It would have been easy for Kelvin Nayaho to have been unsettled by his first experience in Perth, Western Australia.
Instead, then a teenager, he pushed on, earned entry into university and became a physiotherapist. Then he moved to Victoria before returning to Perth to consider chasing his dream – medicine. Late last year, he also became a permanent resident of Australia.
And all this in just eight years.
A citizen of Burundi, Kelvin was born in Tanzania, East Africa, and travelled to Zambia after his family was accepted as refugees. When he moved to Perth to join the WA Universities’ Foundation Program at Canning College in 2015, it was with the intention of becoming a doctor.
Although he is currently working as a fly-in-fly-out physiotherapist for Australia’s biggest mining company, BHP, he is considering a return to studies in medicine.
“I decided this year to step away from physio and try to pursue a pathway to medicine,” he said on a recent visit to Canning College. “That’s why I’m up in the mines. I’m able to work seven days and try to save as much as I can. And then I have seven days to prepare, study and try to get in (to medicine).”
While Canning has provided thousands of international students with opportunities to directly enter Australia’s best universities, the College doesn’t only focus on academic learning. It also provides high levels of care and support to help students settle into life in Australia, which improves their chances of success at university.
“Having a year here at Canning College before going to uni made me a lot comfortable with being in Australia,” he said. “Also, it helped me to make friends easier. Looking at the international students who came straight from their home country into university, they found it harder to adjust in their first year. I felt like I was a year ahead and I was a lot more prepared and composed.”
Back in 2015, even before Kelvin got to meet the teachers who would help him along his academic pathway, he first got to know some of the Student Services team. Landing in Perth two days earlier than planned, he had not been expected at his accommodation and needed immediate help.
“I was 17 or 18 years old at the time, so it was a really big thing,” he said. “I was thinking ‘do they even know that I am here? Am I meant to be here? It was an overwhelming feeling but the staff at Canning College handled everything for me.”
Studying at Canning was different to what he had been used to in Zambia, from the style of teaching, the interaction with staff and the conversations with fellow students, who were from many parts of the world.
“In the first year of uni, everyone talked about high school and how bad their Year 12 experience was and how much pressure and expectation there was. That was a different picture to what I had,” he said.
“Canning College is different. It was the best year in my life, in a sense of how much fun I had with learning. Canning College made us see that teaching works both ways, that we had to do something and be proactive.
“The teachers will ask why do you think that? Just to get us to be participants of learning, which I think made it a lot easier going to uni.”
While studying the WA Universities’ Foundation Program with the intention of going into medicine, Kelvin became aware of the physiotherapy degree at Curtin University. He was a good student and he had the scores to pursue either of the popular degrees.
“I took the ISAT test for medicine. My ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) score was pretty good, everything was looking like I was going to get it,” he said.
“But it was just that it cost too much. At the time, 2015, we had a bit of unrest back home and the College actually helped me with a scholarship for my second half of semester to finish my study. I’m really grateful for that because if I didn’t finish, I wouldn’t be here.”
His decision to choose a physiotherapy degree at Curtin University was confirmed during a University Information Day at Canning College. Representatives of The University of Western Australia, Murdoch University, the University of Notre Dame Australia, Edith Cowan University and Curtin visit the College regularly to provide information about courses, scholarships and the campus experience.
“It was on the last day to submit my university preferences and I decided to put physio as my number one,” he said.
Since then, Kelvin has completed his degree and experienced life in the workforce. He travelled to Victoria and worked in a hospital during COVID before returning to Western Australia and working in a private physiotherapy practice in Bunbury, which is about 90 minutes south of Perth.
He moved back to Perth to take up a sports physiotherapy position and was involved in a local rugby club. After receiving his permanent residency last year, he started to think again about his dream of becoming a doctor. Whatever happens next, Kelvin will always be grateful for his Canning College experience.