USP Alumni Network

Name: Kashmir Kaur
Country: Fiji
Programme: Bachelor of Education (1999)

Why did you choose your field of study? My teacher role-play started at an early age. I used to help my younger siblings, nieces, nephews and classmates with their homework or extra-curricular activities and explain to my mum what the pictures in our text books meant. She’s never been school. She would sit with us at night wanting to learn what we were learning at school, she loved Biology and the concept of human development. After finishing my seventh form at Labasa College, I took a little break and went straight into teaching as a grant-in-aid teacher at one of my previous schools. I enjoyed that first year of ‘real’ teaching, took some units through correspondence and decided to further my studies in the same discipline.
Briefly reflect on your student life at USP? Student life at USP was a unique experience, a time when I was exposed to many challenges and incredible opportunities for personal growth. It was a time when I actually found the real me and understood how much I needed to learn to live by myself. While the first few months were testing time for me trying to adjust to an independent life, once I was settled I had the best of both worlds – studying something I was passionate about and socializing with a great bunch of friends.
Three greatest achievement[s] as a student
1.    Firstly I learnt to be independent – not easy for someone who was raised in a rather conservative style where girls were only allowed certain things   
2.    I made many good friends and amongst them found my ‘best friend for life (BFL)’ my life-partner
3.    I achieved my primary objective of going to USP by graduating with a bachelor’s degree.
Career Highlights since Graduation
Every single day at job has been a highlight for me. Looking back now, it’s been quite a journey. Finishing a teaching degree perceptibly meant I was going straight into a school teacher role. I have had a total of six years of teaching experience in Fiji and NZ. During the first two years in NZ, I struggled to get a full-time teaching job. I got advice of a lifetime from dearest husband, to look outside the box. And so I did and switched from teaching to local government, where I spent six years doing community liaison, contract/resource management and social policy analysis. The policy role gave me a fitting professional development opportunity – a master’s paper in public policy.
After having made really good strategic networks in the NZ local government sector, I thought of expanding my career horizons to NZ central government. With my education background coupled with my social policy/strategic planning experience, in 2011 I found a perfect match in central government in a lead role (regionally then nationally) to manage NZ’s compulsory education [spatial] planning. This involved identifying demand for schools by balancing demographic change (school-age population traffic), schooling choices and the expectations of local communities. After a good taste of the ‘demand’ side of NZ’s schooling picture, I joined the ‘supply’ side. I’m currently leading the development of high quality advice on complex policy issues in the area of NZ’s Education Infrastructure (Provision of school property, transport and technology). This involves writing/reviewing policies and writing of business cases that support schools facing infrastructure challenges.
I have also had a short-term opportunity to work in our Beehive (NZ Parliament), which made me think about ‘education’ or ‘schooling’ in many different settings I’ve experienced so far - from being a student in a classroom, to teaching and seeing the benefits of ‘whole-of-community’ approach to education, through to identifying demand and supply for schooling, the understanding of the complete physical, social and pedagogical context in which learning occurs and then from a ‘whole-of-government’ perspective. Education is but one piece of a larger pie.  
Who/what do you credit your success to? What inspires you? As the saying goes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, my success can be attributed to all my families, friends and neighbors who inspired me for even the smallest successes, from my childhood through to College. I would however like to acknowledge my grandma who convinced my parents to send me to USP. I was the first of nine siblings to be allowed to leave Labasa for further studies. I can’t thank my parents enough for being so brave in making that difficult decision to let me go!
What inspires me is creativity and innovation, positive people around me, people who challenge me and other people’s stories about making a difference.
How do you think USP helped you in your career? I believe that graduating from USP with a Bachelor’s degree does have higher chances of getting into the workforce, and once you get your foot in the workforce and demonstrate your abilities to your utmost, doors to higher opportunities open up. USP also taught me how to become independent and exposed me to diverse opportunities and that has certainly been a huge bonus through my career path.  
Describe any challenges you face to reach where you are today and how you overcame those challenges? My first challenge was convincing my parents to let me go. So I convinced someone who could convince them easily – my grandma. My other challenge was getting into the workforce in NZ when we first moved here. I overcame that challenge by getting out there and ‘volunteering’ as a teacher, which was soon replaced by a part-time paid role. I wouldn’t have known until I had tried.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years (career and/or personal goals)? While I believe in ‘today’ and making the most of it, I also believe aspirations can be eternal. One of the many things I would like to do is be in a dedicated social entrepreneurship space in the future, with focus on education/schools/children.  
What advice would you give to current and future students of USP? Education is one thing that you can’t be robbed off so make the most of the time and opportunity you have. Believe you can and you’re halfway there.
Going to University is a life changing experience.  The environment necessarily forces your development, your mind, your thoughts, your opinions, who you are.  For some of you it may be the first time you live independently.  Whether or not this is your first time, you have to juggle aspects of life such as money, accommodation, health, relationships, family and future career plans.  This can be overwhelming, especially when “life happens” and the unexpected arises.
Expect to have two colds in an academic year.  Expect the printer to chew up a vital piece of your work just before a deadline.  Expect to meet personal challenges at the most inappropriate times during your study.  You will find ways of managing these, and if you need a bit of a hand, create a big circle of friends around you.
Have a good balance between your academic and social spheres of university life. Make it fun for yourself!
Please share top three tips that you think are most important for our current students or recent graduates that will help them when starting out on their career paths.
1.    University is an experience like no other and if you manage to find that balance you’ll get the chance to enjoy every aspect to its fullest. Swinging from one extreme to the other is a rough ride for anyone, but find a happy medium and you can enjoy the best of both the academic and the social life that university has to offer.
2.    For recent graduates - don’t hesitate to think outside the box and give it a shot, even if it means starting in a voluntary role - you never know until you try! It doesn’t take long for the job market to recognise and appreciate your abilities if you have confidence in yourself.

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