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Just happiness all the time

Colombia to Cairns – many differences, same International Student – and now completely bilingual and working towards an exceptional career in sustainability. Daniela (Dani) Rueda is an intrepid longboarder with a focus on the environment...

After completing her English studies in Brisbane at TAFE Queensland, Dani applied for and was awarded a scholarship from Destination Australia to study Diplomas of Business and Leadership and Management at TAFE Queensland in Cairns. This is her journey as she gets qualified and experienced to set up her own educational eco-village – hopefully in Australia.

“My father is an architect and built a big house for our family in the mountains, in Colombia. I had a very peaceful childhood, but the natural environment is different from Cairns. My hometown is Subachoque, and it is cold and located in a paramo – an endemic ecosystem located 3000 metres above sea level. So, it would take two or three days to drive to the beach, from my town,” Dani explained.

“After school I studied Environmental Engineering at Santo Tomas University in Bogotá-Colombia, then I travelled to Spain to deepen my studies of hydraulics, where I learned about contamination of soils and aquifers at Valencia Polytechnic University. Outside of my study time I was practising and competing in longboarding, an extreme sport that gave me many life lessons and many exciting experiences, which included breaking my elbow in 16 parts, and competing with very talented humans in extraordinary places with crazy hills. I was still living in my hometown, but with the wish to travel and learn English."

“My older brother was studying in Australia and said, “You need to come here – it is beautiful here – learning here is great!” so he really motivated me to get a student visa to study English in Brisbane,” said Dani.

After being collected from the airport, and moving into an apartment with her brother, his girlfriend and later their cousin, Dani was learning English at TAFE Queensland, and working for Uber Eats to support herself financially. Dani opted to study English to improve it (for job prospects), as she had only really spoken English during international longboarding competitions. However, druing this time the ‘living with family’ situation expectedly grew thin, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“I wanted to live by myself. And all I had to do was speak to Janelle (TAFE Queensland’s International Student Liaison Manager). Janelle is great – she is like a second mother to me – I think my mother was jealous of her! She found me a studio apartment and I moved in, and I was so happy!"

“Everyone at TAFE Queensland is great. They are always smiling, saying ‘hello’ and always asking what they can do for you. Always following up with students. So then, when I had nearly finished my English studies – Janelle asked me, “What do you want to do? You want to keep studying here?” I said I did, so we looked at what I could study,” Dani said.

Following a successful application for the Destination Australia scholarship program, Dani was able to enrol in a Diploma of Business and a Diploma of Leadership and Management through TAFE Queensland in Cairns.

The scholarship is a Commonwealth Government funded program designed to attract and support international and domestic students to study in regional Australia, to grow and develop regional Australian tertiary education providers and offer students a high-quality learning experience.

Dani’s father was a strong advocate for those qualifications, given his own career in business, and advised they would be very helpful life-long skills. The destination (Cairns) also hugely appealed to Dani.

“Close to the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree – a forest older than the dinosaurs (!) – all things environmental, which I love, so I moved from Brisbane to Cairns. I was ready and very excited for my first day of class in which I met students from different parts of the world; it was a multicultural environment. Then, I became Student Ambassador through Study Cairns, an opportunity to involve more in the community and support it."

“Cairns is great – you have very different weather – sometimes hot, sometimes very fresh, and at night sometimes it can get so cold you have to have a blanket – always changing. It is not a big city, so you see people you know each day, plus the tourism – everyone is very friendly,” shared Dani.

Dani “easily” found a job in hospitality very quickly, volunteers at a museum, and lives in a share house, with who she describes as “a great bunch of people”, who are quiet, respectful, with helpful rules, and who also like to study.

“I go to TAFE Queensland in Cairns Tuesday to Thursday 9am-4pm, so I can start my days early with some yoga, then chill out by the pool. I try and have one day free each week, so I go hiking, do some exercise, go to the beach, go to the river. They have Latin parties, techno parties – here you feel like you’re all the time on holiday,” Dani beamed.

“I am also now learning how to dance on my longboard. Cairns is flat, so I’m learning a new style of using it with music. It is great.”

On completion of her diplomas, Dani feels she might do a master’s degree in Sustainable Architecture and is also saving to do a land management course, to satisfy her sustainability focus and help her towards her eco-village goals. Dani suggested she might also study on the Sunshine Coast or do some work focusing on Aboriginal cultures.

“It’s in my nature to always want to help others. I do this through being creative and setting an example, which I feel is the key to change and improve society. My biggest dream is to maintain a society that is self-sufficient, with fun and creative structures that are open and physically connected with nature. I feel I have a great vision for the next civilisation. For this reason, I have a passion to work for the environment and the communities that I come into contact with through life,” Dani explained.

When asked to summarise her experience here in Australia, Dani offered: “Incredible. Here - very happy. Very fun. Yeah, yeah, just happiness all the time.”