Hieu Van Le

Completing my degree was more than an academic milestone; it was an immersion into Australian life, fostering a deep appreciation for a new culture and a new society
Hieu Van Le

Decades have passed, yet the vivid recollections of the perilous journey that brought me to this country in a small, overcrowded wooden boat still linger in my mind. Our harrowing voyage, marked by monsoonal storms, navigation challenges in the South China Seas, a volcanic eruption off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, and unrelenting hunger and thirst, tested the limits of our survival. It was against all odds that, in November 1977, fate smiled upon us as our battered boat arrived in Darwin Harbour with 42 Vietnamese boat people on board.

Following a quarantine period, we were flown to Adelaide - a group of weary, ragged-looking individuals, but with hearts brimming with excitement at the prospect of forging a new life. The early days of our settlement were a whirlwind of activities from familiarising with new customs and traditions to finding accommodation, navigating transportation, and understanding the new public system and many important social services.

Mastering English and adapting to Australian pronunciation and colloquialism was also a challenge. I remember one day I came to see a course counsellor at the University to discuss the subjects for my first year enrolment. The counsellor greeted me and asked, “You are who?” to which I quickly replied “Yes I am”. He was puzzled and repeated the question. I said to him “Yes that is me, Hieu”. I remember one day in my tutorial class, a fellow student asked me, “How ya goin?” and he was very confused when I replied, “I am going by bus”.

Hailing from a culture that reveres education with profound respect for knowledge and academic achievements, I realised early on that acquiring knowledge was key to starting a new life in a new land.

Not long after arriving in South Australia, I visited the University of Adelaide to find out if I could get recognition for my study of economics in Vietnam. I vividly remember walking into the grounds for the first time and just being in awe of the charming, beautiful buildings filled with an overwhelming sense of history and tradition and the buzzing atmosphere of students. I met with the Registrar and was told that my previous study was not recognised, so I would have to apply to start my degree all over again.

Despite the setback, I embraced the challenge and secured an enrolment in an economics degree majoring in accountancy after successfully passing a lengthy English competency exam.

As a migrant, the early years of settlement were quite hectic. I studied, worked in several jobs and at the same time volunteered for many community activities. I remember back then I was always looking forward to holiday breaks to catch up with all the lecture notes and tutorial papers.

The University of Adelaide became not just an academic institution but a transformative experience. The campus, with its heritage buildings and vibrant student life, captivated me. I engaged, with great interest and curiosity, in the rich tapestry of Australian history, arts, politics and social dynamics, and delved into the intricacies of cricket and Aussie rules footy. I also had the opportunity to forge many lifelong friendships.

Completing my degree was more than an academic milestone; it was an immersion into Australian life, fostering a deep appreciation for a new culture and a new society.

Throughout my time at the University of Adelaide, I was profoundly influenced by exceptional educators — Scott Henderson, Fred McDougal, John Hatch, Brian Bentick, Sue Richardson, Tom Sheridan, Geoff Harcourt and Fred Bloch, just to name a few. Their kindness, dedication and intellectual generosity shaped my journey, providing the skills and confidence to pursue my dreams – dreams that continue to inspire me every single day.

My university experience not only instilled in me a commitment to succeed but also cultivated humility, gratitude and a dedication to giving back to society. The profound impact of my time at the University of Adelaide has played a pivotal role in shaping a rewarding and fulfilling life where I strive to make a difference every day.

I am proud to be an alumnus of an institution in the great company of so many Nobel Laureates, Rhodes Scholars and outstanding leaders in politics, science, medical and health research, sport, the arts and culture across the nation and the world.

As I reflect on my transformative journey, I extend heartfelt congratulations to the University of Adelaide on 150 years of exceptional service to education. The University’s role in guiding and inspiring future leaders is immeasurable, and, for that, I am forever grateful.

The Hon. Hieu Van Le AC graduated with a Bachelor of Economics in 1989 and an MBA in 2001. He became a Doctor of the University (honoris causa) in 2008. Hieu was the 35th Governor of South Australia from 2014 to 2021.

Image supplied: Graduation 1989

Tagged in Profiles, Lumen Autumn 2024