When Priyanka Reddy Allu first stepped foot on Excelsia College’s campus grounds in July 2018, she distinctly remembers having no idea where she was and which way she needed to go. ‘I remember on my first day of orientation, I was so clueless and someone saw me and said, are you okay, is everything fine?’ Like most first-year students, she had no idea how to locate her classroom. Thankfully in a matter of minutes, she’d received a helping hand and found her counselling class. It was that moment that sticks out in Priyanka’s mind as she describes Excelsia College as a place that instantly felt like home.
Making the massive leap from India, Australia’s high quality of education is what first attracted Priyanka to our shores. ‘From the beginning I started looking for courses in Australia. Going through the counselling course description at Excelsia, I was very much interested because it’s not just basics they teach you, but it was the fact that there were more practical units that really drew my attention,’ Priyanka explains. It wasn’t, however, an easy transition for Priyanka to assimilate into a completely new culture and she felt very out of place at the start, homesick and not sure how long she would last in Australia. ‘I was going down mentally, not adjusting to the environment, the house and people; it was a great struggle.’ Priyanka also came with her own cultural expectations and judgements about how people were going to treat her. ‘I wondered who was going to sit with me, but this course proved to me that this was the wrong thinking. We have a very culturally diverse class and that really helped a lot to make me feel comfortable. There’s a lot of peer support and shared group experiences and that was something valuable to the course,’ Priyanka notes.
Back home in India, Priyanka had completed her Bachelor’s in Fashion Technology, combining her passion for painting and exploring different clothing styles. She worked for two years in the field but underwent her own life challenges when she struggled with depression. It was the caring support of a counsellor that acted as the catalyst for Priyanka’s completely new career direction. ‘I just remember the first time I took counselling and the experience that I had, how I was able to connect to my counsellor. The kind of compassion she was providing me and her being open-minded really moved me. Immediately I realised there are enough designers in the world, and I need to get into counselling to help someone else,’ Priyanka explains. She then made the switch to studying a Diploma in Counselling in India and worked for one year in schools and colleges.
Whilst the Diploma in India helped provide Priyanka with a foretaste to counselling, she doesn’t feel like it scratched the surface on what she studied in her Master course. This became evident when she went for her interview at St Vincent’s Hospital and was able to confidently answer all the questions. ‘That’s when I realised that Excelsia College prepared me so well and whatever I shared with them during the interview was enough for them to train me. Looking back, I can confidently say it exceeded my expectations. I feel complete after doing this course, I’m not lacking anything.’ As part of their rigorous training, students are required to undergo 200 hours of counselling and 100 hours of practicum. The last unit students complete is about counselling and their personal experience with clients. ‘I picked up a lot of tricks to compartmentalise and do a lot of self-care as well,’ said Priyanka.
‘I liked the practical work and being able to talk about our own experiences and practise the theories we’ve just learned. Also, the lecturers sharing their own personal experiences were really helpful all round,’ Priyanka explains. ‘It’s not a job where it’s like, here’s this part of theory and this is what you need to do. Every day is constantly rewarding because there’s different clients and theories that we need to apply and different kinds of approaches. It’s very brain stimulating and constant learning and that’s what I love,’ Priyanka said.
Creating a women’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation program is what Priyanka envisaged herself doing when she first decided to take this course; nearly three years on, her dreams are becoming a reality. Following her graduation in November 2020, the Master of Counselling alumnus has been working at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst. Since her practicum in women’s rehabilitation, and after joining the alcohol and drug department of the Mental Health Unit, Priyanka has provided counselling services and created group programs in mindfulness. ‘I was providing individual counselling, sitting with them, giving them support, listening to them and building their trust. I also created group programs on awareness and adapting to change and developing tolerance.’ Priyanka feared she wouldn’t connect with her clients, especially when many of her clients weren’t from the same cultural background. Thankfully it was a positive experience for her, and Priyanka was able to build a rapport with her clients over time, seeing them come up in different places.
Although it has been a challenging two-year journey, Priyanka has felt supported by Excelsia the whole way through. ‘I remember starting my practical during the beginning of lockdown. I joined one place and within two weeks it was closed. I had even moved to another house and bought a car to travel because it was very far from me, located on the outskirts of Sydney. Thankfully I was still able to do my three practicums – one at Excelsia and the others externally – and I was getting the right support and finishing on time due to my visa requirements. Priyanka remembers Bobby Abraham, Chief Admissions, Global Engagement and Partnerships as the first person who made her feel welcome, as well as the School Administrative Coordinator who helped answer questions regarding documents, courses, and enrolments. ‘The College doesn’t let you struggle on your own. There’s proper guidance that comes throughout the journey and there’s always someone who’s ready to help, no wonder what time it is,’ said Priyanka.
Priyanka also noticed the genuine care of the Excelsia teaching staff, something she wasn’t accustomed to. ‘The lecturers made me feel at home and I stopped missing my family…I think that’s very important for students coming from overseas. It was more like a family: comfortable, welcoming, supportive in all ways, not just educationally, and they would always follow up to see if we had good places to live and whether we had part-time jobs…I’ve never experienced such things in India. The lecturers there are super strict; you can’t even call them by their names, you must address them as teacher.’ Excelsia is proud to be an interdenominational Christian-based community and accepting of all cultures and backgrounds. ‘The classes started with prayer to have a safe environment and closed in prayer. Although I’m not Christian, I could feel that energy in the class that it was a very safe space,’ Priyanka says.
Since joining the Excelsia community, Priyanka has developed not only her professional identity but evolved as a whole person. ‘Excelsia definitely helped prepare me to look at things in a non-judgemental way and with an open mind. A lot of self-work and healing has really helped me to become a better person and better understand relationships. I also used to hold negative thoughts but now I’m able to turn them into positive ones and that’s really changing the way I view the relationships I have and the people I surround myself with,’ she says. Priyanka also noticed a contrast between Excelsia’s counselling course and learning structure when she spoke to students from the capstone unit in the practicum, and the knowledge they acquired was very theoretical and they had to do stuff on their own without support. ‘That’s when I knew that I’ve taken so much from this course and the College.’
It doesn’t look like it’s the end of the road when it comes to further studies for Priyanka. ‘I’m planning on studying criminology in the future but for the next 6 to 12 months, I’ll be getting trained in opioid treatment. It’s something very new, and it’s challenging to do the mediation and understand the kind of drugs involved. I want to take part in DBT groups (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy), create more group programs, and see how these can be useful to treat alcohol and drug issues.’
Priyanka’s advice to anyone contemplating studying counselling is to start whenever you want to. ‘Whether you’re twenty, thirty, sixty or even ninety years old, you can not only make a difference in others’ lives, but you can also change your world view as you learn to better understand not only yourself but also others.’ We can’t wait to see where Priyanka ends up and we’re thrilled to have been a part of her journey.
To find out more about our counselling courses, please visit our Counselling School page: