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In 2007, Ilwoo Park was in the last year of her biological science major in South Korea  when she decided to go backpacking in Australia.

“I didn’t really know what to do when I finished my degree. I wanted to escape from the day-to-day and delay graduation, so I came to Australia.”

But Ilwoo’s parents didn’t think it was such a good idea and told Ilwoo that if she went to Australia she would be on her own.

“I had to promise before I left Korea that I wouldn't call them to ask for their help in any way. I only had $374, and I couldn’t speak English at all.”

Without the money to pay for English lessons, Ilwoo found fruit picking jobs and started learning English with help from locals in the area. After passing a test with the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and gaining the required entry score for an Australian pharmacy degree, Ilwoo decided to enrol in a Bachelor of Pharmacy course at the University of Tasmania (UTAS).

Having already spent two years exploring Tasmania, Ilwoo felt comfortable in the state when she returned to start her degree in 2010. But the reality of undertaking a degree delivered in English soon set in.

“I still remember my first lecture at UTAS. I hardly understood a word. The listening skills in the IELTS test and the real lecture were not the same. In 2010, I was the only Korean student in the class, and no-one could translate the lecture for me. I was terrified, and I just couldn’t imagine how I would ever pass.”

However, Ilwoo’s supportive classmates made sure she wasn’t left behind.

“A local student sitting next to me spoke really slowly to me, explained the homework and led me to the next lecture room. That experience gave me the hope that I could do this.”

This supportive and close-knit UTAS community gave Ilwoo a strong sense of belonging.

“There was no cultural-based separation and the small class sizes meant that the lecturers and students could get to know each other. Some lecturers even remembered my test results and offered me encouragement and compliments on the street. I believe the personal touch gave confidence to the students.”

After graduating from UTAS, Ilwoo felt confident enough to work in pharmacies all over Australia and Korea.

“UTAS is very good at practical teaching and some interstate pharmacy owners have told me that UTAS pharmacists are very field-ready when they graduate. I’ve worked in more than 20 pharmacies in a variety of places and roles.”

In 2017, Ilwoo was working back in Korea when she saw a pharmacy job advertised in Oatlands, a town in rural Tasmania. This attracted her attention.

“I was already familiar with living in the countryside from my travels in Australia and my last placement, and I like working in rural community pharmacies.”

Ilwoo has found that the people in Oatlands and other smaller towns are incredibly welcoming and excited to meet people from different backgrounds.

Talking of her arrival in Oatlands, Ilwoo said she was regarded as a special guest from another world.

“I received lots of cakes, dinner invitations and special treatment. People in the area always watch out for me and are willing to help me like I am one of their family members. I introduce Korean-style food to my neighbours occasionally, and everyone loves it. I often feel that people not only welcome my cooking, but also my entry in the community.”

For Ilwoo, one of the best parts of working in a rural community is getting to know her patients personally.

“I might be a bit old-fashioned but I like to know my customers and patients. It feels like I’m a pharmacist who my community thinks of as ‘our pharmacist’.”

During the pandemic, Ilwoo has realised just how valuable taking a healthcare job in a rural community can be.

“I am the only vaccine immuniser in the area and the closest vaccine clinic is a 40-minute drive away. The community rewards me with their appreciation.”

Despite busy days, living rurally also means that Ilwoo is closer to Tasmania’s natural environment.

“The surrounding environment is like what you would get from a retreat. I believe the cleaner air helps our brains focus. When you feel like clearing your mind, the beach and the mountains are all very close.”

Ilwoo is happy with her life in Tasmania and is focused on making the best out of every moment there. For any students trying to decide where to study in Australia Ilwoo says is it a great choice.

“Tasmania has been the best place for my personal life and professional career. I believe that Tasmania is a great choice for anyone who is willing to immerse themselves in this blessed land”.