Exasperating, irksome, and wearisome. These adjectives can be used to describe the sentiments of many international students regarding the travel ban in Australia. When the country finally announced the reopening of its borders to eligible visa holders in December last year, the news was met with relief from both students and the international education sector.
Ronalice Clare Angcao — who hails from Manila, the capital of the Philippines — dealt with the (close to) two-year ordeal by digging deep and staying patient. She had sold her condo to help finance the cost of studying in Australia while the different time zones of studying remotely with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) meant that she had sometimes missed class or failed to submit a report because of the confusing time difference.
With the help of her family, however, she managed to pull through. Below, we speak to the 31-year-old about the challenges she faced with the travel ban in Australia, what it felt like to be one of the first international students to enter the country, and what she needed to prepare prior to her arrival:
Tell us about your interest in information systems and where it came from. Why did you choose to study it in Australia?
I’m pursuing a master’s in information systems to gain valuable skills to maximise and manage data in the organisation’s most valuable resource. If I get this degree, I will be able to meet the emerging demands of a new generation of information systems.
I’ve been working as a library database administrator at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific. I strongly supported the WHO’s new technology library.
As Australia is consistently one of the top destinations among international students, I opted to study there. It’s also one of the leading education providers on a global scale and internationally recognised.
Additionally, it’s also home to many different cultures which will make it easier for me to immerse myself in the local community. It will also help me develop a more broad perspective and understanding of cultural differences.
My first semester was in spring last year and I had to study remotely. That was challenging as I was balancing full-time work at the same time.
UTS provides great support for students overseas. We have a student portal, we use Canvas as the online classroom and Microsoft Teams for conversations and video classes.
What were the most challenging things with the travel ban in Australia you had to deal with?
Time management was one of the biggest things as I had to set time for work (in my time zone) and then time for work (in Sydney’s time zone). There were a few times I failed to attend class or submit a report because of the confusing time difference.
When my visa got approved, I was excited to begin my studies. But since the travel ban in Australia happened, I had to focus my energy and priorities on things that matter.
This included spending time with my relatives and friends. Also, studying and finishing things for my job back then. I kept myself super busy until it was announced that Australia’s borders were finally open — patience is a virtue.
What is your advice for international students who dealt with the obstacles that resulted from the travel ban in Australia?
There are always going to be challenges, and it’s up to us if we take it as a drawback. When I faced a situation, I always thought to myself: “How bad do I want it?”
Time management and discipline are of utmost importance. In my first semester, I had to use clocks to remind me of the time zone difference.
Communication is easier now with the help of technology. However, I’m grateful for my family who has backed me up in financial matters because, although I worked, my savings weren’t enough. I had to sell my condominium to be able to start a new journey abroad.
What are your thoughts on the travel ban in Australia? What does it feel like to be one of the first students to enter the country?
It’s very disheartening but understandable as each country only wants to protect its people. It’s surreal at the beginning but now it feels like the koala in me finally came out.
What’s the first thing you did when you landed?
A swab test as it’s a requirement and you could get fined if you don’t do it. Obviously, I had to take a photo of myself in Sydney International Airport for Instagram. Other than that, I had to be home-quarantined for 72 hours.
What was the whole process like? What did you need to prepare beforehand?
It took me four months to get my visa approved. For students, requirements are certified copies of relevant academic transcripts, IELTS scores, evidence of work experience, passport (and photograph), birth certificate and your national identity card.
The visa application needs all of the above with a statement of purpose, work reference letter, a document of assets and medical check-up details. After getting my letter of offer from UTS, I was also awarded a scholarship that provided 25% off my tuition fees.
During the waiting season for the borders to reopen, I immediately booked a flight but then the borders closed again. So, altogether, I had to buy two flight tickets and I then flew to Australia via Singapore.
What would you advise other students who want to pursue a new chapter in Australia?
Know exactly what you want and if it means studying in Australia, put your mind and heart into it. Processing, entering and settling down in the country is not a smooth ride.
What about food spots you’ve discovered in the country? Do you have any you can share with us?
Australia is famous for their premium steak and I must say they have the right to boast about it. Once you set foot here, Hurricane’s Grill is a must-try. I tried their branch at Darling Harbour where there’s solid food with a view.
If you had to pick one, would it be rice or bread?
100% rice! I’m from the Philippines and our dishes are mostly paired with rice. I can’t imagine eating my favourites — “adobo”(meats cooked in marinade sauce), “sinigang” (sour soup), and “bulalo” (beef dish) — with bread.