Student profiles

 Discover how other members of our refugee community here at La Trobe have found the support they need to grow and succeed in their studies. We hope their stories help you to create your own story here at La Trobe by inspiring you to persevere, thrive and seek help when you need it.

Sao Braima - Masters of Financial Analysis

Sao Braima  

Sao Braima arrived in Australia in 2008 from Sierra Leone.  Sao had a Bachelor degree with an Economics major and wanted to gain further qualifications in this field.  In 2009 and 2010 Sao studied for a Graduate Diploma in Economics, then enrolled to study a Master of Financial Analysis.   Sao completed his Master degree in 2014 and is now looking for a career in the finance industry.  He hopes to become a Loans Officer, where he would assess the credibility of borrowers.

"The support program run for students with a refugee background was a huge benefit to me. I received a laptop and bookshop gift cards to help with my textbook costs. When I had difficulty with a particular subject the support program would provide a tutor for me, who made the subject simpler to understand", he said.

"I would also like to especially mention the help provided by Holly Langfield from Equity & Diversity, as she has been my mentor and she has guided me through my academic journey".

"La Trobe University is one of the best universities in Australia. They provide professional courses and the library has a huge range of materials relevant to my course.  The lecturers are accommodating and ready to help students with difficulties in particular subjects".

"Studying at La Trobe has been a good experience for me. One of the best learning experiences was giving class presentations.  I did one on the topic of the Louis Vuitton Handbag company and another on the effect of the Basel regulations on banks. These were good experiences for me because I prepared well by reading the work of academics and this made me more comfortable giving the presentations".

"There are a lot of students at La Trobe University from different cultural backgrounds. By interacting with people from different backgrounds it assists you in knowing more about how to relate to people. One of the things I learnt while at La Trobe University is that it is not just all about books, books, books. It is also important for students to socialise and take some leisure time.  The Sports Centre is a great place to go, and the gardens and open spaces are a good place to relax and reflect on things that are giving you problems".

Sao's message to other students with a refugee background is that anything you want to do in Australia, you have the opportunity to do it.  La Trobe University provides opportunities and facilities to assist students to succeed in whatever they want to do. The Equality and Diversity Centre makes life more comfortable by providing various things that you will need for your studies.  The University also has Counsellors who you can contact if you have special needs.

"When I approach the Agora, I feel at home. The university has given me a feeling that I belong to the La Trobe family and I think what can I do in my own little way to contribute to La Trobe University".

Amani Nyikang- Bachelor of Social Sciences

Amani Nyikang

Amani Nyikang arrived in Australia in 2002 from South Sudan and enrolled in a Bachelor of Social Sciences in 2012. "The support program offered by the Equality and Diversity Centre provided me with a lot of extra help, she says.  "It was especially helpful when I had just finished Year 12, it eased my transition to university life. It was also very good to have the support program to fall back on during the first year of my studies, and getting a scholarship also made life a lot easier", she adds.

Amani really liked the huge diversity at La Trobe, and found it was a very welcoming place.
"You feel like you are at home. La Trobe is very focussed on inclusiveness, and there are lots of clubs and other activities you can get involved in". Amani also found that her teachers were very understanding and if, due to some personal circumstances, she was having trouble meeting an assignment deadline then the teachers were flexible.

Amani completed her degree in November 2014 and she wants to find work in the social justice sector. "Social justice is what I am passionate about.  In the future I might want to do some postgraduate study after I have had a job for a while. Right now I am applying for jobs, and I am also engaged in a number of community projects. I am also trying to build my networks of people with similar career interests to my own".

Amani feels that La Trobe has taught her a lot. "Being here, I have grown as a person. I am not the same person I was when I first came here.  It has been a learning experience and it has been tiring but at the end of the day, it does pay off.   It is a great university", says Amani.

