A life changing online placement for Singaporean Speech Pathology student Baenita Thiveanathan has proven COVID-19 doesn’t have to be a barrier when it comes to kick starting your career with Flinders University.
When the pandemic struck in March 2020, Baenita’s family encouraged her and her brother to come home to Singapore, but couldn’t have anticipated the struggles in returning to Australia. Fortunately, Baenita was able to complete a full telehealth speech pathology placement based in South Australia’s Riverlands, online from her home in Singapore. This online placement was the catalyst for a life changing first career move for the Bachelor of Speech Pathology student.
It began when Baenita received an email from the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) team that went out to Speech Pathologist students concerning an opportunity for a rural tele-health placement in the Riverlands.
“I thought, what is there to lose?” said Baenita.
“I sent an email to Wendy, on my WIL placement team and told her I was in Singapore, but I wanted to do the placement through telehealth as I have good internet.”
Wendy, in turn, floated the idea of an online, offshore placement student with the employer. “My employer at Good Prospects is a forward-thinking person. She has this incredible abundance mindset, and decided to give the offshore placement a go.” The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Adapting to online learning
A two-hour time difference between Singapore and South Australia meant Baenita had early starts at 6:30am.
“The sky was still dark in pre-dawn Singapore and I would be starting my telehealth placement,” she says. “I had two supervisors looking after me and they took turns, giving me their clients to care for. Eventually I took over their clients, and I saw them all over telehealth.”
While Baenita would have preferred a face-to-face placement, she believes the skills learned in an online placement have set her up to succeed in a modern-day workplace.
“It turned out to be a blessing because since COVID began, we know that video conferencing is the next big thing. Now everything is happening on Zoom; conferences, meetings, a lot of events are now switching online too. So that whole experience has put me in a position where I had no choice but to think out of the box about how I would do therapy using only online resources.”
Baenita was stuck in Singapore until November 2020, but after hearing from a friend who managed to seek an exemption to return to Australia, she was determined to try her luck.
“Around August I met an angel who told me that there was a pathway where I could appeal via a case by case basis. They were studying dentistry in Brisbane and had somehow come back to Australia,” says Baenita of her fellow international student. “So, I asked: how? They told me they had a health placement to do, so were allowed back in the country.”
A career ambition realised
By August, Baenita had already completed her placement. She had been so successful and proven herself to be an exemplary professional, her employer offered Baenita a role working over telehealth from Singapore. Working part-time already gave her the confidence to try applying to return to Australia.
“I thought, okay, I’m just going to take the chance because I wanted to work. That was the plan. My dad sent me here so that hopefully I could work here, right? So, I just tried. I was already working part-time, and I had a job to come back to.”
The Department of Home Affairs told Baenita she needed a letter from her university confirming she was a student. She contacted Wendy from the WIL team who worked quickly to get a letter to her. Baenita began to get second thoughts about the application and almost never submitted it, but discussing it further with Wendy gave her the motivation to complete the application. Two weeks later she received an exemption.
“They got back to me and said I had an exemption because I’m a healthcare worker; I had approval to come back. I was shocked and thought, ‘oh my god imagine if I didn’t take that chance’?”
Baenita’s employer went above and beyond behind the scenes to help her organise her trip home, supporting her completely in her dream of gaining employment in Australia. Luckily for her, she avoided a COVID-19 two day-lockdown in Adelaide by mere days, and was quarantining at the time.
“Nothing was certain at that point. The government could say, ‘we’re going to stop international flights’ and I wouldn’t know how long I would have to wait for the next flight. The moment the lockdown happened I was like, ‘oh my gosh’. I was in quarantine day two. I thought, ‘thank God I booked this earlier flight, there are just angels every step of the way’.”
Incredible student support
Studying overseas can be intimidating, but Baenita insists she’s felt extremely supported throughout her time at Flinders University, particularly from International Student Services (ISS).
“I know whenever I go to them (ISS), it’s always love. It always felt like home because there’s a group of people who cared for me. If I went to them for help, they made sure it was sorted for me.” Baenita also felt very supported by her country recruitment team.
“I knew Sophia Tan – before arriving in Adelaide – she’s the first person I met when I applied to Flinders. I now know other people there too and you can feel the warmth and care they had for us. You can tell they are doing a lot behind the scenes too.”
Baenita is grateful for the support ISS has shown her and all international students.
“As an international student, knowing there’s the International Student Services available gave me a huge comfort. Knowing there is a place I can go to whenever I faced any issues. If the university, or my speech pathology department couldn’t help me, that’s where I would go. That’s my helpline. Because I knew that’s the closest I could get to home. That’s my home support.”
Being fearless and taking an opportunity to get back to Australia has resulted in a dream come true for Baenita, and her family. While she misses Singapore, she’s found that settling into the community has made South Australia start to feel like home.
“This is literally the best year. I can’t imagine so many good things happening all at once. It’s unbelievable. My parents are happy because it’s also their dream. This feels like somewhere I can actually settle down and it feels like home. Initially I was missing Singapore a lot – and family and the comfort and the people – but now I can see there’s a place for me here.”