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Staying connected while overseas: Ashwin's transition from onshore to online

Course: Bachelor of Science in Pharmacology
Institution: University of Melbourne
URL: www.unimelb.edu.au
Location: Melbourne/Online

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The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed the face of international education in Australia. At the peak of the crisis, uncertainty was at an all-time high. Of course, every international student had to make difficult decisions during this period. Some decided to stay in Australia, while others felt more comfortable returning to their loved ones overseas.  

For Ashwin Chhaperia (they/them), the latter was the right path. Ashwin began their studies at the University of Melbourne in 2017. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, they returned home to Kolkata, India. Since then, they have continued their Bachelor of Science in Pharmacology online.  

We spoke to Ashwin to get a better insight into their transition from onshore to becoming an online international student. In our conversation, they shared the benefits they gained from studying in Australia, and their hopes for the future.   

Pursuing passions through education  

Since childhood, Ashwin has nurtured two main passions: science and helping others. When they started learning about cancer treatments at school, it was a wake-up call. They realised that existing cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, have many painful side effects.

Surely, they thought, there must be a better way.

"Technological developments can increase our lifespan and make the world a smaller place. [So] why can't we come up with a drug that can replace the need for chemo and radiation?" they say.

It was then that Ashwin decided on a degree in pharmacology. The only question remaining was where to study. Fortunately, they had a confident answer.  

"Australia came out as the top contender because of the number of world-class universities, quality of living, multiculturalism and teaching facilities," says Ashwin, listing just a few of the many reasons to study in Australia.

In 2017, it was time to make this long-time dream a reality. While it was a nerve-racking step, Ashwin says it was love at first sight. 

"I've been to a few cities in the Middle East, North America and Europe. But Melbourne is the only place that I instantly fell in love with. The people, the [lifestyle] … everything has been so positive," they explain.  

Ashwin says they quickly felt at home in Melbourne because of the amazing support services provided by their institution.

I felt extremely supported. I knew that no matter what, someone would always have my back.

Staying connected during online learning 

In many ways, studying in Australia was a dream come true for Ashwin. Now they are still realising that dream - it just looks a little different from what they originally imagined.  

Studying online has brought some unexpected challenges, but Ashwin is finding creative ways of optimising their educational experience.

"The biggest [struggle] with studying online is that you can't interact with fellow students like you would in lectures and [tutorials]. But staying connected and forming a study group is very important," they say.

So how can you connect with your online peers from overseas? According to Ashwin, 'social media is your greatest friend'. Platforms like Instagram and Facebook allow you to stay in touch regardless of time zones or geographical distance. Social media also allows you to get creative with your communication. For example, you can send funny videos or clever memes to make each other laugh anytime. 

If you're searching for new friends in your courses, social media can still come in handy. Ashwin suggests creating a Facebook group with some of your classmates once you've become more familiar with them. As they put it: 'Not only will you make new friends, [but] you'll also have a study group'.

To stay engaged in the student community, you can also attend virtual student union events.

"Most student unions will have a department for international students. Make sure to check out their socials and attend their [online] events. You'll meet heaps of people. Some [may even] turn out to be your closest friends," says Ashwin.

Looking to the future: taking their business to new heights.

During the early stages of the pandemic, Ashwin continued to see amazing progress in their academic life. But it didn't stop there. They also saw incredible strides in their professional life, even founding their own online business.

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"My business is a LinkedIn growth coaching service where I teach people how to fully [use] the power of LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the perfect tool to develop your personal brand, drive sales, and [connect with] employers and hiring managers," Ashwin explains.

Ashwin says that their business is the perfect outlet to pursue their passion for helping others. It’s this sense of benevolence that they hope to explore even more in the future – a goal they hope will bring them back to the shores of Australia.

"Although my degree is in pharmacology, the past year has made me feel that my calling is to serve students," Ashwin says.

"I plan to take up a role in events management or student support at a Victorian university. Not only will it allow me to do something I deeply enjoy, but it will also help me make a positive impact."

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