Tinkip Zahau - Bachelor of Accounting


Tinkip Zahau

Tinkip was born in Burma and completed a Bachelor of Art and Religious Studies before he arrived in Australia in February 2009. He was really interested in business and working in the corporate world, so he enrolled in a Bachelor of Accounting degree at La Trobe University in June 2009 to increase his job opportunities. During the summer vacation break in 2011 Tinkip had a paid work placement with Ernst and Young Accounting firm, and the firm was so pleased with his work that they offered him a job once he completed his Bachelor degree.

Tinkip's message to other students who have a refugee background is to make sure they find out about all the support programs that are there to help them, and make use of those support programs. Now that he has completed his degree, he hopes to inspire other people from his community to go to university and pursue a higher education.

'I really liked a lot of things about La Trobe' says Tinkip. 'It's like a really big family. The campus feels great and the support networks and student clubs are really good. The support I received from Equity & Diversity helped me greatly – it would have been really hard without their support, and the scholarship I received. I am really grateful for all the academic and financial support I received from all areas of the university. Thank you very much!'

Bosco Alex - Bachelor of Health Sciences

bosco alex

Bosco Alex

Bosco Alex was born in South Sudan and arrived in Australia in 2001. In 2008 Bosco enrolled at La Trobe University in the Bachelor of Health Sciences, and specialised in the area of Public Health. 'I wanted to work in the community health field and I was aware that there were not many young African males working in this field, so I thought it would be good to get qualified to do that sort of work' said Bosco. He completed his degree at the end of 2012 and now looks forward to a career promoting better health practices, which he sees as an important aspect of community development.

Bosco chose La Trobe University because he had checked out a few universities before he applied, and he found that La Trobe had a very good reputation, particularly in the Health Sciences.

'I did not realise how difficult a university course would be, as I did not have a consistent education before I enrolled at La Trobe. But I really enjoyed studying, because it was a pathway to develop  and empower myself and be a role model for others in the community' Bosco said.

'The support program for students with a refugee background helped me a lot' Bosco added. 'The staff helped me to sort out some problems with Centrelink, and I was given a laptop which made it easier for me to complete my assignments and to access my course information. I also got a residential scholarship during my last year of uni. This was really good because it meant I could live on campus, and I did not have to pay for my accommodation.'

Bosco's message to others who are wondering about university study is 'Know yourself and what you want to achieve from a course. Also seek guidance from people who are already working in jobs you are interested in. Be prepared for a challenge – you must apply yourself and overcome any difficulties, and you need to surround yourself with the right type of people. I found my teachers and my peers were able to give me help and advice when I needed it.'

Nai Zing Hang - Bachelor of International Development

nai zing hangNai Zing Hang

Nai was born in Burma and completed a Bachelor of Art and Religious Studies before she arrived in Australia in February 2009. While she lived in Burma, Nai had assisted her cousin and some other women who had disabilities to make handicrafts which they could sell to make a living. She realised that she was good at helping others and that she enjoyed this work, so she enrolled in a Bachelor of International Development at La Trobe University in June 2009.

Nai loved the cultural diversity at La Trobe. 'There are so many people from different backgrounds and we all got along well and shared different things about our backgrounds' says Nai. When she registered with Equity & Diversity's support program, Nai mentioned that she was having trouble understanding everything she was reading, and she was referred to the Academic Language and Learning Unit for help with her English skills. 'They were great and helped me a lot, and they were very generous with their time' says Nai.

Nai completed her Bachelor of International Development in June 2012 and plans to find work with a non-government organisation (NGO) in a developing country. While she was studying Nai did some voluntary work with a group called 'Seven Women' which funds a Women Centre in Nepal. The Nepalese women make lots of felt items, like children's toys, and send them to Australia, for sale at the La Trobe Campus and at local markets in Melbourne. The funds raised are then sent back to Nepal.

Nai's message to other people with a refugee background who are thinking about going to university is not to give up, even if it feels too hard at the beginning. She adds that it's important to find out about and use all of the available support programs, and Equity & Diversity can help with this. Overall, Nai says La Trobe has been a really great learning environment. 'I have learnt lots of life skills and well as academic skills. Thank you to everybody who has helped me' says Nai.

