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Huong’s Swinburne University of Technology – A Life-Changing Journey


Huong went to Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia in 2015, and graduated with a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. This is her story.

Why Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Swinburne?

“These weren’t sudden decisions! I studied my first year at Box Hill Institute in 2014, but I always wanted to equip myself with the skills to start a career. In a way, I was quite lost; I wasn’t clear which subjects I needed to pursue or how to fund further HE study. But one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to continue to work in a sector that had a social impact.

“Coincidentally, I was invited to attend the Global Shifts: Social Enterprise Conference at RMIT. There I was, listening to one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Pamela from Oxford University, speaking about Social Entrepreneurship, and at that very moment, everything became clear: I wanted to study Entrepreneurship to pursue my dream to continue working for a social enterprise. So my hunt for a scholarship began!

“I loved my course from the beginning; it went beyond my expectations. There was a nice combination of core subjects, a wide range of elective subjects and also practical studies. It includes a wide range of studies rather than being focused on one major which was a huge advantage. I was learning how to initiate a start-up idea, to apply innovation into an existing business and the fundamentals of running a business, from creating something new to law, sales, marketing, grants and philanthropy, governance and compliance etc.”

Finding a way

“My first plan was to transfer from Box Hill Institute (BHI) to RMIT and study for a bachelor degree after finishing my course at BHI. However, I could not get enough credits nor a scholarship, so I started to look for opportunities at other universities. 

“During my second year at BHI, my teacher, John Ferrito, was constantly urging me into social entrepreneurship as he knew I had worked for KOTO before. He cited Swinburne as having the best entrepreneurship course, ranked in the top 20 globally. My other teacher, Rosemary, also did some research to help me get a scholarship at Swinburne to do a research master’s and these factors set me on that pathway. One day I went to Swinburne campus with a friend who was studying there and I immediately loved the campus vibe. She strongly recommended it, based on her own experience. Swinburne is also well-known in Vietnam; it is the home of all the winners of a well-respected TV show in Vietnam called “The Journey to Olympia Contest” in which the smartest students participate. However, there was a problem: despite all these nudges towards Swinburne, there was no scholarship available for the course I wanted to do. 

“But I didn’t accept that! In 2014, I made a visit to Swinburne and sat with a course advisor, trying to convince him to give me enough credit for the bachelor degree course that I was going to transfer from BHI, but to no avail. However, when I tried to explain my past experiences, things changed: he was really supportive and advised me to apply straight into the master’s programme, which I did, despite it being extremely unusual for an international student to jump into master’s studies without a bachelor’s. Swinburne’s great flexibility enabled an exemption for my work experience, allowing me to do so with the same amount of time and money that I was supposed to spend on just getting the bachelor degree if I transferred. 

“I chose Entrepreneurship and Innovation because I love to see how existing social enterprise can apply innovations and creativity to tackle social problems using social business initiatives. Interestingly, I was the first and only Vietnamese student who studied the course back then, and one of the very few international students too, as most of the students on that course are local and mature students.”

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Huong Dang Thi – A Formidable Career Path


Here’s a story about how to hitch your wagon to a star and never let go (against all odds).

Huong was born in a small village in Vietnam, but her dreams were anything but small. She left home aged 12 and travelled to the buzzing city of Hanoi to work so that she can, one fine day, pursue her goal of getting an education. It was a tough start to what was to become a story of resilience and hope.

Her success wasn’t due to luck. By all means. It was blood, sweat and tears all the way. Against some considerable odds, Huong fought tooth-and-nail to navigate her way to a degree from Box Hill Institute in Melbourne, Australia, one from Swinburne University and an impressive professional career with Know One Teach One (KOTO), a social enterprise and charity located in Vietnam, Asia. She was present every step of the way to take that lucky opening that not many get the chance to. Huong certainly has a story to tell and there are many lessons we can all learn from it.

We managed to catch Huong in between her trips throughout Europe, just a couple of hours before hopping on the next train to London Gatwick airport. This time, she was checking in for Amsterdam. Working as the director of Marketing and Partnerships Engagement at KOTO as well as the founder and managing director of HopeBox—a social enterprise focusing on numerous social projects in Vietnam—fitting in Huong’s schedule any time soon would have been close to impossible. The clock was ticking. Still, she looked more relaxed than ever. She was ready to share her story. The question was, were we ready for a life lesson?

With a box of hope, that’s how everything began

We started our informal chat talking about what she’s been up to lately, slowly going down memory lane. HopeBox quickly came into view: an initiative that she currently oversees 24/7 alongside a team of enthusiasts. The goal of the project is to provide jobs to women who come from a domestic violence background. This initiative began years ago and was materialised in 2017: “I feel that this year was just the right time to launch it.”

