A voice to be heard

Angie Shen’s experience as an international student in Australia

She didn’t know a word of English when she arrived in Australia, but through work, volunteering and taking a chance, Angie has made the most of her time as an international student.

She’s an international student about to graduate from the University of Wollongong, but Angie Shen was once a young girl, who laughed as she scurried through the studio at one of the biggest TV networks in China. The loud and bubbly child was so eager to help out, she could have been mistaken for an assistant. As her mum went about her workday, Angie followed her around carrying bags, welcoming guests at the door and talking her way into (or out of) anything. It’s probably the reason the big boss never asked her to leave, so every day became “bring your daughter to work day”.

The thing she remembers most from this time, was the spotlight in the TV studio. The person beneath it had all eyes on them. With that role, comes the power to influence and create change.

That’s when Angie fell in love with story-telling and knew no matter what – she wanted her voice to be heard.


Arriving in Australia

At just 15-years-old, Angie touched down in Sydney. Soon, she would begin the next chapter of her life with a homestay family in Dapto.

“The culture is a bit different, in Australia no one would send their child overseas at 15, but my mum did it because she wants a better future for me,” she says.

“The teacher actually partnered me with three other domestic students and they were like my buddies,” Angie says. “They showed me around and sat next to me at lunch so I had someone to talk to, which was really nice. I remember I went to the International Department Program – the teacher took us to that program in Sydney. I asked the girl who was giving a speech: ‘how do I make friends?’ Friends are the most important thing because if you’re alone you miss home.”


Finding her people

From day one, Angie realised how important people were. She needed people as friends, as a second family and as support. Despite having an outgoing personality, she speaks candidly about trying to make friends for the first time.

“I remember when I first asked my high school friend to go for lunch with me, I had to practise what I was going to say to her because I didn’t want it to be an awkward conversation. But you just start with something small,” she says. “People are really friendly, if you want to talk to them and get to know them and their life, they will tell you.”

She continued to build her network, through casual jobs in restaurants and cafes.

“I made friends really quickly at high school, uni and work,” she says. “I worked a few different jobs, which all really helped with my English. The people I’ve met at work have been really friendly and understanding.”


Angie Shen portrait


Going to uni

Living so close to the University of Wollongong, Angie applied for Early Admission to the Bachelor of Communication and Media. Despite people telling her it would be challenging on a number of fronts, she wanted to do something she was interested in.

“When I first came to Australia my mum wanted me to do nursing, because you can get immigration for that,” she says. “But I have no interest in nursing, so at that time I really wanted to do communications and be able to express myself, I guess.

“It is harder because English is my second language, so people told me it would be hard for me to get a job, but I stood my ground.”

Two years into uni, Angie decided to add Commerce to her degree to broaden her job opportunities. That’s when she discovered her passion for public relations.

“PR kind of fits with my personality, I’m really outgoing and I like to talk to people at the bus stop, I want to hear their stories,” she says. “PR is about getting to know people and making a story – around people, products and campaigns. I love doing things like that.”

In the final year of her degree, Angie has completed five internships and done her best to gain as much experience as possible.

“I knew an internship is the one thing that will differentiate me from others. If you have a look at job ads they want you to graduate with two to three years’ experience. Where do you get that? From internships,” she says.

“I’ve spoken to HR managers and they say internships are the big thing they look for during recruitment.”


Helping others

It was years before now, when Angie first saw the spotlight, that she realised she had a voice and wanted to use it – and she has.

During her first year at university, she was an International Student Representative for the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts. Knowing all too well what it is like to move to a foreign country and start from scratch, she wanted to help other students in the position she once found herself in as a teenager.

“I was thinking of ways to help new international students – because I understand them and what they are going through,” she says. “I ended up introducing the buddy program from high school, to partner domestic UOW students with international students to show them around. Hopefully I’ve made an impact, I really want to help people who are in the position I was in. I know it can be hard, especially making friends in an unfamiliar environment.”


Advice for other international students

Angie says it can be tough starting again in a new country, but the best thing you can do is build your support network. Her advice is to think beyond campus and make friends with a variety of people.

“It’s very nerve wracking making friends, you think ‘what if they reject me? what will we talk about?’ but try to have a conversation outside of uni, talk about things other than study and make friends with everyone,” she says.

“Don’t just socialise in the uni environment, invite people for drinks on a Friday, or have a chill night. Working was also a great way to make friends, play sports, or volunteer even. I volunteered at Nan Tien Temple for a few months in 2014 and I made a really good friend there. I still talk to her and go visit her in the city.”

Angie will graduate from her double degree, Bachelor of Communication & Media and a Bachelor of Commerce (International media and communication) and (Public Relations) this year.

She is still to find an employer to sponsor her for a working visa and even jokes about marrying an Aussie. Even with the uncertainty, she has already stayed true to her younger self – her voice has been heard.

“I guess the experiences I had when I was little and my outgoing personality made me the person that I am today,” she says. “I am never afraid to speak up and voice my opinions. English is my second language, so what? I have funny accent, who cares?

“I really want to just to make a change in the world and inspire those who are in need of help.”