The opportunity to visit prestigious universities including Oxford, Harvard and Yale was an eyeopener for Jamie Penny, the only undergraduate student to attend The 2015 Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour.
Jamie, currently in his third year of a Bachelor of Public Health degree at Griffith University, says the experience changed his self-perception and gave him a clearer vision for the future. Despite several awards for academic performance and epidemiology, Jamie initially had low confidence.
“I was a bit overawed about being included but my partner, Bindi, told me at the airport that I should believe in myself and remember that I absolutely deserved to be there,” he says.
“I’m an introvert at heart, but the tour forced me to put myself forward and speak up.
“It fundamentally changed how I see myself and got me thinking about how the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is influenced by selfperception.”
On his return to Australia, Jamie jumped straight into the eight-week Kungullanji Indigenous Summer Research Symposium at Griffith. His research project investigated the link between urban Aboriginal male identity and health.
“70 per cent of Indigenous Australians live in urban areas and men have the worst health outcomes in this group,” says Jamie.
“People have negative opinions of citydwellers; they’re often seen as ‘not real Aborigines’,” he explains.
“When society tells you what you are, you eventually start to believe it yourself, and when your basic needs aren’t being met, when you have to worry about racism and poverty, it’s difficult to strive for higher needs like education.”
Jamie’s respect for the mentoring system was reinforced overseas.
“I met Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University and it occurred to me that they are just ordinary people who have done extraordinary things at a young age,” he says.
“They must have had good mentors, so I’m very interested in providing support and guidance to younger students.”
Jamie also realised that his education is not going to be about just getting a degree and finding a job.
“My future will include a Masters degree and a PhD because we need hard evidence that will help make real changes to the deplorable state of First Peoples’ health.
“Ultimately, I want to be where I can help influence government policy and to do that I have to continue my education.”