MEET 19-year-old Joshua Lee. His outlook in life will inspire you to value education in a different light (a 5000 word essay is a lesson in “selling yourself” he says), shake up your social circles and make the most of every opportunity. Gavin Tan speaks to the RMIT business student from Malaysia.
So Josh, tell us about your experience since being here in Melbourne?
I had an epiphany – uni totally doesn’t adequately prepare you for life.
Well in my first year of university, I had no clue what I was doing, and made me question things like – what really is the purpose of doing this assignment? Second year was much better. I had an epiphany – uni totally doesn’t adequately prepare you for life. I saw friends leave uni struggling to even find work, and others working but without any love or joy for their work. And this only reaffirmed the question for me – what really is the point of uni? It made me really rethink the way I saw uni.
Other than that, the other side of my life has been the place I reside, at Arrow student accommodation. I easily became really comfortable and made friends, and it was a place where I could be myself and have a community to belong to. But I’ve also decided to step out and explore other circles, though this was intimidating at first and really hard to do.
Tell us more about the community you became so familiar in?
There were others in the community, people who had finished uni and stayed in Melbourne, others who had spent much of their life here who wanted to keep in touch and to help international students like me.
It was a place where people there really cared. I was so surprised when this lady named Ellie knocked on my door and said, “Hi I’m Ellie, I will be taking care of you,” and then went onto say something about curfews. From getting to know her though, you got the sense that she cared and she wasn’t the only one. There were others in the community, people who had finished uni and stayed in Melbourne, others who had spent much of their life here who wanted to keep in touch and to help international students like me. There was an attitude towards caring for students, something you don’t see very often in a student accommodation or anywhere else, and it was really nice.
And so I became really familiar with this community, which was predominantly Asian and made me feel like I never left home. And then I realised I really needed to put myself out there more, and to experience and engage with other groups of people too.
Why do you think it is so hard for international students to step out of this comfort zone?
People feel intimidated when talking to others that are different to them and it exposes you to feeling misunderstood or rejected.
Falling into your comfort zone is easy, for Asians and non-Asians alike. Everytime we are made to do group assignments at uni, I see three tables that gather which are full of Asians and the other three tables that are full of Caucasians mixed with other nationalities. Language as well as culture obviously plays a part in this. It’s easy to just stick around people you are familiar and comfortable with. People feel intimidated when talking to others that are different to them and it exposes you to feeling misunderstood or rejected. I still struggle with this. I find when talking to locals my accent changes unintentionally – when I talk to them, there is a subconscious desire to want to be heard and accepted.
What lessons in life have you learnt from your experiences so far?
I’ve learnt that as a student, no one expects us to know everything. This was a real revelation. I learnt that I can fail and it can still be okay. And so my life has been mostly about failing fast and failing faster and learning from each failure while there is still plenty of room to fail.
Also, I’ve realised there are many ways around a problem. There was this time when I was told to do a research paper that was 5000 words. I had no idea where to start and was starting to stress. Then I realised I didn’t need to know everything in the course and somehow put it all in this paper. I wasn’t expected to know more than what the lecturer knew.
(A research paper) is about selling content. Selling yourself and saying, ‘Hey I’ve actually thought about these concepts.’ Expand and put in your point of view.
It was about selling content. Selling yourself and saying, ‘Hey I’ve actually thought about these concepts.’ Expand and put in your point of view. And so I started to read all the research my lecturer had published and then just developed ideas around his research. It was something I knew would be appealing and interesting to him. From this experience, it became apparent to me that a big part of life is about knowing what people want and knowing how to market yourself. I think this relates a lot to confidence and how you carry yourself as well.
Learning to put myself out there has been really rewarding too. At times, I find I’m the only Asian and international student in the whole group but it’s a place I want to put myself in and learn from the experience. It makes me a better person and allows me to grow, not just in my social skills but in my personhood. And slowly I have found I want to be there, to surround myself with people who are different and think differently.
I’ve learnt to find mentors. I’ve been blessed to have people that have helped me to think.
And finally, I’ve learnt to find mentors. I’ve been blessed to have people that have helped me to think. Ellie the curfew lady has been an example of this, helping me think through assignments and offering new perspectives I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Then there is my uni mate Matt. He’s a person with a really messed up childhood who dropped out of year 12. He then started his own business and returned to uni wanting to learn more about how to better his business, and not merely wanting a piece of paper to qualify him for anything. He’s another informal mentor I’ve had who has given me this bigger sense to life, and made me understand why people do things and why people go to to uni that has been really inspiring.
What is the biggest thing you think needs to be changed in Melbourne?
International students have hardships they rarely talk about, and to add to this, there is a genuine lack of awareness or just a general lack of interest.
I think there still exists a hint of racism in Melbourne. Even when talking to Aborigines and local Vietnamese, they speak of experiences of discrimination. Sudanese communities also face similar problems. There’s a lack of exposure about this issue. International students have hardships they rarely talk about, and to add to this, there is a genuine lack of awareness or just a general lack of interest.
I think communities tend to segregate by racial profile also, which has a part to play in this problem. It may not be intentional, it may be by social nature, but there is something really beautiful and rewarding about communities that have a mixture of different people that look to make different people belong. I think this type of community enables its members to be better people and to understand others. It’s also what a place like Melbourne needs if its going to do something about its social problems.
How can you be a part of the change you think Melbourne needs?
This would have to be connecting students with mentors. Perhaps a “rent a mentor” initiative or something like that. Good mentors change people. They allow us to see from new perspectives, they push us to step out of our comfort zones, and they can teach us to be more understanding. I would love to be part of something that connects people to other people who can mentor them in a way that really allows them to bring out their best. This is also what I think Melbourne really needs and I would love to someday invest into making something like this happen.
Do you know someone who has an inspiring story to tell? We’d love to feature them in our ‘Everyday people that inspire’ series! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us who you would like to nominate and why.