Tila Guragai - Bachelor of Information Technology

Tila Guragai

Tila Guragai

After doing a bridging program at the Albury/Wodonga campus of La Trobe University, Tila enrolled in a Bachelor of Information and Technology at La Trobe University, Bendigo. 'I have a great passion and interest in Information Technology,'  Tila said. 'I love challenges and wanted a non-boring career. In the field of  Information Technology, there are always new things to learn and it opens doors to a new world. I'm continually interested in what I'm doing.'
Tila notes that the most important thing to him is studying in a friendly and comfortable environment. 'I really appreciate the La Trobe staff as they are very friendly, approachable and helpful. They are always there whenever you need assistance with your work.'

Tila says that the refugee support program has assisted him in a number of ways. 'I got an on-campus accommodation scholarship which made a considerable difference to my basic living. Living on campus has also been the best way for me to settle in and make new friends.' Tila said that the support program has also given him an opportunity to share his story, obtain financial advice and access counselling with regard to his course and study. 'The support program has made a positive difference on my ability to study.'

When Tila finishes his degree, he believes he will have a wide variety of career opportunities. He is hoping to obtain a job in his primary area of interest, which is web design and development.

Tila suggests that if you are really interested in increasing your skills and knowledge, university is the  place to be. He advises potential students that if you are willing to work hard, then no matter what your background is, you will perform well at university. 'Here at University,' he says, 'students and staff care about each other and treat each other with respect and dignity, regardless of their backgrounds.'

Achol Garang Deng - Bachelor of Business (Marketing)

Achol Garang Deng

Achol came from South Sudan and arrived in Australia in 2007. She studied a Certificate IV in Business Management at TAFE and then enrolled in a Diploma of Management at TAFE. During her TAFE studies Achol realised she liked Marketing  and enrolled in a Bachelor of Business degree, specialising in Marketing. She received credit for six subjects from her TAFE studies, which meant Achol could complete her university degree in a shorter time. Achol completed her degree in 2013 and now hopes to find full-time work using the knowledge and skills she has gained from her Business degree.

'Equity & Diversity's support program for students with a refugee background helped me a lot', said Achol. 'They helped me to get a Scholarship, and they provided me with some personal tutors when I was having difficulty with a subject.'

'They also referred me to the Academic Language and Learning staff, and then I regularly used their services. When I first started at uni I didn't understand how to do referencing or good academic writing. From the very first time I used the services provided by the Academic Language and Learning staff my assignment marks improved, and then kept improving more each time I got help from these staff.'

Achol's message to other students with a refugee background is to make sure you ask staff for help if you don't understand something. Ask lots of questions in your first year, don't be afraid to ask questions because first year is the perfect time to ask. Achol found the Faculty's student support staff were very good at guiding her with what elective subjects to take, so that her study plan was balanced between harder subjects and easier subjects each semester.

'It was fantastic being a student at La Trobe University', says Achol. 'When I first came I was very shy and I was worried about my accent. Then I had to do group work with other students and I realised they weren't worried about my accent! By the second semester of my first year I was feeling a lot more confident about my spoken English and my accent, and I think La Trobe really helped me to develop my personality. I realised you have to believe in yourself in order for others to believe in you.'

Paul Malual - Bachelor of Business (Marketing)

Paul Malual

Paul was born in South Sudan and arrived in Australia in 2005. Paul completed a Bachelor of Business, with a Major in Marketing, at La Trobe University in 2013. Paul said that the reason he chose a Business degree at La Trobe was because it will keep him up to date in a rapidly changing world. 'Throughout the course, I have learnt about many issues affecting modern businesses such as globalisation, trade barriers, sustainability and the environment. It gives me a strong foundation to understand the corporate world in the Market economies, which gives me skills to work in businesses of any size in the private or public sectors.'

'La Trobe has given me a once in a life time opportunity to complete my studies, which I had never thought of completing, as I started my schooling in the village. My father took me to a local school at the age of six, 22 years ago in the small village of Rumek, Lakes State, South Sudan. My graduation will remind me of my school mate from Bahr Aliap Primary School in 1990, who always competed with me to achieve first in the class.'

