Experiencing graduate studies at the University of Adelaide

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - November 11, 2015 - 9:00am

European Higher Education Fair 2015 opened last week. Twenty-seven European higher education institutions from Belgium, Denmark, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom offering enrollment opportunities for master’s and PhD programs participated in the fair last Nov. 7, at Dusit Thani Hotel.

Let me recall my experience as a postgraduate student in Adelaide, Australia in 2000.

ADELAIDE, South Australia – This can’t be Manila, I told myself at 5:30 in the morning as I awakened to the whip-poor-will call of a bird. My warm bed at the Kathleen Lumley College would not let me get up after a seven-hour overnight flight from Manila via Sydney. Lots of birds were chirping especially one that called out melodiously like a flute. It is the Piping Shrike, I later learned from Royleen Warland, the Secretariat head of the Graduate School of Education of the University of Adelaide. A garden enthusiast, she would help identify the various birds and plants that fill up the numerous parks and landscaped gardens around the university city.

A university resident of Adelaide

For the month of October, I would do qualitative research on my doctoral dissertation of Thirty-Five Years of Reconstructing the Education of the Filipino Child from Infancy to Adolescence. What could be a better ambience to concentrate and at the same time enjoy myself than this beautiful Victorian city with its 130-year old University of Adelaide!

My second alarm rang at seven in the morning, and the next-door graduate students from Thailand would take their shower promptly at this time to get to the 7:30 a.m. breakfast on the ground floor. The college is one of five residential colleges on one side of the huge Parklands bordering the university. Donated by the Lumley family, Kathleen Lumley is for the use of international graduate scholars and researchers. Except for Sundays, the boarding facilities include breakfast and dinner. Meals for big men they are: a smorgasbord of fruits, yogurt, six cereals, four kinds of milk, including soya, a daily change of bacon, sausages and beans entrée, as well as coffee, Milo or tea, which have to be taken before eight every morning when everyone goes off to the huge university complex.

30 impressive post graduate students

During my entire stay, an impressive group of intellectuals kept me company every mealtime. From the Netherlands was Dr. Schreuder, who at that time was writing out a system for Olympic soccer games, which may be used for the Olympics 2004 in Greece. From Denmark, doing research on Alzheimer’s Disease, was a younger molecular biologist working with the genes of the zebra fish eggs. Dr. Paton, a young look-alike of Tyrone Power, was specializing on dental surgery of the ‘lower two-thirds of the face.’ “Maxi-oral surgery,” he said, “started during World War II when military forces had numerous facial injuries.” In the same Adelaide University Dental Hospital was a Vietnamese director from Hanoi, who was visiting to present the second decade study of the national dental program of his country.

From Madrid were two lady graduate scholars. One was an engineer doing a study of “noise” in a team of 20 researchers. The other lady was doing her doctoral thesis on the chromosomes of various cereals. Other Ph.D. candidates were mathematicians and physicists. These were among my 30 companions in the College who crossed the tree-lined greeneries and spread out to work in the 43 buildings that made up the university complex.

Living with mother nature

While Manila was sweltering at 30 degrees Centigrade and above, it was a real cool 23 degrees Centigrade in Adelaide during the day and a low of 16 degrees Centigrade at night. I stepped out of our heavy wooden gate with the security lock into McKinnon Parade Street that bordered the public playfield park and the Graduates’ Oval. Gray-crested doves were chirping with the huge cockatoos that were either sulphur-crested or pink and gray, known as the “galahs.” Huge flocks of seagulls from Port Adelaide were sunning themselves. I walked passed them to the other side by the flowing Torrens River.

I feasted my eyes on this clean river, thinking of our Pasig River and its tree-less banks and the shanties that cluster thickly on the edges. Since the Torrens was beautifully terraced and rip-rapped with handsome brown rocks filled with blue irises, rose bushes with flowers as big as a child’s face, I breathed in the fresh clean air. The invisible gases from the light traffic of the city was easily absorbed by the tall flowering jacaranda, yellow frangipani, ash trees, silver birches, and the many native gum trees with bright orange blossoms. Men and women joggers enjoyed their sprint along the asphalted pathways, which many biking students used.

