By Yukta Chand
On the 10th of March, 2023, Mr Malakai Waqa, the Social Work Teaching Assistant, called me to inform that the social work team selected me and another student for the student exchange program between Western Sydney University and the University of the South Pacific.
For years, the University of the South Pacific had been planning to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Western Sydney University, allowing their students to pursue social work placements in Fiji and vice versa.
Upon selection, I received forms from Western Sydney University detailing areas of interest for my placement. I expressed a keen desire to focus on child protection and mental health in Sydney.
These areas involve working with vulnerable children and families grappling with abuse, neglect, trauma, and mental health issues. Additionally, I was intrigued by the support provided to women experiencing domestic violence.
When asked how I could contribute to the placement agency in Sydney, I emphasised the fresh perspectives I could offer from my Fiji background. My skills in social media management, story writing, and content creation could aid the agency’s promotional efforts.
My goals for the placement involved honing clinical skills, understanding relevant laws, building cultural competence, and staying abreast of research. By achieving these, I could better serve my clients and grow professionally.
Thankfully, the University of the South Pacific’s international office covered my visa and airfare costs, and Western Sydney University provided an allowance that included accommodation.
My friend Villiame and I arrived in Sydney on the 16th of July. My lecturers, Dr. Litea Meo-Sewabu and Ms Rosemary Qummouh, welcomed us and they took us for lunch at Liverpool Westfield and then Dr. Litea took us to our accommodation Western Sydney Nirimba Campus Village in Quakers Hill.
The subsequent days were an adventure, navigating the local landscape, securing essentials, and getting lost despite Google Maps!
Within two week, I began my placement at Harman Foundation in Blacktown, which offered an array of support services. The experience was invaluable. From handling helpline calls to shadowing my supervisor on case management tasks, I gained a deep understanding of the challenges faced by domestic violence survivors, especially those from South – Asian backgrounds.
Ms Avinash Kaur, my supervisor, allowed me to design empowerment programs for these women. Throughout my placement, I encountered numerous instances of the Indian diaspora facing domestic violence due to dowry demands.
Aside from the social work placement, I was also granted the opportunity to complete my journalism professional attachment at The Australia Today. I considered myself fortunate to be mentored by Ms. Pallavi Jain, who is an esteemed editor. Her guidance was instrumental in shaping my journalistic approach.
Aside from the placement, my study experience was rich. My courses at the university were interactive and enlightening, with assignments like creating a LinkedIn profile that I found particularly useful.
However, the journey was not without challenges. Grappling with the complexities of visa statuses was particularly tough. With the opal fares increase, travelling was challenging. But the rewards were abundant, from refining my communication skills to effectively using theoretical knowledge in practical scenarios.
Sydney’s city life was an eye-opener, teaching me independence and time management. Outside of my academic and placement commitments, Sydney offered a plethora of experiences. My friends and I, on weekends, embarked on culinary journeys, sampling the city’s diverse gastronomy. From tasting foods to enjoying the beautiful sights Sydney had to offer.
Throughout my stay, I met countless friendly faces, visited Melbourne, experienced the Australian culture, and even celebrated Halloween!
Sydney was expensive, but with family support and savings, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
When I return to Fiji, I will have a wealth of knowledge and skills to share.
I aim to recommend service enhancements at the University of the South Pacific and motivate more students to seize such opportunities.
I realised the depth of my passion for social work, stemming from personal experiences with my family and understanding the significance of addressing stigmas. After all, no dream is too small or too big; it’s the effort you put in that counts.
Yukta Chand is from Suva, Fiji. Currently, she is part of a student exchange program between the University of the South Pacific and Western Sydney University. Yukta is undertaking an internship at The Australia Today as a part of her academic and professional development.
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