My Story – Student Voice: Donna Douvartzidis
The pathway through higher education for Donna Douvartzidis has been challenging, but has delivered personal rewards beyond her wildest dreams. As the first in her family to attend university, she embarked on a journey of academic and personal growth at the University of South Australia as a mature student after raising three children, with the support of UniSA College which is partly funded by the HEPPP
I grew up in the Barossa Valley which, upon reflection, was the soil that grounded me for all of my future experiences. No one in my entire extended family had been to university; it was not even discussed as an option in my home. I aspired to be a legal secretary as this seemed so prestigious to me, but also very interesting. I loved legal studies in Year 12 and I also chose accounting, typing and stenography (yes, that was a final year subject back in the late 80s) combined with home economics as my final year subjects. These seemed to me the most logical choices for work and life.
I succeeded in gaining employment straight after Year 12 as a legal secretary in a law firm in the Barossa — my first big achievement. I worked in various legal establishments in Adelaide over the next 10 years, married in 2000 and left work at the end of 2001 when I fell pregnant with my first-born daughter. In 2011, once the last of my three children had settled into primary school, I felt ready to return to the workforce but didn’t know where to start on that journey.
After spotting an advertisement for Foundation Studies with the University of South Australia, I hesitantly and excitedly attended the information session, held at the Mawson Lakes campus. I clearly recall walking into my first ever lecture theatre. The excitement rising within me was intense. Afterwards, I left that theatre knowing that, although I had not studied in over 20 years, I was going to give this a go. I enrolled as a mature age student and, nearly 12 months later, my mid 90s TER was published in the newspaper alongside my stepdaughter’s. I was accepted into the program and I excelled, receiving an average of high distinctions. I had never been so proud of myself in my entire life.
I went in to UniSA College thinking it was psychology I needed to study. However, after being exposed to political and sociological subjects, the concept of globalisation and everything that flowed from that, and with amazing guidance from a lecturer, I realised that I would much prefer to be effecting change, rather than listening to the effects of societal issues from a counselling perspective. I was accepted into a double degree in International Relations and Journalism in the Education, Arts and Social Sciences Division. I have always loved writing, so learning about global politics, while gaining knowledge on how to share that information, seemed like the most logical and pleasing choice for my university studies.
I honourably graduated last year with two bachelor degrees, having majored in peace and security, studied Spanish as my language choice and completed a year of psychology as my elective. The opportunities that university presented to me were beyond my wildest dreams. As an international relations student I was both offered, and expected to undertake, overseas placements, whether that be to study or to volunteer. I have been blessed with scholarships, study grants and the support of my husband who looked after our children while I was away.
First I went to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic to undertake a foreign correspondent course with Transitions Online (TOL), where I researched human trafficking of women. I worked alongside BBC Reporters and other highly respected journalists from various genres, and carried out my first recorded interviews.
Not long after I returned from that life-changing month in Europe, I headed to Java, Indonesia where I studied intercultural communication at the University of Islam in Yogyakarta with a Global Experience UniSA group. A year later I headed to Nepal for a month, working on a health and hygiene program, in the Chitwan District, alongside a group of Adelaide University medical students. As if these experiences weren’t enough, I was still to undertake the longest trip yet, 4 months in South America, representing the university internationally through the Hawke Ambassador Program!
I had seen this program in one of the early information sessions at UniSA College, and had said to myself that I too would be a Hawke Ambassador … and so it was.
Although leaving my children with their father for over three months was a difficult decision, I believe what they have seen me achieve and experience far outweighs the times I needed to be away from our family home and the times I wasn’t as available as I had been the previous 10 years.
I signed up for Projects Abroad’s, 12-week Law and Human Rights program, working with the homeless, including a project where I collaborated with businesses in Cordoba to create job opportunities for those unable to find work unassisted.
I worked with girls in a correctional facility, and girls in a home where they had been removed from their families due to sexual violence. I dabbled in radio and on a project, re-integrating boys who had been incarcerated, back into society.
I began initial research on a human rights monitoring project and prepared a precedent presentation for those with academic background to continue my work.
Whilst at UniSA College, I was elected student representative on the Academic Board. I was a UniLife Student Voice representative and I remained a student mentor at the College during my undergraduate years. I also sat on a panel as a high-achieving student, giving advice to newcomers to the College.
Since graduating I have not yet gained paid employment, due to family and logistical factors, but have continued on my lifelong learner path, and earlier this year was granted some funds by BPW Australia to assist me in attending the United Nations 2017 Commission for the Status of Women in New York!
I am, however, about to submit my application for the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI) Graduate Program as I feel the timing is now right for that opportunity.
Through my journey, women’s rights has been my main focus. I wish to be of service in this area and know that the right path will soon present itself to me.
When I stand on the university grounds, I truly feel like it is my second home. I stand upon a deep, rich layer of soil which created a whole new root system for me, standing me in good stead for further decision making in my life, and for the lives of others. University has truly changed who I am in so many unimaginable ways. For that opportunity, the right to further education, I feel profound gratitude.