Arriving in northern NSW from rural Brazil in March 2004, Carina Bossu (pictured here) embarked on what she now sees as “an amazing journey” at the University of New England.
That journey, made possible initially by a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship, has included her successful completion of Master’s and PhD degree programs, her marriage to a fellow student, and her appointment to the staff of a major research project based at UNE.
It began with a 15-week program of English language training in UNE’s English Language Centre, which was then housed in the heritage-listed Newling Building (“the Old Teachers’ College”) overlooking the city of Armidale. “I had only basic English when I arrived – enough to survive,” Carina said. “And I must say the Australian accent was a problem at first.”
At the English Language Centre – and within the Armidale community – she met, for the first time, people from countries other than Brazil. “I was born and raised in a very small town in the countryside of São Paulo State,” she said, “where there was no opportunity for multicultural experience. But in Armidale I had it all. Having something to compare my Brazilian background with, I learnt much more about myself and where I come from.”
“Everything was so new to me I wasn’t even homesick,” she added. “I just couldn’t believe I had this opportunity. I tried to do as much as I could in meeting people, learning about Australia, and practising English.”
From the outset, her Armidale experience was enhanced by the support and friendship of her “Rotarian counsellors” John Turnbull and his wife Fran, who became – and remain – her “Aussie parents”.
Having satisfied the requirements of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Carina enrolled in UNE’s Master of Educational Administration degree program. Her approach to her Master’s research project so impressed her principal supervisor, Dr Robyn Smyth, that Dr Smyth encouraged her to go on to doctoral studies. She did so with such success that she will graduate from UNE as a Doctor of Philosophy next month (on the 16th of April).
To assist her with her PhD studies, Carina was awarded a UNERA International Scholarship (“UNE Research Assistantship for International Student of Exceptional Merit”), and – to support her field work in Brazil – a Keith and Dorothy Mackay Postgraduate Travelling Scholarship. “I want to thank everyone – Robyn, my other supervisors, the University generally, and the Rotary Foundation – for believing in me and giving me the opportunity for further education,” she said.
She plans to develop her PhD thesis, titled Higher Distance Education in Brazil: Policies, Practices, and Staff Development, into a book for publication (in Portuguese) in Brazil, believing that it could assist the development of distance education in that country. “For the first time in Brazil, staff development is – to a certain extent – being encouraged by new policies on distance education,” she said. “But the policies need to be developed further.”
Carina Bossu and Darren Ellis met and got to know each other at UNE, and were married there, in the gardens of Earle Page College, on the 2nd of May last year – less than a fortnight after Carina submitted her PhD thesis. Her parents travelled from Brazil for the wedding, and the couple reciprocated by travelling to Brazil for a second ceremony on the 18th of July. “We have plans to experience other places and cultures,” Carina said, “and eventually become parents.”
Both Carina and Darren are now working at UNE – Darren as a lecturer in the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy, and Carina as a Research Fellow on a collaborative project (“DEHub: Innovation in Distance Education”) that, led by UNE, is paving the way for 21st century developments in distance education both within Australia and abroad. Carina is conducting research on open education resources in collaboration with UNE’s partner universities. She is also leading an academic exchange project between four distance-education universities in Australia and four in South America, in which they will share information, build capacity, and establish links between the two regions.
“It’s a big transition from being a student, when everybody helps you with your own project, to doing a job, where you have to contribute to something much larger,” she said. “I’m starting to feel, however, that I am making a contribution.
“It’s been an amazing journey.”