International student Ashim Sapkota is from Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayas. He arrived in Bendigo earlier this year to pursue his interest in medicine and health through a Bachelor of Health Sciences.
“I was reluctant to come at first, but I had some relatives here who urged me to come and see for myself the possibilities,” Ashim says. “I joined La Trobe because of its values; the importance placed on diversity and inclusion here was very unique.”
The Bendigo Campus’ regional setting was also a drawcard for Ashim, who is from a small town called Gaindakot. “I didn’t want to go to the city,” he says. “Australia is already new enough for me. I needed a place where I could know the community, the people, and their way of life without having to deal with the complexities and distractions of a large metropolitan city. Here, I found Bendigo; a city but not that large where you would feel lost.”
Another drawcard were the rumours of kangaroos on campus. “I saw the Bendigo campus was more natural and sustainability orientated. I mean, seeing kangaroos every day while studying, how cool is that! I had read about the kangaroos being on campus, but I thought it was a rare occurrence. Instead, it happens almost every day. It is sad that we can’t be on campus right now, but I am looking forward to seeing those roos once we go back.”
Despire COVID-19 keeping students and staff from gathering together on campus right now, Ashim says the care and support he has felt from the community has been tangible. He especially credits campus International Student Services Coordinator Badraa for this.
“The international student support team has been helping me since day one,” Ashim says. “They understood I was a bit anxious and a bit excited. They encouraged me to join all these different activities during my orientation and helped me with my enrolment and course technicalities.
“Regarding the course itself, health science is very broad. The thing I like most is that the students studying with me are from a diverse range of cohorts. I have classmates (Zoom mates now) from different fields such as nursing and paramedicine and that has enabled me to learn a bit about everything. During this time, career advisors have also helped me navigate what I want.”
This month Ashim chose to repay some of the support shown to him by volunteering to help new students starting in semester two. “I volunteered as a student host because when I first came to the university, the hosts helped me a lot. I wanted to do the same for the newcomers.
“This semester, things were different as orientation was online. Other hosts and I tried to make the new students’ transition a bit easier. I attended a Zoom meeting with the staff and got to meet the student from all around the world, and hopefully, I was able to assist with some of their queries.”
There’s been many reports about the difficulties for international students during the pandemic. Ashim is currently living in the Mitchell Shire, which is in Stage Three Lockdown, although his biggest concern is for family members back home. “Another concern is obviously not being able to get out and get to know people,” he says. “And there’s a fear of potential financial difficulty too.
“I have been talking to my family and friends in Nepal almost daily through social media and sharing what we’ve been up to. The lockdown back home has ended despite the new number of cases still being found, hence they probably have more freedom than me at the moment, but we know the situation is still very volatile.”
Ashim says the global health crisis has shown him the skills he learns at La Trobe will be needed more than ever once he graduates.
“Wellbeing and health-related courses seem to be the ones with the highest potential and opportunity in this age and time,” he says. “I will try to sharpen up my skills after my graduation with some work experience in Australia or another country before going back to my small homeland to help make a difference.”