Strength in solitude

A personal reflective essay on life as a first-year student at Western Sydney University, written in poetic-prose style describing the highs and lows ...

Sometimes, the air in Sydney feels soft, sweet, and safe. I see this land as more of an embodiment of home to me than ‘home’ ever was – how else can I express that a daughter forced to leave a motherland 9143 km behind might be seeking safety, might be brave enough to break cursed cycles that are centuries too old? 

Image of Sydney harbor taken from an airplane as it lands.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

On autumn afternoons, strolling through the crimson and gold decked grounds of Western Sydney University, I wonder if I could ever shed the chaos in me the way a tree so effortlessly sheds its leaves. But to hope it would be that easy is almost toying with what took me miles to get here in the first place.   

You see, I wish I could tell you that I chose to move far and away because I could —but I chose it because I couldn’t choose not to. To live alone and apart is an art, but to live lonely and lost is a lingering ache – and romanticism can hardly avail for it.

image of Western Sydney University, taken at Parramatta South Campus during Autumn.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

May arrived, and with it, I found something I never thought I could: a safe space to finally breathe. 

From then on, into June, commuting on trains, watching Sydney’s suburbs and fields and woodlands and streams glide past, I think of 18-year-old me: dreaming and falling in love with this very city. I imagine cupping her chin as she stares at me in utter denial, whispering in her ear, ‘We made it, my sweetest child, we made it right here’— 

Healing involves creating and evolving into a version of yourself who will unconditionally cater to your needs and be the safe space for your wounded parts. Let me introduce you to my wounded parts: my inner child and my inner teen.  

Then there is me: the adult version (trying to be) their safe caretaker –together, we are learning and attempting to heal, thrive and stay alive. 

Image of a train in Sydney, taken at Parramatta Station. The sky is colored pale pink at sunset.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

Training to be a therapist, I am learning to extend grace to others and hold back the pain that, sometimes lingers on the warped lens of my wounded worldview. I can guarantee that it eventually pays off: realizing that I can be safe for my friends is something. But to be told I make someone I hardly know feel safe is glory of a glowing kind. Because becoming a therapist is undeniably the same as learning the skill of mothering those who have never been mothered before.   

Road-tripping into the Blue Mountains, campfire crackling in the early hours of the wintry night, I thought of how healing, like all transformative things, has its phases.  Thus, speaking of ache with no nod to joy would be quite cruel. For joy did meet me, speckled across this year: In its soft and endearing ways, joy made healing feel real as it led me to people, new and old. 

Image of Western Sydney University, taken in Parramatta South Campus with sunlight speckling the scene.
(Credit: Shabnam Siddique)

If I were to take away just one lesson from my 2023, I would tell you that I do not want to ever say the words ‘take me back to…’ again. From now on, it is ‘take me forward into…’ — Isn’t that a mark of growth itself? 

Living apart at last from everything in my past feels eerily familiar: as though whatever I’d envisioned the distance to be is now in focus as the fog thins. Which is to say, this is me healing.  


Rameshwar Roy: “It is our duty to grab the chances whenever possible”

Rameshwar Roy takes us through his journey from Kolkata to speacialising in Aboriginal health with a Masters of Public Health...

Rameshwar’s Graduation at Western Sydney University (June 2021). Source: Rameshwar Roy.

Rameshwar Roy completed his Masters in Public Health last year after completing his undergraduate degree in Biotechnology and Molecular Biology – sticking to what he’s always wanted to do. After finishing his course, he started working in the lab sector, but his heart was looking for a person-centred role.

Interviewed by former W’SUP Director of Student Publications, Sarah Cupitt, Rameshwar shares the journey of how his involvement in various NGO projects led to the idea of further specialisation of his career in the health industry as an international student studying at WSU.

Udayan, in Kolkata, is an NGO that Steve Waugh contributed to which helped leprosy-affected children. Waugh’s association with Kolkata and the NGO shaped Rameshwar’s teenage years. Later, when he researched and found Australia as the 2nd top country for Health Service, he decided to study here at WSU to learn and gain experience.

