International students face unique challenges throughout their university degree – whether it’s integrating with domestic students or tackling language barriers.

For Zhi Jing Lim (UNSW Bachelor of Commerce 2021), it was her willingness to go outside her comfort zone and say ‘yes’ to every new opportunity, that helped her overcome these obstacles.

From meeting students from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds through involvement in student societies at UNSW, to building up her confidence in English, here’s what the soon to be graduating student had to say about her years as an international student at UNSW Business School.

Tell us about when you first started connecting with others at the Business School:

Like many others at university, I first met other students through tutorials and group assignments in my UNSW Business School courses. As most students know, group assignments require effort and commitment in order to successfully work as a team. These are where my original friendships at university were formed, as I always tried my best to strike up conversations with group members after meetings and even before or after the tutorial.

I also joined many student societies at UNSW and attended a lot of their networking events. For example, a lot of student societies hold a welcome BBQ for new students at the start of the first term, particularly for first year students who want to connect with new people. This was a really good opportunity for me to connect with other students, not just from the Business School, but even students studying different courses, like in science or the arts.

I also took on the role of Education and Career Development Director at the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia. I found out about this by attending the welcoming BBQ held by the Malaysian Students Organisation of UNSW. The main aim of my role was to help create job opportunities for Malaysian students in Australia, and ensure they are job ready for a career. I was able to connect and help many Malaysian students studying at UNSW and the Business School to be more prepared for the workforce - both in Australia and Malaysia.

What do you think are the barriers for international students getting involved in university? How can they overcome them?

Personally, I think that it is a lack of confidence – especially in relation to language skills. From my experience, international students are scared to speak up, because they feel that people might not understand them.

Another is socialising with other students. When having a conversation, it’s not just about entering the conversation, but also generating common topics to talk about. As an international student, we might feel that we do not have sufficient knowledge on topics that are generally discussed by local students, so we can become afraid to initiate.

My first suggestion to overcoming this language barrier is to attend events run by Arc @ UNSW, such as the free Culture Café. Culture Café is a great initiative where activities are held in-person and online every week for local, international and exchange students to meet new people and celebrate diverse cultures. These events make international students feel very welcome and provide a comfortable and safe place for these students to practice their English.

Another recommendation for international students is to put the effort in to join student societies at UNSW. Joining their subcommittees is very helpful, because you can make yourself familiar with situations where you have to socialise with new people and can also improve in initiating and engaging in conversations.

Even though you may feel discouraged at first because it’s a new environment with so many different people, I have learnt that as time passes, you will become more confident.

What has being inclusive of diversity at university come to mean to you?

I think it is about respecting other students’ opinions and taking their thoughts and opinions into consideration. This is the most important thing, because students will feel appreciated if their voice is heard by others, regardless of what culture or background they come from.

I have also learnt that it is about getting every student involved; giving them the opportunity to speak up about their opinions, whether it’s acknowledging their feedback or their contribution of new ideas.

Being inclusive of diversity also means being aware of certain aspects such as language because there are so many students at UNSW from diverse backgrounds, so we need to be wary of whether the phrases or words we use are appropriate when communicating and conversing with other students.

Can you describe a time where you had to step up to be an inclusive leader?

A time I stepped up was in my role as an Education and Career Development Director for the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia - in particular the Career Fair that is run annually.

As part of the fair, the Malaysian Students’ Council collaborates with Malaysian companies and existing student committees across Australia. I took the opportunity to lead a team in the marketing and promotional aspects, meaning I had to work out a method to effectively promote this event to Malaysian students in Australia, and understand their needs.

It was an experience that made me realise the importance of understanding (prior to any launch) what the project objective is; who and how certain individuals can benefit from it; and how to make the project more inclusive for those individuals.

Prior to this experience, I was very used to working in a team and not being the primary decision maker. By stepping up, this newfound independence allowed me to build on my communication skills and gain confidence in my work and helped me understand why it is important to lead with empathy and inclusion.

As you come close to graduating from UNSW Business School, what would be one piece of advice you would give to your first-year self?

Try your best to have more courage and try new things. Don’t be afraid of new opportunities and just go for it.

When I commenced at UNSW, I was too afraid to try new things because I was scared that I would not be good at it. In comparison to other Business School students, I also had a shorter university experience because I had prior for-credit experience in Malaysia that could be transferred. So, it became more challenging for me when I was in my first year, because I was doing second year subjects.

I became afraid to join other people’s existing social circles and it was difficult to talk to new people. But after my first semester at UNSW came to a close, I started to reflect and realised that I really needed a community to lean on.

My final advice would be to not be too embarrassed to try new things because these moments where you feel shy or are lacking confidence are just a few seconds or minutes of your whole life - and no one will remember these small moments in comparison to all the invaluable memories that you have made.

Zhi Jing is a final year international student studying a Bachelor of Commerce at UNSW Business School.

You can find out more about the resources and information made available by Arc @ UNSW for UNSW international students.

You can find out more about UNSW Business School’s wide range of free learning support and tools  for in-class and out-of-class, as well as online here.