Photo: Flickr/Sacha Fernandez
Papua New Guinean Lawrence Kaiapo Gerry is living in Sydney studying at the University of New South Wales on an Australia Awards scholarship. In this post he shares some of his most memorable experiences in Sydney and reflects on the contrast with his life in Papua New Guinea.

It was on 9 January 2015 that I left the shores of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and took a direct flight from Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby to Kingsford International Airport in Sydney. This is my second time in Australia; in 2006 I completed my Maters in TESOL at Deakin University in Melbourne. This time around I am here on an Australia Awards scholarship to complete my PhD in Education at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Being a husband and a father, it was really heartbreaking to leave my wife and children and the rest of my family behind to travel overseas. In the first few months, I was a bit homesick. I missed my family terribly and I worried about them but after being in communication with them, I was relieved to find they were all well.

As a first timer in my dream city, I was fascinated by the iconic sites, including the mighty Sydney Harbour Bridge and the great Opera House which capture the attention of people all across the world. It is beyond my understanding to come to terms with how these structures were carefully planned, designed and built. I would normally only get to see pictures of these impressive landmarks and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to see them in person.

I was privileged to be one of the UNSW international students invited to go on a boat cruise around Sydney Harbour and to visit the Rocks. With our mentors, we took a bus ride from UNSW to Circular Quay and then got on a Captain Cook cruise boat. We began our cruise by going by the Opera House and heading to Manly, then we returned to the Harbour Bridge and, travelling under it, continued on to Parramatta. On the boat, a tour guide informed us of the history of each place that we visited. The trip was full of excitement and everyone really enjoyed it.

Lawrence taking in the sites of Sydney (photo supplied: Lawrence Kaiapo Gerry). 

After the boat cruise we visited the Rocks, an urban locality, tourist precinct and historic area of Sydney’s city centre. It is located on the southern shore of Sydney Harbour, immediately north-west of Sydney’s central business district. The Rocks was established in 1788, the original buildings were made mostly of local sandstone, from which the area derives its name. The New South Wales State Government decided not to demolish the old buildings and has instead preserved them as historic sites. The different buildings at the Rocks each have their own stories and we were told of all the intriguing historical events and stories related to them by our tour guides. These were some of the awesome experiences that I had before my academic year began at UNSW.

Semester one started for the 2015 academic year in February. I was officially enrolled into a Doctor of Philosophy in Education at UNSW and I also registered for two courses related to my specialization in TESOL for auditing purposes. The experiences I have had with my studies at UNSW are somewhat different to the ones that I have had in the past. I am doing mostly independent work with some interaction with my supervisors from time to time. I also realized that there are lots of readings to be done. Nonetheless, with the excellent availability of resources at UNSW, I have found the learning environment to be really supportive. The ongoing workshops, colloquiums and roundtable discussions that I attend at UNSW are also helping me a lot.

Adding to my experiences in Australia, I have been very fortunate to be engaged as an intern with the Lowy Institute for International Policy since the beginning of March 2015. The Lowy Institute is an independent international policy think tank located in Sydney, it provides high quality research on the international trends shaping Australia and the world. In the last 6 months, I have worked with the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute mainly dealing with issues related to PNG. I have really enjoyed my time at this important and vibrant organization.

Lawrence with PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill at the Lowy Institute in May 2015 (photo supplied: Lawrence Kaiapo Gerry). 

In early July 2015 while I was on study leave in Goroka, the Australian Council of TESOL Association (ACTA) offered me a job as the new Administrative Officer and Editorial Assistant. So, I have been doing two part-time jobs and I am learning a lot and enjoying the experiences. However, one of the challenges that I encounter is time management. I have had to learn how to balance my time effectively between study, work and other things.

There are also some other things that I suppose have changed my life when I compare the lifestyle that I am used to in my home country with my life in Australia. I understand that the laws in Australia are very tough and at the same time fair. Women, children, and older and disabled people are well respected and taken care of. Most Australian people are against all forms of discriminations. People live independently and mind their own business. They are responsible and very helpful. There are many shopping centres and food outlets and food items are cheap and affordable. The public parks are well taken care of. The road networks are really great with very effective traffic control mechanisms. The emergency support services are everywhere so I normally feel safe and secure whenever I am travelling around the city. All these systems are beginning to reshape my lifestyle and I am now able to see things from a different perspective.

All in all, I feel privileged and excited to be studying, working and living in the city of Sydney. I am very grateful to the people of Australia and the Australian Government for giving me the opportunity of this prestigious scholarship. My gratitude also goes to UNSW for accepting me to do my PhD program. I am looking forward to some more worthwhile experiences in my remaining years in Sydney and to return to PNG as a rejuvenated and resourceful person.

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About the Author

Lawrence Kaiapo Gerry - Lecturer and Researcher - Lowy Institute

Lawrence Kaiapo Gerry

Lecturer and Researcher

Lawrence Kaiapo Gerry hails from Papua New Guinea and is doing his PhD in Education, evaluating language education policy at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He holds a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Education with Honors from the University of Goroka, PNG. He also graduated with a Master of TESOL from Deakin University, Melbourne in 2006. Lawrence has been a language lecturer and researcher for the last 8 years at the University of Goroka. He has a keen interest in policy development and is currently working as an Intern with the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney.