Think a uni more than 30 mins away from home is too far away? Imagine living 4,000 km from where you’re studying. Based in Sydney, Genna is studying International Aid and Development and Sustainable Development online at Murdoch University in Perth.
On choosing a university outside her state, away from where any of her friends were studying, Genna says the decision was surprisingly easy.
“I liked the degree, I liked what the university had to offer. I work full time, so studying online is perfect for me. It doesn’t matter where the university’s based then, does it?”
Unlike many undergraduate students, Genna had the wisdom of experience in choosing a university. Before coming to Murdoch, Genna had studied a degree in nursing, which she completed in 2013 at a local university in Sydney.
Despite her strong interest in health, she admits she felt constrained by the traditional pathway that followed her nursing degree. She disliked the short interactions she had with patients working in a hospital, and longed to build stronger, longer-lasting relationships with the people she helped.
With her strengths, interests and passions front of mind, Genna felt empowered to think freely outside a traditional career path. She was drawn to humanitarian work, specifically focused on improving public health.
Genna knew she needed flexible study options and support to drive her career forward. She began a search around Australia for a university that would best support her aspirations and her lifestyle, finally settling on Murdoch.
“I submitted to, and was accepted into, three different unis around Australia, but I felt like Murdoch was able to take into consideration all my previous work. They wanted to help me. I can’t explain how important that is. They wanted me to be the best that I can”
Uncovering your true calling
In researching for a university assignment at Murdoch, Genna came to understand a problem in the public health system in Kenya, born from a lack of operating theatres in public clinics.
Without operating theatres, if a woman comes to a clinic to give birth and experiences complications requiring a caesarean, she has to wait for an ambulance to get to the nearest hospital. There is only one ambulance available to cover three hospitals, and many women die waiting for this ambulance.
With such a significant problem to solve, Genna had to think outside of the world around her. She tracked down two respected doctors in Kenya who had started their own business, but hadn’t yet expanded into maternity.
“I actually found their details during a uni assessment. I found these details and I thought ‘wow, they’re really impressive.’ I got a colleague to make a connection so when I came out (to Kenya) I could introduce myself”
Through a charity she created, Gennarosity Abroad, the trio are now planning the construction of a hospital, aiming to service low and middle socio-economic status maternity patients.
A real world perspective
But working across cultures hasn’t come without challenges. Along her journey Genna has had to learn some hard lessons about cultural difference and navigating cultural gaps sensitively.
“Working with another community or culture that’s different to yours, we naturally assume or project the things we would do… You have to understand that’s not how other people function, and their beliefs and values are not the same as yours. That’s so important”
“It’s why I want to be partnering with local doctors. I like to work and learn within a community.”
Genna has always been interested in international aid and making a difference.
“Even if it’s one life that’s changed, it’s worth it. I always think ‘that could have been me’. You don’t have a choice as to what family you’re born into. It’s all chance, right?”
When it comes to Africa, it was a favourite teacher who fuelled her fascination with the far away continent, as he often spent class time telling stories of his time working in Namibia.
After finishing high school, and with a passion burning the pit of her stomach, Genna set off with a mission.
“I went to a travel agent and said ‘I want to go to Africa. I don’t know where but I know I want to go.’
They sent me to Kenya and my heart has been there ever since.”
And that teacher who inspired her all those years ago?
“The coolest thing is he’s been on the board of my charity since it’s been established, and he’s going to Kenya with me and the students in July. He plays a fundamental role, even though he doesn’t realise it”
A helping hand
A common thread through Genna’s story is the influence passionate mentors have had on her study and budding career. At Murdoch, Genna believes her passion for studying has been magnified thanks to a close relationship with one of her lecturers, Allan Johnstone.
“He really understood my desires and what I wanted to achieve while being at university. He tailored my degree to what I wanted to get out of it. It’s been the most incredible experience.”
And even Genna is surprised by how it’s impacted her performance.
”In my nursing I did okay but definitely not as well as I’ve been doing at Murdoch. I think it helps when you’re supported and you care about what you’re studying.”
While the high marks are a plus, Genna says it’s the knowledge gained that she’s most proud of.
“I’m proud of the skills and knowledge that I’ve learned, that I’ve really learned and not just read and forgotten for an essay, assessment or exam. I’ve actually learned incredible information and I’ve been using it.”
According to Genna, her choice to study online at Murdoch University has been crucial to her personal and academic success. Especially in how it allowed her to think about her potential on a global scale.
“Tailoring the units of your degree, being flexible and open, having understanding that if you’ve been to university before, you might not need to do the same compulsory units. I felt it was a very personal approach. I wasn’t just another number, I wasn’t just another student, I was an individual.”
“(Studying online) means you don’t have to put your life on hold…There are huge benefits to it, especially with the work that I do, because it enables me to study and travel at the same time.”
If like Genna, you are thinking beyond traditional study pathways and careers, her advice is to follow your passion and think broadly about the impact you might have on the world.
“I think about how small and tiny the world is in comparison to the greater universe, and I think about how our time here on Earth is just so short. I think about how lucky I am for the time here, and I think ‘imagine what I can do whilst I’m here’.“
For more information on how you could think differently to pursue a career like Genna’s, contact Murdoch University on 1300 687 3624.