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Students in Focus

"It was one of my dreams come true – I was going to university"

Content warning: Violence

Ana Marcela Lopez Garcia has always known that she wanted to pursue higher education.

She applied herself to her studies in high school and got excellent grades. In her spare time, she helped out with kindy kids in an education centre run by her mother. Marcela was on track to achieve her goals and the future looked bright — that was, until her future was plunged into uncertainty when her family became refugees.

Marcela was born and raised in the capital of El Salvador. Although they had an established life, with friends, successful careers and study, her family made the difficult decision to leave their home behind and seek refuge in Australia after losing a loved one to violence.

Marcela, her parents and three younger sisters arrived in Australia in 2019. Initially, she didn’t know anyone, spoke only a little English and didn’t know where or who she could turn to for help.

“When I came here, my case manager told me that it’s really difficult for refugees to access higher education, and that might be the case for me. I got really discouraged,” she says.

Through a stroke of good luck, she was connected with an admissions officer at the University of Canberra through her younger sibling’s school. The admissions officer explained her options and referred her to the tests she would need to pass to be considered.

She studied hard and received the life-changing news that she had passed — and been accepted to study a Diploma of Business through UC College.

“It was one of my dreams come true – I was going to go to university,” Marcela says.

It was here that Marcela fell in love with numbers and finance. She completed her diploma, which led directly into her second year of a Bachelor of Commerce (Finance and Banking). In addition to her bachelor’s, she completed a Certificate III in Education at the YMCA and has just received an invitation to study honours in 2023.

“I want to do research in the future, so I think it will be a really nice opportunity for me to learn more from my professors,” Marcela says.

“I’ve really connected with a few of them, and they have been so helpful — I don’t think I would be doing this well without them.”

Marcela is already working part time in the accounting industry, having met a representative of the firm at a UC careers fair earlier in the year. She’s got a full plate but wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I study on weekends. I take one day a week to go to classes and do assignments, and work at the firm three days. I’m also a casual preschool teacher and try to do tutoring as well,” Marcela says.

Although there was a time when it seemed like her dreams wouldn’t be achievable, Marcela never gave up, and her passion and perseverance are paying off.

As she and her family are settling into their lives in Australia, Marcela remarks on the biggest difference between her life in Australia, and life back in El Salvador.

“Feeling safe,” she says.

“I can go outside – I love going to the gym late at night. My parents don’t have to be concerned if I go out with my friends to dance or go to dinner, they know that I’m safe and I’m coming back home.”

Words by Kelly White, photo supplied.

Refugee Week 2022 runs from Sunday 19 June to Saturday 25 June.

This week, we are sharing the stories and achievements of UC community members who come from refugee backgrounds, to celebrate their successes and highlight different aspects of the refugee experience.

The University of Canberra is dedicated to equity, outreach and the support of all students at every stage of their education life cycle. Visit our website to learn more about our Student Equity and Participation programs.

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