay off,” she says. “For those who have already won a scholarship, you need to maintain your academic results. Balance your work and life, [and] do not play too hard and forget to study!”

When pressed on her top tips for maintaining a healthy work/life balance, Phoebe has a simple solution.

“Start a planner. Plan out the whole semester, write out which modules you have to do, and you’ll find places to squeeze in time with your friends. Using your time wisely is a good way to not only achieve a high academic result, but also to take care of your mental health.”

And finally, for international students thinking about studying in Australia, Phoebe has some simple advice: “Come!”

Looking to the future

Phoebe has carefully mapped out her future plans. Since graduating, she has been offered multiple placements in Melbourne, but has chosen to start work at a hospital.

“My short-term goal is to become a paediatric nurse to work closely with children and give them some joy and happiness. Long-term, I want to start my master’s degree and gradually become an educator.”

For fellow nurses, Phoebe closes with this: “I wish you a joyful, challenging, but interesting journey. Look at people, treat people and take care of people as though they are your own family members and you will find peace of mind and happiness in whatever you do.”