From Live Online to life on campus.

Outstanding Graduate award winner Nicholas embraces Sydney life.
Outstanding Graduate award winner Nicholas embraces Sydney life.

Nicholas Denindra Leo sprang into action the moment he learnt Australia was reopening its borders for international students. “As soon as I got the news, I made sure of my spot because tickets were running out,” he says. “I came to Sydney on 13 January. I remember that date vividly.”

Now in second year of Bachelor of Engineering at UTS, Nicholas is loving campus life. He had spent 2021 studying from his home in Jakarta, completing a Diploma of Engineering at UTS College. To his surprise, he found Live Online to be a positive experience overall. He says, “It can be overwhelming at first, to have online classes, but my tip is that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Just remind yourself, ‘this is going to be great; this is going to be okay in the end.’ That’s how it happened for me. The lecturers are very nice. They’re helpful and they don’t judge you – they provide as much support as they can. And because it was online, there are recordings, and you can go back and adjust to your learning pace. Everything was aligned perfectly.”

He was impressed with the resources that were available to him online. “I didn’t expect the library to be so useful. Even though I couldn’t physically go there, it still helped me. The librarians are friendly, and they help you with lots of information. And I got help with English conversations from HELPS,” he says.

Graduating on a high
His UTS College experience ended on a high. Nicholas won an Outstanding Graduate award – a cash prize for attaining the highest Grade-Point-Average (GPA) in his course. “It felt good,” he says, “but I kept it low-key. I didn’t tell too many people – just my relatives. It’s nice to hear the reaction from your closest relatives. They’ve seen you almost 24/7 because you’re studying at home. Mum and Dad are proud and I’m happy that throughout my study my family is there 100 per cent. I think in some ways the prize is not so much for me but for them.”

Family makes the transition easier
Although he’s been to Sydney before (he has family in Newcastle), Nicholas says there’s a big difference between coming as a tourist and arriving as a student. He says, “I’m still adapting. I was really confident with English, but it’s so different here. I’m getting okay with the accent now, and you learn something new every day – like some people say ‘chicken’ and some will say ‘chooks’, you know? Another time, in Newcastle, my uncle was saying to me, ‘Oh, if you want to go out of the house you need to wear your thongs.’ I thought he meant underwear until he pointed at the flip-flops.”

Having relatives in Australia has made the transition easier. Nicholas says, “I keep reminding myself to be grateful because some of my friends don’t have anyone here. I’m lucky to have my uncle and my auntie.”

Forsaking the mall for the outdoors
He may miss home sometimes, but Nicholas is enjoying life in Australia. He says, “Back in Jakarta, I went to the shopping mall every weekend, but I don’t do that so much here. In Australia, I love bushwalking. And I love the beach. It’s easy to get to Bondi and do the Coastal Walk. Having food in a multicultural area is a new experience for me too. We didn’t really have that at home.”

When it comes to food, he’s already discovered some Australian favourites. “You may think this is weird,” he says, “but I love the chips in Australia. I love when they put chicken salt on them. I really love crumpets too, and Weet-Bix are great.”

A little progress is still progress
Communication is important to Nicholas, and he finds talking is one of the most effective ways to overcome stressful situations, from study challenges to moving to a new country. He says, “Everyone has their own coping mechanism. I talk to people. I acknowledge that I feel sad, or stressed, and I seek help. I talk to my parents, or my friends, or my auntie. And after I’ve had a talk, I take the next step. I just force myself – write a single note or whatever I need to do to make progress. A little progress is still progress. As long as you did your part and you’re still trying. That’s the main thing.”