While studying away from your home country is challenging, negotiating a global pandemic raises the stakes. When you add a period of political unrest in your home country into the mix, any student could be forgiven for finding it all too hard. This makes Outstanding Graduate award winner, Aye Chan Oo, remarkable. She came to UTS College from Myanmar and has triumphed over each of those obstacles to achieve the highest Grade-Point-Average in her Diploma of Science Program.
Inspired by her parents
“It’s been a worrying time,” she says. “My parents were in the middle of the city when it was all happening, and for a time, I didn’t know if they were safe. I remember getting very emotional – I broke down talking about it. It was a great relief to learn they were okay. My parents are my inspiration. Things have calmed down now, but the economy has been affected and I know it’s not easy for my parents to continue supporting me to study in a country like Australia. But they keep encouraging me to do my best. I think they’ve given me everything they have, even though they’re not wealthy. I really appreciate that. They just make me want to become a better person – to contribute as much as I can to society.”
Aye Chan talks with her parents every day, so when got the news of her award, she called her them right away. She says, “They were very happy about it, but they said, ‘We’re not surprised’, and I was like ‘No, you should be surprised. I was surprised!’”
Success did not come easily
Despite her excellent track record (she was also Outstanding Graduate in UTS Foundation Studies), Aye Chan insists her success did not come easily. “Diploma was really hard. I chose Science – Life Science – because I want to become a medical scientist. To be truthful, I thought about changing it at times, when things got tough. In the first semester I was thinking maybe I could switch, but after a few weeks I realised I really love science. It gets better. The subject gets harder along the semester, but it gets easier to adapt. I just enjoy learning about cells and how our body works,” she says. “It’s fascinating to keep learning about it. We have so much to discover with science and technology and I think it’s very important.”
During her studies, Aye Chan has also learnt a lot about overcoming the challenges life can throw at us. She says, “Sometimes it’s really important to open up. I started approaching the teachers for help. I told them at the start of the semester, ‘I’m going through this, and if there are times that I am struggling, I’ll try my best. But please understand.’ They were all very supportive.”
Helping students in her homeland
The busy student has also found a way to assist people in Myanmar seeking an education. “I realised how fortunate and privileged I am to be in a safe place, away from all the trouble. I should do something for my people. That’s when I started really working harder because I wanted the scholarship. I’m contributing all the prize money into an affordable education program I have set up with some friends, and some qualified teachers, for people in my country. It’s called Scholastic Mind and Education. We already have about 30 students and it’s going well,” she says.
Valuable extracurricular experiences
In addition to her academic achievements, Aye Chan acquired many useful skills through her extracurricular activities. She says, “I participated a lot in student volunteering and met some amazing people along the way. I hosted some events online. I also went on campus for Orientation Week and worked with some great people. The College admin staff are fun and enthusiastic, and I got a lot of new ideas from them. I learnt a bit about how the corporate world operates. It was a really valuable experience not just for school, but for the wider world as well.”
Looking forward to joining some of her friends in second year of the Bachelor of Medical Science at UTS, Aye Chan is keeping her career options open. “Sometimes I see myself doing a Master of Education and working as a teacher, and sometimes I want to be working in one of those labs in a white coat. I’d like to start looking for an internship soon and explore my options,” she says.
Wherever the future takes her, Aye Chan says the skills she learnt at UTS College will stay with her. She says, “UTS College taught me about adaptation and resilience. That was really important during COVID, because I need to be able to adapt to where I am right now, away from home. There’s no way I could have gone back with all the borders closed. You need resilience because times will get hard, either with your studies or with the world beyond them. It’s so important that you bounce back and don’t give up easily on things. I think that takes passion, and I would say I found my passion here.