How did you find a full-time job in the Health sector after graduating, especially in Aboriginal health?

“A health service job depends on experience – how much anyone can acquire throughout the study period. I attended a lot of seminars, workshops to understand the perspective of various organisations. I also attended seminar invitations hosted by other universities, which helped build a clear picture of the system-specific necessary information. The job market is always looking for an enthusiastic candidate, willing to learn and a good team player. Everyone has to be positive in attitude and try to help peers.

A helping attitude is one of the factors which employers try to find in candidates. From those activities, I got a chance to do some training on Aboriginal culture awareness, which helped me to get an extra advantage to become Service Delivery Coordinator for Aboriginal Health Service in Kimberly.”  

How has being an international student shaped your journey and the challenges you’ve faced?

“Being culturally and linguistically diverse, it is not easy to understand and absorb the different systems, cultures and pace [of the systems and cultures]. But the main thing is to keep the eyes and the heart open to learn. Understanding the subject content taught in university and how that can be utilised in the real field is the main factor. University professors were really helpful to grip the subject content as much as I needed. I got my first part-time job in the health sector through the University job portal – Career Hub.”

What programs at WSU assisted you in your journey to success?

“I would say the whole journey was very important to success. I did all the classes on campus except last semester online due to COVID 19. I also attended student activities arranged by the student union and student success committee, e.g., LEAD, 21C project, RUOK, Mentorship programs, internal and external seminars, subject related exhibitions. I attended all, participated actively and was the winner of few group projects. Those gave me a lot of ideas and experiences for future steps.”

LEAD Presentation Ceremony 2019 at Parramatta South Campus. Source: Rameshwar Roy.

If you could redo your university experience, is there anything you would do differently?

“Some student programs like Project Boost I would have liked to attend definitely. I could not participate in many research projects due to the pressure of the units in my degree subject. Recently I came across a new module named Engaging Students for Community Wellbeing which made me fascinated to join some research courses so that I can be part of the program. I wish to join similar projects later with more experience from work to contribute to the future health system.”

You mentioned you were involved in various NGO projects; what were they, and what’s a memorable experience you had with them?

“I was involved in different NGOs focused on various aspects in the health industry like mental health, gender quality, disease burden, refugee funds etc. Those are important episodes of my university journey in Australia. Back in India, I was part of those NGOs working on health service programs for sex workers and their children. All those experiences brought a lot of memories, challenges that words cannot describe. Still, it can be said, a single smile from the participant can bring all happiness after overcoming the challenges for them, and that encourages me to do more for the community.”

Rameshwar with Sydney Health Service Delivery Team. Source: Rameshwar Roy.

Rameshwar’s words of advice:

“It is very important to relate the units which are taught in the syllabus to the real world. That helps get a clear perspective of the education system required for future research or the job world. University provides a lot of exposure. It is our duty to grab the chances whenever possible.”



When worlds collide: why learning about Indigenous culture is important for international students

International students' engagement with Aboriginal Culture ...

Following the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests in the US have sparked a string of protests on our own shores, as the often-overlooked issue of police brutality against Indigenous Australians returns to the forefront.
On and off-campus, there are plenty of opportunities to help international students learn about the Australian way of life from English conversation groups to beach safety events — but how much do international students know about Indigenous history?

Black Lives Matter protests rage on in the United States of America demanding justice for George Floyd


Many current domestic students may be able to recall participating in an Indigenous education program at some point in their life. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2007 “sorry speech” was made a compulsory viewing for primary school students nationwide. The year 7-10 Aboriginal studies syllabus states that its primary focus is for students to develop “an appreciation which acknowledges and addresses racism existing in Australian society and promotes inclusiveness.”

Whether or not the emphasis on Indigenous history in primary and secondary education syllabuses is enough remains a debate, but the fact remaining is that your average domestic student could confidently name a fact about the Stolen Generation, or even recite an Aboriginal Dreamtime story.

