​Eva Midtgaard

Arriving in Australia wasn’t my first rodeo, but it sure felt like a brand new adventure. My journey as an international student kicked off at the ripe age of 16 when I left my family in Norway to continue my education in the UK. Through years of hard work, I earned my A-levels, BSc, and MSc in the UK, eventually venturing into London’s bustling financial sector. Armed with a deep-seated mathematical background, I embarked on roles that allowed me to delve deeper into the complexities of financial markets.

Then, in late 2019, I took the leap and applied for a PhD at USYD, with the ambitious goal of employing mathematical tools to enhance our comprehension of financial market crashes. My grand plan? Use math wizardry to unravel the mysteries of PhD research whilst enjoying life and learn from the land of Aussies. Little did I know that as I packed my bags and gave my cat a teary farewell, a pesky pandemic would swoop in, keeping me in limbo for the next 21 months. I was stuck, biding my time until those Aussie borders would crack open and I could finally live that student life in the land Down Under.

At the start of my PhD, I practically lived on couches, burying my nose in research papers whilst adapting to constantly changing lockdown rules in my local community. I would study part time, because the exhaustion from constantly having to shift day and nights to attend meetings with a 10 hour time difference made it difficult to be productive. These where unusual times, and the experience of being an international student locked out of Australia was extremely isolated and lonely. It was like solitary confinement on a whole other level. My sense of community felt like it was on the other side of the planet, and not being able to jump in was a tough pill to swallow. But, as with all things, this too should pass. Lockdowns lifted, and slowly but surely, the international gates to Australia swung open. The sheer excitement and joy of setting foot in Australia for the very first time in December 2021 felt amazing. Think of it like being a kid on Christmas morning and discovering you got everything you wished for all year!

Even though I had been an international student before, studying in Australia has still been a very different experience to what it is like to be an international student in the UK. Here, I’ve discovered that international students lack the same access to social services, such as healthcare and travel discounts, as their UK counterparts. Plus, there’s way more sunshine than you’d ever see in the UK, and people around here sip on far less tea.

Earlier this year, I gave birth to my daughter. My child’s father is from this part of the world, and thus, was it not for the experience of being an international student at USYD we would have never met and our baby would have never been born. If this isn’t the story of international students making their mark on the next generation, then I don’t know what is! Becoming a mum whilst a student has been both a beautiful experience, as well as a lesson in dependency. I discovered that I, as an international student on a university sponsored scholarship, do not hold access to the same support systems as someone with PR, Australian or New Zealand citizenship. Thus, my daughter can only access crucial services such as Medicare and Child Care subsidies through her other parent. This leaves International students like myself financially dependant on the other parent when it comes to raising our children next to completing our degrees. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder how I’d manage without the amazing community that’s been there for us, supporting and taking care of both me and my daughter. I hope that in the future international students will be able to access services based on the immigration status of their children, safeguarding them from falling victim of financial abuse in a parental situation.

Through my student experience, I didn’t just learn; I grew. I evolved into a more resilient, adaptable, and open-minded individual, embracing the challenges and opportunities that came my way with unwavering determination. Although International students in Australia today study under a system that does not recognise them as equal members of community, our presence is important, and I believe we both give and get gifted throughout our time studying at USYD. We’re not just here to hit the books; we’re also here to share our unique cultures and give the community a glimpse into where we come from. When I graduate, I’ll be leaving with not just a degree but also a deep understanding of Australia’s heart and soul. I ‘also think that, I be leaving behind a little piece of cultural diversity and a window into what it’s like to be shaped by my own community. My journey as an international student is like a tiny puzzle piece, that is part of building a world that’s united, educated, and celebrating of our cultural diversity!

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