My Story

Words and Photo by Silvia De Cesare

‘In dreams begin responsibilities’ (Acrobat, U2)

My name is Silvia, I am Italian and my adventure in Australia and at the University of South Australia is the result of a dream that has now become a responsibility, having committed to a two-year Master in Education which I am determined to attain with the best possible results. I am an adult student and together with my husband, I decided to start all over again, move to Australia and change carrier path with the hope, shared by many of us international students, of a better life and future. When UniSA accepted my application back in February, the dream became a sudden reality, a train to catch with no hesitation, a change of direction by guiding and holding on to my steering wheel, rather than waiting for some kind of fate to change something for me. That is how, at 41-years-old, I decided to leave my job, my home, my close friends and family, to start studying again in beautiful Adelaide and chasing down a long-life dream… Leaving your home country in your 40s, when you have already built something, with strong ties and relationships, is a greater risk than when you are young but… same adrenaline! It is a poker game to play bluffing first of all with yourself, pretending not to think about what and who you leave behind, otherwise you will never jump the gap without the safety net. Some form of madness, insanity and unawareness leads the way…

I arrived in Australia at the beginning of June with winter already knocking at the door; a mild one at the beginning but slowly it got colder, wetter, with constant rain getting into my bones and melancholy settling in my heart— but not for long. Television claimed it was the worst winter in fifty years (lucky me) and what a great start for all of us international students! That said, there was no humidity, therefore no frizzy hair for me, and winter only really lasted a couple of months. Since September, I have already enjoyed the beach every weekend.

No matter what season you arrive in Adelaide, as an international student, the first month is about sorting out all the bureaucracy such as visa, bank accounts, medical insurance, looking for a nice and hopefully not too expensive apartment, and of course enrolling. Always read the useful instructions and directions on our university website; they could save you some unwanted and unpleasant surprises. I also found International Students Welcome Week very helpful, a wonderful opportunity to meet people, to interact with university staff, to ask questions, clarify your doubts, and last but not least, to have some fun. Moreover, you have the chance to visit all of UniSA’s campuses, value your options, have information about part-time work and things you must do as an International student to comply with Student Visa’s regulations, such us always informing university and Department of Immigration about changing your contact address.

Enrolling was a ‘surprising’ experience for someone like me who finished her Bachelor Degree eighteen years ago in Italy. At that time, we barely had classrooms for our lessons, you had to be lucky to find available books in the library, free computers was unheard of, and the internet looked like science fiction from a George Orwell book. The enrolling process at UniSA instead is simple and easy to follow through and there is plenty of help available from the Teaching and Learning Unit. Amazingly for me, you can do everything online and better still there are courses that you can do online from your own home. Do not worry if you do not have a computer or an internet connection; you can do it at any of the university campuses, AND 24/7! No matter what the location of your lessons, you can choose between different campus locations: City East, City West, Mawson Lakes and Magill, and the regional campuses, and in any of them you will always find a library—either ‘physical’ or online—with plenty of material to support your studies. Furthermore, after library hours there are always rooms and computers available for your study, again, 24/7.

As an international student the main challenge is writing and preparing essays, since different countries and different languages may have different ways of writing, different requirements and structures. However, throughout the semesters, UniSA gives us great support with scheduled workshops where we learn about the Australian standard essay structure and the referencing style we will need to apply. In addition, there is a section on the website, L3, where you can find all the useful information and tips for preparing for exams and assignments.

As for Adelaide, it is a great city with a population close to 1.3 million people. It does not look like a chaotic city; everywhere you turn you will find a well-maintained public park, black swans which I had never seen before, and if ducks happen to cross the road, all traffic will stop and let them cross safely! This is not civilisation, this is ‘refinement’! You can also enjoy a river in between with plenty of cycling paths, and free bikes, helmets included, that you can keep all day until dawn! There are beautiful beaches only fifteen kilometres from the city centre, and if you go a little further you will find the most breathtaking sea views in places like Port Willunga. You do not need to buy a car as there is a great public transport service, not expensive for students, with buses, trams or trains every 10-15 minutes, and there is even a free bus and free tram service for the city centre loop! There are plenty of public libraries where you can use computers, printers and scanners with free connection all day long, seven days a week. By the way, the free connection is also available in plenty of places within the city and at most public transport stops. Last but not least, for people like me who do not like smoking, it is not permitted even in some outside areas such as bus stops and university campuses. For me, this is paradise!

