A Life-Changing Journey: From Muaralabuh to Melbourne

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Wila and her Monash University friends during the graduation ceremony. Source: Personal documentation
Wila and her Monash University friends during the graduation ceremony. Source: Personal documentation

“Being underestimated by many people do not stop Nurhamsi Deswila (a Monash University graduate) to pursue her dream to continue her education overseas. By pursuing a higher degree overseas, she wanted to prove to the people in her hometown that even women have equal opportunities to make their dreams come true.”

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Muara Labuh: Responsibilities, Dreams and Challenges

Through this article, I wanted to share a journey that has considerably changed my life. I hope I can share positive ideas to support others fighting for their dreams. I am the first child of a low-income family who works as a farmer in my hometown, Muaralabuh.

Being born as the first child in the family required me to share the burden of my mother after my parents divorced when I was five years old. We worked as farmers in the plantations and rice fields. Even though I had to work hard since the early childhood, I grew a dream to change my family life and my destiny. Since the elementary school, I already believe that education is the ultimate way for me to change my life and create my own destiny.

Despite living in poverty, I seriously aimed to continue my education journey. In this case, I already got a scholarship since my childhood. However, the grant was only enough for my educational expense. I still needed to work hard to help my mother for daily needs, such as food.

I always had a dream to pursue a higher education overseas. I wanted to get out of poverty and lived a better life. I put in my mind that I would go abroad one day. My friends said that I was insane, but I always had a faith in my dreams. I believe that we have the same opportunity to make our dreams come true.

Wila, her daughter, and friends at the graduation ceremony at Monash University. Source: Personal documentation
Wila, her daughter, and friends at the graduation ceremony at Monash University. Source: Personal documentation

Nevertheless, I graduated as the first child from both extended family of my mother and my father who obtained a bachelor’s degree. In fact, I was among one of a handful of individuals who got the degree in my village. However, this achievement was still not enough as it was difficult to secure a good job with a higher salary. Therefore, I intended to pursue my master’s degree, though I was rejected during the first time when I applied it. So, I decided to explore the professional employment first at a private school in my province. My intention was to have a relevant teaching experience and to find a great rationale for pursuing my master’s degree.

Since I had not got married at the age of 25, my families and I were often mocked by our neighbours. In my culture, it is uncommon for individuals to get married when they are over 25 years old. Also, pursuing a higher education was still considered useless for a woman. For the community, the main duty of a woman at the end is to get married and take care her family. However, I strongly opposed this perspective. I believe that man and woman have the same opportunities and rights to pursue their education. Women can travel the world and be what they want to be. Since actions are always more powerful than words, I have to prove that so I could bring some changes to the community.

Awarded as A Scholarship Recipient

After three years of work and effort, I was finally awarded with a full scholarship to study abroad. However, many people, even my own family, did not believe that such a scholarship existed. Consequently, they did not want to help me get my visa and prior administrations matters that required so much expense before receiving the financial support from my scholarship.

I was devastated at that time, but all I have was the trust and prayer from my mother. I could not blame them as it happened due to their limited knowledge. I was alone. Eventually, the miracle came from far away. I got help and support from my friends from different places and my workmates as well.

With the keynote speakers at an international conference in Malaysia. Source: Personal documentation
With the keynote speakers at an international conference in Malaysia. Source: Personal documentation

I finally received an airplane ticket from Padang to Melbourne, Australia. As expected, I got another blessing, I got proposed by a friend from my previous university. Therefore, a week before departure, I got married. My neighbours said I was crazy to do that. I was getting married only to have a long-distance relationship a week after the marriage. But I always knew that LDR would not be that bad as long as we miss someone who is already ‘legal’ for myself.

Melbourne: Experience as A Student-Mom

My husband came to Australia three months after me. My husband worked in Australia since the government allowed international students and their spouse to get employed. We live as a family; my husband worked during the day and I went to campus in the evening.

I got a surprising news in the beginning of my second semester. I was pregnant. In my religion, being pregnant after marriage is a blessing. So, I decided to keep it although my doctor once suggested me to consider my pregnancy as I was still studying. I was sure with what I was doing as I already did some research related the pregnancy insurance cover. My pregnancy and delivery were fully covered by the overseas student insurance scheme. This was one thing to be grateful for since we did not need to worry about everything.

With a student midwife at a hospital in Melbourne after the birth of Wila's daughter. Source: Personal documentation
With a student midwife at a hospital in Melbourne after the birth of Wila’s daughter. Source: Personal documentation

I got extensive supports during my pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding periods. My general practitioner (GP) was so helpful. Also, I had a student midwife who kindly helped me about hospital-related issues. However, I got shocked in the third semester, I just found out that my delivery schedule was between the two important deadlines. It was so scary. However, as the semester began, I got support not only from my peers but also my lecturers. I got the extension for submitting the final assignments. My lecture even once mentioned that he could help me catch what I had missed in the classroom by phone calls or emails. I was so touched because I was not expected such kind of thing.

During the first weeks after the delivery, I was supported by my husband as he got parental leave from work. I particularly like this regulation in which husbands could be together with their wives and kids during the initial weeks. There are various helpful regulations in Australia that unfortunately did not exist in Indonesia.

Academic experiences

Even though I was struggling to adapt the university academic culture, I survived the university life. So many supports for international students were offered by the university, including students’ groups, seminars, and learning hubs that helped me explore the academic cultures. Also, the library was so much sophisticated. I was feeling stressed at first as it was so much different with the library in my country. In this case, students can get help from the librarians in a face-to-face meeting. The staffs can also partially assist you to check the grammatical aspects of your assignments. Students can request a book they need online and come to collect it. I remember one statement from the librarian when I first asked her help. She said, “Just because you come to a new place does not mean you stop being smart”. Therefore, I did not feel lonely although I was alone in the university.

Wila with her mom and daughter at ICEDU conference in Malaysia. Source: Personal documentation
Wila with her mom and daughter at ICEDU conference in Malaysia. Source: Personal documentation

Furthermore, I also got my paper accepted at an international conference. It was an unforgettable experience to travel from Australia to Malaysia with my baby for the conference. I was the only presenter who brought the baby to the conference along with my mother (My mother travelled from Muaralabuh to Kuala Lumpur herself. We met at the airport). The committee helped me during the conference by giving me a room for breastfeeding. The parents of my friends also helped me a lot with transportation, food and took care of my mother. I was mesmerised with the help and support I got from people in the foreign countries.

Lesson learned.

I have proven that pursuing a higher education was not a reason for not getting my dreams. Difficulties and uncertainties are there to help us grow and keep on our track. I can conclude that I learned a lot in the last two years. Firstly, sometimes words do not always work, we must do the actions instead. Ever since I travelled to Australia, many asked my mom on how to let children pursue a university degree. Even though it was still started around my close relatives, that may lead to greater changes. My extended family now believe in education and start sending my cousins to universities regardless of their gender. I am the first student in my small village to pursue a higher degree abroad, but there will be more people after me.

Secondly, when you have a good purpose, you must achieve it in the right way. There is no blessing coming from bad intentions, wrongdoings and lies. Ultimately, our mother is always the ultimate key to our success, so it is always important to respect them.

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Editor: Yogi Saputra Mahmud

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