An international student’s classroom to career journey

By Indira Laisram
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Ritu Dahiya // Pic supplied

After almost six years in Australia, international student Ritu Dahiya now has a resume that is impressive.

An international student from Rohtak, Haryana, in India, Dahiya came to study a Master’s degree in Cybersecurity from La Trobe University in 2018. The idea of pursuing this degree came to her when she was teaching computer science at a government school in Delhi.

“I felt there was no growth in my career,” says Dahiya.

In 2017, during a time when the Delhi Police Commissioner launched a cyber cell website to combat cybercrimes, teachers like Dahiya were roped in help with the project.

“I felt this was an interesting field and something that is also helpful to society,” says Dahiya. It motivated her to apply for further studies in Australia, supported by her parents and brother, who was already here.

However, coming to Australia and finding a place was not the challenge for Dahiya. The real challenge, she says, was finding a job—not even a part-time one. For one and a half years, she struggled with that.

Certainly, there were cultural and communication challenges at the start. “I didn’t have the confidence to speak to the locals in English and especially coming from north India where I spoke English in interviews mainly.”

Ritu Dahiya // Pic supplied

Also, she attributes part of the difficulty to the fact that she did not have local references on her CV. But thankfully, her education loan from India helped with the fees and her provided additional support.

After researching on her own, Dahiya found resource in university facilities. She attended sessions for writing CVs and learning effective job strategies.

It was during this exploration that she also learned about the value placed on volunteering in Australia—a significant aspect she found appealing. Despite facing a dip in her confidence, Dahiya recognised the opportunity to give back while rebuilding her own self-assurance.

She began volunteering at La Trobe University, assisting with the orientation of international students. Leveraging her proficiency in both Hindi and English, she contributed to tasks such as enrolments. This experience not only revitalised her confidence but also saw her dedicating over 60 hours to volunteering in just two weeks every semester.

Then for one hour a day, she helped her peers with services within the university during COVID as classes were held online.

Finally, the volunteering paid off as she got a job as a project officer to help Indian and South Asian students in the university itself.

Pic supplied

“When international students go looking for jobs, there are instances of exploitation,” says Dahiya, which is why using university resources is important as it provides numerous services for students. But many students, burdened with the need to earn and manage their finances, tend to overlook these services, she says. Instead of utilising these resources for free, some students prefer earning a few dollars.

Connecting with friends who arrived earlier can offer experiential insights, but professionals provide valuable help in CV development, notes Dahiya. Having personally assisted someone in securing a part-time job within a month of her arrival, she emphasises the importance of accessing the right knowledge to avoid prolonged struggles—knowledge that could have spared her own year-and-a-half-long challenges.

But Dahiya also made extra efforts while pursuing her Master’s degree, actively engaging in various programs, leading to three notable accomplishments before completing her degree—something recognised by La Trobe University’s magazine.

Part of her strategy to succeed was also to know the distinction between academic learning and the insights gained from industry professionals and mentors through participation in seminars, webinars, conferences, or mentoring programs. This diverse exposure allowed her to acquire the right information from various sources.

Although it took Dahiya one year after completion of her degree and partly due to COVID, she now works as a Cybersecurity Governance and Risk and Compliance Analyst at Block Inc.

Reflecting on the challenges faced by Indian students in Australia, she observes that these challenges often stem from difficulties in understanding cultural nuances. In India, grades carry significant weight, but in Australia, success is not solely determined by grades; instead, skills play a crucial role in navigating the Australian education and job landscape.

Ritu Dahiya // Pic supplied

Drawing from personal experience, Dahiya notes that 80 per cent of job opportunities come through references, while only 20 per cent are sourced from job portals. Many students cling to the latter, using the same resume or CV from India, unaware that the system here doesn’t always pick up the keywords, she says.

Apart from her full-time job, Dahiya is developing Cyber Manch to help students, with around 15-20 students approaching her through LinkedIn seeking guidance.

While many students prioritise obtaining permanent residency (PR), Dahiya held the belief that securing a job in her field of study would pave the way for PR. Her advice is to be different, focus on gaining experience, and understand that the Australian job market values local experience more than a relentless pursuit of PR.

In her ongoing commitment to advancement, she acquires industry certifications and underscores the significance of networking. Dahiya’s ultimate career aspiration transcends personal achievements, aiming to actively assist international students by sharing her wealth of experiences and insights.


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