While many students will have family in the audience when they graduate from university, not many will have parents who have travelled as far as Sei Sei Mu Thein’s.
Her mother Ah Pit Mue and father Maung Tint have just arrived in Australia from Burma to watch Sei Sei graduate with a Bachelor of Education from La Trobe University.
“Back in the (refugee) camp, or Burma, we could never give an opportunity like that to her,” Maung Tint said through his daughter, who translated.
“This country gave her that.”
It was not just Sei Sei’s parents who were excited.
“It’s a whole village back home, including our spiritual leader. They are all very supportive and proud because this is rare in our community,” Maung Tint said.
Sei Sei would join more than 630 graduands attending ceremonies in Bendigo on Wednesday and Thursday. A further 210 students would graduate in absentia.
Sei Sei was born in a Thai refugee camp after her parents fled a Burmese civil war.
“Without the camp, the aid and support we would have died a long time ago,” Maung Tint said.
Sei Sei left the camp for Australia motivated by a love of adventure.
“Everybody else was afraid to go somewhere far away. Whereas I am normally different from everybody else. I like to explore,” Sei Sei said.
“After a while in the camp there was nothing for me to explore and learn. I knew I had to get out to somewhere, it did not matter where.
“I didn’t know anything about Australia, America, anywhere like that, but I knew those people took a lot of refugees. I was really fortunate Australia accepted me.”
When she arrived at the home of her host family in Bendigo she was sick and did not speak a word of English.
She had become a Karen connection officer at the City of Greater Bendigo and wanted to help improve educational outcomes.
“People work a lot with the little kids but they don’t really understand our community, or what the parents’ situations are,” she said.
“So that’s the reason I want to work with the community. I want the wider community to understand the root of our people.
“To help those students who achieve, it’s not just working at school. You have to relate that (back to the) community and the family. That way it will be much more achievable for the students.”
The family will continue celebrating after the graduation ceremony. So far, 90 people from the Karen and wider community had said they were coming to a dinner.
“We are going to have speeches, music and dance,” she said.
“It is a great opportunity for my people to see something impossible turn to possible.”