Judy’s mission inspires a career in education

Griffith alumnus and community educator Judy Staggs with family and friends in China
Griffith alumnus and community educator Judy Staggs with family and friends in China

Epiphanies occur at any time. Such is the nature of the concept.

For Griffith University alumnus Judy Staggs, a Brisbane-based former intensive care nurse and now community educator, the moment that changed her life came during the most mundane of activities: housework.

And while some may question Judy’s belief in what transpired and why, the true measure of an epiphany lies in where it leads and what it continues to achieve.

In Judy’s case, this includes completing a Bachelor of Arts (Modern Asian Studies) and a Master of English as a Second Language at Griffith University, followed by teaching English in China and now doing the same for Syrian and Afghan refugees trying to start new lives in Australia.

But first things first, namely a day in 1978 when nurse and mother of four Judy was doing the housework and listening to the radio news.

“I was washing up and there was a news item about Chinese political leader Deng Xiaoping’s program of sending Chinese students abroad,” she recalls.

Judy says this was the epiphany that convinced her to follow a new career path into education, specifically the teaching of students from mainland China.

“I believe I heard a message from God, says the committed Christian. “I know how it sounds, but I also know what I believe. And I knew what I had to do.”

Though strengthened by her belief and new goal, the priorities and practicalities of raising four children came first.

“They needed an education before me,” says Judy, who waited until 1990 before enrolling as a mature-aged student at Griffith University.

“It was so exciting, although it was hard work and I thrived,” says Judy.

“After completing my degree, I secured another qualification through the Queensland University of Technology, followed by a Graduate Certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), again through Griffith. This was later upgraded to a Masters in Applied Linguistics.

From 2003-08, Judy’s “housework epiphany” came full circle when she lived and taught English in China’s Henan Province. Upon her return to Australia, she taught English as a Second Language at Griffith University.

Now 75, Judy’s teaching career continues, this time with Syrian and Afghan refugees in Brisbane.

“I did a speaking presentation at TAFE and one of the teachers told me about the need for the Syrian refugees to learn English. I was offered a position and it’s been wonderful,” says Judy.

“These people have been through so much, and yet they are extremely motivated and want to make a contribution to society.

“Understanding the language is a vital part of that process, and I admire their determination.”

For Judy, as much as the inspiration for her teaching career may seem unlikely to some people, what she has achieved is also admirable.

“I’ll keep teaching for as long as I can,” she says. “I love it and I can see its value and its impact.”