Leap of faith: Going back to the start of the student journey

A few months ago I had the very fortunate opportunity to represent Curtin College, as an honorary member of the marketing team, travelling to a number of cities throughout Africa to attend education fairs, meet agents and counsel students. Over the course of eight days I visited Nairobi, Harare and Lusaka, completed five agent visits, three education fairs and two teacher counselling sessions. It was an intense and awesome experience!

Those eight short days were incredibly positive and really changed my own perception of the company we work for, our students and their parents. It is sometimes difficult to get a real sense of how well known Navitas is, particularly outside Australia. By the end of my second day of agent visits and an education fair in Nairobi, it was very apparent how well regarded it is.

Sitting with representatives from our partner universities, talking to students and parents together, was a pretty powerful experience.

Part of the trip required speaking with students about their education options and choices. As an academic, it was fascinating to be able to engage with students right at the very beginning of this process, to understand the factors guiding their choices, why they were choosing particular programs to study and how many questions they had just about living in Australia generally. What really surprised me though was how much of a status symbol an Australian education is seen to be and how much people are prepared to pay for it.

The moment of the entire trip that stood out most was meeting the father of one of my Curtin College students in Harare. I had told my students about the upcoming trip and offered to meet any of their parents. There was only one student who had parents in the cities that I was visiting. He said he had told his Dad when I would be in Zimbabwe and he would try to meet me. There was no further information provided and I thought maybe my student was not really that keen for his Dad to meet one of his teachers after all. However, at my last agent meeting, in a rather remote little office on the very outskirts of Harare, a man showed up and introduced himself as my student’s Dad.

The next 45 minutes I sat listening to his family story which was a mix of the difficulties of living in Zimbabwe while still trying to find ways to provide his children with the best education he could afford. He really believed in the transformative power of education, particularly international education. He was not bitter or angry with the difficulties he experienced in providing for his family, he was just doing whatever he needed to help give them a better life – a sentiment I heard echoed in many discussions with parents during the trip.

This man has three children, two in Perth and one in her last year of medical school in Guyana. He runs a shop in Harare which is open seven days a week and he and his wife literally put every dollar they earn towards their children’s education. What was extremely humbling was how highly he regarded the College and staff even though he had never met any of us personally. He trusted us implicitly to look after his son and do our best by him. In his words, we were now his son’s ‘parents’ and would look after him until he was ready for university.

On reflection, this experience really brought home to me the responsibility we are entrusted with by all our students’ parents and the huge opportunity studying in Australia is to so many students and their families.

If you’d like to hear more about Gemma’s experiences, you can connect with her via gemma.clarke@curtincollege.edu.au or find her on Yammer.

Gemma is pictured beside the proud parent of one of her students who she met in a small office on the outskirts of Harare.