Refugee student succeeds at La Trobe

A student with a refugee background from Somalia, Abdi Sharif is studying towards his oral health degree at La Trobe’s Bendigo campus, and is looking forward to his future as a dental hygienist or dental therapist.

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Narrator: While many of us were placing bets and enjoying the sun at the Melbourne Cup, La Trobe University student, Abdi Sharif, was busy preparing for his final exams.

Abdi Sharif: I had four exams: two written exams, and two clinical exams. I think I went well on the written exams, more than I did in the clinical examsNarrator: Abdi is a refugee from Somalia, and arrived in Australia in June 2001.  Since then Abdi has completed his VCE, and is now studying towards an oral health degree at La Trobe’s Bendigo campus, which he hopes will enable him to work as dental hygienist or dental therapist.

Abdi Sharif: In classes there are a lot of things.  We’ve got lectures, we’ve got tutorials and we’ve got practical classes.  Especially this year, we do things like working in the hospital, training in the hospital, and treating patients.  Usually we work with kids under the age of twenty. It’s a hands-on course, so I like it.

Narrator: Around 12,000 refugees are accepted into Australia each year, arriving from war torn countries all over the globe.  Many of these refugees, like Abdi, have the potential to study at university, but face an uphill battle of financial, cultural, and psychological barriers.

Abdi Sharif: It was a very new place – new country, new language, new culture.  Everything was new.  I had to learn everything bit by bit.  So I started learning English first, having to get used to it, and then the people, and then I started school from year nine.

Narrator: Last year, La Trobe’s Equality and Diversity Centre introduced a new support program, helping refugees, like Abdi, get a degree.  In addition to financial support, the program also provides refugee students with a contact, who can direct them to relevant support services within the university.

Claire Nihill (Disability Liaison, Equality and Diversity Centre): The Equality and Diversity Centre, here at Bendigo, has been assisting students with a refugee background, mainly in having a contact person that they can come and speak to anytime they need.  In Abdi’s case, we’ve assisted in financial support, in the form of petrol cards and book vouchers.

Narrator: This year, through the support program, Abdi received a full residential scholarship, covering the cost of his on-campus accommodation.

Abdi Sharif: I used to struggle with buying text books for university, and not really being able to afford transport every weekend to go back to Melbourne.  It’s making my education, this year, a lot smoother, compared to last year.  I chose to come to university for education.  I wanted to become educated then do something with your life.