'Equity & Diversity helped me finish my degree through providing textbook gift cards, a laptop, and referral for academic skills and language assistance', said Paul. 'They also organised personal tutors for me when I needed them, as well as sponsorship to participate in the Infinity Leadership Program which aims to develop future leaders.'

'I had a lot of support and assistance through the La Trobe Study Support Scholarship, Equity & Diversity as well as the Student Union', explained Paul. 'I made a lot of friends from across the world during my time on campus, who have now become part of my life. It is very convenient too, as there is a variety of food outlets, a good library and the student hub.'

Paul is already working in the Banking industry as a Bank Teller with the ANZ Bank, thanks to the "Given a Chance Program" run through the Brotherhood of St Lawrence. Paul hopes to get further expertise in the finance sector and hopefully one day, become a Bank Manager. Paul noted that one reason he would like to become a Bank Manager is 'because I grew up in a country where money was kept at home under the pillow. Besides, I would like to become involved in the corporate world which has a lot to offer and I'm hoping to be my own boss one day in the near future.'

Paul's advice to other students with a refugee background is to make use of the support services at La Trobe and get involved. 'I would like to encourage them to seek help at Equity & Diversity for assistance as it has a lot to offer', Paul said. 'I want them to work hard and seek support from all areas of the University as there is a lot of assistance available. I also encourage students to make friends with other students from diverse communities as well as contributing to the community through mentoring programs.'

'I would like to encourage other students to participate in all social clubs whilst at University, always seek support. As the University motto says:  'Qui cherche trouve – Who seeks will find'.

'I would like to thank all the Staff at La Trobe who had assisted me in everything throughout my University life. My special thanks goes to Holly Langfield from Equity & Diversity, who had consistently and selflessly given me support throughout my course. My thanks also goes to all the lnfinity Leadership Program staff, as well as students who participated in the 2012 Infinity Leadership Program. It was a great opportunity to meet all of you and I will stay in touch as time goes.'

Nasro Yussf - Bachelor of Nursing

Nasro was born in Somalia and arrived in Australia in 2002. She did not get high marks at secondary school and took a pathway to University, enrolling initially in a Certificate 5 in Health Science at the Victorian University TAFE. Nasro sat the STAT test and passed and was offered a place at Victoria University. Nasro got good grades in her first year of study and these grades allowed her to transfer to the Bachelor of Nursing course at La Trobe University. When she first came to Australia Nasro met a nurse who had graduated from La Trobe University and the nurse told Nasro how great La Trobe was and what a good reputation it had, so it became Nasro's dream to be accepted into La Trobe University.

The presence of the Muslim community on campus and the prayer and washroom facilities available were things Nasro particularly liked about La Trobe. "The La Trobe University Islamic Society runs a lot of programs for the broader community and also does a lot of charity work" said Nasro.

"The La Trobe lifestyle is also great. Sitting in the Agora in summer watching various student activities was a lot of fun. It was great to have these things happening on campus as well as attending classes."

"I felt like I could breathe easier once I found out about the support program for students with a refugee background" Nasro adds. "It offered me assistance with transport and textbook costs, emotional support with any issues I had, and academic support through the provision of personal tutors. I knew I needed to improve my academic English so I also got a referral to Celia Hammond, a Student Learning EAL staff member, who gave me excellent support. I did really well in assignments where I was helped by Celia. I would also like to thank Holly Langfield from the Equality and Diversity for her support. Even if she could not directly assist me, she would always listen to my concerns. I felt supported by these staff and could believe in myself – without that support I might not have been able to graduate."

"Now that I've finished my Bachelor of Nursing I have accepted a 12 month appointment at the Alfred Hospital in 2014. After that I plan to work part-time and enrol in postgraduate studies. I have applied to Deakin University to enrol in a Graduate Diploma in 2015, specialising in midwifery. I also plan to get a tutor to assist me to qualify for the GAMSAT (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test). If I pass that test I will gain entry to a Medical School."

