Emilie Wells Emilie Wells

How a gap year in Australia changed graduate’s life

UOW staff member embraces postgraduate studies after an 18-year break. 

A gap year that turned into an 18-year round-the-world adventure has led to postgraduate qualifications for University of Wollongong (UOW) staff member Sarah Lisle.

Hailing from London and originally setting her sights on a career in aeronautical engineering, Sarah was 18 when she declined an offer from the British Royal Air Force after going through what she describes as a “social justice crisis”.

“At the time of my offer, we were at the height of the Yugoslav Wars and the political unrest in Britain was intense,” she said.

“I love aircraft and I’ve always had an interest in aeronauticals, always liked the mechanics of aeroplanes and went to all the military festivals growing up.

“It just wasn’t for me at the time.”

Fast forward 18 years and Sarah is making her way down a very different career path, as a Community Engagement Coordinator at UOW with an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) under her belt.

Graduating today (Thursday 15 November) alongside 27 of her EMBA classmates, Sarah has had a diverse and slightly extended gap year, covering an interesting array of jobs from capsicum picking in North Queensland to accrediting aged care facilities in Newcastle.

It wasn’t until Sarah took up employment at the University in 2012 that she decided to look into making her lifelong dream of study a reality.

“Study was a real bucket list item for me, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do but there were always barriers – financial, timing with kids or otherwise,” she said.

“After being accepted into the Royal Air Force back in the UK I took a year off to fund my degree in the United Kingdom, but I funded my way to Australia instead.”

For Sarah, the perfect time to start her degree was two weeks after her maternity leave ended and she went back to work full time – with an eight-month-old and a five-year-old keeping her busy at home.

“I wasn’t getting any sleep so I figured I might as well make the most of the night feeds. I read plenty of chapters of textbooks and references to my baby. As long as you use the right tone of voice it’s okay,” she laughed.

Sarah is currently the president of the Junior Chamber International (JCI), the largest youth-led movement to encourage young people to become active citizens in their community. A full-time volunteer, Sarah said the experiences she gained and lessons she learned through the EMBA helped shape her role and were a contributing factor to a number of recent awards from JCI Australia, including most outstanding local president, most outstanding local chapter and most outstanding leadership program.

“Through the EMBA I really gained an understanding of what I’m really passionate about, which is social justice and changing the world to be a better place.”

Posted in Education
Tagged: graduation