Graduate chases dream of travel and new adventure
19 September 2023
Four years ago, Viloshini Baskaran left Malaysia with her husband and two young sons to start a PhD at the University of Auckland, determined to chase her dream of adventure and study in a new country.
After bringing her family to a new country and persevering through Covid lockdowns, Viloshini Baskaran will be graduating with a PhD in Education in the University’s spring graduation ceremony.
Her ambition to live in a different part of the world was not only her own, but also her father’s.
“My father was a lovely man, an excellent father, and I think life would have been very different for my mum and all of us if he was still around, but one day when I was eight he had a fatal heart attack and all our lives changed forever. My dad’s dream to see the world got locked away, but I wanted to make him proud by taking that adventure with my family,” she says.
Meanwhile her mum, who then had to bring Viloshini and her brothers up on her own, will be waiting in Kuala Lumpur to welcome her home for a long awaited holiday in October with a “beautiful scroll to put on the wall”, she says.
“It was from mum that I learned about the importance of education and I also had great teachers at school and university, and from them, learnt to be a passionate teacher.”
Viloshini’s undergraduate and masters degrees were in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Before arriving in New Zealand, she was teaching English for business on an Australian programme at a university in Kuala Lumpur.
When she decided to do her doctorate her family, especially her husband, was very supportive.
“The huge decision to travel to New Zealand was tough to make, leaving family and friends behind, but I was determined to make this PhD dream a reality,” she says.
Her background as a teacher was valuable to her doctoral research which focuses on the importance for children with long-term conditions – like cancer, asthma and cardiovascular disease – of remaining socially connected with their school.
“Because they have high healthcare needs, these children are often absent from school for long periods,” she says, “and while they might be included to some degree, my research discovered gaps and confirmed how important it was to keep them in sight as well as mind, to foster that sense of inclusion and belonging.”
Technology can help build and keep that connection between the student and the school, she says.
Over the course of her PhD, she interviewed young people with experience of long-term conditions, parents, medical practitioners and teachers to get their views on the virtual inclusion of these young people in classrooms.
“The overall message was that a culture of care and building strong relationships is key and that more can be done for them to remain visible in schools. Their virtual inclusion needs to be long-term for them to have that continued connectedness.”
My dad’s dream to see the world got locked away, but I wanted to make him proud by taking that adventure with my family.
And she also knows from personal experience how difficult things can be when you can’t meet face to face.
“I persevered to juggle work, studies and motherhood, as well as managing the numerous challenges brought about by the Covid lockdown. Isolation and loneliness can be tough on anyone.”
She says her supervisors in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, Professor Christa Fouche and Dr Laura Chubb, were instrumental in motivating her and in keeping her studies on track, as was a PhD parent group at the University.
“That group was especially good for support on the days when isolation crept in during lockdown. As we were all in the same boat, it made it so much easier to share our experiences; just being able to tell our stories and share personal struggles with someone made us all feel better.”
Throughout that tough time, Viloshini continued to receive huge support from her husband, her family and in-laws, friends, and her children, who knew “mum was going to be busy and were my biggest cheerleaders”.
Looking back, I realise how much the struggle has made me more resilient but also kinder to myself; and it's reminded me to slow down and enjoy individual moments.
“I’m amazed at how well they adapted to their new environment and fitted in so well with their new school and friends here. I’m so glad we made that decision to be brave and travel with the family; it’s allowed us to learn and grow in many ways.”
She says the personal transformations experienced by people who complete PhDs are not often talked about, but she has seen a profound change in herself.
“Looking back, I realise how much the struggle has made me more resilient but also kinder to myself; and it's reminded me to slow down and enjoy individual moments.”
And that is exactly what she plans to do as she crosses the stage at Spark Arena to receive her degree with other graduands from the Faculty of Education and Social Work and her proud family in the audience.
Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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