From Albania to Australia, Anja Stermasi’s journey

Anja Stermasi has always been fascinated with what life is like in another part of the world. Even as a little girl growing up in a town in Albania, she dreamt of studying abroad and finishing a degree in a foreign country. And so when she turned 18 last year, she embarked on her journey to Australia, a destination that her education agent recommended.

After doing her own research, reading and watching YouTube videos about Australia and the education system, people and cultural mix, she decided to study in Melbourne – the 2nd most liveable city in the world where inclusion is the norm and diversity is celebrated.

Her research led her to several institution options in Melbourne. She debated with herself if she wants to go to a big university with an impersonal culture or a specialty college with small class sizes, easy access to facilities and personalised support. She decided on the latter, and this led her to CIC which specialises in bachelor’s degrees in business with majors in Accounting, Management and Marketing.

At CIC, she enjoys the friendliness of her classmates and the overall community spirt among the staff, lecturers and fellow students. She volunteers her time to be a student ambassador and actively participates in campus events. In short, she keeps busy and consciously focuses on her future career with every decision that she makes.

Feeling lost and alone

Adjusting to life in Australia did not happen overnight. When she arrived in August last year, she was excited about being independent in a new country. Melbourne was home to people from all walks of life, diverse nationalities, stunning views, lots of greeneries and trees in the parks, lovely botanical gardens, very fat seagulls and brightly-coloured parrots in their natural habitat which she previously only saw on TV. Everything was new and exciting!

This excitement didn’t last long, though. As soon as her education agent left her in a temporary accommodation which she shared with seven other people, anxiety and fear slowly crept in. Anja recalls, “The city (Melbourne) looked so big compared to me. I didn’t know where to go without Google Maps.”

She soon found a job as a waitress and saved up enough money to pay for her term fees. At some point, she lost her job but she put off telling her family until she found a new one. She kept her spending to the barest minimum while looking for another job. “I was so desperate to find a job that I forgot to breathe and function normally. I lost some friends in the process. It was a most difficult time,” Anja confides. It took her several months before she found a new job in a café – one which she still holds to this day.

At home on campus

Anja with classmates at CIC campus

When she first stepped into the CIC campus, Anja immediately felt at ease. “It is not an exaggeration but the place felt familiar – it felt like home.” Anja felt the friendly atmosphere and she decided to make herself useful and be a part of this happy community. She got out of her comfort zone, made friends with her classmates and reached out to the student services staff. Although timid and shy at first, she asked questions, sought help when needed and even volunteered to help her fellow students in whatever way she could.

Anja admits that she had difficulty with the English language at first. She mentally translated her Albanian into English word for word, which didn’t sound quite right even to her. She had been communicating like this for months until she realised that she had to think in English, and from that time on, her facility for the language improved significantly.

Now in her second year, Anja is thrilled to start the new term knowing that she is another step closer to her goal of earning a  degree. She still has difficulties in juggling her time between studies, work, volunteering and spending time with friends. But she is unfazed and more relaxed these days. She faces each new challenge and deals with it in the best way she could and hope that things will get better soon. And, of course, they always do.

Anja believes that she has lots of potential inside her that’s just waiting to be tapped. She plods on with courage. She draws strength in the assurance that she has the blessing and love of the family she left behind in Albania.