Adjusting to university life as a first-year accounting student is daunting enough but when Mila Ottavini was also diagnosed with a hearing impediment, she could either allow it to get the better of her or face it head on. She chose the latter and now is well on her way to realising her dream of becoming a chartered accountant after passing the recent SAICA first professional exam (Initial Test of Competence) with honours.
Ottavini, who commenced her BAccounting studies in the School of Accountancy in 2019 after achieving seven distinctions in her matric year, realised something was wrong when she struggled to understand her lecturers and even failed a few tests during her first year.
“I never knew before my first year that I had a hearing impediment. In high school the classrooms were small with less people and I did not have a problem. The university lecture halls were larger and noisier and suddenly I could not hear or understand my lecturers properly. It became difficult for me to differentiate speech from noise and to grasp what was being taught.”
She then went to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist who found scarring on her eardrums and referred her to an audiologist. It was then that they discovered a bigger problem – she was suffering from hearing loss.
“That was a difficult time for me. I became anxious socially and more and more isolated as I thought that those around me would start treating me differently. But after being fitted with my hearing aids and consulting a life coach, I realised I would much rather hear every sound life has to offer than worry about other people and what they think of me.
“I also realised that I had to consciously make more of an effort to concentrate and listen in class. In my first year of studies, I was unable to really learn in class due to my hearing impediment, so I self-studied the majority of the work from home. Then when I was fitted with my hearing aids, I realised that the classroom is the best and most important learning opportunity. I learnt to maximize my classroom time by asking questions, taking useful notes and not allowing anything to distract me. I realised that what I wanted was to really understand the work and be the most competent version of myself. This shifted my focus from just trying to increase a mark for a module to really caring about the work that I get to study and to make sure that my understanding of it could be transferred to the workplace.”
She says her lecturers also played a major part in helping her to overcome her struggles.
“I had incredible lecturers who assisted me in my transition period when I was first fitted with my hearing aids. The amount of kindness and care that I received from them was overwhelming and I will always be grateful for that.”
Ottavini went on to obtain an aggregate of 73.5% for the final year of her undergraduate studies in 2021. This gave her the confidence to enrol for a postgraduate diploma in accounting (PGDA) the following year.
“The PGDA is the toughest year for any student aspiring to become a chartered accountant. But as challenging as it was, it really made me realise how much I am capable of and how much I love what I am doing. I have never learnt so much about myself and life in general than I did in my PGDA year.”
So, by the time she sat for her ITC exam in January this year, it was no surprise that she managed to pull off such a remarkable feat, a feat which she calls her “miracle at the end of a long season with many hills and valleys”.
“Passing the ITC with honours (more than 75%) was an absolute surprise to me because this was not something I was necessarily aiming for. My aim was always to do my best and to be the most competent I can be when I reach the workplace. When I heard that I passed with honours, I felt absolute relief because I have finally reaped what I have sowed for so many years and gratitude for how faithful God has been from the very beginning of my studies to this moment of success.”
Ottavini is now in the process of completing her articles at PricewaterhouseCoopers and will next year sit for her final SAICA exam before qualifying as a CA(SA) (Chartered accountant of South Africa).
“I know that there is so much more in store for me. It makes me excited to know that no matter the hills and valleys that lie ahead, that I have been created to be strong and courageous and that there are still so many miracles that the future holds for me,” she says.
- Writer: Daniel Bugan