With Huong, everything comes down to helping this and the next generations at the same time. She puts it much better than we ever will. “I firmly believe in the power of education, which is key to change kids’ lives in order to inspire them to take leadership in the future.”

Despite the fact that Huong’s story never followed a straight line, she never goes off track. She believed (and still does) in the laws of the universe and how everything ties in together. “Since I can remember, I was an advocate of the idea that things happen for a reason but, at the same time, we need to work hard to get where we want to be, where we want to go. You can’t simply demand and order the universe to provide you with things. You can’t simply rely on a dream. Life is more about having dreams and working hard to make them happen. If they don’t materialise, you have to accept it and move on and, why not, make other things happen.”

“Nothing is more powerful than seeing a once disadvantaged person come back and tell the next generation of KOTO trainees ‘I know what it’s like to be sitting where you are sitting, but look at me now’. Through education and opportunities, Huong has become by far one of the leaders in the area of social enterprise movements in Vietnam.” [Jimmy Pham, Founder and Executive Chairman of KOTO, Vietnam]

Persistent and ambitious, she really wanted to get her high school diploma while studying at KOTO, therefore asked Jimmy Pham (the founder of KOTO) for a chance to study at both schools. He said yes. “And I did it”, Huong says with a humongous smile on her face. “I graduated in late 2017 from high school and from KOTO. It was so hard allocating time for all the exams. Nonetheless, it was by far the best time of my life.”

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Arriving in Australia for International Students

Once you have applied to study in Australia and your visa is approved, there is one vital thing left to do: get there!

Australia has a total of 43 universities located across the country, with most of the popular student cities located along the east and south-east coast of Australia – Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne & Adelaide – with the exception of Perth, which is located on the south-west coast of Australia. Here is our brief guide to arriving in Australia at the top five major international cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth & Adelaide, as well as information about public transport in the cities and our top travel safety tips.

There are a large number of airports in Australia, both international and domestic. Your new university will be able to advise you which is the best airport to fly to when you are arriving in Australia. There should be information on their website or ask their admissions department, who will be happy to help you with your query. A number of universities will offer a free airport pick-up service for international students, which can be very helpful when coming off a long flight into a new country that you may not have visited before. Again be sure to check this before you arrive, otherwise, you may be waiting for a long time!

Arriving in Sydney

Arriving at Sydney Airport

Also known as Kingsford-Smith, Sydney Airport is one of the world’s oldest airports and is Australia’s busiest, with traffic incoming and outgoing to most major destinations in the rest of the world.

Getting to your accommodation

There are many bus services from Sydney Airport, which may require advance booking. There are also some shuttle bus services to the city and suburbs. These start at around $16 for a single and $30 for a return from AirBus Sydney.

There are rail stations at both the international and domestic terminals, with frequent trains to the centre of the city. You will be able to change at Sydney’s main railway station, Central, to get to most other train lines. Use this travel planner to find out how to get to your accommodation via public transport.

Taxis are available from the airport and are subject to a $4.10 airport toll. They can be pre-booked or taken from the rank. An approximate fare from the airport to the city is $45-55, depending on traffic, whilst destinations further out will cost around $65-165. To find out more, visit www.sydneyairport.com.au

Public Transport in Sydney

Sydney is serviced by buses, trains, ferries and trams. Inner-city locations have the best transport links, and you will benefit from living within walking distance of your classes, as timetables can sometimes be unreliable (it is worth checking train lines on the weekends in case of maintenance).

International students are usually not eligible for student concessions on public transport in Sydney but check with your institution to find out whether you’re eligible. The website for planning bus, train, tram (known as the Light Rail) and ferry travel is 131500, which also gives information about fares, service disruptions and delays.

Arriving in Melbourne

Arriving at Melbourne Airport

Melbourne Airport is located approximately 25 kilometres northwest of Melbourne city centre, and also known as Tullamarine Airport (note that Melbourne’s second airport, Avalon, is much further away from the city). There are a large number of destinations available to/from the airport, including airports in Asia, the USA, New Zealand, Canada and the Middle East.

Getting to your accommodation

There is a 24-hour, 7-day bus service from the airport to the city centre every ten minutes, called the SkyBus. A one-way adult ticket costs around $19 if pre-booked, or slightly more if purchased at the airport (on-the-day purchases come with a Metcard, which allows you to travel on public transport once in the city). Online tickets can be shown on a mobile phone or printed off – whichever is preferred.

