In 2017, Study Melbourne Ambassador Persie Duong moved from Vietnam to Australia to complete his final two years of high school. He shares what he learnt during this time and his advice for other international students.

The first day

Looking back, I can’t recall many details of my first day at school in Melbourne. What I do remember though is the welcome I got from Mr Chow, the international student coordinator. And also Selena, an Australian-Vietnamese friend who took me on a school tour.

What I also remember is the ‘funny’ story of wearing a winter jumper on a 30-degree summer day – just because I didn’t want to break the ‘suggested’ uniform list on my first day! I still giggle at that moment because of how naïve I was back then and how much I have grown since that day.­­

Adjusting to life in Australia

The first few months weren’t easy, despite my preparation beforehand. I constantly had to look up the dictionary. I couldn’t understand my teachers and communicating in English was a huge struggle.

It was then that I learned how important it is to always keep learning and adapting.

I practiced the habit of asking questions. This not only improved my studies but also made a good impression with the teachers. I also found it crucial to be open-minded to maximise the learning experience. This applies when you have to learn what you already know or choose subjects that you’ve never tried before.

Staying motivated

A common issue among my international peers was how to maintain motivation and self-study. A lesson I learnt was that you need the right mindset. Whenever I feel lost, I asked myself “why I am here?” and “why I am doing what I’m doing?”

An important thing to remember is that you are never alone. There is always help around. Whenever you get the chance, help others too. It is hard to ask for help but you just have to get over your own mind and do it.

Making friends

In terms of social life, I was lucky because my school had many international students. They were my starting point and continued to be my best support.

One of the biggest challenges for me was to make friends with local students. I found the best way was to offer help in class or do community activities, like playing sport after school.

Living away from home

During the first year, I lived with a Vietnamese-Chinese homestay family. I was lucky to have the kindest hosts and the friendliest housemates. But I know not everyone will have the same experience.

As intimidating as living away from your parents sounds, I actually learnt to be responsible for myself and others. The most important thing is interaction – take the opportunity to help the hosts with dinner or ask your housemates about their day. And always remember to respect everyone's privacy.

Creating opportunities

I set out a mission to make the most of my high school journey, and I did.

I was involved in many international students’ work and got selected into the student leadership team. I did public speaking workshops and won the Toastmasters competition with a speech about superstition.

Yes, there was a lot of courage required. Yes, there was a lot of pressure of standing out as an international student. But aside from that intimidating list, I also did other things like dressing up in a Pokémon costume for the last day of school and making the best birthdays for my friends.

Everyone’s journey is different – look for opportunities but also do the things you love.

There were many ups and downs in my two years of high school in Melbourne. But no doubt it was the best experience I ever had. I couldn’t be prouder of what I achieved and how much I grew as a person.