Short stories to inspire your own journey

Laura’s Story

“Once I figured out what I wanted to be, I had to figure out how I was going to get there”

I come from an outer regional area of Australia, my background is working-class and I left high school early so I didn’t even have the minimum qualification for uni. I am in my mid-20s and now I know what I really want to do with my life – I want to be a doctor. It’s been challenging to figure out how to get there, especially without that piece of paper from high school.

Before I can get entry into Medicine, I need to get a bachelor degree, so for now, my aim is to become a registered nurse and then move onto masters work, to become a clinical nurse or even a nurse practitioner. I’m now in my second year of nursing and am classed as a ‘mature-aged’ student!! I’ve been doing my nursing degree online which suits me because this means I can stay close to my family and my support networks, plus it gives some flexibility as my partner’s work involves moving around a bit.

With a bit more financial stability, and experience fuelling my motivation, I look forward to moving on to be a doctor. I feel empowered because despite MANY doors being closed, I can make progress on alternate pathways and work towards a career, which I hope will be long and successful. I am motivated because education opens many doors, many specialties and different career paths. And I’m excited that it leads to a career where I can be learning continuously.

Apart from my study goals, and regardless of speciality in the field, I hope to always be working hard in the health industry. Research and education are also of great interest to me, and so is striving to improve the health status and health education of all, not just Aussies. Long term, for myself, I want to remain an active part of my family; this is very important to me. Oh, and I want to own my own home, be financially stable (nil debts ever!), and own chickens. I would like to be a good partner and active member of the communities that I live in over my lifetime.

FINANCIAL IMPACT!!! This was huge, especially the cost of living while studying, the cost of actual course and the resources required (like textbooks and uniforms). Also, the cost of placements like travel, loss of income while on placement because I had to take time off work. All this meant that I had to plan ahead for these things and negotiate within my household how it would work within our budget and affordability.

Also, time impact – I had to weigh up a 3-year degree fulltime versus 6 years part-time, as well as time away from family, time spent studying, time spent on extra-curriculars, and time spent in leadership volunteer roles at the university. I am busy with studying full time and working part-time, but what I’m doing seems right for me. I am determined to finish. Even though nursing is not my first preference or my long term aim, the direction is moving me forward towards my ultimate goal of being a doctor.

My emotions go from finding it overwhelming to exciting. I am proud, yes I have GREAT PRIDE! It is also motivating, fulfilling, exhausting, draining. But while it is hard work, the rewards fill my soul with pride and this propels me forward towards the career I desire. What also helps keep me going is my psychologist and doctor, my family, friends and work colleagues, as well as lecturers and university peers. But most of all, MYSELF!!!

Laura is 26-30 and lives in an outer regional part of Australia. She is doing nursing and has been studying fully online for two years. She said she is from working class background, is in part-time work and is involved in her community. She chose online for its flexibility around her life, staying close to support networks and her other commitments.

Skye’s Story

“I knew that if I spent my whole life jumping between unfulfilling jobs I would be absolutely miserable”

I decided to go to uni because despite having been relatively “successful” after leaving school in terms of employment (I had a decent job and was quite involved in the community), once I had children the only employment I could find was in hospitality. I felt completely marginalised. And I knew that if I spent my whole life jumping between unfulfilling jobs I would be absolutely miserable. I knew I had to do something about it … but it took a while before I actually started. Life can get really busy!

Once I realised I was not going to regain decent employment, I waited seven years to start my study. I didn’t feel I could commit fully to university while my children were under school age, and I was also caring for my disabled mother-in-law for some time. Plus, we could not really afford for me to stop work completely. Actually, if I’m honest, I was afraid of destroying my self-esteem if I tried to study and failed because of my other commitments. So, we’ve worked really hard to kick some financial goals which has helped to remove some of the extreme financial pressure. My husband now works from home and can care for the kids while I am away studying. This also means I will have study holidays at the same time as my kids which is BRILLIANT!

I know I am intelligent and hard working – I want to add value to the world and I want a job that allows me to be outside, solve problems and pursue my own research. I wanted job options … because I can’t face going back to hospitality or retail – that would destroy me psychologically. So, I stay organised, invest in having a healthy, supportive and reciprocal marriage and I remind myself daily that I will not fail. This is not the hardest year I’ve ever had, not by a long shot! I know I can do this, and do it well.

I absolutely love it. There are of course moments when I feel really overwhelmed and lonely, but overall I am fulfilled, excited, happy.

Skye is 31-40, living in a remote area with her partner and children. She is in her first year of a Science degree and studies on campus which means travelling 8 hours return to uni and being away from her family for three days during semester. She is from Low SES background, born into a large family who lived under the poverty line, although she “didn’t realise that as a child”.

Chloe’s Story

“I wanted to be the one driving what the kids were doing … then I thought I should go and do my degree”

I’d been asked a couple of times to go into the local school and do a couple of craft things within the prep room. I loved it and I thought it was awesome, and I was like “I could do this. I could be a teacher aide”. So I actually went and worked at another school in a very low socioeconomic area, where there were lots and lots of problems and I ended up by being a Special Ed Aide. I loved it, absolutely loved it. And then, we moved, and just before that I was sitting there going, “I want to do more. I don’t want to be that person that comes in the classroom and just helps out”. I wanted to be the person at the front of the class, I wanted to be the one that was driving what the kids were doing and creating the successes for them. Then we moved and I thought, “That’s what I should be doing. I should go and do my degree”.

I’d only just started uni and then I got sick. I ended up with breast cancer, and that sort of put a stop to everything for a while including part-time work I’d picked at a school. I had to put everything on hold until I’d finished all my treatment. And after that I was like “That’s it.  I’m definitely doing this”. It was not sort of just airy-fairy thought process. It was a definite “I might not be here in 10 years”.  I’m definitely going to do this. So, that’s what drove me; it was a culmination of “I want to be that person at the front of the classroom”, then being sick and realising, “I’m not here forever.  I’m getting older.  Get your butt into gear and do something now”.  So, it was sort of the two things coming together at that time.

