Your life as an international student doesn’t always start at university, nor does it mean having to stay in one place. For some international students – like Julian Zheng – the adventure starts at high school.
From completing secondary education in Victoria and attending university in Melbourne, to making the big move to South Australia where he graduated just three months ago, Julian’s international student journey has been a varied one. He takes us through his time abroad, his experience living in an Australian residential college, and where to find the best bakeries in Adelaide.
Way back in 2011, Julian travelled solo from his home in Fujian, China, to Victoria, Australia. He had come to Australia to complete Years 11 and 12 at a high school in Geelong.
“The reason I came to Australia was to experience a different culture and get a better education,” he says. “Both my parents and I were very keen to have me study overseas.”
Upon completing high school, Julian moved to Victoria’s bustling capital and commenced a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne.
“When I was in high school, I enjoyed physics and chemistry – that’s why I chose to study science in Melbourne,” he says. “But six months in, I found that’s not really what I enjoyed, because it was really theoretical. I wanted to study something more on the application side of science, so [I could] really make a difference in our society. That’s why I decided to move to engineering.”
Struggling with Melbourne’s hectic pace, Julian made his final move to South Australia, beginning a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil and Structural) at the University of Adelaide.
“Melbourne is pretty much ‘on’ 24/7,” he says. “It was too noisy and a little bit difficult to concentrate on my studies. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Adelaide – the peacefulness. It makes it easy to settle down and focus on study a bit more.”
Upon moving to Adelaide, Julian decided to apply for accommodation at St Ann’s College, a residential college located a short walk from the University of Adelaide’s main campus. There are plenty of options for international students when it comes to housing, but Julian made the conscious decision to avoid living with other overseas undergraduates.
“The reason I chose not to live with other international students was that if I did, I wouldn’t be able to embrace the full cultural experience,” Julian says. “The language barrier is one of the biggest challenges encountered by many international students. Living with 180+ Australian students has enabled me to step out of my comfort zone and practise English on a daily basis.”
The college experience also allowed Julian to fully embrace the Australian lifestyle, surrounded by local students.
“There is no better way to form a solid foundation of cross-cultural friendships than [by] living in a dormitory environment where everyone shares meals, studies and socialises together from day to day,” says Julian. “I’m getting the opportunity to learn about South Australian culture.”
St Ann’s College’s location in the suburb of North Adelaide also means it’s surrounded by incredible late-night eateries, old-school pubs and 24-hour bakeries – a particular favourite of Julian’s.
“The O’Connell Street Bakery – it’s a go-to for college students,” he says. “Whenever we’d have late night study sessions, around 9 to 10 o’clock, you’d call everyone for a study break and go straight to the bakery.”
STUDYING ENGINEERING IN ADELAIDE
Having left his Bachelor of Science for Engineering, Julian wasn’t immediately in love with his new choice, either. It wasn’t until he took a study trip abroad that he discovered his passion and excitement for engineering.
“I travelled to Cambodia in my first year as part of the Humanitarian Design Summit,” he says. “Going to Cambodia changed how I think about engineering and how engineering can really make a difference, not just in our community, but in this world and how everything I do – everything I will be doing in the future – will make a difference in our society. That got me really keen for my degree.”
Julian then went on to become a student ambassador for Engineers Australia – the governing body for engineers nationwide.
“I delivered presentations at Orientation Week lectures, organised events, and helped out with networking events,” he says. “I was a representative of the organisation on-campus.”
Overall, Julian has found that Adelaide complements his work ethic, with the city’s quieter nature more suited to effective study. But, there’s also the generous, friendly nature that helped him feel welcome and never without new people to meet.
“It’s really the sense of community that I enjoy about Adelaide. People around here are genuinely very nice and you’ll never feel lonely. If you’d like a home away from home, and to always have friends to turn to, this is the right place for you.”
After graduating from the University of Adelaide, Julian took up a position at Lucid Consulting, as a consulting engineer in fire safety and fire services. His biggest challenge so far has been the transition from university academics to using his knowledge in real-world projects.
Fortunately, along with support from his new co-workers, he has found that the degree provided a solid foundation of skills that were transferrable from university studies to professional work.
“The skills we learn in the engineering degree are very relevant: teamwork, communication, problem-solving, programming – all these skills are still highly relevant in my everyday job.”
Currently, Julian plans to stay in SA and is working towards getting his permanent residency.
“I’m very happy to move where opportunity takes me, whether that’s somewhere in Australia or overseas, but at the moment, it’s better for me to stay here,” he says. “I want to grow and develop, [and] get that work experience.”
ADVICE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
When it comes to advice for fellow students, Julian speaks from experience. “As an international student, I know many of us tend to stay within our comfort zone and interact solely with each other. This is kind of a good thing and a bad thing at the same time – we need to use our time overseas to embrace new cultures.”
Julian believes international students should push themselves during their time overseas to ensure they get the most out of the experience.
“Try to step out of your comfort zone and try different things, because you never know where the opportunity will take you.”