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Thursday, 6 May 2021

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When Jonathan Chua came to Otago from Singapore there was a bit of a culture shock.

Many people have dreamt of their teacher asking a question they don't know the answer to, but what about not being able to hear the question in the first place?

“I think the real difficulty came when I went to lectures, tutorials, labs, or group projects because I struggled to listen as well.”

For graduand Jonathan Chua, who is receiving his PhD in Food Science on Saturday, that was what the early days of his time at Otago were like.

Jonathan was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, the main complication of which is profound hearing loss.

Growing up in Singapore Jonathan never considered getting hearing aids to improve his hearing.

“I didn't really need it because everyone there is quite loud.”

However, the classic Kiwi mumble made it difficult when he began studying his undergraduate in Food Science at Otago in 2011.

“I think the real difficulty came when I went to lectures, tutorials, labs, or group projects because I struggled to listen as well.”

Jonathan went to the University's Disability Information and Support team for help and from then on wore a hearing loop during his lectures to improve the experience.

The equipment quickly improved Jonathan's experience in lectures and even provided some light comedy and possibly mild awkwardness when a mic or two was left on at inopportune moments.

A big city guy, Jonathan never intended to undertake his tertiary study in New Zealand – let alone in a relatively quiet city like Dunedin.

However, not one to follow the crowd he made the decision to come to Otago after speaking with an international adviser from the University.

“I think when I came here it was a big culture shock. I'm used to the city life and coming here where everything shuts at 5pm was quite different.”

With most of the places open at night in Dunedin being bars and restaurants, living here could have easily been an ostracising experience. However, during his two years as a resident at Arana College he made a tight knit group of friends.

“I think they really helped me. I think they're the reason why I grew to love Dunedin.”

As he progressed through his studies Jonathan decided to be fitted with a hearing aid for his Honours year. During that time he undertook an internship with AbacusBio.

“I was quite fortunate because when I joined AbacusBio the culture was quite inclusive so I really appreciated how they were able to accommodate really well with my hearing disability.”

After completing his Honours year Jonathan then went on to join the AbacusBio team full-time as a research assistant, where he spent three years.

Academia would call to him again though. Jonathan was told about an opportunity to undertake his PhD in collaboration with Blis Technologies.

He did his thesis research on the role of food parameters in delivering oral probiotics. The research investigated whether new probiotic strains intended for oral health could be incorporated into food.

Since handing in and successfully defending his PhD Jonathan has since undertaken more study.

“I feel like I want to pave into a new career path.”

He is doing a Diploma for Graduates in Information and Communications Technology – a big change from his previous tertiary studies.

His time at AbacusBio, where he continues to work part-time as a content writer, ignited an interest in web development and he is keen to see where this path can lead him.

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