In this week’s Study Abroad series, we meet Quynh Anh Phan, a spirited 21-year-old from Saigon who embarked on an enriching educational journey in Australia. Choosing Monash University, renowned for its global rankings and diverse study pathways, she seized the opportunity to pursue a double degree in Bachelor of Commerce (majoring in Finance) and Bachelor of Arts (majoring in International Relations). This decision was driven by her passion for making a difference in the world, blending the theoretical foundations of International Relations with the analytical skills of corporate finance.
Driven by a desire to grow personally and a strong longing for independence, Jenny, as she is fondly called by her friends and colleagues, was drawn to the exciting prospect of studying abroad. “The desire to live independently from my parents and explore new cities, meet diverse people, and immerse myself in different cultures grew stronger with each passing day,” she said.
Australia’s reputation for top-tier universities, reasonable living expenses, and the convenience of travel to her hometown made it an ideal choice. Additionally, the country’s provisions for international students to work part-time during their studies and full-time during vacations added to its attractiveness.
Jenny’s journey began with a realization that she desired a more specialized skill set to enhance her employability. By intertwining the complexities of international finance, banking, and stock markets with the political landscape, she found her double degree to be the perfect blend of theory and practicality.
Here, we explore Jenny’s study abroad experience, delving into the motivations, challenges, and personal growth that shaped her journey. Despite her initial worries and fears about fitting in, Jenny’s study abroad journey became a testament to her exceptional growth, embodying the essence of adventure, curiosity, and resilience. Breaking free from her familiar routine, she pursued academic excellence in a foreign land, surpassing expectations and discovering her true potential.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
During my initial preparations in 2018, I was concerned about adapting to a new environment and making friends. However, upon returning to Melbourne earlier this year, it felt like returning to where I already belonged. Saying goodbye was easier this time.
However, the weeks leading up to my arrival posed challenges as I had to secure a new apartment, arrange home inspections, find a housemate, and purchase home appliances — all remotely. To make matters worse, I contracted COVID-19 just a week before my flight, which caused further delays. As a result, I had to attend some classes online and arrived on campus with coursework already three weeks ahead. Settling in and catching up became a rush. Nevertheless, I didn’t face language barriers or homesickness due to my familiarity with Melbourne.
On her daily routine:
My daily routine is dynamic due to juggling classes and two service-based jobs. Rosters for these jobs change every few weeks, resulting in varying working hours ranging from 6:45 am to 9:45 pm, depending on the schedule for that particular week. For example, I might work from 6:45 am to 3:45 pm on one Tuesday, but on the next Tuesday, my shift could be from 12:45 pm to 9:45 pm. This fluctuating schedule can be a drawback of working in retail, as it lacks consistency. To manage this, I diligently check my rosters in advance and carefully plan my study and work to avoid conflicts.
On building relationships abroad:
I have a close-knit group of Vietnamese friends I’ve known since college, and my colleagues also predominantly come from Asian backgrounds. In cities like Melbourne and Sydney, Asian cultures and communities have flourished, evident in the abundance of Asian-fusion restaurants, brunch spots, and coffee shops in the central business district. Australia’s rich multicultural history has fostered a culinary scene that showcases some of the most innovative and creative interpretations of Asian cuisines found anywhere in the world.
On having an English name:
In Melbourne, most of my friends, teachers, and colleagues know me as Jenny, a name I’ve used since second grade (around 7-8 years old). It has become an integral part of my identity, and I confidently embrace it.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
Before, my life was all about studying 24/7. There was self-pressure and an implicit expectation from my family and friends that I’m a top student and always get good grades. My friend always remembered me as a hard-working student who always stayed at the library until midnight, and my parents, though they never told me that I needed to study hard, would show a disappointed face when I got a bad grade.
That kind of “Oh, it’s Jenny, she couldn’t have low grades” mentality was a pride and a burden for me. I constantly felt overwhelmed and stressed, to the point where I would call a friend in tears at midnight because I knew I couldn’t achieve a high distinction for a particular subject. Now, although good grades still hold significance, I am learning the art of balancing my academic pursuits with work and social life. The future remains uncertain, and as I navigate my journey in Australia, I am determined to make the most of every opportunity.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
People often romanticize studying abroad as the best opportunity to make new friends. The truth is that making new friends as an adult in a new city is very hard. Even if you meet people you like, you’ll feel lonely sometimes because when you start from scratch, it’s easier to build 1-1 connections than a big friend group. You’ll be alone a lot of the time and be forced to learn how to enjoy your own company.
