Student Voice — The Next Chapter: Mitchell Ha
Mitchell Ha is a Vietnamese-Australian graduate of the University of Sydney and first-year English high school teacher.
It was through the financial and social support of The Smith Family that Mitchell found the inspiration and resilience within himself to overcome the barriers to higher education and achieve his goals.
My parents came from Vietnam and arrived in Australia as refugees during the Vietnam War. They settled in South-Western Sydney in the suburb of Cabramatta but, due to pressures and problems within their early years in Australia, they separated. My mother was left to raise my two sisters and I by herself.
Growing up in a household where my mother was illiterate, I became the primary translator for my family at quite a young age, which was daunting.
I am grateful for the opportunities that were made available by educational charities such as The Smith Family. They made contact with my mother when I was in Year 3, at which time I began my educational journey as a Learning for Life student.
Through the support of The Smith Family, I had access to reading programs such as student2student which fostered my engagement with literacy through a mentor reading system.
A defining point for me was participating in a Smith Family university exploration trip. My eyes were opened to a whole new community — people who carried themselves in a different way; people who were very confident. I wanted to become like that.
In my community, university was not something we were familiar with; it wasn’t expected for us to pursue higher education. With no family networks to help navigate this new world, the journey to university was difficult. I had to trust myself and seek those who shared my passion for education.
My engagement with the Widening Participation and Outreach (WPO) team began in my first year at the University of Sydney where I volunteered at schools, such as Fairfield High School, as a literacy mentor. I worked with students from refugee backgrounds to improve their reading through a tailor-made literacy remedial program.
This volunteering experience reinforced to me that my educational journey did not stop simply by reaching my goal of attending university. Through the ongoing support of people such as The Smith Family, as well as my community, I wanted to give back and spread the message of education as a pathway to reaching your goals.
Partaking in the breadth of programs run by WPO showed me how diverse and talented the students of metropolitan and regional NSW are and how we, as university students and staff, can help make meaningful connections that will last a lifetime.
Working as a student leader has been a privilege and an honour — meeting the most passionate, enthusiastic and engaged students who are driven to shape Australia’s future for the better.
Some highlights have included tutoring Advanced English for students doing their HSC exams in a one-day program called HSCram and working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at our annual week-long Wingara Mura — Bunga Barrabugu programs.
I couldn’t be happier to engage with these students, to share my personal experiences, and to show them they are not defined by their circumstances.
I believe our past is important—what you go through in your life can affect you—but, ultimately it comes down to you as a person. What do you want to become? What do you want to achieve in this world?
I realise now that the values my parents instilled in me—determination, working hard and being passionate about what you do—are the skills that guided me through university and beyond.
Read more inspiring stories of student success here.