Kevin Rudd’s apology speech

For international students, there is no such equivalent. Western Sydney University’s Welcome guide for International students provides a brief history of European settlement, but unless they choose to take up a voluntary subject on Aboriginal culture, resources and opportunities for international students to gain an in-depth understanding of Australia’s history are scarce.

In 2015, after uncovering a lack of Indigenous literacy among its students, La Trobe University introduced a compulsory first-year module on Indigenous culture. The decision was said to not only allow domestic students to enhance their knowledge of Indigenous issues, but to also provide a chance for international students to learn and interact with Aboriginal elders. Western Sydney University could also pursue a similar policy.

Rabbit Proff Fence wonderfully depicts the stolen generation’s struggles in film. Source: Wikipedia

What do international students think?

When asked whether international students have sufficient knowledge on Indigenous culture, Anil Adhikari, a Master of Information and Communications student from India, mentioned that life was stuck between university, assignments and his part-time job.

Bangladeshi accounting student Nazmul Haque Shakil, says that most times it is uncommon to meet or even see Indigenous people. “I haven’t met a single person from that culture, and moreover its very rare seeing them around in Sydney and surrounding suburbs. So, I don’t have much idea about their culture and living standards.”

WSU is home to more than 7,000 international students. Source: pexels.com

What are their suggestions? 

Nazmul said he would appreciate lessons on Indigenous culture. Anil on the other hand had suggested an opt-in mechanism. “Making international students learn won’t be helpful. It’s a good idea to make international students know the Aboriginal culture but only if the students are willing to learn. Making subjects compulsory and forcing them to pay fees for that subject or spend their valuable time is not a good idea.”

Anil also added, “The other thing they can do is make it an online video of one to two hours and ask students to make a report on it – this will be the best solution. International students can take out this much of time and they can also learn about aboriginal culture.”

Why is it important in the first place?

Despite several Federal Government initiatives to “close the gap”, including scholarships and increased funding, racism towards Aboriginal staff and students still prevails within universities. In 2018, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) reported that three quarters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university staff had experienced racial discrimination in the workplace.

Education is a powerful tool to start to unlearn prejudicial attitudes, and to learn about social disparities so that we may stand together to correct them. Furthermore, in a country where Indigenous Australians make up only three per cent of the population, it becomes increasingly important to preserve Indigenous culture among future generations.

The lack of understanding about Aboriginal people is one that exists within our campuses as well and providing opportunities such as these is integral to the continuation of the culture.

Some statistics from the NTEU report

Kristy Bell, the Student Success officer at the Badanami Centre, which is WSU’s centre for Indigenous education, says that providing Indigenous education for international students is important for the longevity of our culture. “Indigenous culture is the history of Australia,” she stated in an email. “If it is not shared among all people, the Aboriginal culture will be lost.”

It’s no doubt that international students entering a new country face a vast series of challenges. From navigating transport systems to finding a job and learning to converse in English, international students have their hands full. However, we must find a way to integrate knowledge about the Indigenous people on whose land they now reside. International students can use the following avenues to enrich their understanding of Aboriginal culture.

Where can international students go to find out more about Indigenous culture?

If you’re an international student who wants to learn more about Aboriginal culture, there are plenty of opportunities both on and off-campus to get involved.

Get involved

There are a number of events across Sydney you can attend to immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture. Western Sydney hosts regular programs during NAIDOC Week (5th-12th July) including art classes and musical performances. Alternatively, you may choose to attend an Aboriginal Heritage tour or see an Aboriginal play at one of the many local theatres.

Study an Indigenous history unit

One of the many Aboriginal electives available at Western Sydney University will help form a solid introduction to Indigenous culture for those who are new. Not only are they available across a variety of disciplines, you will have your peers and tutors to guide you through any further questions you may have.

The Badanami Centre at WSU

Visit the Badanami centre

The Badanami centre is a great start for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander related resources. Their website has plenty of free resources including the Aboriginal Studies virtual library and links to Indigenous news articles.