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Students in Focus

Ready to make a difference

Three students from the same class in Kiribati graduate from the University of Canberra after receiving Australia Award Scholarships.

What are the odds? Three students growing up on an island republic in the Central Pacific attended the same class in high school, received scholarships to study in Australia and graduated from the University of Canberra on the same day.

That’s exactly what happened to three female students from Kiribati. And the experience has been life changing.

Tabouea Naare, Tinaai Neemia and Uee Rokobati Tearo were in high school when they were first told about the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Australia Award Scholarship (AAS). They applied and were successful in securing the scholarships.

The aim of the AAS program is strategic in its focus on Australia’s aid to developing countries through education. It also strengthens relationships between countries as well as developing potential leaders.

Tabouea, aged 22 years, recently completed a three-year Bachelor of Human Resource Management Degree at UC and plans to use her degree when she returns to Kiribati. She hopes to work for the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources Development. “The course was definitely challenging and it was difficult,” Tabouea says. But she has grown from the experience of studying overseas and readily admits to its challenges.

Among these challenges were cultural differences including the everyday circumstances that were unlike life back home. “At first it was all new, and totally different,” remembers Tabouea, “Different weather, different food; but I learned to adapt.”

Helping her adapt has been UC’s International Student Support Service team, which provides support to AAS students throughout their entire study journey.

Twenty-one-year-old Tinaai graduated from UC with a Bachelor of Public Administration Degree. She remains committed to use the degree to benefit Kiribati, “That’s what I had in mind when applying for the scholarship; to help the development of our country”. And what a unique country it is.

Made up of 33 coral atolls and isles, Kiribati is the only country in the world situated within all four hemispheres. It is at the front line of many issues associated with climate change, including rising sea levels.

There is also the problem of soil salination.

Twenty-one year old Uee, the third in the trio, also completed a Bachelor of Public Administration Degree. She is keen to work in the public sector when she returns home.

“I am pleased I have done this course. We have established networks. When we introduce ourselves to other people we are introducing them to our country.”

Many more people within Canberra now know about the challenges faced by the 116,000 people who call Kiribati home.

All three graduates say the peaceful lifestyle in Canberra, coupled with the nature of the courses, made the three years an enjoyable experience. It is one they will definitely recommend.

Tinaai says they have emerged from their degrees with confidence that they can make a difference at home, “I feel different. All three of us feel different; we have learnt new things which we hope to apply in our country”.

One of the aims of the AAS program is to build people-to-people links.

It is why the Australian Award Scholarship is so important. This is why the 295 scholarship holders who have completed their degrees at UC since 2007 return home with the ability and knowledge to contribute to long-term development. And they have forged links with the university and Canberra that will live long in their memories.

Photo by Madeleine Wood.

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