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

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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

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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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An international student in Australia: Sahil’s journey to Melbourne

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Sahil Puri is from India. He studied a Bachelor’s degree in IT at Victoria University. This is his experience as an international student in Australia.

Why did you study Information Technology (IT)?

“I did a lot of online research, comparing universities and it was not an easy task. My family had invested in me and it was my whole future at stake, so I felt I had to make the right decision. It was overwhelming at the beginning, as Australian Universities have a lot to offer. But the number one thing that drove me to choose Victoria University (VU) was that they provided some of the best IT programs back then. The second best thing was the campus, which is right in the heart of Melbourne CBD. It is so convenient with a two-minute walk to public transport and one of the biggest train stations – Flinders Street Station. It ticked all my boxes for a great university, so I went ahead and decided on it as my destination.

“The course itself was great. It was very practical and, most importantly, I had huge support from my teachers to help me study and understand everything. They always had an open-door policy and we could go anytime with questions to seek assistance and help.”

Check out our article on IT degrees for tech wunderkinds.

What challenges did you face being an international student in Australia?

“I was very excited, but I faced a few challenges that made it difficult to start my new life. I did not have any friends or family in Melbourne so making new friends was not easy. Especially given that I was an international student in Australia, coming to study abroad for the first time. The language barrier was also one of the biggest challenges, and it prevented me from getting full exposure to international life. Since English is my second language, I was not able to fully understand the culture at first. Also coming from India, I was a vegetarian and that was not easy. Life was like a Rubik’s puzzle when I first came but, fortunately, I had wonderful support from VU. The teachers and the International Student Service staff really helped me brave all those challenges.”

Some special friends and teachers at University

“Although it was tough to get to know people at the beginning, I must say I was very lucky to quickly adapt to the new environment and meet lots of great friends. I would like to mention four people who helped to shape my life: My International Coordinators Danielle Hartridge, Vinshy and Esther Newcastle. They were amazing. The most important person who helped me and my classmates was our course coordinator Jackie French.”

Voluntary and community activities

“I was very lucky to be involved with volunteering activities thanks to my amazing mentor Nana. She was the president of the International Student Association (ISA) at VU. Soon, volunteering became everything for me, as I made so many friends who are like family now. I also became the Vice President of the ISA, and I participated in activities for Study Melbourne, including the Lord Mayor Student Welcome Event every year.

“As an international student in Australia, I was extremely happy to contribute back to the community here in Melbourne and help other students to feel welcome. I was born in an Asian country where responsibilities and voluntary work equates to looking after your family and relatives. But coming to Australia has opened my eyes and shown me that social responsibility is bigger than just family and friends. In return, I have gained valuable experience and skills. But the most important gift was the people I met during my volunteering time. We still keep in touch and often check in to see how each other is doing. They are my friends for life.”

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From business in Australia, to travelling Asia: Elise’s study exchange

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Elise decided to study business in Australia at Griffith University, before travelling around Asia. This is her story.

Elise Giles is from Queensland and she decided to study business in Australia, at Griffith University. She was awarded a Business Achievement Medal for being the graduate with the highest overall achievement. Following her studies, she travelled to Asia and now works as a Capability Development Manager for AsiaLink Business in Melbourne. I asked her about her time at university.

Why did you study business in Australia?

“Growing up in rural Queensland, I saw the fundamental role that small businesses play in the local economy and I aspired to do just that – create my own business. I knew I needed to undertake tertiary education to provide me with the appropriate skills and experiences. So I started looking for a program that would help me develop a unique and competitive skill set. 

“I was attracted to Griffith University because it offers a wide range of business specialisations that were of great interest to me. The Griffith Honours College was also of interest to me. It’s a program designed to help high achieving students that display leadership reach their full potential. Ultimately, I chose the program because I knew it would help me achieve my goals.

“As a whole, I felt my program at Griffith was actually more practical than I expected, but I learned more effectively because of this. From work-integrated learning to community engagement and real-life examples presented by leading academics, I could genuinely translate these learnings into the real world. It has prepared me for my engagement in government, and the private sector.”

Check out our article on work-integrated learning in Australia.

Brisbane signCreating a professional network

“At Griffith, I was able to develop strong relationships with academics as I had a real interest in their research interests. I am still in contact with the professors, and they continue to provide guidance to me in a professional setting. In particular, I have stayed connected to Associate Professor Peter Woods, Director (International) of the Griffith Business School. Peter delivered a course called “The Social context of Asian Business” in my first year, and coincidentally I undertook the elective course.