I think what keeps me going is my determination to do this and to finish it.  I know when I sit here and I’m struggling through assignments, or I’m at the confused stage, I go, “No, one step at a time.  One day at a time, one process at a time, and just get through it”, and I get there. I just feel like I have so much to give and I feel like I want to have my life, I want to do something just for me.  I don’t want to be in a job where I’m just earning money because we need to pay the bills; I want to have my brain engaged, I want to be in a job that’s going to make me think, that’s going to push me and challenge me. I just don’t want to go to a nine-to-five job.

When I did my first prac and I was up in front of the class I loved it.  Absolutely loved it.  Although it was frightening at first, I was absolutely terrified because it’s like starting a new job, when you first walk into the classroom and everything is new.  And one of my biggest things is feeling like a fish out of water like when you start a new job. You can feel very disorientated, and you have to make adjustments.

Chloe is 49 and is from an outer regional area. She is in her second year of an Education degree, studying part-time in blended mode. She is a mum, and is first in her family to go to uni. She is from working class background and is in part-time employment.

Robert’s Story

“I chose to stay in my regional area and study at the local campus because it’s relaxed and less stressful”

If you are regional and wanting to go to uni, possibly you should look at whether or not you intend on staying in the region or whether it would be better to move. Focus on the jobs and careers market in your area and work out if your degree will allow you to stay and work in the area or if it would be better to move to a larger regional area where work possibilities are higher. Personally, I chose to stay in my regional area and study at the local campus because it is relaxed and less stressful. I get agitated living in cities and I like small but happy communities. So that’s something to consider as well. But I think that regional people have a lot of what it takes to persist if they decide to start a degree – they are generally not spoon-fed, they have a high work ethic and often are good problem solvers and practical thinkers.

I had to re-think my career when I developed a condition that meant I could no longer work in the industry I had been in. Given that I could no longer work, I had to consider how could I possibly combine my love of film and history and move into a different career. So I decided to study. Other things that I had to consider were where I wanted to go in the future, what industries are closing, what are opening, will teaching be relevant in the future? What broader range of occupations or activities would my degree take me into?

I’ve been studying part-time for over 5 years now, and I feel more confident when I study, more organised, and more professional in my approach to learning. It gives me confidence that I can take these skills into the broader business or government worlds and achieve success in a variety of fields. It makes me have a purpose and an aim knowing that I am changing careers midlife and knowing I can be successful when all is said and done.

What keeps me going, especially in the tough times, is my Mum, who passed away half way through my degree. I am the first in my family to go to university and I know how proud she would be when I finally finish my degree. Also, I have a very strong inner self gained from being bullied as a kid at school. Throughout my life I have developed more resilience to pain management, both physical and emotional scarring. When I made the decision to start my degree I am proving to myself I am not a quitter and find inner strength from this.

Robert is 41-50 years, from an inner regional area, and has been studying an Arts degree part-time for over 5 years. He is first in family, lives with disability, is from low SES background, and is involved in the local community.

Grace’s Story

“Because my peers didn’t have the same goal as me, I did lose drive during my final years of schooling. So, I took a gap year to think about my future”

I love the sense of community in a small town like mine, where everyone quite literally knows everyone. This has shaped my friendly nature towards new people, and has definitely helped me through the change to university. I had always enjoyed school and performed at a high level, and I knew I would pursue a career like a vet, physio or teacher, before even realising this would mean I would have to go to university! But for the majority of my high school peers, university was not their choice. So because my peers didn’t have the same goal as me, I did lose drive during my final years of schooling. So, I took a gap year to think about my future, and then made the decision to go after all

Because my closest uni didn’t offer the degree I wanted, I decided to move to the city at age 18, 400 kilometres from my family. I am fairly independent as one of five children, and I’ve supported myself financially since starting work at 16. So, I had to consider where I would live, which uni to attend, and if I could financially and emotionally handle the move. I felt a lot of anxiety about moving to the city but thankfully I was able to move in with my brother who had moved just before I did. I struggled with anxiety a lot at first, especially in the build-up to my first day and having to drive to a university that I had never been to. I was quite emotional in private during this time as the size of the city and the difference in roads and traffic was extremely overwhelming. But I also felt pressure to make it work because returning to a small town having ‘failed’ was not an option for me!

I think moving away has been a really good experience and now I’m thinking that potentially, when I’m finished, I will move back home. I am excited about taking my educational experiences at university and the city back home to develop my teaching further, and relate some of these things to my students and some of the things we take for granted in small towns. I think having that experience in both areas is a great advantage and beneficial to life in general whether that is part of my career or not.  Actually, I didn’t always have a strong ambition for teaching as a career but that’s because I had a mindset of ‘pick a simple career I can apply in the country’. Before my recent placement I told myself that I am too far in to change paths anyway, but after my placement I feel confident that this is the right path for me.

I believe regional or country students often have exceptional people skills and are friendly-natured. They are often strong and are likely to have experienced tough times as a community or financially. And they know how to work hard, many have had to move out of home from a young age and work. I think they are great team workers which is beneficial for university where you will often take part in group assignments. But I also know how important it is to maintain close relationships whether back home or with new friends because this assists you greatly in getting through tough periods during your studies. My advice is not to be afraid to give it a go – at the end of the day it will have been a great experience and you will find yourself more capable than you realise.

Grace is a 21-25 year old Education student from an outer regional area. She is in her third year of study and is first in her family to go to uni. She moved 400kms from her family and is now in her final year; she is also engaged in casual work.