Refugee turned pathways counsellor shares tips for adults returning to education

Rule number one, set clear goals.

For the past five years, pathway counsellor Nagat Ali-Bekhit has worked with more than 900 students within Kangan Institute’s Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), supporting them to build a new life in Australia.

The first step, she says, is setting clear educational and career goals.

“Define what you want to achieve through your education. Whether it’s acquiring a new skill, changing careers, or simply expanding your knowledge, having a clear goal will give you direction and motivation,” Nagat said.

A refugee herself who arrived in Australia at age 18, Nagat has both lived and learned experience in setting goals to advance herself.

“We had been travelling from country to country seeking a safe refuge till we came to Australia. It was tough at the start when we came to Australia due to the language barrier. Everything was foreign to us,” the Craigieburn local said.

Knowing that language was a major hurdle she needed to overcome, Nagat’s first goal was to master English by enrolling in language school. After achieving proficiency, Nagat set her next goal – to secure secondary qualifications by returning to studies at a Year 10 level.

Soon after completing secondary studies, Nagat knew she wanted to expand her knowledge and future options, so it was on to her next target – completing a double degree in the Bachelor of Commerce and Arts, which she accomplished in 2001.

“My second tip is to manage your time. Balancing education with work, family, and other commitments can be challenging. Develop good time management skills to ensure you allocate enough time for studying without neglecting other important aspects of your life,” she said.

With her qualifications in hand, for over a decade thereon, Nagat advanced her career goals, focusing on roles like employment and disability employment consulting which enabled her to empower others.

Rule number three, persistence, is what kept Nagat going until she arrived at the current job she loves – guiding other migrants in Australia on their educational and career pathway opportunities.

“My third tip is stay persistent. There might be obstacles along the way, but with determination and a positive mindset, you can overcome them and achieve your desired outcome,” she said.

Many students have since found their way through counselling with Nagat, including English as Second Language (ESL) teacher Heleen Oraha.

Originally a refugee from Iraq, the former engineer refined her English skills through Kangan Institute’s AMEP program and sought Nagat’s guidance on starting a new career in teaching.

This led Heleen to completing a Certificate IV in English Language Teaching (TESOL) (11021NAT) and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116) at the TAFE, with the 39-year-old now teaching at a community centre.

“While I was at Kangan Institute, Nagat helped to connect me to programs and qualifications that matched what I wanted to do,” Heleen said.

“My next goal is to get a diploma or graduate certificate in TESOL so I can work in universities and TAFEs as an ESL teacher; I like working in this area because I am a migrant and I’m familiar with migrants.”

(Heleen and Nagat)

A mum of three, Heleen is proud of how far she’s come with the help of a strong support network.

“I’m married with three kids, and have a lot of responsibility,” she said.

“I needed to manage my time and set my goals, and this helped me look forward to the future. I tried my best and I’m so proud of myself.

“I’m so happy I started with Kangan. Many people – my teachers and Nagat – helped me and I’ve achieved many goals since arriving in Australia in 2018.”

Nagat is looking forward to helping more adult learners succeed, as she herself has, on their chosen path.  

“I find satisfaction in helping students achieve their goals,” Nagat said.

“I enjoy witnessing the progress and transformation of adult learners, helping them overcome challenges, and contributing to their personal and professional development.

“It makes me want to help more and more, and it feels like I’m giving back to people so they don’t have to go through the suffering I went through when I came to Australia.”

Kangan Institute is celebrating Adult Learners Week from 1-8 September and National TAFE Day on 6 September, with its Skills and Jobs Centre also offering a range of free employment workshops during the week. Learn more about the workshops here.

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