Nasro's advice to other students with a refugee background is to register with Equity & Diversity's support program, and if they are not confident with English language ask for a referral to staff who can help them to develop their language skills. She also recommends that students go to the Careers and Employment Office to find out about the workshops and services they offer. "I would also encourage new students to join any on-campus Associations or Clubs that interest them. It's also very important to know what scholarships are available and when to apply for them. If students have any issues they should speak with someone from Equity & Diversity for advice on how to take the next steps" said Nasro.

"I am happy beyond belief to have graduated from the university of my dreams!" Nasro adds.

Abdi Mohamud - Bachelor of Health Information and Management

 Abdi completed a Bachelor of Health Information and Management in June 2011, and commenced work as the Health Information Manager at Sunshine Hospital (in Melbourne's western suburbs) in July 2011.

Abdi decided to study in the Health Information and Management field because he thought it sounded like an interesting course and he already had a Diploma of Health Management from Somalia.  "I studied at La Trobe because it was conveniently located close to where I live, and I really enjoyed the course because the teachers were very helpful and there were only a small number of students in the course, and we all supported each other" Abdi said.

"I found everything new and very challenging in the first semester, and I only studied two units in that semester as I was learning how things were done, then I increased to full-time study in second semester. My life was very busy as I also have a young family so I had to manage both my study responsibilities and my family responsibilities".

Abdi registered with Equity & Diversity's program to support students with a refugee background and he was assisted to gain a La Trobe Study Support Scholarship, which helped him cover the costs of his student placements to gain work experience. The program also assisted him with the costs of his text books each semester. Abdi's advice to other students with a refugee background is "Don't give up. It will seem very difficult in the first year of your studies, but it does get better once you understand how the university works, and you will start to do better each semester".

Abdi is also keen to use his newly acquired skills and knowledge to help others in his home country of Somalia. Via the internet, he does voluntary work with an NGO in Somalia. This work involves preparing projects for donor organizations, organising fund raising events and giving advice on how to manage and implement projects.

Patrick Bashengezi - Bachelor of Human Services and Master of Social Work

 Patrick commenced studying a Bachelor of Human Services and Master of Social Work at the Albury-Wodonga Campus of La Trobe University in 2008. He first enrolled and completed the University Bridging Program, after which he was accepted into his degree program.

"I chose that degree program because of my experiences. Coming from a very disadvantaged kind of background I wanted to help others. I thought that would be the proper kind of field for me to be able to do that", Patrick said.

"The refugee support program has been very helpful to me and even to my family. It showed me that I am part of the University family and I really felt that I am being cared for. This program helped me to feel more connected with Uni and to feel that university is not only about the campus and that there is more support outside the campus too. Also, the kind of financial support we get every semester has been alleviating financial pressure because I knew that every semester I would come to Equity & Diversity and get a textbook gift card. The refugee support program has been helpful financially, psychologically and emotionally."

"I started here four years ago and straight away I felt like I was being noticed in a very positive way. It meant that the issues I was having were identified by staff and myself and I got help as quickly as possible. Because I got such basic support from the beginning it helped me achieve what I have achieved. The support I got from Student Learning was also fantastic, especially in the first and second year."

"Also I think that the course I was studying, social work, is all about equity and social justice. That also meant that my lecturers and classmates made sure that I accessed every possible support I could."

"I've been applying for jobs and I'm pretty sure that I'll get a job working with communities, especially refugee communities or other disadvantaged communities."

"I would like to let the students with a refugee background know that since we have been in the refugee camp so long, where education was not possible, it's easy to think you can't do it. I also thought I would never make it because I stayed in a refugee camp for so long and because English is my fifth language. I thought I would never finish. But there are always people around you to help you so just give it a go."

"If now you have the opportunity to go to university don't hesitate. It's not too late. It's never too late. Just give it a go. I have now received two job offers, one working with refugees and one in a broader equity role."