A family of black swans with four goslings delighted all of us. Behind them in the river were the mallard ducks and a few brown water hens. I saw the gate of the University. A beautiful footbridge, one of two, brought the pedestrians to the school and downtown.

When I don’t visit the University Gym, I would walk along the Albert Bridge. The interesting Adelaide Zoo with its Victorian gates and buildings has been part of Australian’s old history. It has an active animal exchange program with Southeast Asia.

The university – the heart of the city

I could not help but think of downtown Manila and the university district of Mapua, University of the East, Far Eastern University, Technological Institute of the Philippines, Arellano University, Centro Escolar University and the smaller colleges of San Beda, Holy Spirit, La Concordia and San Sebastian. The thick procession of students moving about from morning till evening, while steaming hot buses, jeepneys, and cars fight with them in the tree-less surroundings. Bookstores, eateries, tailors and cinemas make up the commercial district that serviced the student needs.

While Manila at that time had a population of almost 11 million, Adelaide had a very relaxed population of just one million. Around the city center are the Parliament House and the beautiful garden residence of the Governor-General, the Town Hall, and the Central Market with Chinatown.

City life centered on the two major universities — the new University of Southern Australia and the historical University of Adelaide. The major streets are King William that leads to Victoria Square, the shopping street of Rundle Mall and Hindley Street. In contrast to the strip tease joints in Ermita, Manila — like American Beauty and Black Stallion, the Crazy Horse and Cyber X — girls may not be touched, according to the Filipino graduate students I met there.

The major buildings of the University of Adelaide are the Medical and Dental Hospitals together with buildings for Engineering, Math and Architecture. The Physics building is behind the Museum of Art complex. A huge student building, the Union Building, houses the travel agency, sports club, restaurants, bookshops, and a student theater.

Private donations has made important facilities like the Barr Smith Library the biggest, with its more than two million book collection, and possibly the best in South Australia. Elder Hall, also built on donations, held concerts during lunch. Bonython Hall, the oldest building, has remained the site of graduation rites.

Across North Terrace Street, opposite the University, was one of the newest additions at that time — the Educational Building for graduate studies in Education Administration or Educational Studies. This was where I was given an office, which I shared with Dr. Dorothy Hudson, a visiting research fellow.

Dr. George Smolicz, my mentor, kept his office here as the Director of the Center for Intercultural Studies and Multicultural Education. As an internationally recognized scholar in multiculturalism, the two waves of major migration to Australia — namely the European Greeks, Italians, Germans and Polish, as well as the Asian migration spearheaded by the Vietnamese war “boat people,” the Chinese and Filipinos — benefited from his extensive researches. His 1996 survey stated that there were about 152,000 Vietnamese residents in Australia, while Filipinos numbered 92,000. Dr. Margaret Secombe was his associate.

The Filipinos, Vietnamese and the Chinese in Adelaide

Filipino professionals usually reside in South Adelaide, the Clinton, Black Forest or Marion district. Nearby in Burnside and Lyndon Park live the Chinese professionals. North Adelaide has the numerous market gardens tended by Greeks and Italians of old. The hard-working Vietnamese immigrants whose menu generally uses a lot of salad greens and herbs have joined them now.

It was a Saturday morning when I first arrived at Adelaide. I knew then that Dr. Smolicz, who was popular with various circles of friends and migrants, would take me out. It was indeed a pleasure to be attending the 25th anniversary of the Vietnamese Settlement in South Australia. It was a happy community of 1,000 Vietnamese, mostly young men and women with their children, that I met in the Parish church and clubhouse in Prooka, a suburb of the city. Dr. Smolicz was very well known among religious leader Sr. Elizabeth and her group of social workers. The banquet food of eight delicious courses, catered by a successful Vietnamese restaurateur, reminded me of the wonderful cuisine Max and I enjoyed in Saigon when we lived there in the ‘60s, just before the war.

A most restful sabbatical leave conducive to work

To my colleagues in the educational field, I strongly recommend this learning experience. One who has fully committed himself, or herself, to so much work deserves this break. Doing a dissertation in Manila would simply be too nerve-wracking for one. Personally, being in Adelaide gave me the opportunity to look back to our achievements with pride and pleasure while learning from the best.

 (For feedback email at precious.soliven@yahoo.com. )

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