UOW students named as international student ambassadors
Wollongong international students form bonds, help others far from home
The old adage there’s no place like home resonates with University of Wollongong (UOW) international students Nithya Sam and Thanh Nguyen.
In many ways Wollongong is nothing like the bustling metropolitan cities in India and Vietnam where they were brought up. Nithya is far from her mother’s home cooking, and Thanh misses his family. However, knowing what they can accomplish at University and beyond, they’ve kept their goals in sight and forged networks with new friends in Australia.
Now they are settled, they have been compelled to reach out to others who are new to the country. Nithya and Thanh were recently named City of Sydney International Student Leader Ambassadors, a role that will continue into 2020.
Thanh, studying a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of International Studies, is one of only two international students in his cohort. Piping up during in-class discussions has been daunting, at times. Thanh is thankful for his classmates who have made a point of including him.
“Just the fact I’m studying in a country where I can’t use my native language, that’s a challenge,” Thanh said.
“To talk and communicate with students in my class and to raise my voice in class is difficult.
“In one of my law subjects, I met two girls who really invested their time into making me talk. They would ask me questions geared towards my culture to make sure I could relate to them and stay in the conversation.”
Nithya had never been abroad before she moved to study a Master of Science. When homesickness crept in, she reached out to the broader community, establishing a support network. Her social calendar soon filled up. Nithya volunteered for UniLife, is a member of a local church, and regularly attends Illawarra Friends of International Students events. Nithya has even discovered a temple north of Wollongong which serves Indian cuisine to rival her mum’s homemade curries.
Through the City of Sydney ambassadors program, she has met people from all walks of life.
“It’s an amazing program, there are people from around the world studying different courses at a range of universities, I got to learn a lot about a diversity of cultures and we get to work together,” Nithya said.
“Mostly we’re having a lot of fun.”
The University has exceeded her expectations.
“The campus is really beautiful,” she said.
“Classes are structured differently here, there are not many students in a class, there’s a mix of students as well. And the lecturers are pretty cool.”
While she could get used to Australia’s laid-back culture and the green space on campus at UOW, she’s not sure where life will take her. A career in Supply Chain Management could land her a job virtually anywhere in the world.
Thanh wants to keep his feet firmly planted in Australia.
“My parents have always fancied Australia a lot,” he said.
“They say this is the best country in the world, it’s a very peaceful, diverse culture. Plus it’s really close to Vietnam.
“I’m doing Australian law. The plan is to apply to become a lawyer. It’s definitely a challenging career, and I’m competing with all the smart local people. It’s an opportunity to improve myself and develop, I will definitely fight for it.”
Over the next 18 months, while he continues his studies, he looks forward to exercising his leadership skills with the ambassadors’ program. At Lunar New Year in January, Thanh ran a guided tour for international students at Circular Quay. His lunar lantern tour was a success.
“I had a lot of positive feedback from participants,” he said. “I know it’s having an impact so I want to keep on with it.
“It is a big commitment, 18 months of ongoing training, project planning and execution.
“But it’s rewarding. It’s given me the opportunity to communicate with other international students so that a lot of students like me feel they’re welcome and part of the Australian community.”
Lead photo caption: Nithya Sam and Thanh Nguyen at UOW's Sydney Business School in June.