“To this day I still remember the stories Peter told of how to engage with Indonesia – Australia’s closest neighbour. He expressed the importance and value of South Korea’s chaebol in their economy. I found the cultural complexities intriguing, and I wanted to learn more about the Asia region. I had never stepped foot out of Australia however, this course really planted the seed for me to begin this engagement. Peter’s teaching really helped to pivot my career – from a purely domestic focus to a global one. He taught me how to capitalise on the opportunities Asia presents.

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From Global MBA to global citizen: Olivia’s career in TV Journalism

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Olivia studied her MBA at SP Jain School of Global Management and now works in TV Journalism. This is her story.

Olivia is originally from Indonesia, but she now lives and works in Singapore for Channel NewsAsia, part of MediaCorp. I could tell that she oozes confidence and professionalism by the way she conducted our interview – walking through the busy streets of Singapore after work. I wanted to know more about her, and how she got into the world of TV Journalism.

The World of TV Journalism

“I’m currently a Senior Journalist at MediaCorp which is the biggest media group in Singapore. I work at the English news station, Channel NewsAsia, also known as CNA. At the moment I am assigned to write business stories, working Monday to Friday. I also follow market news in Singapore and around Asia.

“Being the only Indonesian reporter in the office, I felt very privileged that they sent me to cover the Indonesian general election. It was only my first month in the office. I also got to do a follow-up story on how the business community reacted to the re-election of the incumbent president, Joko Widodo.”

How did you get into TV Journalism?

“Before my Global MBA, I was working for CNN Indonesia, which is part of the big CNN international franchise. I was a news anchor for about two years, and before that, I was working for Bloomberg TV Indonesia (although that has now shut down). Before that, I mostly worked for local TV stations. I guess having Bloomberg and CNN on my CV, plus my recent MBA and experience are what helped me progress my career in Singapore. It’s a highly competitive place.”

Growing up in Indonesia

“I’m a reasonably happy person because I always see things from the bright side. I try to think positively at all times, although I had quite a sad childhood. I was raised by a single mum as my dad passed away due to cancer when I was 10, leaving me and my two little brothers pretty much struggling. My childhood years in Jakarta were, I suppose, full of limitations and sorrows. And my mum had to work very hard to make ends meet and feed the three kids.

“I think that’s how my spiritual journey started, out of those limitations, and I now lead an amazing life. Thankfully, I got into the best schooling on a scholarship, and I got to do my undergraduate degree in New Zealand on a scholarship as well. And for my master’s degree, I got another scholarship. I’ve been really blessed throughout my life. Getting access to high-quality education at an affordable price has shaped who I am today. I was never the smartest kid in the classroom, I just got lucky. I am very blessed. This is all God’s grace. I was not academically exceptional. I was not like number one or number two in the class, but I was always a happy and positive person.”

Check out our reasons why you should complete an MBA programme.

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Olivia’s MBA abroad at SP Jain School of Global Management

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Olivia did her Global MBA abroad at SP Jain School of Global Management, Australia.

Olivia Marzuki currently lives in Singapore, where she works as a senior journalist at Channel NewsAsia, part of MediaCorp. I wanted to find out more about her time studying for her Global MBA abroad, so I asked her to introduce herself.

“Hi, I’m Olivia. I was enrolled at SP Jain School of Global Management in 2018. The Global MBA program included travel around the world, to three different cities. Originally I’m from Jakarta, Indonesia, but I did my undergraduate degree in New Zealand. I worked for various organisations, including a bank and the Australian State Government of Queensland’s Trade & Investment Office, before joining TV. I’ve travelled quite a bit, I guess! I would consider myself a global citizen.”

Why study a Global MBA abroad?

“I was busy enjoying my life and working in interesting jobs, but I wanted to do further study so I always kept it in the back of my mind. One day I received a great offer – to apply for an international student scholarship from SP Jain. So I just gave it a try, and I got pretty much full scholarship! Because it’s a very global program and includes studying in three different cities as part of the course, I didn’t think twice!

