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The NCP accelerates Maria’s education career to the international stage

In 2018 Maria Nguyen was a New Colombo Plan (NCP) Scholar in Vanuatu. Four years on, she’s making unexpected moves in her career thanks to her NCP experience.

“My NCP Scholarship truly exceeded my expectations. It broadened my lens of what I could do with my Bachelor of Education and, coupled with my personal experiences during the program, it has transformed my career trajectory.”

After graduating, Maria became a primary school teacher in Sydney but has now transitioned into a role as the International Education Officer at Family Planning New South Wales.

This role has seen Maria attend key events relating to education, including the Asia-Pacific Regional Education Minister's Conference in Bangkok and the Transforming Education Pre-Summit at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. As a part of the UNESCO-support SDG4Youth Network, she has been nominated to co-lead one of the thematic action tracks on 'inclusive, equitable, safe and healthy schools' with the ministries of education of Italy and Namibia for the Transforming Education Summit.

“My NCP experience transformed my understanding of the education sector internationally and gave me the necessary skills to take my career to the next level.”

Maria applied for the NCP scholarship to increase her understanding of the general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian Curriculum. This included deepening her intercultural awareness, language skills and understanding of Australia's engagement with the Indo-Pacific region. She also wanted to learn how to share this knowledge and teach these skills to students.

“The NCP program helped me to realise that the field of education exists far beyond the walls of a classroom; I discovered a wide, complex and ever-changing field of international and comparative education, which I became passionate about.”

Maria with a local villager practicing culture.
Maria experiencing local village culture. Credit: Maria Nguyen.

For the first semester of her NCP Scholarship, Maria studied at the University of the South Pacific at the Emalus Campus in Vanuatu. She then studied at the National Institute of Education in Singapore during her second semester.

“My time in Vanuatu was personally and professionally challenging but incredibly fulfilling. During my 17-week teaching practicum, I taught year 3 to 6 students at three different schools: first in the remote bushes of Pentecost Island, then on the volcanic island Tanna and, finally, in the capital, Port Vila, on Efate Island.”

“A highlight was being able to learn about the cultures surrounding the schools I taught at and their unique languages, traditions and customs.”

As well as practical teaching training, Maria was able to experience working for a non-profit organisation, Youth Challenge Vanuatu. The organisation's mission is to equip early school leavers with professional, business, and computing skills to build their careers.

“During this time, I talked to many young people who shared stories of their struggles to pay school fees. More importantly, I learned about their personal ambitions and hopes to tackle societal issues existing in Vanuatu, including sexual harassment prevention, achieving climate justice and improving accessibility to education.”

This life changing experience for Maria wasn’t without challenges.

“It was initially challenging adjusting to the lifestyle. While in Renbura on Pentecost Island, I had swapped my heated showers for daily swims in the river. I lived without a clock, and learned to rely on the crows, roosters, tidal waves and the sun to tell the time. There's no easy solution to overcoming the challenge of adjusting to the patterns of a new routine. However, being patient with myself, curious and observant of the lifestyles of the communities I lived with certainly helped.”

“The communities were very welcoming, and teachers were willing to share their knowledge and resources. Community partnerships were also strong, and many organisations helped by providing knowledge, facilities and resources for the schools.”

Maria scraping banana onto a fish using local tools.
Maria preparing some local food. Credit: Maria Nguyen.

Maria also formed friendships with some of the teachers and participated in community events such as fundraisers, weddings and birthday parties.

“It was a great way of getting to learn more about their traditions and customs. The people that I've met, the places that I've seen and the memories that I have made will always be treasured.”

In her current role, Maria has been able to apply what she learnt during her NCP program, including her ability to speak Bislama. She continues to deepen her understanding of Pacific culture by working with a range of Pacific Island countries, including Vanuatu.

Maria encourages prospective NCP Scholars who are doubting themselves to be fearless and apply for the program.

“To be honest, I was going to bail on my university’s internal NCP interview because I thought I had slim chances of receiving the scholarship. Luckily, I met up with a friend beforehand who told me, ‘If you don't apply, you have zero chances; if you apply, you have a chance.’ Don't let yourself be your own barrier. I've never forgotten those words and would like to pass them on to any students planning to apply for the NCP Scholarship.”

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