Michael Siega's Graduation Speech

"When I return to my country in a few months, I could finally say that I am fully prepared to contribute to the improvement in the vocational curricula, as I look at education now beyond what I can gain from it."

Michael Siega, Master of Education, University of Wollongong

Michael Siega photo.jpeg

Good afternoon to our distinguished guests from DFAT, the program coordinators from the universities here in New South Wales and fellow Australia Awards scholars. It is a great honour to be chosen to speak on behalf of the AAS awardees and share my personal and academic journey.

Before Australia, I was the Senior Business Development Manager of the biggest mall chain in the Philippines and a co-founder of a vocational school. I already have an MBA degree and was also teaching vocational courses in the evenings and weekends. The latter fuelled my desire to apply for the scholarship in order to further understand Adult and Vocational Education and ultimately, to contribute in the enhancement of the Philippine vocational curricula. That’s the boring part of my speech. 

My Australian experience is nothing close to being boring! Although, my first conversation in Australia was not as spectacular as I’ve imagined it to be. The very first interaction I had here was at the airport and it was a stressful one because the shuttle driver and I had difficulty understanding each other, he talked really Aussie-fast and I have the American accent, thanks to a decade of work in the American call centre companies. Back then I was already foreseeing challenges in everyday conversations and classes. 

To my surprise, everything took a quick spin. Wendy, our SCO, was very cordial and efficient. The locals and international students I’ve encountered in the IAP, conversation groups and other activities are all very warm and kind. It is just unbelievable how minimal the stress level is in the University of Wollongong. There’s free bus to the city, free internet at uni and the city too, sometimes even free food, the beach is less than 20 mins away and there’s a variety of dining options everywhere. 

After more than a year of stay, I can proudly say that my experience had been meaningful. I have participated in numerous volunteer activities (International Students Program O-Week, IFIS BBQ at the Beach, Unilife Active Tribe’s Surfing Tour, Blue Mountain and Jenolan Caves trip and inter-club and inter-uni sports competitions). I have also joined seminars, workshops and talks ranging from writing assessments to being career-ready and even about dating in Australia, yes, you heard it right! UOW had a session like that. Most memorable though is Nobel Prize recipient Sir Francis Stoddart’s journey in discovering molecular machines. 

For my interests, I have also joined the Toastmasters, the Outdoor, Camping and Volleyball clubs and I worked with other Filo students in reviving the UOW Filipino Club. I participated as well in a Uni Basketball league and in the uni’s acoustic performance competition. I had the chance to represent my country during the UOW welcome event and met the Lord Mayor of Wollongong. Funniest thing is, I was also seen on local news during the coverage of the Uni’s O-week, a first ever for me. I was also elected as the Post-Grad International Student Representative of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Adjusting to the life in Australia seems daunting but keeping an open mind, a positive perspective and a big smile will help you enjoy the journey.

In line with the project that I will be undertaking upon return to my country that pertains to the re-design of the Contact Centre Services curriculum in the Vocational Education and Training, I explored the Australian customer service and sales industry. I worked at the UOW as a Student Caller for the alumni donation campaign; I helped facilitate the international students’ annual survey; I worked with an advertising company doing business-to-business outbound calls; and for a travel and leisure organisation for their membership renewal campaign. I am currently working with Entertainment Publications as part of the Customer Service and Sales team. All of these opportunities have helped establish my academic and professional networks. The activities made me really tired too.

Aside from the academic and professional development, the personal growth is most astonishing for me. I have begun to look at the world through a multicultural lens. Living in shared houses and student accommodations and studying in UOW, introduced me to the different cultures of the world. I lived, studied and worked with local Aussies, people who are originally from Asia, Americas, Africa, Europe and other parts of the world. I became more aware and respectful of the major differences and even nuances in personalities and cultures. Living in Australia gave me a glimpse of the rest of the world through my interactions.

In hindsight, I would have considered myself in the Philippines as somewhat professionally and academically successful, but I was surprised by the growth I have experienced being away from family, not having the things and people that I thought I would not survive without – my own house, my car and familiar faces. When I return to my country in a few months, I could finally say that I am fully prepared to contribute to the improvement in the vocational curricula, as I look at education now beyond what I can gain from it. Borrowing from a famous journalist Sydney Harris, ‘The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.’ 

Thank you everyone and good afternoon!