“Having spent most of my working life in business journalism, I felt that a business-related masters would enrich my knowledge and sharpen my skills. And, in fact, I found the course very effective. SP Jain really opened my horizons. The course brought me back to the core fundamentals of business – profit and loss, balance statements, that kind of thing. Things I didn’t really study in my undergrad years. Studying a Global MBA abroad really helped sharpen my business journalism work professionally.”

Check out our reasons why you should complete an MBA programme.

The SP Jain Global MBA – 1 course, 3 cities

“Studying my Global MBA abroad exposed me to how business is done in different international continents – the Middle East, Australia and Asia. This gave me a new perspective on how to approach things and taught me to take things like cultural nuances into consideration. Now, because I have been there, I know how things are done, so it really gave me a different perspective. And it makes me a global citizen.

“I don’t see any other universities doing the same type of model. SP Jain claims to be one of the top four universities offering this kind of one-year international MBA program. So they’re right up there at the top of the list of Forbes ranking. We went to Dubai for the first semester, January to April. Then four months in Sydney for the second semester. And finally, we went to Singapore to complete the final semester. This gave me the opportunity to find a job in Singapore, and that’s where I’m still working now.

From Dubai to Sydney to Singapore

“Dubai was very interesting. We went there in January so it wasn’t that hot, but it was becoming warmer. It was interesting because Dubai starts the week on a Sunday so their weekends are Friday and Saturday. The day seems longer there for some reason and there is sand everywhere, so we were always covered from head to toe! We were taken on excursions as part of the tuition, including a desert safari trip and a trip to Ferrari World. They took us to places outside of the classroom, which we really enjoyed. In Sydney, I rented a vehicle and headed out to the beautiful countryside of New South Wales – to Wollongong and the beaches. In Singapore, I was working to complete my MBA that’s where I started looking for a job.

“I think the Global MBA abroad program was great because it was challenging. As a business journalist, I am quite well versed in business topics, so all of the case studies were a walk in the park for me. But there are parts of business studies that I found difficult, like corporate finance because I’m not very strong with numbers and mathematics. I felt like I was really starting from zero because I had never studied corporate finance or accounting before. At the end of the day, I learned about new fields in business and gained a lot from the experience.”

Find out more about Olivia’s life as a TV Journalist here.

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From China to Australia: Janice’s Hotel Management degree abroad

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Janice studied her Hotel Management degree at Griffith University, Australia. This is her story.

Janice has just turned 25 and is from Guilin in the Guangxi Province of China. She’s full of energy and optimism. Her openness to talk about why she studied her hotel management degree abroad is admirable. I asked her why she chose to leave China in the first place.

Why study abroad?

“I would say I have always wanted to study overseas. But what made it happen was partly the system in China. Back home, I would have had to study a major that I didn’t like, at a university I didn’t like, and even in a city I didn’t like!

“In China, the education system is quite extreme in terms of competitiveness because of the large population. I had a really tough time in year 12, and no matter how hard I worked I just couldn’t get a score that would get me where I wanted to go. You can study for 12-16 years for a college entrance exam which determines your university. If you’re not happy, you can’t change it unless you go back and do year 12 again. I was so stressed with severe anxiety and major issues with self-worth.

“Basically, I almost failed to get into any university, but eventually I got into one which I didn’t like. It felt like I had no choice but to study there and I just wasn’t enjoying life, so I quit. That’s when I started applying to universities overseas. Luckily, I had a good IELTS score which I took originally just because I wanted to improve my English, not apply overseas, but it became very useful. 

“I knew I wanted to do a master’s abroad one day and I realised that the difference in cost between a master’s and a bachelors wasn’t that great. This made me see that I did have a choice, so I just changed my mind and my family fully supported that. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Why study a hotel management degree in Australia?

“Well, I didn’t want to go to America or Canada because it was four years to finish a degree. And the reason I didn’t choose the UK was that (I don’t want to offend you) but I do like nice sunshine!” 

I assured Janice that I wasn’t offended!

“Yes, I just thought that if I chose a rainy or gloomy place my whole mood would be heavily impacted, so I felt like I needed a place that’s got nice weather. Other factors that helped me choose Australia was the flexibility over changing courses, and the ability to work on a student visa. Here, if you apply for a hotel management degree at the beginning, it’s quite easy for you to change your mind. Also, universities here have strong connections internationally, so you can always do an exchange for one semester or something like that.”

Find out more about Janice’s time at Griffith University here.

