Uttam Mittal grew up in a small agricultural village in Haryana.
His parents spoke no English and so he taught himself by listening to BBC News and reading books.
Now he is heading to Australia to study, beating 37,000 candidates from more than 100 countries in the Australian Government’s Win Your Future Unlimited competition for a scholarship to study in 2014.
Entrants had to make a postcard that showed why they wanted to study in Australia. When the judges chose Uttam’s design they knew only his name, and had no knowledge of his incredible story.
Uttam completed his senior year in a village school in Bassai with a score of 100%. From humble beginnings, he went on to win a place at Delhi’s prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, sitting in an exam with 450,000 other hopefuls and getting a score in the top 0.5%.
The high achiever continued to hit the mark, graduating eighth in his class.
He began thinking about further study while doing an internship at Hochschule Niederrhein University in Germany and working on natural fibres to produce high performance materials.
“I started getting interested in the whole concept of sustainability,” said Uttam, whose father runs a small shop.
But while researching where to study his masters, Uttam formed the opinion that Australia was out of reach. He needed a scholarship, and there were far more on offer in the US and Europe.
That’s when he spotted the postcard competition.
“After winning this, I turned down offers (fully sponsored) from universities in the US as well as Europe,” he said.
Uttam said he wanted to study down under because Australian universities excel in his chosen field of material science.
“A lot of research is going towards the development of nature friendly materials there,” he said.
“I want to gain skills and expertise in the field of composites and recycling… and later work with industries, which are trying similar ideas to pollution by replacing harmful synthetic material with material developed using natural and renewable resources.”
Uttam recently took part in a study tour to Australia, visiting 22 universities around the country.
“All the people I met were very humble and kind. Even the high ranking government officials and ministers I met were so kind and humble. It was just a great friendly atmosphere,” he said.
As the memory of the 2009 student attacks in Melbourne fades in the minds of India’s youth, the country’s popularity as a destination for study is growing once again.
The number of Indian students starting higher education in Australia jumped 66 percent between 2012 and 2013 to 8420. There are currently 45,000 Indians studying in Australia.
Uttam is the first person from his village to study in Australia. When talking to young people in urban centres and rural villages across India nowadays, most will know of someone who has gone to study there.
“My brother-in-law came to Australia for his master’s and has been living in Sydney for the last 10 years. This year one of my good friends has enrolled in Charles Stuart University in Melbourne,” he said.
“After entering this competition and winning it, my life has taken a different and hopefully beautiful turn,” added Uttam.
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Newspaper in Melbourne)