Journey of an international student
Meditating on the lessons he’s learned over the past five years, Vinh Truong takes us on a contemplative journey from the dinner table of his family home as a shy 17 year old in Vietnam; to his life as a UNSW Engineering Student Ambassador equipped with new skills, friendships and a deep sense of community.
“Sydney – the land of hard work, challenges, endless opportunities and rewards” – these words have echoed in my head since I left Vietnam to study in Australia as a high school student in 2011.
As a 17 year old adolescent, it was not easy to decide to study overseas. I understood theoretically that it would create many great opportunities; but I couldn’t imagine living in a country with a completely different culture, language and people. I was especially sad thinking about leaving my family, friends, and loved ones.
Over dinner on the night before I flew out, my dad noticed my subdued mood and gave me some memorable advice. “Son,” he said. “If you stay in Vietnam, your loved ones will still be the same after 5-10 years, but you will never grow up. If you go, your loved ones will still be the same after 5-10 years, but you will be a grown man who can be responsible for yourself and take care of your loved ones.”
A first taste of study overseas
On the 13 February 2011, my flight touched down in Sydney, and here I was.
My life in Sydney was very different to my life in Vietnam and I found it a real struggle at first. Relating to the language, the culture and even the people, were big barriers as I adapted to my new environment. However, it wasn’t long before I realised that these struggles were the best way to help me grow up! I started to talk to different people and was open to advice and feedback. I worked hard to pick up the language and gestures when speaking to others to understand what they meant.
After one year having a ‘Taste of Study Overseas’ at high school, I transferred to a university foundation course and the teachers, advisors and staff were even more supportive and helpful. My education advisor understood the cultural differences I faced, and even taught me about the Australian culture. Again, being open to feedback and support really helped me overcome the challenges I came up against.
At first, I was rarely involved in any other activity apart from study and sometimes felt depressed, isolated and lonely. But my education advisor gave me some great advice. She told me, “Success does not come to anyone naturally, you will have to earn it. One of the best ways is to develop yourself into a more well-rounded person, professionally and socially.”
It made me realise I would not be able to live on my own, as an individual, all the time. I needed to be part of a society where I could help others and others could support me, so I joined the school’s Student Council. By my second semester, I was voted Vice President and helped organise many weekly and annual events. During that period, I learned many things about about leadership, teamwork and event management. I learned to live as part of the community.
Reaching out for help
When I started at UNSW Engineering in 2013, I found the experience completely different again. I felt that the connections between lecturers and students, as well as between students, were not as strong, bonded and united as they had been in my pre-university classes. Lecture halls were much larger and I found everything quite ‘unapproachable’.
All of a sudden, I remembered the advice my education advisor had given me: I had to earn my success
Vinh Truong, fourth year Petroleum Engineering Student
Ding!!! All of a sudden, I remembered the advice my education advisor had given me: I had to earn my success. To succeed at this new challenge was easy! All I had to do was embed myself in this new society and engage fully with university life.
Joining the UNSW Student Development International – Cultural Mentor Program – was my first stop. I was matched with a mentor who explained everything about university life and I understood that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. Many other first year students would feel the same as me. Importantly, I realised I needed to change my thinking that everyone is strange and ‘unapproachable’ and reach out to ask for help if I needed it. It worked! I found that other students were happy to help me solve my problems. I would count that as my first success at university.
Time to give back
Once I had settled into university life, I began to ask the question: ‘How can I help other international students who have just arrived in Australia?’ Fortunately, the City of Sydney had just started a new initiative called International Student Leaders and Ambassadors so I applied and joined the program. It was a great and memorable experience. I learned about project and event management, leadership, and Sydney’s diversity and cross-cultural communication. We managed several events for new international students in Sydney, including Journeys to the City of Sydney, employment and networking events, and the Lunar New Year Parade. At the end of the program, besides gaining many great skills, I had met many new friends.
In 2015, I began a new path as an Engineering Student Ambassador for UNSW Engineering and started to mentor high school and foundation students (local and international) to help them understand the degree options at UNSW Engineering, as well as the career paths they may undertake after university. Sometimes, I delivered the message through presentations to large group of students. Sometimes, through one on one discussions at career markets, UNSW Open Day, Info Day and many other events.
It is wonderful to see so many boys and girls excited about studying engineering and they reminded me of me when I had first came to Australia and was scared, shy and reserved.
Now, I am pleased to say I am intrepid, open and social! I am so thankful for this country, for Sydney, and for all the people who have supported me over the past five years. I have learnt to be responsible for myself, to take good care of my loved ones and, moreover, I have learned how rewarding it is to give back to the community that supports you.
My final thoughts
Dear future leaders…There will always be challenges but as long as you don’t give up, you will overcome them. You will succeed. You can make the world a better place!
- Vinh Truong, fourth year Petroleum Engineering Student
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