AFTER four years of overseas education in Melbourne, Natalie Ng reflects on her study experience abroad, the lessons she has learnt and explains why Melbourne is irreplaceable.
One city. Two schools. Four years. Countless projects.
I could have done my degree in Singapore. I would have been near my family and friends and would have also enjoyed the comforts of being a citizen there. But when I was given the opportunity by my parents to study in Melbourne, I jumped right at it because I wanted to experience something other than what was familiar.
The journey I have undergone as an international student has been filled with highs and lows but even with all the frustrations that I’ve experienced in these last four years, I wouldn’t trade it in for anything else.
I arrived in Melbourne in 2013 to pursue a Communication Design and Business double degree at Swinburne University. That combination in a degree was something that I would not be able to find easily anywhere else. But I quickly discovered that the business degree was not what I wanted.
Eventually, I dropped it and chose to focus on pursuing a single communication design degree.
I did not want to study something I was not passionate about, and I wanted to place all my energy on what I was passionate about. I moved to Monash University to do just that. Though some may say that this was a waste of a year, I am glad for that first year at Swinburne as it allowed me to figure out what I did not want. Finding out what you do not want, I discovered, was just as important as figuring out what you actually want.
I wanted to be a designer. And what better place than in Melbourne to be an aspiring graphic designer?
Melbourne’s arts and culture scene has given me some incredibly enriching experiences that I won’t ever forget. As a huge lover of art, music, literature and film Melbourne’s bustling calendar was, and remains, packed full of international music, literary and film festivals and art exhibitions that bring all corners of the world into the heart of Melbourne for me to immerse myself in.
The vibrant and youthful culture of Melbourne is also reflected in the opportunities that I’ve had. Through working at an international student oriented magazine like Meld, I’ve had the chance to meet, work with and interview people with diverse perspectives. I have been able to write about my experiences as an international student, but also about social issues close to my heart such as the proper media representation for young people of colour and LGBTQ youth.
I also had the opportunity to intern with the Melbourne International Film Festival and work alongside industry leaders in the film community and many others who were as deeply passionate about film as I was. Although that internship flew by, simply because of the nature of film festivals, I count those weeks as some of the best in my life.
As for what I valued from my overseas education, the openness and encouraging nature of the classrooms and tutors during my own university experience really helped me grow as a person and as a designer. I always felt like my ideas were valued, and even if I felt they were terrible, tutors would offer fair and much needed critique. In 2016, I got to spearhead the redesign of Monash University’s student magazine, Lot’s Wife, and design all the issues for that year. Additionally, one of my designs got showcased at the Australian Institute of Architects and another entered into an international typography competition. I would not have been able to achieve all these things had it not been for the encouraging and challenging university environment I found myself in.
So what does my experience as an international student mean to you? All of this is to simply say that international students should make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity. You have been given a rare chance to live, study and work in a new country and culture. Putting yourself out there to gain any sort of valuable experience can be as easy as sending an email to an organisation or company you really love as an expression of interest. And really, you have nothing to lose. At worst, you’ll just receive no reply.
This also applies to any opportunities that may creep up during your uni life. All I did was send an email to the editors of Lot’s Wife asking if I could contribute artwork for the magazine. That exchange ended up with me becoming their lead designer and led to a fantastic time where I gained invaluable experience.
Part of joining a university club or organisation also means getting an opportunity to meet new people, socialise and add to your network. Even if you’re not a very outgoing person, chances are you’ll still meet someone that could become a friend or a useful contact later in life.
One final piece of advice would be also for international students to take their time and not rush into things. Don’t feel the need to grab every internship opportunity from your first year. It pays to wait for the right opportunity to come along and at least that way, you’ll be able to really enjoy it and give it your all instead of stretching yourself thin and not really getting the best out of your experience. If you need to just focus on your studies, then do it, and don’t worry about not having as much internship and work experience as your peers.
At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right and best for you.
Everyone’s experience as an international student will be different. For me, I felt very fulfilled and happy with my experience because I gave myself plenty of time to grow on my own, to think, to figure out what I want and to explore my options academically, creatively and through my work experience. I spent my first two years focusing on what I wanted and did not want, battling self-doubt and creative blocks in university before eventually overcoming all of that to put my all into my next two years. It was then that I truly felt happy with the work I was doing in uni and felt confident enough to look for work opportunities.
I think everyone will come across this and believe that period of self-doubt and self-discovery to be necessary for students to figure out what they really want. This was what I found worked for me, and students should figure out what works best for them.
I hope everyone is able to strike the same balance between academic, creative and work fulfillment as I did in my years as an international student.
And I hope I am able to maintain that balance and deciding what’s best for me as I go on and face the working world.