Student overcomes fear of water through transformative UNSW program

24 Nov 2023
Learn to swim

UNSW’s Learn to Swim (LTS) program builds swimming confidence, skills and safety. 

Beach culture and swimming are part of the Australian experience. However, many international students are unable to swim, or lack the confidence and understanding of ocean and water safety. This limits their ability to enjoy Sydney’s iconic beaches and other water experiences. 

The LTS program is designed for domestic and international students with little to no swimming experience. The intensive eight-week program is led by the UNSW Health Promotion Unit in partnership with UNSW Fitness and Aquatic Centre and Coogee Surf Life Saving Club.  

Nimish Ukey, a PhD candidate in Computer Science, completed the program last year. From Nagpur, a non-coastal area of India, he’d never learnt to swim.  

“When I was growing up, I always harboured a fear of bodies of water, worried about drowning in lakes, dams or canals,” he said. Now Nimish mentors and supports other students new to swimming at the UNSW Fitness and Aquatic Centre.  

When he moved to Sydney, Nimish was fascinated by the coastline from his very first Bondi-to-Coogee walk. Relaxing on the beach afterwards, he noticed other people’s ease in the water. “Everyone else at the beach was confidently swimming and having fun and I wished I could do the same.” 

Nimish completed the LTS program in 2022, followed by the newly launched UNSW Beach Ocean Safe program, delivered in partnership with Coogee Surf Life Saving Club and Surf Life Saving NSW. The three-week Beach Ocean Safe program included beach swimming and safety, first aid, understanding ocean conditions and water rescue techniques.  

This year, he won the Medibank International Student Sport Award for his contribution to the student community at the UNSW Sports Awards.  

From non-swimmer to aspiring surfer 

Nimish still vividly remembers his first lesson – the struggle to stay afloat, his confidence at an “all-time low” – but the sense of community, the supportive class environment and the amazing teachers all helped him face his fears. Since then, he’s made headway on his dream to surf, participating in an Arc surfing event, now he’s no longer afraid of the ocean. 

More than 940 students have graduated from the LTS program since it was established in 2018. More than 80 per cent felt confident or very confident to swim by the end of the program. The award-winning program together with the Beach Ocean Safe and the facilitated Bondi-to-Coogee walk provide a holistic approach to improving the water-safety skills and expanding the leisure opportunities of culturally and linguistically diverse students at UNSW.  

As Nimish says: “Life is one thrilling journey punctuated by countless lessons and adventures. There are moments of triumph and those of stumble. Yet, it's all about showing up, giving it your best and consistently striving to better ourselves… As a swimming instructor, I've had the opportunity to help others learn an essential life skill, make new friends and stay active, all while enjoying the process.”  

UNSW’s water safety programs are possible with the support of Medibank.  


Photo: Nimish Ukey accepting his award from Becky Hyde, Hub Lead Corporate & Overseas, Medibank International