I have also noticed the following differences (or I could define them as ‘peculiarities’) from my country:

– people walking in flip flops and sandals even during winter with five degrees and lashing rain

– double beds are small; the standard is queen size, which is the French double bed size of 1.50- 1.60m wide. French people may like it but I prefer huge beds to stretch out on a wet Sunday morning. A little advice: look for a King Size bed of 180 x 200 cm

– no plate rack on the wall above the sink to let your plates drip and dry. In Italy, every kitchen has one

– hard to find ‘feminine’ soap as there is no bidet in the bathroom (so difficult to adapt to for an Italian girl!)

– can easily find any type of food and ingredient.

On this aspect I would like to dwell a little as it is very comforting to know that I will never miss my food! In Adelaide I can find any sort of Italian food, things that I did not find when I lived in Ireland a few years ago, even if it was much closer to Italy. The reason being that with the weather very similar to the Mediterranean one, Italian people who came here decades ago started to produce and distribute our products. I can find Australian made oil of olive, Italian style coffee, wine and typical Italian vegetables like broad beans, artichokes and fennels, and most of all, being produced locally, at a very reasonable price.

All these words to say that I am happy we moved to Adelaide. Perhaps in the future I will see some negative aspects but better leave them for later, better to concentrate on the positive ones. Adelaide is a beautiful city, with rights and duties. For some aspects it is expensive but it does offer us international students some opportunities and possibilities on the horizon.

Yet, sometimes I miss home; I suppose all international students do at some stage. When I stop and think, I wonder if I did the right thing. Was I crazy to leave everything and go? Perhaps if I had a little more time to think about it, I would have never left… It is hard to let go of a safe, comfortable life, the one you know well, while here you need to start over, invest time and money and make a bigger effort. It was difficult to pack, to close the door and lock it for the last time… The last goodbyes, hugs, were so painful, it hurt like when someone is gone forever.

On one side there is this new, exciting life with the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, learn about their culture, their habits, their lives, and a chance to change your ways of thinking and adapting to circumstances. On the other hand though there is the stress of having to re-arrange your life, adapt to another language, culture, lifestyle and rules, and try to find a new identity in such a far away and different place. Probably in a few months I will laugh about these thoughts and doubts; my instinct tells me that, once settled in my routine, some part time work, new home, a bit of sun, nice walks on the beach, perhaps then I will want to stay for a long time.

I suppose it is natural to be afraid facing such a challenging and total change, but there is something stronger than fear: HOPE. The hope that my mother embedded in my heart and soul, and that since her death is tattooed on my right-hand shoulder clung to a butterfly’s wing to remind me that we are born free to fly—almost a guardian angel—I am sure that hope will follow me, all of us, along this new journey like a supernova, a comet… We just have to be careful not to lose its sight…

Certainly, all international students at some stage may have my same doubts, worries and fears as we share the same world of uncertainty, excitement and novelty. We must remember though, that we are not alone, we are not just ONE, we are MANY and together we can help each other and make this experience the greatest of our life. We have to be strong, to see beyond whatever wall, to go, look and push further, while not giving up, and mostly not giving up our dreams. We must keep chasing them before they fade away, swallowed by time, regrets and surrender. Dreams can guide and shape the world, the better ones, at least.

I do not know where this new road will lead but I do know that it is new, exciting and full of surprises just around the corner. For sure us international students along the way will have to face some crossroads, red lights, slow down signs due to ‘men at work’ and dangerous bends, but after the bend we will always be able to see the straight road ahead.

I cannot finish my story without thanking my family and friends for supporting this sudden and unexpected choice, for understanding and swallowing the bitter pill, for the encouragement and for following our adventure from a distance. I also thank my husband for wanting and driving this change, for always being on my side, for being my strength and my home no matter where we live, for being not just my other half, but my better half, and for loving me despite my flaws. Ultimately, I thank our mothers: my husband’s for accepting her pain with a smile and a never-ending hug, and my mother, hoping that from somewhere out there she’ll lead and show us the way.

My mother passed on to me the joy of music since I was a little girl so that music shapes my heart and inspires my thoughts. Every morning I wake up with a different song in my head and I will end this story in the same way I started it, sharing with you a verse from a song, this time from an Italian singer, Lorenzo Cherubini:

‘There is no higher mountain than the one I shall not climb…’

‘Non c’e’ montagna piu’ alta di quella che non scalero…’

Good luck to all students.

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