When Hongkonger Shuk Fai Law (Maggie) first stepped foot in Darwin last year, she was mesmerised by what she saw. Darwin is the tropical and vibrant capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, and the city packs a lot of personality.
From its tantalising foods — including Asian cuisine — to its panoramic sunsets and breathtaking sceneries of nature and wildlife at its national parks where you can expect to see waterbirds and crocodiles — it’s clear that there’s a lot to see and do for visitors. Darwin made such a big impression on the aspiring primary school teacher that she decided to pursue her postgraduate studies at Charles Darwin University (CDU), an institution renowned for its excellent graduate employment and starting salary outcomes.
Recently, CDU became the first university in Australia to successfully charter a flight and bring international students into Australia amid the pandemic, a real feather in its cap. Maggie was elated to be among the first batch of students to return to Australia since the country closed its borders in March 2020 to non-citizens and non-residents.
“Before this flight was announced, I thought I would be stranded abroad, so I started my studies online from Hong Kong. If there was no charter flight, I could have continued studying online and postponed all of my placement subjects,” explains Maggie, who is enrolled in CDU’s Master of Teaching (Primary) programme. “It was absolutely necessary for me to be on campus as practical placements will provide me with a golden opportunity to experience teaching in a school, which is valuable and not something we can learn from books.”
CDU: Supporting international students every step of the way
Maggie had already completed her first semester online in Hong Kong SAR when she got the opportunity to join the charter flight. The entire process, from preparing to leave home to checking in at Hong Kong International Airport until she arrived at the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility, went smoothly as the pilot scheme was well-organised and comprehensive.
CDU’s instructions were clear, and staff were helpful and efficient in responding to her queries about the charter flight through email and a WeChat group. The university assisted her with the various forms that needed to be completed in advance and even hosted pre-departure webinars in English and in the local language of students. The webinar sessions were packed with all the information that she needed to know for the trip, from what to bring, reminders about travel insurance to the COVID-19 tests that had to be taken to ensure students enjoyed a safe journey to Darwin.
Throughout the entire process, CDU kept students informed about the latest COVID-19 situation in the Northern Territory. Students were not required to arrange their own transportation, both before and after quarantining, as CDU arranged all of this.
“CDU was in contact with me from my flight in Hong Kong up to my transit in Singapore and arrival in Darwin through WeChat, and that made me feel so warm and touched,” shares Maggie. “I could feel that CDU is a caring university that had put great effort into arranging this charter flight.”
What quarantining in Darwin was like
Bei Luo (Sharon) is an English teacher who hails from Wuhan, mainland China. Sharon had received an offer to pursue a Master of Teaching (Early Childhood and Primary) at CDU but had delayed it for a year since the first lockdown began in Wuhan. “My family and I were in quarantine for almost three months,” she shares. Like Maggie, Sharon was also eager to commence on-campus learning for her postgraduate teaching programme.
On arrival at the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility, all students received a welcome package, including daily necessities, toys and games for entertainment, and a yoga mat to exercise with.
Quarantining at Howard Springs was far from boring and isolating — Sharon had many online activities arranged by CDU to keep her entertained for two weeks. These activities included English and employability workshops, Zumba and yoga classes, and virtual coffee sessions with students and staff from CDU’s International Student Support Team. She could also leave her room twice a day for 20 minutes each time, so long as she wore a face mask and practised social distancing.
Quarantining students also received daily phone calls from CDU staff to ensure students had the necessary support while in quarantine, in addition to having access to 24-hour counselling. “After quarantining, CDU held a welcoming party for us,” says Sharon. They had a welcome from CDU’s Vice-Chancellor and the Minister for International Education, a performance by the CDU Shine Choir, a traditional Indigenous Smoking Ceremony, and pre-packed meals for them to take home.
Darwin, Northern Territory — one of the safest places in the world today
Today, CDU in the Northern Territory is one of the safest places in Australia and the world to study at. The region has had no community transmission of COVID-19 and students are back studying on campus.
Following the success of CDU’s first charter flight, the university is continuing to work with the Northern Territory and Australian governments to plan for the arrival of international students into the NT.