Huong finished at Box Hill in late 2014, but she was still dreaming about her BA. Read on to see what happens when you have your heart set on something.
I remember one time, Rosemary, my teacher, told me that I could get a scholarship to do a Master’s Degree in Research at Swinburne University of Technology. I wasn’t sure about that though. My goal was to do my MA in a different country. One of my teachers—who always called me Miss KOTO—said to me: ‘Miss KOTO, you need to become an entrepreneur, you need to do an entrepreneurship at Swinburne because they’ve been ranked among the top 20 unis in the world to provide this programme’. So, the idea was there but I didn’t really look into it then.
One of my teachers—who always called me Miss KOTO—said to me: ‘Miss KOTO, you need to become an entrepreneur, you need to do an entrepreneurship at Swinburne because they’ve been ranked among the top 20 unis in the world to provide this programme’. So, the idea was there but I didn’t really look into it then.
It all started with a conversation (and a letter)
I went to Swinburne one day for a catch-up with some friends telling them that I’m thinking of starting a course there. I also met with an advisor who said to me ‘no, you still need to study at least one and a half years to then apply for a BA at Swinburne’. I told him that I can’t afford that. I tried to sell my skills, showing him that I received a scholarship award and I’ve already studied for three years, I talked on and on about my volunteering at KOTO. I had all this experience, after all! When I finished my speech, the advisor told me that I should go for the Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. I had my doubts, to be honest. This would have been a big jump, going from an AA straight to an MA. He said that the only thing I need to do was to show them how much I want this.
I did just that. I applied. I sent the letter. Then, it was silence. I didn’t hear anything back from the university for quite a while. On my birthday, I attended an event and one of the participants was from Swinburne. I told him, of course, that I’m still waiting for my offer letter. And on my way home… surprise! I got the letter. I got accepted to Swinburne! I knew that Rosemary, my former teacher at Box Hill University, moved to Swinburne, so I emailed telling her about the big news. She wasn’t surprised at all since the people managing the MA in Entrepreneurship and Innovation programme contacted her for references. I was so excited!
I did just that. I applied. I sent the letter. Then, it was silence. I didn’t hear anything back from the university for quite a while.
There is always light at the end of the tunnel
Just before I started my course though, I had to fly back home because my brother passed away very suddenly and I had to spend time at home for a few months. I thought I won’t be able to go back to Australia, to do my MA. To top this, my student visa was about to expire and I haven’t applied for a renewal yet. I had to spend the money from the scholarship for my trip to Vietnam and to support my family. Given the situation, everyone was convinced that I won’t make it back to Australia. I had to do something about that. It was my dream! The first person I contacted about this was Rosemary. I explained what happened and told her that, despite of it all, I still want to continue my studies. Five minutes later, she put me in touch with eight different people from Swinburne who could help me with the scholarship situation. She was checking in every day on me to see if I’m OK, making sure that I won’t forget that ‘there is always a light at the end of the tunnel’. It was! It really was! I went back to Australia to study for my degree even though I had to borrow money, to work really hard—I had two jobs during that time plus other freelance jobs, not to mention my volunteering at KOTO. I was incredibly busy every single day, but it was worth it.
It’s not just about the education they offer because, at the end of the day, any university can provide students with education. But at Swinburne, I felt so connected to the people. For example, the barista on campus always asked if I want an extra-large coffee—for the same amount of money I would have paid for a small one, of course—so that I can stay awake longer for my studying. It was very funny. He always asked ‘do you want more chocolate?’ YES! ‘Do you want more milk?’ YES! ‘Do you want more coffee?’ YES! Ah, every day, it was the same thing. More coffee!
It’s not just about the education they offer because, at the end of the day, any university can provide students with education. But at Swinburne, I felt so connected to the people.
Memories to last a lifetime
I remember my lovely classmates who always bought me hot chocolate… they were so good to me. I keep in touch with Rosemary, we catch up quite often and I got connected with other international students through this course as well.
As a consequence of sheer grit, determination and a lucky meeting with a student at the social enterprise, Huong now holds a Masters degree, and having watched since she came to Australia, I am enormously proud of her education journey.
[Rosemary Fisher, Sessional lecturer and Course Director at Swinburne University, Australia]
Everyone supported me at the beginning and helped me go over those tough times. Not many people knew about my background and situation at home as I didn’t talk much about that, however, a few were very interested in my story, people whom I got very close to. But most of the students were also working part-time; others had already worked for ten years in the industry and have decided to continue their studies—I always call them uncles. I learned so much from them and from domestic students as well. They were all my teachers. They understood the cultural differences between us, the language barrier, they understood how busy I was and how hard I have to work to succeed. I connected with them a lot. The HopeBox idea actually started there, at Swinburne, where I pitched my idea in front of colleagues. It was so much fun working on this project! A project that today has become a business.
From the moment I applied for my MA, I told people that this is what I want to study, I want to graduate, I want to work in this field, making sure that I spread the word about my expertise and skills. I started looking for jobs way before graduating.
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