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“Education…it’s a way to change your life”: Victorian International Student of the Year Huong Thi Dang

Meld Magazine

Fri Nov 29 2013


A desire for education enabled Huong Thi Dang to overcome crippling poverty and seek a new life as an international student. Daniel Driscoll reports.

Victoria International Student of the Year Huong Dang Thi, with Premier Denis Napthine. Photo: Hoang Dang

Victoria International Student of the Year Huong Thi Dang, with Premier Denis Napthine. Photo: Hoang Thi Dang

An international student who overcame the odds through her desire for education has been honoured with two prizes at the inaugural Victorian International Education Student Awards.

Three international students and nine local educational institutions were awarded at the ceremony which seeks to recognise and celebrate outstanding contributions by the international education sector in Victoria. The Awards, held on 11 November, were presided over by Victorian Premier Denis Napthine and held at Government House.

Box Hill Institute student Huong Thi Dang was awarded the ‘Victorian International Student of the Year – Higher Education’ award and the ‘Premier’s Award – International Student of the Year’. Huong received a $20,000 scholarship towards study-related expenses at a Victorian educational institution.

…all I wanted was a safe place to live in and complete my high school education.” – Hoang Thi Dang, Victorian International Student of the Year.

Huong, from Vietnam, endured extreme hardship to reach her dreams of education. Born in the farming province of Vinh Phuc, Huong was forced to give up her dream of becoming a literature teacher at age 12, when her mother was diagnosed with a kidney infection. Forfeiting her own formal high school education so her brother and sister could remain at school, Huong moved to Hanoi to find work to support her family. She held various jobs, including baby sitting and working on the streets selling rice to support her family.

Huong attended night school while working as a babysitter for another family. She earned 150,000 VND (about ten Australian dollars) per month and sent her wages home to her mother. She was forced to find new ways to look after herself after the family decided she was focusing too much on her studies. Not wanting to go back to her province and having no friends or relatives in Hanoi, Huong sold sticky rice on the street to support herself, working 2pm to 12am each day. “My brother was in college, my sister was at secondary school and they were all depending on me for support. I couldn’t give up”, she said.

While still at night school she met a girl in her class who knew something about Australian-Vietnamese charity Know One, Teach One (KOTO) and suggested she apply. Huong found her way to the Box Hill Institute partner-program with KOTO in Hanoi.

The KOTO program provides disadvantaged and homeless youth with a two-year training program in hospitality. 

“I had no idea of what KOTO was all about but decided to visit …all I wanted was a safe place to live in and complete my high school education,” she said.

Due to her success in the KOTO program, Huong was offered a scholarship to study the Diploma of Business Management at the Box Hill Institute in Melbourne. Despite being homesick for the first few weeks, she said that she was able to quickly adapt to life in Melbourne with the support she received from the Institute.

Currently Huong volunteers as the Media and Communications Manager for KOTO International while studying for her second qualification, an Associate Degree of Commerce. She hopes to eventually return to Vietnam to work for KOTO, helping other disadvantaged youth to realise their dreams.

“I feel very happy and proud to be a Box Hill Institute scholarship recipient and to now have these Victorian awards as well. It is a great honour for me to represent Box Hill Institute and international students in this way”, Huong said of her achievements.

Another award recipient, Catherine Lou was recognised as ‘International Student of the Year – Postgraduate’. Catherine came to Australia three and a half years ago from Zhejiang province in China, while completing her Masters degree. In addition to studying for her PhD at Victoria University,  she is also involved in many areas of the international student community as a student representative for the Council of International Students Australia (CISA).

As a student leader, Catherine has been vocal on many issues that affect the lives of international students, including transport concessions, student accommodation and engagement. She said noted that professional development was particularly important for international students, who would benefit from more training or mentoring programs. “The mentoring program such the one Victoria University carried is really great for international students to practice their skills at study and work,” she said.

“It would be great for Education providers conduct more programs like this,” she said.