Chapter 1Learning by doing

It was 4 pm on a weekday afternoon and I was sitting on my parents' kitchen floor, surrounded by books, papers and guides to choosing my university degree. My close friend Fiona was leaning over the kitchen counter urging me to make a decision.

I had just 30 minutes to submit my final university preferences for what felt like the beginning of a very specific path I'd have to take for the rest of my life. I'd auditioned to get into a dance course and been told to simply put it as my first preference to get in. And that's what I'd selected. However, I also knew I would likely get a high school finishing score that would be good enough to get into a dual degree of law and international business. I was torn. And it was down to the wire.

The pressure around this decision was all of my own doing. My parents were the most supportive parents imaginable. Both had grown up in poor families descended from even poorer families. Each generation had dedicated their energy to building a better set of opportunities for their children, and particularly with respect to education.

My Nonna (my Italian grandmother) had reached a mid-primary school level of education in a rural town in Sicily. My perception of her mother is that she was a harsh woman who saw more value in my Nonna doing physical labour than in attending school. This was likely born of a situation in which labour supported the family financially, whereas school came at a cost.

My mother got to mid-high ...

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