Fara presents at LEAP's University Experience Day - copyright MQ Widening Participation

“University is not impossible”: Fara’s story

“My name is Fara and I’m from Malaysia. I come from a single-parent family and have been raised with my older sister by my superwoman of a mother.” Fara Sazali, a first-year Criminology student involved with Macquarie’s LEAP Refugee Mentoring program, shares some memories of her journey to higher education.“I’m 18 years old and I moved to Australia at 16 in early December 2013, due to circumstances back home in Malaysia. I remember when I had to bid goodbye to my friends, it felt like the hardest thing to do in life. Initially, I wasn’t too happy about the move to Australia. It meant leaving my closest friends behind, as well as a culture I’ve been born and raised with, and essentially stepping into a new country. But fast forward to the present times, I’m glad my mom made the choice to move.

In late March 2014, I enrolled in Castle Hill High School and started Year 11. I still remember the first class I attended, and it was English. I have no idea why I’d chosen Advanced English but I remember having absolutely no idea what was going on. I was expecting simple comprehension lessons but instead having to analyse a poem by Robert Browning. That was the start of me struggling to adapt to the Australian style of education and learning. Due to the differences in education between Australia and Malaysia being significantly vast, I failed nearly every subject in Year 11. I was quite discouraged and I’d even developed this underlying belief that I wasn’t an intelligent student in general. On top of that, I struggled to form close friendships with the people in school and this is largely due to the fact that most friendship bonds were made during Year 7 and strengthened throughout the years of high school and as such, was a challenge for me as I had enrolled at a late stage.

However, I kept sowing into both my studies and my friendships and looking back, they were just two obstacles I overcame – and as cliché as it sounds – the challenges I faced made me who I am today. During our Year 11 year-end exams or “yearlies”, I managed to pass every subject, save for maths (I’m not particularly great at maths). I even received a Watts McCray Lawyers Award for Most Improved in Legal Studies which was an enormous encouragement to keep going. By the end of Year 11, I was a much more positive student.

Then came Year 12. Due to the HSC pressure, 2015 was one of the most stressful years of my life but it really taught me a handful. Firstly, it taught me that good time management was not just a myth, but a reality I had to keep pursuing if I want to do well AND avoid additional stress. This means, NOT studying the whole syllabus before the actual HSC, but instead to plan ahead and to allocate appropriate study hours for each subject. Secondly, it taught me to set realistic goals for myself and to cut myself some slack once in awhile. At the start of Year 12, I set my ATAR goal to a 90.00. Whilst it is not bad to aim high, I knew I would be very disappointed in myself if I did not achieve that. Hence in mid-2015, I decided upon a much more realistic ATAR goal which removed a lot of unnecessary self-expectation and stress. Thirdly and most importantly, it taught me that the HSC is not the be all and end all. It does not determine your intelligence, nor does it “determine your future”, as some people might put it. I believe that to an extent, it determines your course of study for higher education (which is essentially university) but it really does not determine your future.

In the early stages of Year 12, I was fixed on doing a law degree but I knew I had to set a realistic goal for myself. During the Macquarie University Open Day in 2015, I managed to talk to a few Career Advisers who assured me that there are multiple pathways into university and into the degree I wanted to pursue – for example simply transferring into your desired degree at a later stage by doing a pathway degree.

Fara with other students at LEAP's University Experience Day - Image copyright MQ Widening Participation
Fara with other students at LEAP’s University Experience Day

I’m currently doing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Criminology and the number of times I get asked “So why criminology?” is countless. The answer is simply because I like it. I did my own research before deciding on criminology and found it very intriguing. The best part is, I’m so glad I did not second guess my interest, as the transition from high school to university has never been more amazing. I understood that higher education is important to me because I wanted do something I was truly passionate about, and hard work pays off when you’re doing what you love. Sure, university is stressful and the academic expectation is essentially a lot higher but when you find that drive, that something you’re passionate about, nothing can stop you from pursuing it.

So here are some take home thoughts: remind yourself that you can achieve anything through consistent work, remind yourself that there are people who are running this journey with you, surround yourself with people who will encourage you and push you to do your best and when you feel like giving up, remind yourself that you’ve come so far and the only way out of here is to keep going forward and that university is not impossible.”

This post is adapted from Fara’s speech at the LEAP Program’s University Experience Day.