Filipino scholar shares his Australia Awards journey amidst the pandemic to Graduating Class of 2021

Jerald Laparan, Australia Awards Scholarship Awardee 2020
“We were chosen to help our country and to create an impact to our fellow countrymen, we are returning strong and empowered with our skills and experiences, which no doubt are needed now more than ever. Let us rise to this purpose and give it our best!”

Ms. Elizabeth Day, Director of DFAT South Australia State Office, Professor Jacqueline Lo – Pro-Vice Chancellor International, distinguished guests, fellow scholars, friends, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

Let me begin with a throwback to my pre-scholarship. Possibly, like many of you, I was already working and had got to a reasonably comfortable position in life, but still questioning if this was enough and wanted to challenge myself with higher expectations and goals. When I applied for the Australia Awards Scholarship and received this opportunity, I realised there was indeed more to be experienced, to bring me out of my comfort zones.

So, after I was awarded with the scholarship, I bought a big suitcase, got tested for English and good health to secure my visa. I bid goodbyes to my colleagues, friends, and my family. It was just a cloud-9 feeling though not without challenges. I was overwhelmed with excitement and joy that, finally, I will now experience living abroad.

As you know, I was the only one from my cohort to choose Adelaide over the very famous cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Canberra and I was uncertain as to whether this was the right decision. Fortunately, not everything was strange and mysterious in the new city. When I arrived here and my first meal was a Krispy Kreme Doughnut, I could honestly say that there is no difference of the taste of the doughnut between here and the Philippines. Only, it is more expensive here.

My study abroad experience has had its challenges. I don’t know about yours, but within 6 months of my arrival in January 2020, I had moved to 5 different accommodations until I found a very beautiful apartment in the heart of North Terrace, across the state library and just behind rundle mall. Literally, 5-minute walk towards this hall. I received 4 replacement debit cards after being scammed for shopping online on 4 different occasions. There were couple of times that I felt extremely sad, insecure, and anxious.

You may be thinking that problems follow me. But I have also learnt that every problem is an opportunity to grow and learn from. In entrepreneurship, we call it a business opportunity. In all the business plans and feasibility studies that I submitted from all my subjects here; the first page will always ask “WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?” So, I realised ‘problems’ are an integral part of life. No matter where we go, without these problems we will not have great thinkers and scholars of the past who have thought of great solutions are still being celebrated today. So, let the problems work for you.

And I’m sure, like many of you, I also have many memorable experiences here in Australia. I will never forget my trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns - the majestic world under that ocean is unparallel. And my 9 days trip going around the island of Tasmania. The beauty of this adventure will forever be imprinted in my mind.

One of the highlights of my time in Adelaide was, bringing to fruition my idea that we have a TEDx event at the University. When I arrived here, I learned that the University had not had such an event. I saw this as an opportunity to come together with fellow students to showcase the good news stories of South Australia. After nearly a year of work and waiting for a covid safe opportunity to hold the event, TEDxUniAdelaide was held on 5 March 2021. The project took up a lot more time and effort than anticipated. There were multiple attempts at crafting the application to secure the license successfully. There were challenges and pain points, working with - overlapping timelines, a slim student team with their own other commitments, presenters and big personalities, and different units in the University. There was also uncertainty that another outbreak may happen again. There were times that I wonder whether I could still do it before my visa expires. That said, the project was equally rewarding. This opportunity to create and collaborate was invaluable. So parallel to my Master of Applied Innovation and Entrepreneurship studies, there was practical and real-life experience of the same.

As we end our academic journey in Australia, and reflect on our time here, good or bad, I hope we areall transformed to better and stronger individuals. Personally, when I experienced the challenges even the points of extreme sadness, I learned that this emotion is normal and healthy. It fuels me to be kinder to myself and to other people.

Now that we are here in this magnificent hall, it feels that our stay here in Adelaide was short. But it is meaningful. We have seized the opportunities that present. Did things we had not done before, even last month, I joined the Adelaide University Choral Society as their bass singer. It is my first time to join such a group that plays complicated pieces of music. Days after joining the choir, I also bought a keyboard and am learning how to play it. So let our adventures continue.

The opportunity to study abroad and in this University has been a privilege. And we are fortunate to have had this in one of the safest places on earth in this crucial time. Remembering that we were chosen to help our country and to create an impact to our fellow countrymen, we are returning strong and empowered with our skills and experiences, which no doubt are needed now more than ever. Let us rise to this purpose and give it our best!

Thank you.