When Bachelor of Laws (Honours) student Kristoff Cabral arrived at ACU from his home in the Philippines, he expected Australia to be an unwelcoming place.
Instead, he found the opposite.
“I first thought Australia to have an exclusive culture wherein, as an international student, I would always be looking in from the outside,” Kristoff says.
“This is far from the case. Being a multicultural country, those whom I have met from diverse backgrounds were all very welcoming. It was very easy to get lost in the community talking to different people from all walks of life.”
Finding himself in a friendly, inclusive environment was just the first surprise of his time in Australia. The next surprise – COVID-19 – would be a little bit trickier.
But more on that in a moment.
The first few years of Kristoff’s degree went well – the course, with its combination of academic and practical legal education, was everything he’d been expecting. In addition to coursework, students also complete 80 hours of pro-bono practical legal placements starting in their second year of study.
“ACU regularly updates the units offered every year [to] adapt to the ever-changing needs and demands of the legal sector,” he says.
“The curriculum, by itself, boosts ACU to stand as one of the best accredited providers of academic law courses [in Australia].”
In his final year of study, Kristoff was required to complete a thesis to meet the requirements of his honours degree. After some deliberation, he decided to write his final-year project on criminal law. He began his thesis in early 2020, but by March, with universities across the globe shifting to online learning down across the globe in response to COVID-19, he found himself facing a different study experience.
It was significant shift – gone was the natural structure of days spent on the ACU campus attending classes, seeing friends and checking in with his honours supervisor, Dr Brendon Murphy.
In response, Kristoff changed his approach to his studies, creating a daily schedule – instead of his usual weekly timetable – to help him keep track of his progress. He strove hard to engage with online learning and pushed himself to stay engaged with the work of writing his thesis.
Next, he says, he blocked out a chunk of each day to stay connected with his peers, family and mentors, including Dr Murphy.
“I’d spend a portion of my day solely to interact with people via chat or video call. It gave me a sense of security knowing that I wasn’t alone in facing a new reality, which kept me grounded and motivated to continue pursuing my studies,” he says.
“I [also] regularly received updates from the university concerning COVID-19 [information] and statistics. ACU’s international student advisor, Alister Quinn, also regularly checked in with all the international students and provided information regarding international student relief, such as food drive and programs, and the emergency relief fund issued by the government.”
Kristoff’s approach worked – by the end of 2020, he’d successfully completed his thesis and his ACU degree. It’s an outcome that reflects his dedication over the course of a difficult year, as well as the support he received from ACU.
“The pandemic has not been easy, [but] it has pushed me harder to strive for my goals and aspirations,” he says.
Beyond the challenges of COVID-19, Kristoff says the experience of writing a thesis has taught him how much he enjoys the process of learning and applying criminal law principles and concepts.
What’s more, he says, it’s also showed him where his future professional passions may lie and equipped him with skills he believes are essential to a successful legal career.
“I believe the course has enabled me to further develop my practical skills in legal research, which is a skill that’s easily taken for granted,” he says.
“Research is a daily part of legal work, so to be able to really expand my knowledge within this specific area [will] greatly impact my prospects for future employment.”