Malaykham Philaphone “You are essentially who you create yourself to be”


Becoming an AAS family and being awarded the chance to study at Flinders University has opened the door for me to pursue my dream and goal in higher education. Thus, I intended to put a wholeheartedly on study without any hesitation. However, my PhD journey not covered in roses, and daily challenges have visited me like a close friend. As an international student who is English language is not even the second language, I had struggled to adapt to the higher academic requirement, new environment and culture, and new role as the president of the Lao Student Association in South Australia in 2017. Thus, the feeling of unknown, insecurity and worriedness were bothering me a lot. I often stare out at the rain with a heavy heart and feel like drowning, which made me swallow my tears and doubted my capabilities. However, with a strong commitment to my country, my organization, my parents, and myself to enlarge my knowledge and professional skills and return to Laos to contribute to the entrepreneurship development, these challenges are not enough to stop me from pursuing my dream and goal.

I then began to ask myself how I can be better in both academic and professional skills. Hence, I have begun to list all my unknown areas and took the courage to step out of my comfort zone. To extend my knowledge, I attended as many courses as available either at Flinders University (e.g. REST, CBGL, and ISS) or outside the organizations. I discovered that Horizon Award Program is an incredible program to provide professional development skills, innovative thinking, and new experiences. I found this program by sharing experiences with past HDR students at the HDR Induction seminar in 2017.

I decided to participate in the Horizon Award Program alongside my PhD thesis, not because they are easy but because they are challenges. Because I believe that this is the only way to help me grow, transform, and become more professional at study and work. Regular acquisition knowledge from the Horizon Award Program enables me to improve my systematic thinking, enhance my emotional intelligence, and expand my networks. Particularly, the horizon leadership events and design thinking workshop are beneficial and life-changing for me. Learning from various successful leaders has opened my eyes into new perspectives, new professional attitudes, and new practical leadership skills. While attending the design thinking workshop has helped me think out of the box, increase my creativity and innovation, and maximized my communication skills. Honestly, it is never easy. It took me sometimes to minimize my procrastinated habits, improve my critical thinking, and adopt creative problem-solving skills into practical applications. Once I did, I was surprised that I had seen things differently and more objectively. In other words, these skills are great tools to help me see another side of the coin, turning the problems into achievable challenges and evolve me into another stronger and better version of myself.

Notably, the Horizon Award Program has provided points to recognize my contributions to Flinders, AAS, the Lao Student Association Community in South Australia, and South Australia Community. Horizon Award Program has strongly encouraged the students to participate in any volunteer activities. Because volunteering strengthens adaptation, resilience, and boosts social skills for students, including myself. In particular, volunteering puts me amongst all types of people, which helps increase my respect for diverse cultures, understand people’s needs, and learn to listen with an understanding. Doing more volunteer activities made me feel good about what I do for others and gain unique life experiences.

Since time is precious, balancing between academics, extracurricular activities, and social life was stressful and challenging for me at the initial stage. The fact is that I am a guinea pig in my own experiment, and throughout many successful and unsuccessful experiences have taught me to learn how to create proper planning and prioritizing, and therefore, balance is possible. As I am in the final year of my PhD candidature, I have learned how to manage time and prioritize things in my life more wisely and efficiently. I employed a time management matrix to help plan and prioritize my tasks such as (1) essential and urgent, (2) important but not urgent, (3) not important but urgent, and (4) not necessary and not urgent. Thus, I spend my weekdays to study and spend some of my weekends to dabble in other miscellaneous interests.

Receiving Silver, Gold, and Platinum Awards with a Specialization in Leadership has made me aware of my abilities to achieve my goal and the power of belief. Instead of letting the past experiences define me, I take control of it. The truth is belief makes everything easy, perseverance makes everything possible, and determination makes everything work. Therefore, “There is no secret ingredient to success; it just you, and you must believe”. I do hope that my story can somehow inspire others.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage every student to reinvent yourselves. The ability to explain a complex idea quickly and memorable can provide you with more opportunities, funding, and jobs. I firmly believe that every next level of your goal will require a different version of you. To me, success is about evolution and a work ethic (to know what to do and what should not do) and make the world a better place by giving back to the community and society. Hence, no matter that you are an undergraduate, master or PhD students, the Horizon Award Program can be a place for everyone to enlarge professional development skills, expand networks, and prepare for a future career alongside your study.

Horizon Award Program is available for every student for free at Flinders University. The link is

Please also visit “In the frame: International Stories of Empowerment”, where 19 international students including myself had an opportunity to share our stories in facing both academic and personal challenges and how we overcome them. I believe that this could be another inspiration for you. The link is

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