After nearly two years of international borders being shut, our overseas students have arrived in Sydney via the NSW International Arrivals Pilot Program.
When COVID-19 presented itself at the beginning of 2020, no one anticipated that it would be nearly two years until our international students arrived back in Australia. From starting a brand-new chapter of their lives completely remotely to attending zoom classes at 4 am, the longing for on-campus and in-person learning experiences is one felt by all.
At the University of Sydney, we have greatly missed our international students. At the heart of our values is the richness and depth our students bring to the community – the campus just hasn’t been the same in the last two years without you.
So, when the NSW government announced its International Arrivals Pilot Program, the buzz was real – from both sides.
On the morning of Monday 6 December, nearly two years since international borders were shut – the first chartered plane arrived in Sydney, carrying 73 University of Sydney students from 9 countries across the globe. Since then, there have been 3 more flights with 111 students who have arrived from countries all over the world, with more planned for the coming months.
It’s safe to say that their journey to Sydney has been one of joyful dances and bittersweet tears.
As the pandemic persisted, the prospect of not being able to experience Sydney and the University of Sydney for the entirety of their courses became a fear too real.
To receive an invitation from the University to participate in the NSW International Arrivals Pilot Program was, to many, a beacon of hope.
‘I was ecstatic and began packing my suitcases the very minute I received the email!’ says Ava Khan from India.
Others described their reactions to the announcement as ‘excited’, ‘elated’, ‘grateful’ and simply ‘my hope to go back to Sydney’.
‘I felt as if I was daydreaming and could not believe that it would actually happen,’ says Tushar Joshi from India, the recipient of Sydney Scholars India Equity Scholarship.
When asked about why they wanted to participate in the program, the sentiment was unanimous – the opportunity to engage in the learning community was deeply missed and valued.
‘I really, really wanted to get off online classes and meet my teachers and classmates,’ says Maria Li from China.
When Maria received her confirmation email notifying her position in the program, her family danced around the house with excitement. She describes it feeling like the day she received her unconditional offer to study at the University of Sydney.
I wanted to wander along the Sydney beaches and listen to the sound of waves lapping on the sand
The support from both the NSW government and the University meant that students felt assured their desire to study on campus would be fulfilled. Having been through so much uncertainty, the ease of the program for a safe and well-supervised return was important.
‘Having the University and airlines make all the arrangements relieved a lot of stress because I knew that everything was being handled by people who knew what they were doing,’ says Naomi Cooper from Canada.
Tushar described the application process as organised and clear, he says he appreciated the step-by-step process of it.
‘Each of us was provided with an individual case manager who made the application process easier, we could ask them anything,’ Tushar explains.
Everything was organised well by the University, and I felt safe and connected
After being accepted into the program, many students recounted clear and consistent communication with the University being proving helpful and making them feel at ease.
‘The University held online meetings with us before the flight. These meetings gave me a better understanding of Australia and what I needed to do,’ says Jiayi Li from China. ‘We got lots of email updates, and clear instructions on what steps to take, and what to expect,’ Naomi adds.
When it was finally time to board the plane, the distant dream still felt surreal. ‘I noticed the mutual joy and excitement about finally travelling to Australia because many of us had lost hope that we would ever be able to study in Australia onshore,’ Tushar says.
After two years of online interactions, the kinships formed from seeing your fellow peers all over the world in person was immediate and real.
‘It was great when all the other students in the program started spotting each other in the airport, and we all banded together in our mini cohort of travellers,’ Naomi recalls.
The journey itself was nothing short of emotional overload. ‘Tiring, emotional and exciting – all at once!’ Ava says, ‘I got goosebumps when it began to descend, and we could see Sydney from the sky!’.
I didn't see anyone sleeping on the flight, students were partying, singing, watching movies. Such joy and enthusiasm can never be seen in an ordinary flight trip
For many students, seeing USYD banners and ‘Welcome to Sydney’ signboards at the arrival’s terminal felt like the moment to finally believe it was all happening – they are here now in Sydney.
‘The University welcome team at the airport were so sweet and extended such warm welcome to us!’ Ava says she felt looked after. ‘The teachers and students who came to meet us showed great enthusiasm and welcomed us, which made me feel warm,’ Jiayi says.
For Tushar, the realisation hit in a slightly different way. ‘The one particular sentence that confirmed that I have reached Australia was – Hey, G’day mate!’.
Since arrival, the students have been keeping busy ‘beach hopping’, ‘long walks along Darling Harbour’, ‘buying necessities’, and of course ‘went to the University of Sydney every day’.
I realize that my back to school is no longer a distant dream and I know that I will never feel sad and lonely again in the southern hemisphere. The future would be bright, I could continue to pursue my dream – work hard to become a scientist!
It’s been a long time coming, and we can’t wait to welcome more of you on campus in Sydney, you are going to love it!
The International Arrivals Pilot Program has now concluded. International students hoping to travel to Sydney to study on campus can arrive via the standard travel process.