It was August 2015 when Gabriela Alves Mayer first touched down on Australian soil without friends, family or a place to live. A year and a half later, she’s graduating from UTS with friends for life around the globe, a Masters degree in education and a collection of great memories. We sat down with UTS Housing resident and Brazilian native Gabi to ask about what she’s learnt, experienced and achieved in her time in Sydney.
UTSH: So, where does your story start – how did you come to live at UTS Housing?
Gabi: I have always loved to travel. After my exchange in New York in 2011, I was planning on doing my masters abroad, specifically in the United States. But with a few changes of plan I was encouraged by my mom to come to Australia. She thought that I would love it here and that it would be a good adventure. I applied to UTS and within a couple of weeks I got accepted to do Master in Teaching English as a Second Language. After accepting the offer I had to say my good-byes to family and friends and apply for the Australian visa. Because my visa took so long, everything became a rush. I got my visa on Friday, booked a plane ticket for Sunday, arrived on the following Tuesday and had to be in my classes by Wednesday. I stayed the night I arrived in a hotel, with no idea where I was going to live. Luckily I came back to UTS Housing, where Anirudha Saha [Residential Life Admissions Officer] showed me a studio, which I loved. I moved in during August 2015 and I absolutely can’t imagine living anywhere else.
What was your perception of Australia, before you came?
Gabi: Because Brazil and Australia are so far apart, I was scared about going somewhere so far from home and scared of moving to a completely different country. Especially because I didn’t know anyone. I had no family members here and no friends that were living here.
What happened after you moved in? How did you find life as a resident?
Gabi: The first event that I attended at UTS Housing was their Futsal World Cup, and that was where I made all of my first semester friends. Because I joined the Brazilian team, I got to know a whole bunch of Brazilians that were living in Housing at the time, along with some others who came to talk to me. It was really nice getting to know everybody and the event was amazing, I made so many new friends.
I felt very welcomed – very, very welcomed at UTS Housing.
Of course, it was tough in the beginning, not knowing anyone. Housing was a blessing to me. When I got a room here it felt like I was actually being guided, like I was meant to be here. It was tough in the beginning but then my friends became my family.
This past year, you have also been working as a Resident Networker (RN). How did you become a RN?
Gabi: I really wanted the position. I would see those people in the green shirt; how well they bonded with each other, and how well they got along, and so I wanted to be a part of that. It was the main reason that I applied – because I wanted to be a part of a family, and part of something big like that.
And now I can’t believe I’m leaving! I’m confident that I made the most of everything the RN position has to offer though: organising events, getting to know people, including everyone that works at UTS Housing. That was a great opportunity. They supported me in every single crazy thing I wanted to do, they were just amazing. Everyone from the office gave me a massive amount of support.
Looking back, it brings a personal satisfaction – I wanted it, I achieved it, and now it’s time to move on.
Speaking of moving on, what’s the plan now?
Gabi: My plan keeps changing. Although I feel very at home here, I definitely want to travel, just see a little bit more of the world. I am not really sure what my future plans are. For now I am going back to Brazil. I miss my family and friends over there very much and it would be great to catch up. But I definitely see myself traveling somewhere soon. Maybe coming back to Australia to work, or Canada, or Spain or maybe the United States again. I still feel that I would like to live abroad and that I have so many more cultures and places to see. And the great part is that in UTS Housing you meet people from everywhere. The amazing, diverse cultures you see, everything you learn, the people you meet – it’s just unbelievable. Now, when I go to Europe, I have a place to stay in every single country; Asia, even back in the United States and even in Australia now. It is good to know that I will always have and know people when I travel to these new amazing places.
Do you have any tips for people coming from overseas?
Gabi: If you’re coming as an exchange student, definitely stay at Housing, because you’re going to meet international students like yourself as well as Australians that are really cool, that are really willing to get to know people from everywhere. If you don’t have any family in Australia then the people you meet here are going to be the people you cherish forever. They’re going to be the friends that, on a Sunday when you feel homesick, will invite you to their apartment to watch a movie, or go to the beach with you.
What will you miss the most when you go?
Gabi: I’m definitely going to miss the people. The RN team, the friends from my first, second and last semester here… Every time somebody leaves, it’s like a little bit of you leaves with that person. But then new people come in and it feels like you’re always with someone, you’re always meeting people. Oh, I’ll miss the city too. Sydney’s amazing.
What do you like about Sydney, compared to other cities?
Gabi: I love Sydney and its culture. It’s very safe, it’s very diverse. I went to a food court the other day and there was absolutely food from everywhere in the world. You don’t even have to leave Sydney to experience other cultures. Also, the fact that everything is within reach. You can go to the beach, have a classy drink at Opera Bar, you have everything in one city. And the people you meet are so friendly. Australians are one of the friendliest groups of people I’ve ever met. I’m definitely missing Port Douglas, Cairns, Airlie Beach, Byron Bay, Melbourne…
Do you have a goodbye message for us?
Gabi: I’m very thankful for the support I’ve received from the [UTS Housing] Resident Life staff team and the people I got to know during my three semesters. The friends I made during this time here will never be forgotten and they have a piece of my heart with them wherever they go. My experience here wouldn’t be the same without my friends, without the ResLife team and without the amazing support I received from my family. It was hard to be away from home but definitely worth it and I will cherish these moments forever. Thank you!