Country Education Foundation of Australia, Media Release, 14 April 2021
At the start of 2020 Abir Srivastava was in his first year of a Bachelor of Science (Genetics) at the University of Melbourne and residing at St Hilda’s college. Like many students around the globe, he soon had to head back home to study remotely in Alice Springs.
Indian-born Abir moved to the Northern Territory with his family at the age of two. His parents have always supported his education but moving to Victoria to further his studies was an expensive dream not readily available.
Abir was successful in his application for financial support and received the generous Mary Vernon – Country Education Foundation (CEF) Scholarship of $21,000 over three years.
When asked for his first reaction on receiving the scholarship, Abir had a one-word answer; “Relief!”
“I just felt this huge relief that I had some financial support so I could go on and make the most of university and really focus on my studies.”
In the words of Chris Tudor OAM, CEF Central Australia committee member, “Abir is a talented, hardworking student with a true desire to make a difference in the community.”
What were the biggest challenges for Abir in moving from his tight-knit community in Alice Springs to Melbourne?
“Trying to form connections. You are in a brand-new place; a totally different environment and it can be really overwhelming trying to figure out where you fit in this new world.”
There are also the little things that most students don’t always think about when leaving the comforts of home as Abir recalls “When I moved into college there were all these things I didn’t realise I needed. For example, I didn’t think about an iron or ironing board until the day before I needed to wear a suit to a formal dinner at college!”
“There’s also public transport, which is not something you think about when you come from a small town. And new clothes! Obviously, it’s much cooler and wetter in Melbourne than Alice Springs. Plus, books and computers and other gear for university. All these costs really stack up and the scholarship helped me stay on top of it all.”
Abir was only just getting settled in Melbourne when COVID-19 hit.
In addition to college fees, he now had to buy flights home, part time jobs became suddenly impossible to secure and the expenses still rolled in.
Abir says “Nearly everyone at University spoke of the unprecedented times we were living in but truly no words can describe how unreal it felt. I thought of COVID-19 as a bit of a fantasy and unlikely to affect us. As the weeks progressed and people started to leave college, I began to realise how important and dangerous this virus was.”
Spending most of semester one at home in Alice Springs, Abir counted the days until he could return to college and kept watching that deadline be pushed further and further back. It was a tough period adjusting to online university and the new challenges of non-contact classes. During this time, he says he also began to doubt if I would ever return to college and it was an uphill mental battle.
Transitioning to Uni…for the second time.
In July 2020, Abir was finally able to return to Melbourne and says ‘it was an amazing few months’ where he was able to form a close bond with his college mates, due to ongoing lockdowns. Being around his peers helped his studies as it allowed discussion and collaboration, things that were sorely missing from the earlier part of the year
He reflects that “those times were truly extraordinary, and I am so grateful that I was able to return, especially knowing how many people were stranded at home, or unable to return to their families. It was truly inspiring to see my international friends deal with their isolation and remain strong despite being so cut off from their families.”
Abir acknowledges how much the scholarship helped him get through this particularly difficult period saying, “If I didn’t have the scholarship, I’d have been so stressed about trying to get work and finding other ways to support myself so I wasn’t fully relying on my parents and feeling guilty.”
Working hard is something Abir has proven to be particularly good at. Despite the upheaval of 2020, Abir still managed to average a high distinction (H1, or 1st class honours) for all his subjects. He was also selected to be an O-week Leader and supporter convenor. These roles involve helping to guide new college first years and organising and encouraging support for the college at all intercollegiate events.
CEF is all about the power that education has, to impact individuals, families and communities.
Abir is a strong believer of the ‘rising tides lift all boats’ theory. And his CEF and school community is living proof of that.
“The people you surround yourself with is your community. It can be your friendship group, your school peers and teachers or your neighbours. And when good things happen to people in your community, it rubs off on everyone.”
CEF provides far more than simply financial support. Abir explains, “I feel like I’m part of a real support network now and it means a lot. It is pretty important – especially in Alice Springs. Having Chris Tudor call and catch up was always a nice break and showed me how genuinely he and the CEF Central Australia committee members cared about me.”
“I can’t speak for my family, but for me, I would like to come back to Alice Springs at some point and do some good work here because I owe it a lot.”