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Janice’s degree in Business and Hotel Management in Australia

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Janice studied her bachelor’s degree in Business and Hotel Management at Griffith University in Australia. This is her story.

She’s an international student from Guilin, Guangxi Province in China. After graduating, she decided to stay in Gold Coast, Australia where she works in high-end retail. We asked her about her time at university, and why she chose to study Business and Hotel Management.

Why Business and Hotel Management

“I wanted to study Business and Hotel Management as it’s a very practical course. I thought it was very well organised because it deals with the financial side, marketing and even the front office. This offers every perspective on how you run a hotel. They also taught me how to use the programs that hotels use. So students are fully prepared before they actually work in a hotel.

“The lectures, like the course, are very well organised. I really liked the tutorials here because they are small which meant they gave their full attention to every student. For example, I found the topic of Legal Issues very hard, but I received a reference letter from my lecturer. He said that I was very hardworking and that I had put a lot of effort into this course. He gave me lots of recognition for my work which really pleased me and motivated me to continue to work hard.

Why Business and Hotel Management at Griffith University?

“Although I am from a very small city back in China, my city is very famous for tourism. I had always wanted to do something related to that field, like Hospitality and Tourism Management. Unlike Canada and the USA, a bachelor’s degree in Australia is a three-year degree, not four. So that was an advantage because it shortened the time that I spent overseas, reducing the costs.

“While my parents had always wanted me to go to a famous University, I was more interested in going somewhere that would teach me something useful and practical. Whenever I told agents that I wanted to do Hotel Management, they referred me to Griffith University. Even though this initially did not grab my attention, so many agents continually reaffirmed that it was an outstanding and very real-world orientated. So good, in fact, that I began to look at student reviews. Immediately, I noticed the diversity of students at Griffith. What really enticed me was the local students, who gave really positive reviews of the university. The rest is history, as they say. In the end, I did lots of research before I came to Australia and I definitely do not regret my choice.

“Since my parents had to pay my tuition fees, costs were important. Griffith is not super expensive compared to other Universities in Queensland – it was nearly half the cost. International students like me, whose families have to pay all the tuition fees, really have to take that into consideration. The application process was pretty straightforward and because I made sure I achieved a high IELTS score, I could go straight into my degree and avoid studying at a college or language school.”

Find out more about why Janice chose to study in Australia here. 

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A future in International Energy Economics – Hermann’s story

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Hermann: Protecting the planet with a degree in International Energy Economics

I caught up with Hermann via a video call and, apart from his time studying abroad at Western Sydney University, I knew nothing about him. By the end of our conversation, I was astonished at how much he has already fitted into his 22 years. I asked him about his current degree in International Energy Economics.

“I’m currently studying International Energy Economics at the University of Applied Sciences in Ulm, southern Germany. As the name suggests, it’s a combination of computer science (data analytics, mostly), energy engineering and business studies relating to the energy sector. I completed my sixth semester abroad at Western Sydney University in Australia, now in my seventh semester. I’m currently writing my thesis with my bachelor’s degree graduation in March.

“My semester abroad made me want to continue using my English, so I’m currently working as a Student Assistant at the International Office. Because I was an international student myself, I can empathise with the internationals here. I know how it feels, being in a new country and some of the difficulties that can cause, so I can help them.”

Why study International Energy Economics?

Hermann’s enthusiasm for his chosen field was striking. I wondered why he chose to go in this direction, and if he had ever considered anything else. It was towards the end of his high school studies that he chose the energy sector, making a big shift from his previous plans.

“At the very beginning I wanted to become a banker; you could say I was just after the money! But then a visiting professor from The Biberach University of Applied Sciences delivered a presentation in my school about renewable energy sources. He talked about sustainability and how we need to protect the environment, using my home region as an example. It changed everything.

“I’m from a town that’s really close to nature. Five minutes by bike and you’re outside in the forest or you can go swimming in the lake. I realised that the professor was right – we have beautiful landscapes here, close to the Alps and close to Lake Constance. It’s beautiful, it’s green and there is so much nature. His presentation reinforced the importance of protecting all that, rather than running off to chase the money. I think I was only two or three weeks from my final exams when I switched. I was about to enter a programme offered by Deutsche Bank but that persuasive and inspiring talk made me change my mind.”

Find out more about Hermann’s time as an international student in Australia.

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