Courtney from Australia
An international student story from an Aussie local? You got it. Having studied overseas herself and now working to close the gap between domestic and international students in Victoria, self-proclaimed ‘student of life’, Courtney, is passionate about sharing experiences and expanding her horizons within Victoria’s diverse and multicultural society.
Transcript for Study Melbourne Unplugged - Courtney
Work on finding something that's going to challenge you to grow, to understand, to know the culture. To be inclusive and more engaging in the society that you're living in because when you find these little moments, whether it's being in an art gallery or at NGV or the State Library, you never know what could happen, you could meet so many people. And that’s what’s so special about Melbourne is that it’s so diverse, so unique, so internationally-driven that you will be meeting different types of people from everywhere.
That's why being an international student is such an amazing opportunity and you just got to do it. No matter what, you just got to try. Sometimes it will be hard, sometimes you will get homesick. Just ask questions, get involved, be curious, be a student.
We met Courtney in the spring of 2017 when she was recognised for her dedication to bridging the gap between local and international students at the Victorian International Education Awards. A bright, loud and ambitious student with an immense love of learning and meeting people.
You could say that Courtney has trouble sitting still. In the last five years, she’s lived between Beechworth, Melbourne, Korea and China and has no plans to slow down.
In this episode, we look at how students are shaping the culture of the city they live in, both at home and abroad, and the benefits of becoming a global citizen.
This is Courtney’s Story. This is Study Melbourne Unplugged.
I went on exchange originally in South Korea at a University called Hanyang and I then extended it to about a year because I felt I hadn't fully immersed myself in the culture and I wanted to learn more and see more and do more and see how other people live.
I was in a global ethics class with a Canadian professor where we had a mix of Korean and a mix of international students from around the world and we would discuss issues form all around the world. This was the time where President Trump was just elected. So, people were emotional, tears were running. It was a great debate opportunity and it really helped me identify myself as a global citizen. I made so many changes because of that class.
Once I got back, it was very hard for me to adapt to my old way of life because if you're coming from a new country, the time zones are different, communication styles can be different so coming back it was a bit daunting and I thought, 'I need to do something' so I applied to China and I taught there for a bit.
What I learned in China is that there is still a strong formalised structure. So, a lot of rows a lot of individual tasks, less group work. Not as much group work as in Australia where we have a lot of tutorials and desks set up facing opposite each other so you can do a lot more collaborative work and group learning. So, I think Australian learning is more student-centric and I think this a bonus of the education system of Australia because you can focus on what you like and pursue what you want to do rather than focus on a specific trend. Like in China or Korea, you have a dominant focus on maths or in engineering because those are the jobs that are most required to have a life in general so it's very competitive which is why I've realised a lot of students come from China or Korea to have that choice and to have an opportunity within another culture and get a degree at the same time.
Even for Courtney, the move from the small regional town of Beechworth to Melbourne was a culture shock.
I grew up in Beechworth all my life. It's a bit of a tourist place, people come on buses and see the environment, the nature. It has two main streets but they are very individualistic stores and it has a little bit of an 1800's era to it so, it is quite unique and different. Coming from a regional background there wasn't much multiculturalism in the area so I was shocked by how many different types of people there were in the world. I was walking down Footscray and there's one street of African people and one street of Vietnamese. I was like ‘wow’ this is so different. It was a bit of a culture shock for anyone really because, first of all you have to be curious and ask how people live and why they live that way and engage in conversations so the most important thing is just starting out on those basics. They're those simple life skills but literally just saying 'Hello, where are you from, I'm new here.' Developing those skills and setting those goals.
Her experience overseas influenced how she appreciates the international student community in Melbourne and saw an opportunity to help them in their study journey.
What I found interesting was the international students there did need a lot of help whether it be English or mixing and meeting and integrating with different people so once I recognised there was a need, I started to volunteer as a VU international host and it was one of the coolest things I've ever done because it was just meeting lots of different people - talking to them, helping them, making them feel included in the environment, helping them to live as a student, get them involved in the community. A great opportunity.
What I really like about international students is that they are very cultured and interested to learn about other people and where they're from, especially Australians, they have a lot of different types of questions.
Volunteering is great because you can meet like-minded people in a field that you are interested in. What people are looking for now in the industry is not just what degree you have but what kind of volunteering you do, what type of person you are.
When I got into education I found that, volunteering for anything that's in my interest gave me an opportunity to develop those life skills, develop my personality and meet and build those relationships. And that can really help when you're feeling lonely or you're a little bit isolated in university and you feel that you just can't 'fit in' 100 per cent, there's opportunities to find it elsewhere as well.
When I was in Korea, I was living with one ethnicity, so I really stood out but in Melbourne you can find different types of people and that's a really great thing to have. That's one of our strengths - multiculturalism.
Finding work as an international student isn’t always easy. Courtney has some advice on how to use your unique skills and background in your favour.
Especially for international students it is quite challenging because sometimes you may have a language barrier or you're working with people from a different background so there may be cultural differences. So, it is quite challenging because you have to work out how they perceive you and ask why are they are treating me that way. Being proactive, asking questions, seeing how the system works is a big deal.
My main advice to those seeking a job as an international student is using your skills to your advantage. For example, your language might be a vital role in the job you're seeking. So even language exchange, tutoring, finding those creative ways of making money that can lead to other things.
Having fully immersed herself in the international student experience, Courtney is now seeing how these experiences have benefited her options in the future.
Having such an internationalised background now and being curious and exploratory, I would really love to be an international teacher. That would be my dream job. I'd also love to be a performing artist. I would love to do anything with students, just providing a really inclusive and engaged society and being a really good protester.
I want to be an activist. I mean, that's the best thing about an education because you have the research to back you up. So, you can really just go out there and fight for it.
Courtney has devoted herself to understanding and assisting her peers at all stages of being an international student. Having all this worldly experience puts her in good stead when giving student advice.
Having a mindset to be persistent, to show resilience, to get up at different hours of the day, to make a living and to be able to support yourself is a really challenging thing to do, even for myself. So, it's how you apply positive thinking skills, how you apply your experience, how you show your persona and because of that experience, I met a lot of interesting people and asked them why they're coming here and how they survived. And when I look at that, I'm even more inspired and motivated to make a difference.
This is Courtney’s story. This is Study Melbourne Unplugged.