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MISC 2018: Former int’l student Kristin Tan on career changes and working with young people

Meld Magazine

Fri Apr 13 2018


There is more of a chasm than a thin line between thought and action, motivation and execution. While inspiration springs from many wells, not many can successfully convert it into tangible progress. MISC 2016 delegate Kristin Tan is one of those rare few, who took her experiences from the Melbourne International Student Conference and made it a stepping stone to her future career.

Having graduated from the University of South Australia with a Bachelor in Pharmacy, Kristin worked in her field for more than a decade, working her way up steadily till she was appointed Acting Director of the Pharmacy Department at Mount Gambier and Districts Health Service. While many would have remained content with this comfortable, stable state of matters, Kristin felt herself slipping into a state of stagnation.

“Some people can do one thing for the rest of your life,” she says, “but that’s not for me. If I stay as a pharmacist, I can’t help as many people as I want to. It used to be the thing for me; but now it’s changed.”

Finding meaning in South Korea

So she jetted off to South Korea for a change of scene – spending nine months in the country becoming adept in the language. It was there that Kristin encountered the issue that would drive her career motivations for several years to come: welfare of international students. Studying with people half her age, who were burdened with the stresses of trying to make it in an extremely competitive environment, Kristin felt the urge to contribute in whatever way possible for the improved wellbeing of the student community.

“People consume a lot more than they create. I wanted to know if there was something I could do to help students get a job – help create opportunities, not just international students but youth. If I stay in pharmacy, I wouldn’t be able to create opportunities that would have a broader impact.”

On returning to Australia, Kristin was itching to fuel her energies into something concrete and meaningful. A casual trawl through Eventbrite one night – and she stumbled across the Melbourne International Student Conference. The event was due to be held the very next day, and she was uncertain that she even qualified as an international student, but she purchased a ticket anyway.

“So many people miss out on things because they limit themselves,” she believes, and didn’t intend on being numbered among one of those people.

What Kristin got out of MISC

The conference in itself, was an eye-opener. Being introduced to new ideas, new thought processes, networking… but all that was the usual shebang. What transpired differently, and really set the course – was what Kristin did after the conference.

“I want to help international students – I know Korean – but what now? How could I apply to universities without the necessary admin experience; all of mine was in pharmacy.”

And here was where the connections established at the conference came in handy. Kristin approached Karen Poh, founder of Meld and head of MISC’s organising committee, for valuable career advice that spanned something as fundamental as structuring a resume. She was remembered by her connections in turn, who contacted her when a conference came up at the Korean Consulate, where she would later go on to complete an internship.

And so the pattern of motive leading to action continued: Kristin sprung from one event to the other, learning, connecting and following up. It was in this process that she discovered a field where her passion to create instead of consume could bloom – social entrepreneurship and start-ups. She wanted to be involved, and she didn’t want to second guess herself.

“I saw information about a job at a start-up that I wanted. Reached out to the person whose contact details had been listed and we met up over lunch. We had a discussion, because it wasn’t just about me fitting their requirements, but also me finding the right people to work with. During the meeting, I was told that the CEO himself was coming down from Sydney the following day – and when I met him for coffee, he offered me the job.”

A new start with Intersective

Put like this, it all almost sounds too simplistic. But we know that couldn’t be farther from the truth, and how hard it is to put oneself out there. As Kristin says, “It’s all about becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.” And she was rewarded for her endeavours, because the company she had in fact secured a position at was Intersective – a fast growth educational technology startup whose CEO Beau Leese, was a keynote speaker at the 2017 edition of the Melbourne International Student Conference.

Intersective worked with universities and industries in tandem, where students could enrol themselves in the program and the start-up would go hunting for internships that match their skills. “The outcome is tangible,” gushes Kristin, having finally found a field which combines her fascination of entrepreneurship and desire to help international students.

Of course, when Kristin found out that her new boss would also be the one delivering the keynote speech at MISC 2017, it was like her life had come full circle and she wanted to acknowledge those who’d helped her where it had all begun.

“I just really want to applaud people who come together as a community, different backgrounds, work together to help improve and give others the opportunity to do so as well. They spent all this time and effort trying to curate information that would be helpful and relevant and…someone’s life can change because of what you’re doing.”

Kristin’s advice for future MISC delegates

“Don’t be afraid to discover new things about yourself. I didn’t know I would be interested in start-ups until I was exposed to people who were. Don’t let the inspiration die at the conference, but do something about it.”

And that’s the moral of the story, folks. Thought and action, motivation and execution. They all stand hand-in-hand, one incomplete without the other, and too often the latter seems vast and daunting, chasm-like. But if you’ve walked home from the conference, a little spark of inspiration niggling in your brain…remember, you’re halfway there. All that remains is to take the next step.

And all the rest will follow.

Melbourne International Student Conference 2018 will take place on Friday, May 11 at Storey Hall, RMIT. This conference is open to all international and local students, as well as staff and international education sector stakeholders.

Tickets to the conference can be purchased at the official website for the Melbourne International Student Conference. Register now!