I’ve decided to stay back for this year’s Tet celebration while most of my friends go back home. Watching people reunite with their families while I had to work at night during the 30th of Tet was not an easy experience at all. I’ve never felt lonely that much in my life but there’s nothing wrong about it. I learned to enjoy the solitude of my apartment and do everything by myself – cleaning up the apartment, watering the plants, buying groceries, taking an afternoon walk, enjoying the sunset, etc. I’ve become more independent and more self-sufficient, i.e., I don’t need to rely on people for my happiness.
On how her outlook on life has evolved:
It’s common for people to share about the opportunity to make new friends, but rarely anyone talks about the enjoyment and solitude of living independently while studying abroad. We live in a world that values social harmony, and one result is that many of us rarely have time alone. While we’re told that this connectivity is good and that being around other people is necessary for a fulfilled life, it can be overwhelming for me sometimes.
Being by myself means I have the freedom to do exactly what I want and when I want. But more than that, freedom also means the ability to trust my gut and think clearly without any pressure or outside influence. As fun, as it is to spend time with other people, I realized that I’ve constantly been modifying my viewpoints to accommodate other people’s desires and opinions. However, living in Vietnam and being surrounded by the same social circle for most of my life means that people expect me to behave and act in certain ways to be deemed appropriate. But living in Australia exposed me to subtleties that are different from Vietnam in almost every aspect of life. My time in Melbourne helps me understand who I am and what is right for me. Back in Vietnam, I probably just went with the flow for a lot of things, but once I had to choose, that’s when I really got to understand the things I liked and disliked.
Last but not least, coming back to Melbourne after the pandemic was a mind reset for me. Before the pandemic, there were always too many tasks to hustle, too many people to see, and never enough time in the day. With the shutdown in Saigon in 2021 came a sense of flexibility that was not there before. I began to enjoy the slower pace and learn how to appreciate the little things in life, like savoring my cup of coffee in the morning, going for daily walks, or disconnecting from social media for a couple of hours. The pandemic taught us the importance of slowing down, and I hope the habit is here to stay.
On dealing with challenges:
Melbourne felt like a second home after two years stuck in Saigon, and I quickly adapted to life as soon as I arrived at the Tullamarine airport. The initial fear of homesickness and loneliness that I experienced as a 17-year-old girl coming to Australia was replaced with new challenges of adulthood – managing time and finances. In the past, I could devote 100% of my focus to studying and didn’t have to worry about household chores because I was living with a host family. However, now that I live alone, I’ve had to learn to do everything by myself, from grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning the dishes, to tidying up the apartment, paying bills, and scheduling doctor appointments. Living independently means taking responsibility for getting everything done.
Without family to prepare my meals or help me out in times of need, it’s definitely time-consuming, and there are days when I struggle to stay on top of everything. But through this crash course in self-reliance, I’ve had the opportunity to develop decision-making skills and become more self-sufficient, which are essential for thriving in life. Google and YouTube have been my go-to resources as I look up cooking recipes every day. Although I have never cooked a proper meal in the past 20 years, I have truly enjoyed cooking so far, and my partner and friends perceive me as a talented chef :) As the saying goes, everyone needs to learn how to stand on their own at some point.
Furthermore, by doing everything by myself, I’ve learned not to take for granted what my loved ones did for me. Growing up as the only child in the house, I didn’t have to do any household chores or cook meals because it was always considered an adult’s responsibility. However, now I realize the importance of everyday tasks in my life, such as having prepared meals or freshly-pressed clothes and even having a shoulder to lean on. Living alone in another country has served as a wake-up call for me to appreciate these seemingly ordinary things.
One of the most challenging aspects of living alone is undoubtedly the financial element. Living alone comes with higher costs than living with a host family, as I am responsible for all the household expenses, including rent, bills, and food. To make matters worse, the cost of living and rental expenses in Australia has significantly increased compared to four years ago, which means I have to be extra careful with my finances.
This or That
Movies or books?
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Shopping in-store or online?
Try-on in-store but proceed to buy online
Instagram or Twitter?
Give a speech or write a paper?
Write a paper