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From my desk to yours: Aishath Nayasheen Ahmed from the Maldives

Posted: 10 August 2020

Maldives, COVID-19, Experience, In Australia, Scholar,

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are sharing the experiences of Australia Awards alumni and scholars while they navigate a new normal.

Whether working or studying from home, schooling children while also juggling professional duties, or providing frontline COVID-19 support, these scholars and alumni open up about their struggles, silver linings and dreams for the future.

The reflections below come from scholar Aishath Nayasheen Ahmed from the Maldives.

Can you tell us about what you are studying, why, and how you hope to contribute to your country’s development upon returning home?

“I am currently in my last semester, about to complete a Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management at Monash University, Melbourne. I have been fortunate to have attended many practical and industry-based field experiences while studying at Monash University. I have travelled not only within regional Victoria but also in New South Wales and Tasmania, and even abroad in Fiji, Estonia and Latvia.

“I come from the island nation of the Maldives, where the economy revolves around the tourism industry. I completed my undergraduate degree in tourism and have been passionate about contributing to the sustainable development of this industry and my country. Climate change threats aside, the Maldives is continually challenged by sociocultural, human resource and institutional factors that limit local involvement in the tourism industry. These are the areas I wish to be working on upon my return home.”

Aishath has found comfort in reading more books during the COVID-19 pandemic

Aishath has found comfort in reading more books during the COVID-19 pandemic

Why did you decide to undertake an Australia Awards Scholarship? What attracted you to the idea of studying in Australia?

“I come from a family of six aunts, who are my biggest inspiration. Three of them have been recipients of Australian Government Scholarships. They have gone on to do amazing things in their careers in the Science, Education and Health sectors in the Maldives. I wanted to follow in my aunts’ footsteps and to see everything that Australia has to offer.

“While I was researching universities, study programs and the Australia Awards Scholarship, I was ecstatic to find out that Monash University offered a master’s degree in the field of sustainable tourism.”

“It is the longest-running and most innovative industry-focused postgraduate tourism program in Australia. I quickly decided that I wanted to experience for myself, education in Australia—not to mention the koalas, kangaroos, nature, great Outback and everything else about the country that my aunts spoke so passionately about.”

How are you finding the ‘studying from home’ experience?

“Studying from home has certainly been different. It took some time for me to adjust and be productive, but it has also prompted me to become more independent in my work, learning and time-management. Setting my own deadlines for tasks and making old-school ‘to-do’ lists have worked well for me.

“I miss studying in cosy spots on campus and meeting up with my classmates. Still, as the semester comes to an end, I am grateful for the online sessions that my lecturers have organised for us. They check on not only our academic progress but also our wellbeing. I also consider myself lucky to be living in Brunswick, where my study-break walks and grocery runs easily double as self-guided street art tours that make me appreciate my neighbourhood even more!”

Aishath has been able to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air on her balcony while working from home

Aishath has been able to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air on her balcony while working from home

What are you doing (outside of your study) to look after yourself and keep your mind active?

“I feel like this self-isolation period is giving us the chance, or rather the drive, to resume our hobbies, as well as more time to engage with them.”

I have started reading more books (currently ‘The Time Keeper’ by Mitch Albom). The other day, I baked my own bread from scratch. When Melbourne weather permits, I make sure to soak up the sun, and get outside for some fresh air while running or going for a walk. Zoom and other group video-calling apps have made my days much better. Playing online games with cousins and having Netflix watch-parties with friends have been a treat—so much so that sometimes I find myself wondering why I haven’t been doing all these things before. These past few weeks have certainly brought me closer to family and friends.”

Is there anything new you are hoping to learn while you are required to stay at home?

“As a tourism student, I am continually learning new things in terms of how the tourism industry copes in this situation. My mentor said, ‘we need to accept the fact that the tourism industry in the coming months and even years will be very different from what we have experienced in the past’. I have been intrigued by how tourist destinations have been coping with this crisis. Many have come up with campaigns and virtual travel options for people to enjoy for the time being. It has been an excellent way for me to learn about the world and ‘travel’ while staying home. In April, I celebrated World Heritage Day (also known as the International Day for Monuments and Sites) being transported into the tomb of Wahtye in Saqqara, Egypt, while sitting in my apartment in Brunswick.”

Aishath in Melbourne, Australia

Aishath enjoying some time outdoors before COVID-19 pandemic restrictions became tighter

Do you have any tips to offer fellow scholars on studying remotely and living well during these uncertain times?

“While researching and trying out different schedules recommended by friends and peers on how to be more productive and organised, I have learned that what works for someone else may not always work for you. Such suggestions are great points to start from and can help you get into a routine, but it is essential to not feel bad if you tend to break some rules.

“My suggestion to other scholars would be to work around suggested schedules or routines and tailor them to what you are familiar with, and what you feel is most efficient for you. Being kind to yourself and following your own pace and progress is essential—be it in terms of work, online social life, learning or exercising.”

“If you find yourself struggling at any point, seek help from your university. There are great teams to assist us students through difficult times.”

What is something you hope to achieve either professionally or personally when the COVID-19 crisis subsides?

“In times of crisis, there is always something each of us can do, regardless of which professional or academic background we are from. Each person is important, and they have a key role, either in the fight during a crisis or in post-crisis recovery. During this pandemic, a lot of us are feeling quite helpless at home, but this is the vital role that all of us need to play right now. I am concerned, anxious and at the same time driven by the challenges and how I can contribute to restarting the tourism industry back home in the Maldives.

“I am looking forward to going back to volunteering with non-government organisations, doing more academic research on the local Maldivian context, and maybe completing that half-marathon I signed up to run in Melbourne in June, but switching locations to an island in the Maldives.”

These reflections came from Aishath during her last semester when she was completing her studies at Monash University.