Acing International Student Life: Tips from Grads Who’ve Been There, Crushed That!

Article

5 min read

Author: Ivan Hasjim with Aren Budiprabawa and James Wijaya

Being an international student is no easy feat, and can sometimes be misunderstood. Moving to a different country on your own, adapting to, and surviving in a new environment, living away from loved ones, learning a new language, grappling with financial strains – these are just several experiences international students go through. While often viewed as points of challenge or hardship, these experiences are also ones international students can ‘own’ as valuable differentiators, and in turn leverage as exceptional personal strengths.

In the following article, I draw on my own experience as an international student, together with the experiences of some fellow mates within the community, to share key learnings and advice for international students embarking on a similar adventure. We’ve tabled our thoughts across three categories – study, work and play. Our hope is that by sharing our own journeys and learnings, we’ll encourage more international students to embrace their unique paths, get the best out of their international student adventure and ultimately thrive in work and life!

STUDY

In-class active learning: ask and engage

Take ownership in your learning, interact with your fellow classmates, and give yourself the best chance of achieving academic excellence. Your weighted average mark (WAM) or grade point average (GPA) is an important KPI, but is by no means the sole determinant of success once you hit the job market. Employers look for well-rounded candidates – those with strong academic results, and equally strong human ‘soft’ skills and life experiences alongside. Don’t shy from asking questions and forging strong connections with your lecturers and subject coordinators – they’re there to help! In addition to extra technical support for your studies, lecturers, tutors and coordinators are a treasure trove of study tips, career advice and industry insights. They can open doors to research opportunities, connect you with alumni working in the industry, and open your mind to micro &/or vacation internship opportunities.

Explore Capstone or Work Integrated Learning (WIL) subjects

Enrolling in Capstone or Work Integrated Learning (WIL) subjects would allow you to apply theoretical knowledge in a real-world business environments. These subjects usually provide students with valuable work experience placements, which are highly valued by prospective employers in due course.

Pace yourself – a sustainable level of study is key

Everyone has a different study threshold – a particular number of hours they require each week to achieve academic excellence. For some, an allocated daily amount is key, while for others, alternating between on and ‘off’ study days is integral to balance and optimised performance. The most important part is not to compare yourself to others – stay in your lane, get comfortable with your own study cadence, and do your best not to exert excessive pressure on yourself. A balanced schedule of rest, recovery and play is essential!

WORK

Develop your personal narrative (‘value pitch’)

Get serious about self-awareness and identify your key strengths. A clear awareness of strengths is non-negotiable when it comes to your ‘marketability’ down the track. Ultimately, understanding how you can add value to an organisation must start with a clear understanding of your personal points of value. Coupled with your unique experiences, develop an impactful ‘value pitch’ that you can share – authentically – whilst networking, forging new connections, or attending job interviews.

Seek an internship or part-time work experience

The benefits of completing an internship or part-time employment during tertiary study can’t be overstated. The workplace learning opportunities gained through these experiences are near impossible to replicate in a classroom environment. Internships and part-time employment allow you to:

  • apply what you’ve learned to real-world business contexts and challenges
  • develop critical soft skills like communication, teamwork and problem-solving.

Coffee catch-ups – always a good thing

Be proactive in reaching out to people to explore opportunities and learn from their experiences. Utilise social platforms like LinkedIn to research alumni with career paths that you’re curious about or aspire to. Approach key decision makers in companies that you admire. It can be really daunting to reach out to new people, especially if you’re an introvert, but practice can make progress, and there’s really nothing to lose! Professor and Associate Dean (International) Shanton Chang at the University of Melbourne wrote this insightful piece on Professional Networking for International Students: Small Talk Your Way into Career Success.

PLAY

Get social beyond your studies

Student organisations can be excellent platforms to mingle with like-minded individuals and develop organisational skills like time management, communication and teamwork. Depending on your preferences, these organisations are usually classed by:

  • nationality for international students
  • hobbies and interests
  • industries aligned with Degrees.

Your university’s student union’s website will list all the organisations associated with them. Review, choose, participate and learn!

Find a sense of belonging through community

Establishing a tight-knit social circle will help you reflect inwards on your values, and develop a sense of belonging. A diverse network will cultivate a richer understanding of fellow humans, experiences, ideas and perspectives.

Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Having fun is key! Do your best, but avoid unnecessary, self-imposed pressure or stress. Enjoy this exceptional chapter of growth, learning and development.

We hope that these tips offer helpful guidance to any student embarking on an international study adventure – no matter where they’re located, or what stage of study they’re at. Keep embracing opportunities and learning experiences, don’t be afraid of making mistakes – tripping up, learning and improving for the next chapter is all part of the ride.