How COVID shaped Hana’s uni experience: "It was my chance to see who I can be"

In early 2020, Hana Camelia arrived in Canberra from Indonesia, excited to start her study abroad experience at ANU. The bushfire smoke had finally cleared, and it seemed like good timing.

Then just as semester one started, the ACT recorded its first COVID case and the WHO declared a global pandemic.

Now at the end of her degree, as Hana reflects on the two years she spent studying for her Master of Environmental Science (Advanced), she says the image which most readily springs to mind is of the Zoom screen on her laptop.

Hana had originally imagined that while it would be difficult to be away from her family to complete her degree, she would be able to return home to Bandung for visits. But once borders closed, it was no longer an option to move between countries.

She decided to stay in Canberra, studying remotely in her room on an empty campus, far from home.

“It was very stressful,” Hana says. “I was worried about so many things. It was the very first time I lived all alone, and it was a totally different country.

“Things were very bad in Indonesia and I was worried for my family and friends. Many people in my family got COVID and my grandmother passed away from COVID. But I was also worried about making friends and fitting in here, which is complicated when I had to do university remotely.

“Our classes met every week in Zoom, and Graduate House organised many social events, but it’s different to all being together in the same room.”

But looking back, Hana says, she’s grateful for the experience.

“I feel lucky that I got to do university in Australia rather than remotely from Indonesia. At least I got some sense of what it is like here, and I had some time in the labs.

“There were moments I really missed my family and friends, but it was my chance to see who I can be, by myself, since I had lived literally my whole life in the one city.

“And it turns out I’m capable enough to go through all those obstacles, even when I thought I couldn’t do it. I had never lived by myself and then I lived by myself for two years in a different country during lockdown! I feel like I learned what I can do.”

Even if Hana’s abiding memory of her university experience will be via Zoom, she says she also has plenty of highlights she’ll never forget.

“When I started my research project, as part of the advanced part of my degree, it was totally amazing. I was looking at how we see past climate changes in coral, and that was the reason I wanted to come to ANU, to work with these incredible supervisors at the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

“I used to only read their papers, and see them as authors, and then I met them and found out they are actually amazing people in real life too: very humble, very human, and so kind.

“There were times when things were tough, and they supported and encouraged me, and made me feel like it was okay to feel that way.

“This is the kind of academic I would like to be one day, too.”

Congratulations to all our graduates from the ANU College of Science for making it through some of the toughest times. You’ve shown the world exactly what you’re capable of.