Life in a Foreign University: Indian student of Australia’s University of Wollongong dreams of bringing change in society

Sanjoli Banerjee shares how she decided to study in Australia and what it has to offer to students who are willing to move abroad for higher studies.

Hailing from Karnal, Haryana, I moved to Australia in 2017 for my undergraduate studies. I studied International Security at Australian National University (ANU). My graduation was completed in 2020 and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I returned to India that year. I again went to Australia in 2022 to pursue a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Wollongong.

Since my childhood, I was tracking the life story of many of my favourite leaders and I noticed all of them have studied abroad and then came back to India and made a change — be it Swami Vivekanand, Mahatma Gandhi or Sarojini Naidu. Once I complete my studies I too, want to do something for society. I believe my services and potential are needed in India where we have a long way to go.

Why I chose Australia

In 2016, I was pursuing BA (Hons) in Political Science at Miranda House, Delhi University. However, I had this desire of studying abroad so I decided will give it a shot. After a lot of deliberation and research, I zeroed down on ANU. Just to be completely sure, my father and I went to Australia to attend the open day of ANU. I felt that the quality of education is better there. So, I withdrew my admission from DU and enrolled at ANU in 2017. At that time, ANU was ranked number 1 in Australia and was ranked sixth globally.

I studied International Security because I wanted to understand why there are conflicts in the world and how we can work towards a more secure world free from terror of any kind. My parents exposed me to activism at the age of 5, and with this course, I studied the concept of human security and it connected with my activism in India. We work on all kinds of issues — from female foeticide to saving the environment. We also cover issues regarding mental health and menstrual hygiene. My sister and I run an NGO called, Sarthi.

After studying security studies, I realised it was more about policymaking. I prefer the grassroot approach of working to sitting in an office and that is why I chose to do a Master’s in Social Work. The concept of human security which I studied during my bachelor’s is much related to social work so all of it ties up together.

But, all of it did not happen as smoothly as one would expect. I came back from Australia in 2020 after the pandemic struck and the world came to a standstill. At that time, I got an opportunity to study Public Policy at the United Nations University in the Netherlands but I had to let it go because of the pandemic. Then in 2021, I joined Christ University and by that time I had decided that I want to pursue social work for my post graduation, so I did not apply to the UN university again.

But after joining the university, I felt it would be better to study abroad as in India, social work is not a full-fledged profession, it is still emerging. And, the opportunities that I got in Australia like meeting people from different countries, and different cultures were not available in India.

Australian education system is more upgraded

In Australia, there is a lot of emphasis on self-study, reading a lot of articles and expanding our knowledge about the given subject. We write research essays, make presentations and critical reflection reports. The general assessments are a helpful way of assessing your progress. There are a plethora of opportunities — be it leadership or volunteering. I have volunteered for many causes in Australia as well. Students are always encouraged to learn new languages, go for exchange programmes, engage with politics and so much more.

In 2019 when I was at ANU, I even got an opportunity to be a Member of the Australian Parliament for a day. I took over the office of Senator Larissa Waters and also met then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In India, you wouldn’t get such an opportunity.

In India, there are opportunities but mainly for students who study in premium institutions whereas in Australia these opportunities are for everyone. There is a lot of work-integrated learning, so I am not just studying social work in my class, I am also working at the grassroots level. This method helps students gain industry experience and is a pathway to employment and understanding the industry they are a part of.

Documents required for admission

The Australian semester starts in February and ends in June and the second semester begins in July and ends in November. In Australia, it is peak summer time in December and January. For my bachelor’s at ANU, I submitted these documents — ,arksheets from Class 9 to 12; a statement of purpose explaining why I wanted to pursue the course, why have I chosen Australia, my future goals and more; letters of recommendation and a few essays to apply for the scholarship and interview. During my graduation, I applied for a scholarship. It was the only scholarship I was eligible for, it was for AUD 5000.

For my master’s I need these documents — my bachelor’s degree, letter of recommendation, statement of purpose and financial documents stating my parents’ source of income, property papers, tax returns (to ensure that the student will be able to sustain themselves in Australia). At the University of Wollongong, they don’t have a scholarship for master’s of social work. My parents took a bank loan to fund my education.

I stay in a student accommodation provided by the university, it’s called ‘International House’. I have room for myself and we share a kitchen, dining room and washrooms. I consider myself lucky that I got student accommodation as there are limited spots and it is quite expensive. But, we get breakfast and dinner from the accommodation and we only have to cook our lunch.

Multiculturalism in Australia

Australia is very multicultural as it has people from all over the world. Since there are people from all over, they bring their food and culture from their home countries to Australia.

Although Australia is a great place to live it does have some issues of its own. As children leave their homes quite early in life, say at the age of 18 to lead their independent lives, they are more susceptible to developing mental health issues. In India, society is more collective and children have a safety net with strong familial connections.

In my social work course, we have also learned that Australia deals with racism, towards its own Aboriginal population as well as migrants and refugees. However, the situation is changing. The country is very serious about building an equitable society with respect to human rights and social justice. This makes Australian cities some of the most liveable in the world.

You are your own saviour

My advice to students going abroad is to learn to take care of themselves. I have learnt a lot about the world since I started living on my own. I earlier lived in a bubble — safe and secure. I am learning to deal with daily challenges.