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Otha Akoch Think Young behind the scenes

How a regional community can shape your future

Have you ever wondered if a move to the country might be the breath of fresh air you need? Contrast the bustling anonymity of the city with the clean, green spaces of the country. What kind of personal, empathetic environment might a regional community offer that a city is too big to provide?

After arriving from Sudan in 2002, Otha Akoch realised a move to regional Victoria would provide a solid foundation for his new life in Australia. ‘Coming from a refugee background, the big city is not an ideal place to start,’ he says. Looking for somewhere that could provide him with a true sense of belonging, Otha chose to move to Warrnambool, a former port-town of 35,000, rugged beaches and sea air.

It took courage and a bit of lateral thinking for Otha to realise the opportunities beyond the highly-urbanised existence of the big cities. The individualistic mindset of the city can often leave newcomers feeling alone in the crowd – but regional communities tend to foster a more personal and supportive environment.

A sense of belonging

For anyone, the country can be a great place to make a new start. For Otha, it was by studying previous generations of migrants that he came to understand the benefits of small-town life. ‘If you look at the history of migration to Australia, with Greek or Italian people for example, a lot of the people who came here did not live in cities, they established themselves rurally first.’

With this in mind, Otha wanted to encourage more South Sudanese to join him in Warrnambool – so he pioneered an incredibly successful rural and regional resettlement initiative. In 2005, Otha’s initiative received the Australian Government’s Award for Excellence.

A key way Otha found a sense of belonging within his new community was through studying at Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus. Education is integral to the success of any community, be it migrant or existing. Compared with the crowding of a city, a small town can offer a far more personal approach to learning at all levels.

Warrnambool’s close-knit community meant Otha was encouraged by teachers who were genuinely invested in his success. ‘They treated me like family,’ he says. This attitude helped Otha graduate with a Bachelor of Arts, followed by masters’ degrees in international relations and humanitarian assistance.


'If you look at the history of migration to Australia, with Greek or Italian people for example, a lot of the people who came here did not live in cities, they established themselves rurally first.'

Otha Akoch,
Graduate, Deakin University

Less pressure means more freedom

City-dwellers may often feel snowed under by the daily survival routine of long commutes, high rental costs and administrative minutiae. But the slower pace of life and lower cost of living in a small community gives people the freedom to take their time, assess their options and work towards their goals with greater flexibility.

One person’s success in a small town can provide a noticeable boost through the feeling of shared achievement. Through achieving success with his studies, Otha served as an example to the Sudanese community of Warrnambool. His enthusiasm for learning had a flow-on effect through the local population too. ‘I have some friends from the wider community in Warrnambool who’ve been inspired to go to uni,’ he says.

Warrnambool’s open spaces and breezy atmosphere allowed Otha and his fellow Sudanese plenty of room to thrive. ‘There are no limits on education, no barriers if you believe it so. I challenged myself … to set up a path so others could follow,’ he explains.

Forever community-minded, Otha acknowledges that being able to study locally helps to bring stability for families in a regional community. ‘With the campus in Warrnambool we can build and educate our leaders of tomorrow.’ For the South Sudanese community that Otha has helped build in Warrnambool, he sees a model for success through a culture of learning.

Moving to the country has allowed Otha and his community a freedom of movement and quality of lifestyle unparalleled in the city. Others looking for a safe and welcoming environment in which to pursue their goals might find a regional community is just what they need.

Thinking about studying regionally? Find out more about Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus.

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