Being an international student has never been more challenging… or interesting. Deep Thacker helps you navigate your way through it
During my student life over the past five and half years in Australia and after studying three courses across various universities in Melbourne and Adelaide, I have learned a thing or two about how to survive university life and make your mark as an international student in Australia.
Here are some of my tips:
Connect with people (social and professional networks)
When I came to Australia in 2011, I used to be an ‘under-confident’ student for various reasons such as cultural differences, way of thinking, English barriers, lack of confidence, fear of rejection and so on. Thus, I only had a handful of friends in my first year at Swinburne University (they are currently my best mates). After a while I realised, other students might be feeling the same anxiety and I decided to make a change by talking to as many people as I could.
We need to understand that we have not only changed our university, city, or state. We are in a whole new world—new people, culture, mentality, beliefs, workplace, workforce, etc. As much as Australia offers a wide multiculturalism and open culture, we must take the first step.
Nobody likes to step outside their comfort zone but life forces us to do so at various instances. Coming to Australia for instance, is a big leap for most of us. Everybody here is present for a reason, but getting involved is a must for everyone. Statistically speaking, 70 per cent of employers consider volunteering equivalent to a job experience.
How does one get involved? Numerous ways—every university has student associations who aim to have make a positive student-life experience on campus. These student associations organise activities for students, ranging from overnight trips to local destinations to events like BBQ, Brekky-bars, multicultural nights, movie nights, pub crawl, professional networking, and entrepreneurial pitching competitions. These associations also give you the access to dozens of student societies and associations on campus which are student-run clubs. I started as a volunteer at the Punjabi Club at Swinburne University in my first year and ever since, collected over 25 certificates across three universities in five years for actively being involved in various activities including running award-winning student associations at University of South Australia. This opened an incredible number of doors in terms of meeting other like-minded and enthusiastic students who are now very successful in their respective lives, some working as my business partners—all this because of my active involvement in student activities.
This might sound like an obvious, typical ‘parental’ advice but trust me, staying away from your parents, family and relatives can create very tempting situations for students to go wild, especially when you are getting involved with a lot of people through university, work, weekend parties or networking. It is very crucial to identify positive vs negative influences. Positive people not only have a positive mindset but also be around to motivate and influence you to do all the right things. They also have a focused mindset, goals, genuineness, and are kind and caring. Contrastingly, negative people are ones who whinge a lot about everything. They blame others for not being successful or their inability to accomplish something. They might not be happy to see you succeed. Some negative people also talk behind your back only because they cannot digest your success. If we ever get to meet someone with such traits, you know how to identify them and which way to go. Always ask yourself—“Why am I in this country? What have I/parents given up for me to be here?”
Don’t be afraid to ask
Many of us come from a background or culture where we don’t tend to question anything or anyone, and this is totally fine. As an Indian international student, I was shy when I first arrived. Even though I have always been a curious person, I was not sure whether and how to ask my questions in a ‘presentable’ way that does not offend listeners. One of the biggest barriers I perceived was my fluency in English. As international students, you may not be as fluent as native speakers. Well, let me tell you something—you are not alone. Possibly, the person you saw (or will see) on the street is also not a fluent English speaker. Australians are much more welcoming than we might think. Due to university/college requirements, we all have met the basic English level by passing English exams. So, be confident fellas. Go out and be yourself.
Quick tip—when you are lost or need some suggestions for local restaurants, don’t use Google Maps, just ask a person.
Setting goals & priorities
I encourage readers to spare an hour a week (at least) to think about their short, medium, and long term goals. There are a lot of goal-setting and time management workshops being conducted by each university. I used to spare an hour per week for six months in attending these workshops, even though the material was repeated and every slide was memorised. In my profession, I am on the road, driving few hours a day. I spend this time thinking through about my goals and priorities while listening to calm music or sometimes podcasts.
Focus on being productive, not busy. We all have the same 24 hours a day. Some can spend the same 24 hours productively by accomplishing their top priorities, while others are busy doing nothing important. Deducting seven to eight hours of sleep, two hours of travelling, three hours for getting ready, eating meals, one hour of entertainment, we are still left with a staggering 10 hours or 600 minutes which we need to use wisely to make the most of our time. This 10-hour period can be used to study, work, plan, prioritise, hobbies, and so on. Time management could be daunting when you are a student. I have been a student for almost six years and yet I studied four subjects per semester, worked 15-20 hours a week, get involved in three to four university activities each semester, participate in community events every single weekend, fulfilling my hobbies, travelling, exploring food spots; all these while staying with family and making sure I spent at least three to four hours with them every evening. Getting the right work-life balance is not a piece of cake. But once you know the recipe, the cake’s easy to bake.
Finally, you need not just positive, like-minded, career-focused friends who can help you nurture your university experiences, you also need the access to a very good professional network. The best way to get started is by joining professional student-associations/clubs at your university or in locality. Also, university careers team hold a lot of networking events and workshops which I highly recommend you attend. Prepare yourself a 90-second elevator pitch, get basic business cards (printed cheap from Vistaprint), wear nice formal clothes and start attending the professional events. Do some research on which professional organisations can let you sign up for their membership for free. For example, CPA Australia, FPA and AFA organisations are some of the most common ones for Accounting and Finance students. They also give you Certificate of Affiliation—awesome to show on LinkedIn and resume. Great step to building a professional rep.
These days, it’s all about having an edge over other students in the market, especially as an international student. We need to build contacts in the industry who can land us a work experience without having Permanent Residency (common reason to reject international students). It is not about who you know, it is about who knows you!
What are you waiting for? Get started!!!
For a friendly and open conversation on settling into the Aussie way of life, find me on Facebook (Deep Thacker from Adelaide, first name appearing on Facebook)