Samantha is a Study Melbourne Ambassador. Study Melbourne has 22 international student and alumni ambassadors for 2018. During their time as ambassadors, they regularly share insights and experiences to help international students have a great experience while studying here in Victoria. 

Student tip: how to get out of a bad living situation

by  Samantha Lim

I have loved my time as a student in Melbourne, and you can read about my 937 days as an international student, however, I lived in a toxic environment for two years and I suffered emotionally before finding my way out. All of this happened because I allowed others to make one decision for me – the choice of accommodation. The reason I want to share this experience is not because it happened but because I found that I could use it to help other students make better decisions and smarter choices when they arrive in a place they might not be familiar with.

Everything was going as planned at university. I got the results I wanted to make my family proud, I got every award I aimed for and eventually I got recognised at a state level for my academic, volunteering and leadership achievements.

I dreaded going home every evening

However, the thought of having to return to the place I called home every evening was dreadful – not something anyone should have to go through. Initially, I felt a bad vibe in the house but I brushed it off, thinking it was just my brain playing a few tricks on me. It wasn’t until one day my housemate told me to move out. I had been in Melbourne for less than three months and they told me that the house was too small to fit an extra person. I decided to call back home and explain her intentions to my family as I was still financially dependent. However, things did not turn out how I expected. She turned around and accused me of being disrespectful and said that I had initiated the idea. That was just the beginning of the toxicity. My 18-year old self was told to be patient because it was ‘a privilege to be staying with a housemate when you’re away from home’. I stayed but it turned out to be one of the worst decisions I made.

My housemate was a nightmare

She knew about my increasing ‘popularity’ at university and saw all the certificates and trophies lying around my room. She also saw my exam results by accident. I guess her lack of self-esteem started to kick in so she needed to make themselves feel better. She responded by stealing my books and clothes, messing up my study notes while I was out, spreading rumours about me that eventually got back to me (thanks to the small social circle she had), said mean things to discourage me from overachieving and slammed doors in the house repeatedly to distract me from studying in my room. However, despite all the things she did it never stopped me from aiming higher each time. Realising that her mission had failed, that seemed to anger her more and she continued her spiteful acts.

Other people's stories helped me find my inner strength

At first, I felt bad but eventually I regained my inner strength. At some point, I read biographies by Adeline Yen-Mah and Vanessa Steele to make me feel better because they had experienced situations ten times worse than mine. I spoke to psychologists from beyondblue anonymously, meditated to gather my inner strength and find my inner peace and indulged in more university tasks and community engagement opportunities to escape the situation. At first, I was ashamed so I let the mental torment happen behind closed doors for two years until one day someone told me about a similar experience a friend of theirs was going through. Adrenaline took over and I finally revealed the details of my living situation. Needless to say, I left everyone speechless. No one ever expected what was buried deep inside this bubbly personality.

My friends stood by me during my most desperate times

After two years I had had enough. I realised she would never change. I knew of other stories where students, especially international students, who had experienced similar forms of maltreatment by their host families or housemates. I would like to take this opportunity to state this kind of treatment is not normal and filing a report through the university or agency is the safest way out of the situation. I wish I had known about Study Melbourne and its services earlier as they provide international students with advice and support ranging from accommodation to career-readiness. Also, friendship! My friends were the ones who would always stand by me during my most desperate times.

My top tips for getting out of a bad housing situation

So, if you are not happy where you are, here are my tips for getting out of a bad housing situation as an international student.

Tell someone

The Study Melbourne Student Centre provides information, referral and practical support for all international students in Victoria, confidentially, in many languages and with free interpreting services. Here you can find information and help with accommodation, health, employment and legal problems, as well as free access to Wi-Fi. They are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm at 17 Hardware Lane, Melbourne. To make an appointment email or call 1800 056 449 any time (free call from landlines).

Seek out other options

No one should have to put up with bad treatment. While money may be an issue, you can only assess what is possible if you look for other solutions, and services like the Study Melbourne Student Centre can help with that.

Don’t look back

You are doing an incredible thing by studying overseas, you don’t need to feel bad about leaving a stressful home situation. Put your needs first and find somewhere where you feel comfortable.

Samantha Lim enjoying a day on a boat at St Kilda beach

Samantha Lim enjoying a day on a boat at St Kilda Beach

About the author

Samantha arrived in Melbourne on a scholarship and is an optimistic and outgoing person who loves public speaking and volunteering with various organisations. Samantha is looking forward to giving back to the state that means so much to her and enriching the lives of other students. Meet all the Study Melbourne Student Ambassadors.

Samantha Yun Suen Lim