A small contribution making the biggest difference

Divyangana Sharma, Victorian International Student of the Year 2022.

Meet Divyangana Sharma – student, frontline healthcare worker, writer, mental health advocate and Victorian International Student of the Year 2022.

From working at COVID-19 testing sites between classes to writing about mental health and advocating for international students, Divya was a natural pick for the top award at the latest Victorian International Education Awards (VIEAs).

Divyangana Sharma holding a class award and smiling at the camera after winning at the Victorian International Education Awards 2021-22The VIEAs recognise and showcase exceptional Victorian international students and alumni in our community, and with a year like no other, these awards saw some truly inspiring stories, like Divya’s.

“Three weeks into arriving in Melbourne we went into lockdown. I understood the hardship that Victoria was facing,” she said.

“I was doing COVID-19 testing and screening, and even though my role didn't involve a lot of clinical responsibilities, I was the support for people.

“I spent time to connect with people, because I knew that’s what they needed.”

Divya attributes her empathy and compassion for others to her family and upbringing. Speaking to patients in the hospital, she would provide them with a much-needed human connection when visitors weren’t allowed in.

“Hearing their stories helped me to keep going, and I think they appreciated it, as well as the nurses and doctors who weren’t able to take the time.”

While Divya has only been in Melbourne since early 2020, she has made many friends and considers it her home away from home.

“Coming to Melbourne, one of my goals was to step out of my comfort zone and talk to more people. I think my writing has helped me meet lots of new people and have conversations about lots of different things.”

Alongside her nursing studies, Divya explores her creative side, contributing to international student publication, Meld Magazine, and started her own blog called Sky Spirit. Writing about mental health topics such as body positivity, living with anxiety, toxic positivity and LGBTIQ+ issues has opened up Divya’s world to new connections and conversations with fellow international students.

“I recently did an article on pronouns, and I interviewed two international students, and that was really enlightening, you know, as an ally, how can I help the community? I can be an advocate for others.” she says.

“Hearing their journeys helped me understand the actual situation of LGBTIQ+ community members and their struggles, particularly with gender identity.

“I come from a background where these kinds of conversations are very taboo, we don’t really talk about it. Mental health is my passion and I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk about it in Australia.”

Since Australia reopened its borders to international students in December 2021, Victoria has seen an additional 38,000 student visa holders arrive in Victoria, with over 100,000 student visa holders in Victoria as of mid-November 2022. In 2022, Victoria also released Victoria’s International Education Recovery Plan 2025 to back the sector and elevate Victoria’s international education credentials.

Melbourne has repeatedly been ranked as Australia’s best student city and was recently named the world’s friendliest city, exemplifying the kind of welcoming environment and open-minded community Divya mentions.

People accepting awards

Students from almost 160 countries choose Melbourne and Victoria’s regions for their international education experience, enjoying a safe space and new perspectives.

“Melbourne has welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home,” she says.

The pandemic reminded us just how critical international students are to bringing vibrancy, diversity and inclusivity to our state.

“When I came here, I realised how important and powerful the international student community was,” Divya says.

“They’re away from home, they’re working, studying and have a personal life, but on top of that they have taken the initiative to pursue passions and community work, which is incredible. This is what motivates me as well, to talk about mental health and keep going.”

And on keeping going, Divya says being named Victorian International Student of the Year has been life changing.

“I don’t want to stop working in the international student community even after I graduate. I want to take this platform that Study Melbourne has given me to pursue my initiatives in advocating for mental health and take it to the next level.”

“I want to connect with organisations that support mental health and help spread awareness. My dream is to have my own podcast where I can have unfiltered conversations about mental health and create meaningful content so that people know that they are not alone and have a space to connect and share their own experiences.”

Divya’s advice for future international students is to make your mark, no matter its size.

“Whatever you’re doing, even if it’s the smallest thing to contribute to the community, it is worth it, it is special and it is important. You don’t have to do something major; the smallest contribution can still be meaningful.”

Read more inspiring stories like Divya’s at Study Melbourne.