There are also a number of other bus services to various areas of Melbourne. Information about these can be found at the airport desks or on the Melbourne Airport website. Taxis are available from the airport and are subject to a $2.70 parking charge. A one-way fare from the airport to the CBD should be around $55 to $65, depending on traffic. Taxis can be taken from the rank or pre-booked. Note that it is illegal for a taxi driver to approach you and offer a ride.

If you travel between 10 pm and 5 am you may be asked to pre-pay the estimated fare as a deposit. At the end of your trip, the meter will show the actual fare. You will then either need to pay the driver more or will receive change for your trip. Cash, credit/debit or EFTPOS methods of payment are accepted. To find out more, visit www.melbourneairport.com.au.

Public transport in Melbourne

Melbourne has a good public transport system, with the city serviced by trams, trains and buses. The centre of the city is set out in an easy-to-navigate grid structure, making it easy to walk around. Visit www.ptv.vic.gov.au to plan your journey.

Overseas full-fee paying students are not eligible for a student concession on public transport, but exchange students and students with an Australian Development Scholarship are eligible with a letter from their institution. When crossing the street, listen out for the sound of the tram bell – it’s a signal to watch out for the approach of a tram!

Arriving in Brisbane

Arriving at Brisbane Airport

Brisbane Airport is located approximately 15 kilometres from the city centre. Flights are available to/from a large number of destinations including airports in Europe, Asia, Canada and the USA.

Getting to your accommodation

Coachtrans Australia is Brisbane Airport’s only licensed bus operator and offers frequent services to a large number of destinations in and around Brisbane, with a one-way ticket costing around $15.

There is also a regular Airtrain service to Brisbane city (which takes approximately 22 minutes) and the Gold Coast, with fares from $21.95 (inclusive of a 15% discount for booking online). Taxi ranks are located at the airport and can offer services to a number of destinations in and around Brisbane city. This will cost between $45 and $60 and should take around 20 minutes. To find out more, visit the Brisbane Airport website.

Public transport in Brisbane

Brisbane is serviced by bus, train and ferry. You can purchase a go card, which can be used on all forms of public transport, and is 30% cheaper than a single-use ticket. International students are able to get student concession rates in Brisbane, but exchange students are not. You can plan journeys and get fare information at www.translink.com.au.

Arriving in Perth

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Arriving at Perth Airport

Perth Airport’s international terminal is located approximately 35 minutes from Perth city. Flights are available to/from destinations in Africa, Asia, New Zealand and the Middle East.

Getting to your accommodation

There are shuttle bus services operating between the airport and the city centre and Fremantle. Tickets can be pre-booked or bought at the terminal. The cost of a one-way ticket will cost $15 to get to Perth. There are taxi ranks available at the airport. An average fare to Perth CBD will be around $43. To find out more, visit www.perthairport.com.au.

Public transport in Perth

International students receive a West Australian government-sponsored 40% discount on all public transport. Perth is serviced by train, bus and ferry links. The website for planning public transport is www.transperth.wa.gov.au. Click here for information about travelling to and from each institution in Perth, and getting your Tertiary SmartRider travelcard.

Arriving in Adelaide

Arriving at Adelaide Airport

Adelaide Airport is approximately 7 kilometres from the Adelaide CBD. Flights are available to/from a large number of airports in many areas of the world including Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, New Zealand and the USA.

Getting to your accommodation

A public bus service, JetBus, offers services from the airport to the city, Glenelg and the northeastern suburbs. Tickets must be purchased from the driver.

There is a shuttle service, the Skylink, which runs regular bus services between Adelaide Airport, Keswick Interstate Railway Terminal and the Adelaide CBD. Adelaide Airport Flyer minibus services to Adelaide and surrounding areas are also available but must be pre-booked

A taxi rank is available at the airport, where concierges will help passengers hire a taxi. There is an additional $2 fee per taxi when leaving from the airport. To find out more, visit www.adelaideairport.com.au.

Public transport in Adelaide

Adelaide is serviced by trains, buses and trams which will take you all over the city. There are a number of free services which are very useful for getting around the city centre.

Visit the Passenger Transport Information Centre or www.adelaidemetro.com.au to find out about timetables, routes and fares. Study Adelaide also has lots of useful information for international students.

Safety tips

  • Take note of the taxi license plate and driver numbers, and the date and time of your journey if you are travelling by taxi, especially by yourself.
  • Plan your journey or memorise the timetable so that you are not waiting for too long at bus stops or train stations.
  • If travelling at night on public transport, be careful to stay in well-lit areas and travel near members of staff, or consider taking a taxi.

Useful travel links

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)